By Paula Moore
I would like to propose a simple New Year’s resolution that requires almost no effort and will prevent countless animals from suffering: Keep your cats indoors. Allowing cats to roam outside unsupervised puts both them and other animals in peril.
Case in point: Late last month, a cat miraculously survived a terrifying four-hour, 200-mile trek under the hood of a car in Ohio. The cat was discovered when the car’s driver stopped at a rest area after smelling something burning. With the help of a passing police officer, the driver was able to free the cat, who was wedged in the engine compartment and had suffered burns to his right side. He was rushed to a veterinarian, underwent surgery and is expected to recover.
This story is unusual only in that the cat survived. During the winter months, many animals are maimed or killed when they crawl inside car engines, seeking warmth, and are slashed by fan blades when the unsuspecting driver starts the car. (That’s why, in wintertime, it’s always a good idea to bang on the hood of your car a few times before starting it to give any animals who may be hiding underneath it a chance to jump out.)
This cat’s close call is also a reminder of the many outdoor dangers that await our feline friends. Every day, animals are kicked, beaten, poisoned by intolerant neighbors, used for target practice and worse after being left outside alone for “just a few minutes.” Some animals are stolen and sold for use in painful experiments. Others are used as “bait” by dogfighters.
Random acts of cruelty are common: Most of the 400-plus new cruelty cases that PETA receives each week involve animals who were victimized while outside unattended.
Many people have learned the hard way never to let their cats outside alone. In Washington, D.C., a cat let out for her daily stroll returned covered with burns from hot cooking grease. In California, a woman searching for her cats found that both had been shot with arrows. In Florida, more than a dozen cats were mutilated, gutted and skinned before police charged a local teen with the crimes. The list goes on and on.
Cats who are left outside may also be hit by cars or attacked by other animals, or they may ingest antifreeze—which tastes sweet to them but is potentially lethal. They are also more likely to contract debilitating diseases such as feline leukemia, distemper and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and to become infected with parasites.
Other animals are also at risk when cats are allowed outdoors. According to the American Bird Conservancy, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year and more than a billion squirrels, rabbits and other small mammals. A study last year in The Journal of Ornithology found that cats are the number one killer of fledgling gray catbirds.
Now before anyone starts calling me a “cat hater,” you should know that I share my home with three rescued cats. Both of my boys had been strays—and neither was exactly thriving in the “great outdoors.” Mochi was skin and bones when he was found and had a nasty wound on his back leg, most likely from a dog attack.
To keep your cats content in the great indoors, set aside daily play time—crumpled-up paper, catnip balls and Cat Charmers will get your cat’s heart and mind racing—and make sure that they have access to windows. You can also provide safe outdoor excursions by training your cat to walk on a harness and leash (yes, really).
Please, resolve to keep your cat safe this year—by keeping him or her indoors. Your feline friend would surely prefer to cuddle up on your lap than in an engine compartment anyway.
Paula Moore is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation.