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Indoor vs Outdoor Cats?
  The question, of whether cats should be kept indoors or allowed to roam freely outdoors, has been debated by many experts and pet owners alike. If you've ever watched your cat sit in the picture window looking out you see the desire in it's eyes for adventure and the chance to hunt whatever prey may be within reach. Over the years I have had many cats, some strictly indoor, some strictly outdoor, and others who where allowed the best of both worlds. Rather than try to convince you one way or the other in the indoor/outdoor cat debate, I would like share with you my experiences as a cat owner for over 30 years. I have always lived in the country, surrounded by farmland so I have had more than my share of stray cats enter my property. Sometimes adult cats, who tend to be just passing through, but in a few cases the pregnant mother looking for a nice place to raise her family or the little lost kitten who was separated from mom on a hunting trip. Here are their stories.

Mamma Kitty
  About 20 years ago I noticed a cat hanging around the yard. I would see her, mostly at dusk, along the fence line looking up at the house. There is a small wooded area along the fence and a rock pile which provides outdoor life many places to find shelter. I resisted the urge to feed her thinking that she probably belonged to a farmer nearby. It was fairly common to see a cat wonder through the yard or the nearby field. Soon, however, I was seeing her more often during the day. After about a week I decided that she was most likely going to hang around for awhile. Being a cat lover, I decided that I needed to introduce myself. As I carefully approached her I could tell that she was not a feral cat but probably a stray or a neighbor's barn cat. She was cautious about my approach but as soon as I got close enough she was eager to have me pet her. While petting her it became obvious that his was a nursing mother cat and that there must be kittens nearby. She was also very thin so I decided that I should start feeding her. 
 
  It took about a week but soon she was bringing her kittens into the open. Although the mother cat was used to human contact the kittens, about 3 months old, were and definitely feral. My goal was to try and tame them so that I could find homes for them. Because the mother cat was tame the kittens would come out in the open but would bolt if I made any attempt to get near them. Eventually they came into the open more often, playing with twigs or tall blades of grass. I set up a dog house in my garden and placed a tarp over it for a canopy and Mamma Kitty and her two offspring spent the winter there. It took the entire winter and many patient attempts before the kittens would allow me to touch them. Sadly, that spring I found Mamma Kitty on the road. She had been hit by a car. Because the kittens were still quite feral, without her there they would not come near the house again. They disappeared and I never saw them again. It's unfortunate that those kitten are probably contributing to the rising number of feral cats born in this country.
 
 
Silvia
  Two years after losing Mamma Kitty, Silvia roamed into my life. It was spring and I began seeing this white and calico cat wandering through the field on a daily basis. After seeing her take the same path day after day I decided to try to approach her. She was also cautious but allowed me to get close enough to see that she was a recent mother who was currently nursing a litter of kittens. After a few days Silvia allowed me to pet her so I knew that she was a stray or belonged to a nearby neighbor. After my experiences with Mamma Kitty, however, I wanted to make sure that I did something to prevent more feral cats from inhabiting the nearby woods. So, I began to follow Silvia into the woods. Because she was tame, she didn't seem to mind as long as I kept a respectable distance. After following her a few times I was able to pin point the general location of her kitten. Finding her shelter under some logs I could hear the kittens. There were five kittens and they were quite young, probably only a couple weeks old. 
 
  Because the kittens were young, they hadn't yet developed a fear of humans and their claws were not developed enough to do me any harm. Sure, there was a little hissing, but I was able to handle the kittens quite easily. I wanted to get them used to humans so that I could eventually find homes for them. I handled them and talked quietly too them. When I went back the next day to visit they were gone. It's common for cats to move their kittens when they know the location of their nest has been discovered. So, I had to follow her again, eventually finding them. This went on for the next few weeks. Silvia moved her kitten, I would find them. I guess she gave up eventually. After moving them several times I convinced Silvia that the small dog house, once inhabited by Mamma Kitty and her kittens, was a good shelter for her litter.
 
  Silvia and her kittens lived in the dog house near the building for the next couple of months, giving me many opportunities to handle the kittens. There were a few days during this time that I thought I had lost Silvia. She came home one day bleeding profusely from her mouth. She was also lethargic and wasn't attending to her litter who were still nursing. I wasn't sure what was wrong with her but I was concerned about the kittens. They hadn't been fed at all during the day and were crying for their mother who seemed to have disappeared. Thinking the worst, I brought them into the house, purchased a kitten feeding kit and formula and bottle fed them for the next two days. Two days later I found Silvia laying in the dog house and she didn't seem to be doing well. Having to go to work I left her there and was prepared to,when I got home, bury sweet Silvia. When I got home from work I walked to the dog house, teary eyed, to collect Silvia. To my surprise, there she was, fully recovered and looking for her kittens. After speaking to a vet I believe she had, most likely, either been bitten on the tongue by prey or had chipped a tooth. I returned Silvia's litter to the dog house where they lived for the next few weeks. 
 
  When the kittens were old enough to be weaned I successfully placed them in some loving homes and Silvia took a trip to the vet for spaying and shots. Silvia lived outside for the next few years. She would disappear for a couple of days but return home regularly. One day, however, she never returned. Again, a sad fact that the outdoors harbor many dangers shortening an outdoor cat's life span.
 
Smokie
Not long after losing Silvia, Smokie and his sister appeared. One day, after coming home from work I noticed some movement in my garden near the house. The sound seemed to be coming from something larger than a chipmunk, a common visitor to my garden. That's when I noticed two kittens, about 2 month old, hiding among the flox. The kittens were quite wild and hid in a vent when I approached. Knowing better than to reach into the vent, I put some food and water out and left. Fortunately I was able to observe from my picture window to see them come out and eat. They must have been on their own for awhile because they devoured the food as if starved. I tried repeatedly to coax them out of the garden but they continued to retreat into the vent when ever I got near. They remained in the garden and didn't venture out. I watched for their mother but the kittens seemed to have been either orphaned or had strayed from their mother during a hunting trip. It's also possible the the mother was feral and wouldn't come that close to the house.
 
  For two weeks the kittens, one black and the other a striped calico, remained in the garden. I tried morning and evening to coax them out but with no luck. I finally decided that the only way I was going to rescue them was to trap them. I bought a live trap and placed their food into the trap. That night both kittens were in the trap and very unhappy about it. I noticed that one of the kittens, the black one, wasn't moving much and there was some discharge around his nose and eyes.  My plan was to transfer them into a pet taxi. To be honest, I wasn't sure about what to do next. I was going to call a pet shelter to get advice. Well, the striped calico, who I called Sister, had different plans. During the transfer she became very aggressive and after leaving a very nasty scratch on my arm bolted. I never saw her again. The black kitten, on the other hand, was quite weak and put up very little struggle.
 
  Because the kitten was feral, although too weak to fight, I kept him in the pet taxi. A trip to the vet resulted in some antibiotics which seemed to clear up a respiratory infection. During his recuperation I was able to gain his trust and he, eventually, let me pet him. By the time he was fully recovered he had gained my trust. I also became attached to him and decided that I wouldn't surrender him to a shelter. When he was old enough, I had him neutered and updated on shots. I moved him into my dog's fully enclosed 10'x20' dog kennel since during his recovery he had formed a wonderful bond with my dog. Worried that he would return to his feral life I kept him in the kennel for a couple of months.
 
  Soon, Smokie's need to explore, resulted in his finding ways to escape the kennel. I ended up chaining the kennel door so that it was open enough for Smokie to come and go but keep my dog from escaping. Smokie called the dog kennel home. He would spend the day roaming the field and wood for prey, although he always had plenty to eat, and returned to the kennel for a snack, a drink, or a nap. Occasionally his roaming took him from home for a few days at at time.  Living outdoors had it's hazards for Smokie. There were vet visits for a broken tail and a nasty eye wound from a cat fight, not to mention the regular doses of deworming medicine.
 
  I had Smokie about six years until one day, like Silvia, he just didn't come home. Again, a sad fact that outdoor cats, even if provided daily care and shelter, must survive many dangers. 
 
  You may wonder why I didn't bring Silvia or Smokie into my home to live. The truth is that I already had 3 cats who were strictly indoor cats. Two adopted from a shelter and one, a stray kitten that took refuge in a wood pile outside my house. My experiences with outdoor cats has ended sadly while my indoor cats have lived to the ages of 14-18 years. Although there can be hazards for cats in the home, I would say that the outdoor hazards my cats have faced were far worse resulting in considerably shorter lives for those cats. 
 
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