Keep cats indoors to stop them from getting in harm's way - Ingrid Newkirk

With cruelty to cats at a disturbing level across the region, and as figures show that almost 1,000 cats fell victim to poisonings, shootings, and other harm at human hands in West Yorkshire alone last year, it’s time to face the facts and keep our feline friends indoors.

As a law-enforcement officer specialising in cases of cruelty to animals, I witnessed the many horrors that can befall cats allowed to roam outdoors. People wouldn’t dream of letting a toddler run out into the road, yet they will happily open the door and wave goodbye as Moggy leaves to explore unsupervised. And as the great outdoors is now largely paved over, every single day, cats are hit by cars, poisoned by antifreeze, killed after crawling into engines on cold winter nights, or worse. They even suffer at the hands of juveniles out for a “lark” and of adults who hate cats. That’s why, as the latest figures show cruelty towards cats is at a high across Yorkshire, closing the cat flap and keeping cats safe indoors is now vital.

Last month, residents in the village of Wilberfoss in East Yorkshire were warned that a cat serial killer might be poisoning animals, after young, healthy cats Narla and Cash were found dead. In West Yorkshire, a Huddersfield cat called Freddie miraculously survived being shot in the head by a crossbow, while another family cat was found dead in a carrier bag after a bullet had been fired through the back of his head in an execution-style killing. But while deliberate cruelty to cats makes headlines, every single day, around 630 cats are run over in the UK – that’s almost 250,000 cats killed by cars every year. While decent people will stop after hitting a cat with their car, drivers aren’t legally required to do so. One-year-old Ice was run over in Halifax in June by a driver who showed no remorse.

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And that isn’t all. Cats allowed to roam around outdoors get into all kinds of deadly scrapes. They are chased up trees by dogs, and without the ability squirrels have to rotate their ankles, they become hopelessly stuck. They chase rats down drains and sewers and can’t find their way back out, are swept away, or pick up internal and external parasites.

Ditching the cat flap will also prevent about 100 million smaller animals in the UK from falling victim to a fatal game of cat and mouse, mole, vole, or bird. That’s how many wild animals are caught by the UK’s eight million roaming cats every year. Worldwide, more than 12 billion mammals and two billion birds are known to be killed annually by cats.

So how do you ensure that your home is a happy place for an indoor cat? Cats expect to be treated like royalty, and your home is their palace. But despite their regal attitude, they are actually cheap dates. If they could go shopping, they’d choose a charity shop over Harrods any day. A carrier bag with the handles cut off or a cardboard box will provide plenty of fun, as will scrunched up balls of paper or tin foil. Of course, the most important gift is your love and taking the time to play with and talk to them – even if they can be subtle in showing they crave your attention.

Keeping your cat safe and happy at home also means ensuring they have plenty of places to retreat to. As keen bird watchers, they love sitting on windowsills to observe wildlife – as well as your neighbours. It’s like TV for cats, though I also recommend actual cat TV – videos of birds or squirrels aimed especially at cats. If you don’t have a wide enough sill, add a plank and secure a soft rug to it. And unless you’re happy for the sofa to be a do-it-yourself nail bar, be sure to provide a scratching post or a well–shaken out log for your feline to sharpen their claws on. Growing oats and cat-friendly grasses indoors can also help keep your cat in the pink. Cats keep themselves perfectly groomed, clean, and presentable at all times, putting humans to shame. This means their litter tray must be kept spotless. Ask yourself, would you be happy to set your bare foot in it? Your cat will feel the same way. If there is ever a mess outside the litter tray, that can be a sign of a serious problem. Never scold them for it – the operative maxim should be “better the vet than a regret”.

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There are responsible ways to let cats outdoors. It takes a little patience, but if you pop them into a harness, they will learn to walk with you. And if you have a garden, you can install a “catio”, a fenced-off area from which they can admire the view and enjoy fresh air. That way, you can give them the royal treatment and protect them by keeping them entertained, safe, and secure inside your – or rather, their – palace.

Ingrid Newkirk is the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and author of 250 Vital Things Your Cat Wants You to Know.