I’m one of those people who always think of the perfect comeback long after a discussion or argument is over. Case in point: I have three cats, and it seems like whenever I have guests, there is always at least one person who criticizes my choice to keep those cats indoors. I am always taken aback by these attacks, because I see my choice as the best for my cats, my neighbors, and what little wildlife there is in my corner of suburban America.
The primary reason for that choice, of course, is that indoor cats lead longer and healthier lives than their outdoor counterparts. I also like it that I am sparing my neighbors the dubious pleasures of midnight caterwauling and cats using their flowerbeds for litter boxes. Finally, there is the fact that cats hunt. According to a 2013 study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., outdoor cats (both feral and domestic) are responsible for killing between 1.3 billion and 4.0 billion birds in a single year. And that’s just birds. According the Kitty Cams Project, 49% of the kills are left at the capture site, not eaten. Simply killed.
The moment I explain my choice, however, the person feels compelled to argue with me. The latest incident was at a party I had. One of my guests—a man with an artificial leg—asked me why I didn’t let the cats go outside. When I told him my reasons, he scoffed at me, especially about the hunting.
“It’s natural,” he said. This from a man with an artificial leg.
It got me thinking about what a lame argument “it’s natural” is. My cats are all males, and they are all neutered. Surely it would be more “natural” to leave them unaltered, letting them roam and reproduce. Surely it would be more “natural” not to vaccinate them against disease and again, let them roam and spread those diseases.
But no one criticizes me about those things. Controlling reproduction and disease is acceptable, but doing my part to lessen the decimation of local wildlife is unacceptable, because hunting is “natural.”
Dogs are natural hunters and natural pack animals, but I have yet to hear anyone advocating that they be allowed to roam our neighborhoods in packs, hunting and fighting and reproducing. On the contrary: when dogs attack people or kill other pets, their owners are held accountable—even though it’s natural for dogs to do these things.
We draw lines, all the time, between which bits of nature we consider acceptable and which we do not. The criterion is as simple as this: if it affects human beings and their property, nature is to be controlled and manipulated. If it doesn’t directly affect human beings and their property, people don’t care.
Well, I do care. I control the hunting instinct of my cats for the greater good of local wildlife. So sue me.
Because we live in a world where all of nature has been touched by human manipulation, the concept of “natural” is tenuous at best and a dubious moral compass. What it comes down to is that our daily actions create the world we live in.
Me? I choose a world with wildlife, and keep my cats indoors.