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Being a dog person and being a cat person aren’t exclusive titles. I count myself both.

The National Post consulted Nova Scotia for an article calling on people to keep their cats inside:

A letter writer doubled-down on the negativity, then amped it up by a thousand percent:

What both of these perspectives miss about cats is the central reason they’re so marvelous.

I wasn’t always a cat lover. Dogs were my favourite, and I was indifferent to felines. I can trace the change to an epiphany I had literally in the span of an hour. I was watching TV, a one-hour documentary – a Discovery-type thing – that approached the domestic cat as it would any other (wild) animal: its incredible athleticism, it’s predatory powers, its membership in a group of felines that includes some of the planet’s biggest and most majestic animals. By the time the show ended, cats were no longer wimpy, indoor-pooping wusses – they were miniature tigers, rendered safe only because they’re so much smaller than us.

 Dogs are still my favourite, but cats have risen big time in my estimation. Both teach us to be better people, but cats do it in part because of their wild natures. Dogs will conform to us, to a great extent, but cats require us to change

Cats are marvelous precisely because they are so unbending. I don’t remember where I heard this – perhaps in that documentary – but a claim has been made that while we domesticated dogs, cats were never domesticated; we learned to adapt to them.

Think about it: Take a 10-pound domestic cat and amplify its size 40 or 50 times. Would little Felix, now big Felix, be much safer to be around than a lion or tiger you’d raised from eight weeks?  

Cats challenge our views of friendship, even love. Your cat is clearly attached to you, but their mercurial nature means sometimes they’ll scratch you, even bite. As a long-time dog lover, it was a challenge for me to understand my cats could have affection for me, and I could have affection for them, but we’d disagree sometimes. I had to accept that – learn not to hold a grudge – if I wanted to have a cat in my home.

I’m not going to criticize people who want cats to be furry little, temperamental kids. Cats can be wonderful, fairly docile companions. Yes, they’ll live longer if they’re housebound, and yes, local birds and rodents will thank you.

But while animals are far smarter than many of us give them credit for, I’m pretty sure cats don’t have a concept of next year, or the year after that. Whether a cat lives three years or 15, while not irrelevant, takes second place to the quality of life they live. I happen to think cats with outdoor access have richer lives than cats that are housebound.

I reject the idea there’s something immoral about letting cats outside. When they go outside, they join the natural world. They become predators and prey. They’re a danger to small animals, and in danger of being hurt, even killed, themselves. But that’s a natural state of being for a cat, and a natural state of being for their prey.

We don’t wring our hands about predation by martins or bobcats. The misery of their prey is real but, at the risk of sounding like a Disney movie, it’s the cycle of life. Taking cats out of that cycle is fine, but it’s not a moral imperative.  

For more on the wild cousin of your housecat, check out:


NOTE: I should say that whether or not a cat belongs outside depends on some circumstances. An urban residence on a busy street may be too risky a location for outdoor adventures, nor should defenseless, declawed felines be outside. As with most (all?) things, there will be exceptions.

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