Meet Jack. He is a bit of a legend in his neck of the woods. In fact, he’s mayor of his block, and I’m not talking about Foursquare.
Jack has a curfew. “A cat with a curfew?” you might ask, incredulously. I know I did, when I had the privilege of making his esteemed acquaintance. But yes, Jack is allowed outdoor privileges by his caretakers, and most of the time returns home in time to be let inside. On the rare occasions when he’s tardy, he has to make do until early morning, at which point he appears looking quite sheepish.
Though the background of his earlier years is sketchy at best, what is known with certainty is that he showed up at a neighbor’s house as a teenage cat, having learned to survive outside.
In his current home, there is always food in his bowl, though as master of his own universe, he chooses when to consume it. His favorite drink is running water and he’ll jump into the kitchen sink or bathtub when he’s thirsty to indicate his express wish that someone turn on the faucet. He prefers to do his business outside.
Speaking of business, when one of his caretakers did a renovation on a nearby house and held meetings outside, Jack made a point of always being in attendance. Perhaps it was his well-honed work ethic. But my guess is he was just being neighborly; he’s very social after all.
Putting aside the question of whether it would even be possible to imitate Jack — the larger-than-life alpha cat with the established territory — should you try this out with your own cats? Only if you take certain precautions, according to Dr. Kat Miller, Director of Anti-Cruelty Behavior Research with the ASPCA and a certified applied animal behaviorist. Supervise your cat if you allow him/her to go outside and use a harness or a leash. You can also purchase playpens that can be used in an outdoor enclosed space.
Why all the fuss? Well for one, the statistics are sobering. “Every year, two million cats disappear from their homes, which is 1 in every 20 cat-owning households, which are pretty high odds,” states Dr. Miller. The list of outdoor dangers is long: threats posed by cars, accidental poisoning, injuries from falls or fights with other cats, as well as exposure to parasites, fleas, ticks, worms, and the potential development of illnesses such as rabies or feline leukemia. For these reasons, the ASPCA maintains that cats live safer, longer lives if they live indoors.
But even indoor cats can slip outside easily, and thus it’s critical that you take preventive measures such as your cats wearing ID tags with up-to-date contact information. (Just channel Jack. He wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared at an architecture appointment without his business card!)
There are ways to make the indoor environment rich with stimulation like the great outdoors. If you bring in oat grass, your cats can graze inside. Placing your cat’s food on small plates or in boxes or toilet paper tubes around the house allows them to hunt for their food. Hanging their toys by vents so that they flutter unexpectedly also provides variety.
Cats like to get under and on top of things, to climb and to explore. Some people install catwalks near their ceilings to give their cats a high vantage point. To see this taken to the absolute extreme and pinnacle of creativity, check out photos or video of The Cats’ House, designed by Japanese architecture firm Fauna+DeSIGN. If this feline-centric decorating scheme is out of reach, you can always purchase play toys such as the marvelous Da Bird or Cat Dancer and then make sure your cat has interactive playtime with you. Not only will getting your cats moving and chasing keep their interest, it will also keep them physically active so they won’t be tempted to wake you up at night.
And that is a scenario that even Jack would deem a “win-win.”