Zorro was always trying to make a break for it. The handsome charcoal-colored Abyssinian cross had shown up in our backyard one summer morning when he was about 8 weeks old.
He’d never experienced bone-chilling winds, snowdrifts or sleet — so for him, the woods beyond the house had been a kitten’s paradise.
He kept escaping, and we kept bringing him back inside. It was a regular routine, but not a funny one as we lived right off a main route.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
When I was growing up in the 1960s, almost everybody’s cats lived outside. But more and more people are keeping their cats inside, safe from cars, predators and disease.
“Cats do not necessarily suffer from confinement,” writes Patricia Curtis in The Indoor Cat.
“Many of the reservations people have about keeping cats indoors may stem from the mistaken notions about the nature of cats,” she says. “If you believe that cats are aloof, independent, unaffectionate, self-sufficient creatures who have to go their own way to be happy, then you will view confining a cat with the same repugnance as if it were a prison.”
If you’re sensitive to your feline’s needs, however, “you can give it an indoor life that is rich and happy as well as comfortable and safe,” says Curtis. Translated: Lots of cat trees and toys can help them work off some of that energy. And bird feeders can be hung outside for their viewing pleasure.
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But what if your cat, like Zorro, has wildcat fantasies and yearns for the world beyond the windows?
“Once they get outdoors and get a taste of the exciting world out there, there isn’t a lot you can do to prevent it,” observes Susan Baker of The Abyssinian Cat Club. There are things that help, though. Self-closing screen and storm doors are some examples.
Baker also suggests “attaching a rolled-up newspaper to the door and smacking the heck out of the door (yell at the door a little while you’re at it) when they accompany you to it. Make them think the door is not a fun-friend after all, and their hesitation may buy you valuable seconds in the future.”
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Another behavior-modification trick that she recommends is waving a toy — “a sparkle wand with a ball is a good example” — at your cat. Then, when he moseys over to investigate, reward him with praise and treats. “Do that about 50 times, and you have a good chance of getting them to you with the magic wand when they DO get outside,” says Baker.
These can be a godsend. My husband, Tim, an engineer, actually ended up building one for Zorro & Co. out of scrap wood and chicken wire.
There was a tower with a couple of shelves that they could enter through a cat door in one of the windows on the enclosed front porch. The tower opened up into a long low section or “tunnel,” which could also be accessed from a second cat door in the cellar window.
My friend Linda has also chosen the cat enclosure route. This is because 2 of her cats, Jude and Tony, scream and spray if she tries to keep them indoors all the time.
Her roofed enclosure opens up off her dining room. Inside are perches of varying heights, cat beds and insulated little “tents” with fleece mattresses. Jude generally sleeps out there at night.
Petful Recommends: The ABO Gear Happy Habitat for Indoor Cats (affiliate link), pictured above, offers 30 square feet of safe outdoor play space — and it folds down into a travel bag.
To view a homemade cat tower that could also be made into an enclosure with outside access, check out this video:
Our own cat enclosure had to come down when we put the old house on the market after Tim’s death. I didn’t bother having one built at the new house. The layout gave Zorro and the others plenty of space. There were also a lot more windows, including a cellar window with a secured screen that they could sit in during warmer weather.
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Zorro did get out once after the move, but he was older and had the beginnings of cataracts. He sat on the doorstep, clearly puzzled by the unfamiliar, slightly fuzzy scenery… Just long enough for me to scoop him up and carry him back inside. And that was that.
For the rest of his long life — he was 19 when he died — Zorro was content with being a house cat. The view from the window was just fine for our former feline escape artist.