I have always loved animals. When I was three I contracted ringworm in my scalp from petting neighborhood cats. At the end of a disastrous marriage I found myself interested in getting all sorts of pets that I had missed on having during the marriage. Currently, I have 4 cats, a dog, 2 parakeets, 2 goldfish, a 40 gallon tank of tropical fish, and 16 hens. I have to hire someone to take care of them when I go on vacation.
As a young teen I was devastated when my first cat – a gray male named Shadow – didn’t come home one evening. As an adult when I got a kitten I resolved that this cat would be an “indoor cat.” Whenever it was raining outside, I would allow the tiny kitten to go out the front door. That spring in Phoenix, AZ was particularly rainy. This cat is now nearly 18 years old, has never liked going outside, and is now so neurotic that she has decided to live only in the master bedroom and bathroom. However, this is as she prefers, and who argues with a geriatric cat?
After the marriage ended the kids and I went one day to the humane society to look at dogs. We brought home a 4 month old, petite gray shorthair male cat. I decided that this cat, too, would be an “indoor cat.” It should have been easy – he had never been a stray, had lived his entire life thus far indoors. However, I had elementary school aged children, and about three months later he slipped out the door to the outside. He was returned indoors, but suddenly all he wanted to do was return outside. Our sweet, loving kitty now wanted nothing to do with us – he was obsessed with returning outside. This went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, frustrated, I decided to give into his plaintive cries and let him out. He voluntarily returned inside a few hours later, curled up on the couch, purred himself to sleep. When he awoke he was his usual self – tolerant of the children (this was the best personality trait of this cat), playful, and seeking stroking from his human companions.
I gave up on my idea of this cat being “an indoor cat.” By ceding locomotive control to this “teen aged” cat, we had a delightful family companion. He became an adult cat, and while not as playful as he once was, he is a sweet, delightful cat to have around. He comes and goes at will. Yes, there are risks to him in the outside world, but he is a capable adult cat, and can handle most of those risks. To keep him inside and shield him from those risks would be to deny him his autonomy, to deny that he is a capable, independent being.
About 9 months ago I happened upon cat #4 walking up the front walk of the home. She was long-bodied and scrawny, and plaintively meowed. I fed her. Gradually, we have invited her into the home. We have come to an understanding over “the litter box situation” and I had to create a large custom litter box with high walls that adequately contains her deposits. She comes in, stays for several hours, and later departs. She is sweet when she is here, often turning into a “lap kitty.”
A couple of months back we went on our summer vacations and were gone for the better part of 3 weeks. A friend came by daily to ensure all of my animal menagerie had proper food and water, as well as outdoor water and food for our most recent kitty visitor. When we returned kitty #4 was no where to be found. She turned up a few days later, but has not spent as much time with us. We suspect that she was quite disgruntled that we were gone for so long. Recently, she had completely disappeared for two weeks. Out of concern we posted a lost pet ad on Nextdoor.com. Ironically, she showed up the next day, sauntering back into our lives. Relieved, I let those who had responded to the ad know that our kitty was found. One, in particular, expressed that this pleased her, and suggested that we check out a YouTube video that would show us how to convert “an outdoor cat” into “in indoor cat” to protect her from the harms and dangers faced by outdoor cats.
I thought about this. I knew that I could not do this to cat #4. Have we befriended her all this time only to remove her freedom, her autonomy from her? Is that what it means to be human and “humane” – that it is our moral duty to remove from animals their autonomy in order to “protect” them?
Recently, pets are often referred to as “fur babies” – and we treat them as tiny human children. Yes, adult dogs and cats may have the reasoning capability of a 2 or 3 year old human child, but unlike that human toddler, they have skills and instincts at their service that are far more refined than those of a human toddler. Adult, healthy dogs and cats are not “babies” and are not “helpless.” But the current attitudes of many “animals lovers” treats our pets as if they were no more capable than human toddlers, and in need of constant human attention, intervention, and supervision.
I thought about so much of what I’ve in the United States in the past 20 years, since the fateful day of 9/11. I remember as a child going with my mother and siblings to the airport to greet my father after a business trip. I remember waiting at the gate and jumping into his arms shortly after he got off the plane. My children have never had the opportunity to do this. Are we all actually safer – or are we all simply more “controlled”? Yesterday my domestic partner and I drove to the city pool to cool off. We left our cellphones home. I found that I was suddenly free to say anything – ANYTHING! – I wanted, secure in my knowledge that there was absolutely no “listening device” present in the car with us.
The treatment of cats and dogs by their human owners as “fur babies” is just one more representation of how authoritarian our world has become. We do not see cats as independent creatures, capable of managing themselves in a dangerous world, but rather as helpless furry babies that cannot survive “safely” in this world without being captive to a human.
Our governments are increasingly treating their citizenry in the same manner.