Protected? Or Prisoner? - An Essay by Linda J. Howard

An Animal Rights Article from


Linda J. Howard
Septmber 2000

As a philosophy major over a decade ago, the question "Is it better to live a brief but wonderfully happy life, or a long and content but mundane life?" often arose in classes to inspire debate and to suffice as an intro to discuss the age-old wisdom of ancient Greek philosophers.

That question has been on my mind often lately. Oh, but not for myself -- I've always hypothetically chosen the former.  In reality though, we can't choose "longevity and happiness vs. brief and mundane" for ourselves.

This question has been the focus of my thoughts for Keats...


Keats is one of the other-than-human animals I serve. That, anyway, is the way I prefer to think of our relationship; with the truth being that Keats is one of my "stewards." Though I love him dearly -- with all my heart -- I do indeed make decisions which effect (and affect) Keats. Currently, I'm debating "longevity and happiness vs. brief and mundane" on his behalf.

Keats happens to be a cat... Unlike the other kitties I serve who are the epitome of "mamma's boys," Keats is 100% CAT. He's a wonderful "ex-feral" I "rescued" in suburban Washington D.C. He is independent, choosing when -- and if -- he wishes to receive attention; he is aloof at times... very loving at other times. In short, Keats is "moody."

Last month, we moved to Texas and the house we rent now has a big fenced yard. Keats has "escaped" out the back door into the yard a few times. Given that, Keats now realizes what opportunities exist for him and he desperately want to go OUT! : "How can I return to the farm after having seen Paris?"

In my mind, I envision thousands of out-of-doors dangers Keats would encounter... The big dog next door who loathes cats; the imperfect fence which would feed Keats into the street where he could be hit by a vehicle, and perhaps poisoning by an unsuspecting cat-hating neighbor. Honestly, I feel much more comfortable having Keats locked in my house! Like an over-protective parent, I know where he is and what he is doing -- at all times.

This results in an overwhelming guilt complex: Is it fair that Keats is "locked-up," stifled from his instincts; unable to enjoy the outdoor world he wishes to investigate?

Keats is well-fed (though it pains me to spoon the remains of cadavers belonging to other animals who were murdered to provide the proper nutrition to the carnivorous critters I care for); his home is "enriched" with lots of kitty play-things and climbing spaces; and he is loved and tended-to.

Then, why is Keats not happy? And no, he's not "happy" now. He lies around the house despondent with a vacant stare and he is often lashing out at us or the other cats. He stands at the door to the outside staring with wanton desire when he's not "yeooowing" to be let out... He's discontent with the food offered to him... Keats knows there's another world -- a more interesting and exciting world -- he could be part of... if he were "allowed."

So what's one to do? We often discuss "playing God" when referring to issues such as euthanizing animals in shelters and relocating "urban" deer, but what about choosing the fate of animal companions? I'm riddled with guilt for forcing Keats to live with a decision I am making for him, one which I wouldn't make for myself.


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