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28 Nov

Cats can go outside

Cats can go outside

Last July, I opened the door and the cats outside.  If you don’t know me, your reaction is probably Whatever, Fanatic.aL!?  Millions – possibly even billions – of people do that all the time. However, if you’ve been to my home, you’ve likely encountered me (and those that love me) playing a little game of Kitty-Keep-Inside.

If you are really lucky, you’ve even been drafted to play.  Your role started small.   A little shin block here, a toe kick there, and then gradually you integrated in the full hand block.   You gathered important skills to the game and became a reliable goalie.  Until finally, one night, you happen to be near our front door.  I’m likely gabbing away, peppering you with ideas about some new feast.   The door stays open long enough for escape-calculations to be made.  And before you even see the flash of fur, you hear a shriek.  Suddenly you are on the first line of a cat search force.  Smashing around our pitch-black maze of a yard.  Offering small plates of tuna and adding your best falsetto the chorus of “TREEE-TEEEAS”.  Until finally the escapee is nabbed (by the tail) and subsequently cajoled in a way most people reserve for infants.

To these people, I apologize.  I know you saw through the way I tried to downplay my fear when the cats escaped.  Thank you for joining the cat search force. Thank you for keeping the behind-my-back mocking to a minimum.  Thank you coming over to our house again.

Now that this fanatical aspect of my behavior has been explained and atoned, I will share some of my learnings in the transition to letting cats outdoors.   (Because four and a half months of successfully overcoming my outdoor cat fears makes me, clearly, an expert).

11 TIPS FOR LETTING YOUR CAT OUTDOORS:

  • Keep the cat inside as long as possible.  The Day I Let Them Out also happened to be L’s 8th birthday. I think that’s a good age.  It’s probably around 40 in people years.  I think most young mothers would agree that’s a safe age.
  • Buy a break-away collar with your contact info.  I got coordinating argyle ones from this nice etsy store.  She even let me engrave silly instructions on the tags.
  • Pick a vice to see you through this philosophical transition.  Liquor. Cigarettes. Heavy metal.  Whatever you need.  Deal with the detox later.  Now that your friends are willing to visit your house, it will be easier to find a house-sitter during your treatment.
  • Only put the collar on when the cat is allowed outside.  Collar on = can go outside.  Collar off = find something else to do.
  • Let the cat out and follow it around for the first few times.  See what they get up to.  Observe their overall cautious manner and relax a little.  Invite the alumni of the cat search force to observe your new carefree style.
  • Don’t chase or try to catch the cat when it is outside.  Kitty will start associating you with that habit and run away from you.
  • Figure out what hours you are comfortable letting the cat out.  Create a routine.  For me, it’s the first thing I do in the morning and when I come home from work.  On weekends it’s ad hoc.  (L & T already identify weekends by the laziness of their humans).
  • Decide on a door to let the cat in and out of and stick with it.  This way if they want to come home, they will know where to wait for you.  (It’s like an agreed upon family meeting point, if you will).   This is especially important in the winter.   It would be energetically irresponsible to leave the door open all time time because you can’t bear the thought of them shivering out there in dark.
  • Reward the cat when it comes inside/is recalled.  This is just a subtle reminder of the reason for our relationship.  They like home because I feed them (well, until they figure out how to apply for a VISA and order online) and I scratch their chins (which they could also order online).
  • Make it clear when the cat is not allowed outside.  Taking the collar off is one sign.  Making the area around the door unpleasant is another.  It might take a while and you’ll have to endure some meowering as your pet tries to explain the meet up he’s supposed to drop in on.  Stomp your feet, turn on the vacuum, whatever hits their kitty freak-out button.  They’ll learn.
  • And finally, relax a little.  Sure, C says, she says that now... You are going to have to trust your fur babies.  There are a lot of terrible things that could happen to them.  Just as a parent has to eventually let their child cross the road on their own…errr….bad example.  Just as you trust other drivers on the road.  Be reasonable.  Assume the best.  Consider any dangers.  (Don’t let kitty out at night on the week leading up to Halloween).  You will start to trust your feline’s cat sense.

Stay tuned for the next cat-related post: Top ten reasons to consider letting your cat outdoors.

A special shout out goes to the humans that went before me and let their indoor cats out.  H, Pz, K&C: You all provided very thoughtful and kind council.  Thank you for being brave.  C – thank you for that night you stayed up until 4.30AM waiting for T to return.  (I love you!)

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