One of my co-workers waited a long time to adopt another cat after his last one disappeared. So many cats have vanished in his neighborhood that he has a hunch someone's trapping them. In the end, he took in two shelter kittens and he's keeping his fingers crossed.
In my own neighborhood, a friend spent a sad day last week posting "lost" signs for her cat. She put a sign on the telephone pole at the end of my driveway; it reminds me of the shy tabby every time I back out. It's not the first time my neighborhood has been plastered with such signs, and I know it won't be the last.
The world's a very tough place for cats, and the one thing that could make it safer -- confinement -- is not an option most cat lovers happily embrace. Even though most reputable breeders and many shelters insist on confinement before placing an animal, the decision to cut off a cat from the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors is always a tough one.
There are people who come down hard on one side or the other. It's pretty easy to guess which side most people without cats are on, especially if they enjoy digging in their gardens. But many people who love and keep cats aren't happy with the decision, no matter which way they go.
I have a few friends who have put together cat habitats in their homes, with access to screened rooms where their pets can sit in the sun and enjoy a little fresh air. The cats are healthy and happy, and since they have never known another way of life, they don't seem to miss what they don't have. Even then, the people who love them sometimes admit feeling a little guilty about the choice they've made on their cats' behalf.
Considering that an "indoors-only" cat can live for more than 15 years -- a mark very few "indoor/outdoor" cats will hit -- theirs is certainly the logical decision. Indoor cats never tangle with cars or poisons, and they never fight with others in the neighborhood. Indoor cats will never be trapped and euthanized as pests or nameless strays, and they will never end up as research subjects in a laboratory.
But there's another side of the issue, and my pal Mikey is part of it. Mikey's the black-and-white cat who dropped into our neighborhood from nowhere last summer. He was a kitten then, pushing through the fence into a yard where my neighbors and I were having a barbecue.
Although one of those neighbors adopted him, had him neutered and keeps him vaccinated, it's obvious Mikey doesn't really consider himself anyone's property. He eats at several houses and visits several more. He spends afternoons in the shade of a lemon tree, surrounded by two or three of his closest feline friends.
jTC My neighbors and I didn't really expect him to make it to maturity, since we live on a fairly busy street. But the kitten had street smarts as well as moxie, and a year later Mikey's still making the rounds. Given the choice, Mikey would probably choose death over confinement, judging from one brief but ugly experiment last summer.
So he roams, as do the other cats in my neighborhood, including George the marmalade tabby, Gracie the Siamese mix and the little cream-colored one who's Mikey's special friend. They enjoy warm summer mornings and cool evening breezes, and the smell of freshly cut grass under their velvet paws.
But the gray tomcat is gone this summer, and who knows if the neighbor's shy tabby will show up again. I look with sadness at the sign on the telephone poll at the end of my driveway, and although I lean toward confinement, I cannot with absolute certainty say it's the right choice for every cat.
The world is a very tough place for cats, but the tough calls go to their owners.
Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.