19 June 2010


Over the years, cats have been my companions in a wide range of dwellings and surroundings, including a century-old adobe ranchhouse in southern Arizona, a four-story home in suburban Philadelphia, and my current studio apartment near a busy street in Missoula. Always there has been a fundamental dilemma -- allow the cats outside, or keep them indoors?

Outside, cats are free to explore, roll in the grass, soak up the sun, climb trees, and just be cats. But they might also be at high risk for (depending on location) predation by coyotes or owls, infestation by ticks or fleas, or being hit by a passing car. Plus, I'm partial to birds, and dont want my cats to kill them.

Inside, cats are safe from accidental death, pests or disease. But they are constricted to a confined space, enjoy less freedom, and sit in the window looking out on the world with longing.

In all urban settings, I've kept my cats indoors for their safety. I try to enhance their livng space with cat trees, tunnels, and allowing them on any surface where food is not prepared or served. I also play with them daily, encouraging games which hone their stalking and hunting skills. Still, being indoors remains an unsatisfying tradeoff.

If I lived in my own home (I do not), the answer would be simple -- a catio (cat patio), a space which allows free access to outdoor air and sun, yet is enclosed by wire mesh so that they can't stray into the street, or prey on those tempting birds. A catio can be as simple as a small window box, or an enclosed balcony, or it can be an elaborate room-sized enclosure with built-in walkways, hiding places and nests for snoozing. Jennifer Kingson describes the proliferation of ingenious catios in New York City. And here's a website with photos of an astonishing array of catio designs, many quite elaborate. (A fountain? Great idea! Click on images to enlarge.)

My intent is to find a different place to live within the next year -- probably a different city or state. Wherever, one essential guideline in my search for a place to live will be how adaptable it will be to my cats' needs. When they're happy, I'm happy too.

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