Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Furry Prisoner (aka Animal Companion)

I have a cat named Blaze. I never thought I would own a cat—call me a sucker for the obdurate loyalty of the canine, which trumps almost any ephemeral human connection—yet here I am, and I love the little guy.

He’s a zestful fellow who, in his short year-length span on earth, has managed to see half of North America, albeit flashing by through the window of a car. An ex-girlfriend, who was driving with me from Alaska at the time, owned him. When that didn’t work out, he ended up mine. And he’s a great companion for the secluded scholarly sort, the kind of creature that adores privacy and a good nap. If dogs are perpetually extroverted, the cat is introverted, and scrupulous and practical regarding his selection of companions.  The gateway to a kitty’s heart isn’t a free-for-all. One has to earn it.

Anyway, I’m in a quandary. Blaze used to be an outdoor cat. Due to a pretty bad injury resulting in several teeth marks and a large open wound on his leg from an angry neighborhood dog, I decided to wean him off the great outdoors and keep him inside from here on out. Indoor cats live longer and are less expensive to keep around than an adventurous Zorro-cat seeking nightly duels with other local felines.  Budgets matter when you make 12k a year as a graduate teaching assistant.

However, I’ve since noticed a tad bit of melancholy creeping in. While before he was a blur of furry excitement, he’s become a tad mellower, collapsing lazily on the carpet, watching to see when I’ll go to the kitchen and thus be near enough to his food to beg in the form of inquisitive meows. I’ve bought him several electronic and non-elextronic toys that spin and bounce and squeek and even mimic the movements of actual prey, but he gets bored of them quicker than it took for me to spend my hard-earned money on them. I’ve found him clawing at the posters on my wall, possibly thinking they are avenues for escape.

I catch him gazing longingly to the outdoor awesomefest he once had a daily dose of. A squirrel occasionally comes onto my porch in search of bird seed, and Blaze makes his typical predatory sounds and lion-like movements, but quickly gets discouraged when he realizes his efforts will always be deterred by a thick pane of glass.

It would be different if he had never experienced the outside world. One doesn’t miss what one doesn’t know. But he has, and I cannot avoid the icky feeling that I get when he pines for his outdoor prey-fest…the feeling like I’m a prison guard, keeping my furry inmate from living the life he was meant to.

On the other hand, I also get more icky feelings at the thought of letting him out to kill helpless birds and rodents and whatnot. This is what a cat’s meant to do, yes, but I feel like somehow harnessing the beast within is the most humane approach. Let’s face it: they’re adorable little Ted Bundys, people. I saw a documentary once where some documentarians filmed neighborhood cats National Geographic style. Despite the fact that most of them had full stomachs, they still proceeded to rip the heads off of a few dozen baby chicks the crew had placed in certain locations.

I don’t know what to do. I want him to be happy, and I guess he’d be happier if he weren’t dead and had a nice meal and a warm bed, right?  


  1. Hi Derek,

    You might try taking him out on a leash and harness. It sounds weird, but some cats adapt quite well to it. It's not for all cats though; some never get past the "OMG! What is this thing? I can't move! No really, I CAN'T move! I'll just lie here until you give up on this idea." stage. It will take more than one try, but if Blaze begins to associate the leash with being outside, he might even enjoy it.

    If you have a yard, you might consider building a small "cat run." This way he can lounge around on the grass and enjoy the fresh air without you worrying about his safety or the that of the neighborhood critters. Best to stay outside with him, though until you and he are comfortable with it. You can build a cheap one out of PVD pipe and plastic fencing (the temporary kind you see at festivals, usually bright orange) fastened to it with zip ties. You could also build him a window box based on the same principles.

    Make sure you spend time playing with him, too. As a single, indoor cat, his activity is based off of yours in many ways. I won't suggest getting a second cat, but if you are gone often, a companion will keep him more active. Beware: this is a slippery slope and you may soon become known as that crazy cat guy.

    After having an indoor/outdoor cat killed by a car, I agree that you will be happier in the long run and eventually he should adjust to life as an indoor-only cat.

  2. Thanks for all the advice, Phil. On the trip down from AK, he was actually on a leash regularly with no problems. However, I tried to do this again a month or so ago after he had gone a long time without it, and he basically threw a fit. Several scratches and hisses later, he was in the harness, but sat in stone-faced rebellion.

    I don't have a yard, so unfortunately that's not an option. I'm also not sure I could afford another cat on my meager income. We'll see how he adjusts to the harness though; I figure as long as I keep trying he may get used to it eventually.