Animal Writes
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From 6 February 2005 Issue

An Open Letter To My Big Fat (Indoor) Cat
By Michelle A. Rivera - [email protected]

Dear Mikey,

You came to me as a ragamuffin, a vagabond. You were found wandering on the mean streets of a drug-infested ghetto neighborhood at the tender age of five weeks. How in the world did you survive? I heard you had a brother who looked just like you but despite our search and rescue efforts, we couldn't find him. Only you. You were sleeping in a cardboard box full of tangled Christmas lights and it was cold, (by Florida standards), it was very cold. I stepped onto the property, carefully avoiding the angry Chow-Chows in the very next yard, and called "here kitty kitty…" You popped your little head up from that box and our fates were sealed. I fell in love on the spot!

The guy who first found you said he would keep you. He said he wanted a cat to raise with his little baby boy, then just a few months old. But the boy's mother wouldn't allow cats in the house and you were forced to live in a box of jumbled wires, competing with ants, roaches and raccoons for the meager helpings of dry food they would put out for you. Imagine, a malnourished, scrawny, flea-infested five-week-old kitten with a bowl of cold, dry kibble. I don't know how you survived, but Mikey, you did!

When I brought you home I fed you warm kitten replacement milk and mixed it with smelly, wet cat food. But you wanted the pasta we had for dinner that night, and that little idiosyncrasy, to eat things that cats normally turn their wet little noses up at, earned you the name Mikey. "He likes it! Hey Mikey!"

You were so tiny but you were also very feisty. You played "prey games" with my hands, a game I found adorable when you were but a little sprout, but not so funny now that you weigh twenty pounds! Your coat is the color of orange marmalade, and your tiger stripes are just perfect, Mikey, with perfect little rings on your tail and those big, bold stripes across your back. You have a tummy the color of wheat, and so soft, a big fat, soft belly that you sometimes allow me to mush my face into and gently blow little raspberries. And you can do something with your tail that I have never seen any cat do before! You can hold your tail perfectly horizontally resting on your back! When I was a kid we used to see kids who could "dislocate" their thumb and we called them "double-jointed." That's what you have, Mikey, a double-jointed tail!

You are never mean to the "rescue" cats who come and go through our doors, you welcome them all with open paws and keep them company and make them feel secure. You are truly a therapy cat to the little fosters who come here as waifs but leave here with loving families. You could be a little nicer to your little sister Maggie, a Siamese cat who came as a foster and never left, but I know that Maggie-The Meezer-Girl-Cat usually starts the teasing and you try your best to ignore her but you are, after all, only a cat and not a saint!

But Mikey, I sometimes feel very sad when I see you sitting on the table staring out the window at the birds and squirrels and occasional mouse who frequents our feeders. You cry and cry at the door asking to be let out and sometimes you are too quick for me and slip out the door and I have to chase you around the yard until you are safely back inside. I wonder what you are thinking. Could you be thinking that you would trade this secure, loving home with three squares a day, a clean litter box and all the kitty treats your belly can hold for a life of freedom? If I could ask you, what would you say? I give you unrestricted access to the screen porch so you can soak up the sun and the fresh air, and you seem to really enjoy those moments until the Florida heat drives you back into the air conditioning and your cool, tile floor.

You don't know what's out there Mikey! As a Humane Educator in the public schools, every week I hear some kid say how they lost their cat to a neighborhood dog, a fast moving car, rat poison, a dish of antifreeze placed carefully well within reach by some cat-hating monster, a disease, a raccoon, a this or a that.... I would not let our dog wander the streets (as much as you beg me to do so), and I dutifully and lovingly protect you too! Did you know that studies show that the average lifespan of a free-roaming cat is only 2-3 years? Or that cats who are indoor/outdoor may live 5-8 years but that cats who are kept indoors only can live for 15-20+ years? It's true! Your predecessor, a stray Siamese cat I adopted from a shelter in Germany lived to be twenty-two years old! The dangers of cars and cruel kids are not the only things to worry about either. Outdoor cats can catch lots of diseases such as rabies and feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, internal parasites such as hookworms and whipworms and ear mites and external parasites such as fleas and ticks which can bring on anemia and rashes. And here in the tropics, we have those toxic black skinks and those tiny little dime-sized frogs, the kind that your brother Patrick found on the screened porch and ate and had to spend three days in the emergency room!

But it's not only you I am protecting, Mikey, it's the other animals too.

Mikey, the birds who come to my feeder are so beautiful and they sing so sweetly. Their colors are brilliant and their families are intact and year after year they build nests and raise their young and fly free into the air. As much as I hate to think of you as a cold-blooded killer, the truth is that you could be a very real threat to those little critters, Mikey. I know because I find lizard tails (and unhappy lizards without tails) on my screen porch. Other animals, too, Mikey, are safer because you live indoors. Stray and free-roaming cats kill millions of small wild animals every year. They don't do this because they are hungry or have a bad character, Mikey, they do it because they have an instinct to hunt small prey. Some of these animals are little mice and baby squirrels and baby snakes or lizards, but a full quarter of them are the beautiful little song birds who visit feeders, like the one in our backyard.

There are some who say that I am frustrating a cat's nature when I keep him indoors. He has a right to be outside, they say. But I think sometimes responsibilities trump rights, and the little animals and birds who make their homes outside have rights too. And Mikey, the truth is that it would be much easier on me if I let you outside. Of the three cats in our household, you are the one who sheds the most. You are also the one who throws the litter all around when you use the litter box making a terrible mess. But sometimes it's not about easy, Mikey, it's about love.

Oh, and sorry about that little neuter thing, but it really was for the best.

Note to Readers: The Humane Society of the United States ( has a "Keep Cats Indoors" campaign that has brochures and statistics and all kinds of information on educating cat guardians on keeping cats indoors. Giving your cat plenty of toys and your time to play catch and fetch games will keep him happy and healthy. Consider getting another feline friend for your cat, or growing an indoor grass garden to satisfy their need for greens.

Go on to The Betrayal of Animal Protection: The Corruption of the USDA
Return to 6 February 2005 Issue
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