The lives of outdoor cats

The outdoor cat. A free spirit.

Beamer is an indoor cat now. So is Scout.

There is a difference between our cat who used to roam outdoors and our cat who has never had that freedom.

Two levels of awareness.

Beamer would sometimes be out for hours, napping on the deck, slinking between bushes.

Sometimes he’d be gone for days – hunting and killing birds, rabbits, mice; visiting other homes; fighting other cats.

He chose to sleep in window wells, sometimes, even on the coldest January nights.

After his excursions, he would sleep for days on our bed, cuddling and enjoying free store-bought cat food.

With time, he’d leave again.

Beamer knew to look both ways before crossing the street. He knew when to fight other animals and when to flee. He knew if he showed up at the back door we would always let him in.

Is that love? To allow a suburban cat that type of freedom?

I don’t know.

Is it love to keep a cat indoors at all times?

I don’t know.

I keep my cats indoors today, out of love.

They are safe indoors – safe from traffic on 32nd, safe from our neighbors’ dogs, safe from animal control.

Yet, what if Beamer and Scout were two of the millions that end up in U.S. shelters?

What if they, although healthy, were facing potential death due to a “lack of homes”?

What if someone wanted to give these two cats – Beamer and Scout – a life with the freedom to go outdoors?

I know what I would want, if I were a cat.

I would choose life, even if that life meant more of a “risky” life.

My cat Beamer is an animal who could’ve been killed dozens of times – by the cold, by trucks, by a dog attack. His lifestyle was a gamble, and I did worry.

But cats can be, in many ways, free spirits.

A free spirit is able to come and go, to make choices, to think through and navigate his environment.

A free spirit has the ability to make mistakes. Sometimes he learns from these mistakes. Sometimes he succumbs to them.

Is that so cruel?

Beamer the creme colored tabby cat lying on a dog bed

26 thoughts on “The lives of outdoor cats”

  1. 100% agree. I rather a cat live a ‘somewhat hazardous’ life as an outdoor cat than die in a shelter. It’s a no brainer and I don’t believe so many shelters still rather kill a cat rather than send it to a loving outdoor home.

  2. You make a very good point. Sometimes people seem to get so wrapped up in the ideal and forget that something less than the p.c. ideal can still be very good, as far as a cat or dog is concerned. I would rather see a cat living as a barn cat than put to sleep for lack of an ideal living arrangement. We had an indoor/outdoor cat when I was a kid. She was a very loved female coon cat named Clementine, and she spent all her nights indoors and lived to be nearly 20 years old. We used to laugh as kids at how she looked both ways before she crossed the street!!

  3. Free roaming cats are absolutely devastating to the native populations of lizards, birds, small animals and other wildlife. In California, we have several species of lizard that are near extinction due largely to cat predation. Recently, the explosion in the black and brown widow population in Bay Area neighborhoods has been linked to the decrease in said lizard populations (not conclusive yet).

    Cats, like dogs, are invasive species when left to roam freely. I loved watching my cats hunt when I was growing up. Looking back, though, I now realize how damaging that was to the environment around our house.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Most of the new research will show that cats actually don’t have much of an effect on wildlife. Typically humans are a much greater threat to birds and lizards as we continue to overtake more habitats and put up large structures (for birds to fly into and die).

          1. Interesting reading.

            Thank you for following up. This deserves more research [on my part, assuredly].

            If you have links to studies, please post! I find this very interesting.

            In our neck of the woods (Northern CA), we’ve seen a black widow explosion that seems to be tied to a reduction in the # of lizards (predators) that seems to be tied to domestic cats.

            Awful lot of “seems” in that and I’m trying to track down data.

          2. Lindsay Stordahl


            Perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle. Thank you for being open and respectful. I will say it is tough to find a study that is not biased one way or the other. I am obviously biased because I am a cat advocate, but I only want to show the truth.

            I recommend the blog Vox Felina if you haven’t seen it. Of course, the blogger is a feral cat advocate, so take it for what it’s worth. But he is very scientific, and I respect the work he does.


  4. Our cat Taki is older now and stays in the house or yard. But in her younger days I could never keep her as a house cat. She was a stray who was used to freedom and we were primarily a food source for her. She would howl to get outside and dart out any time the door was open. Many nights I was afraid she wouldn’t come home, but the dogs and I were a little jealous of the freedom she had to roam the world.

  5. We’ve asked ourselves the same question so many times. Our cats have always been indoor/outdoor. Then Louie went missing after nine years. Our current rescue cat has no front claws, so the question was answered for us. I think it depends on the animal.

    We had a rescue rabbit years ago, Brian, who lived in a cage. He hated it. He would bite and scratch. We finally let him live in the backyard. He was happy in the backyard. He would eat out of our hands and let us snuggle him. A possum got him. Would I change things? No. He answered the question for us when we saw he was happy in the yard.

    My chickens – I would love to let them free range all day. I used to. But chickens have never been hunters or wild creatures. Hawks took two of them. I don’t keep them cooped up all day, though. I spend an hour in the morning outside, letting them range and watching the sky, and most days an hour in the afternoon. What will I do when winter weather hits and turns nasty? Ugh. I don’t want to answer that until it happens. Buy a new coat and gloves, I guess.

    Some things don’t have answers. Other things, different answers for different people. *sigh*

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I agree with you. I am glad your bunny (and some of your other animals) got to experience that freedom rather than constant confinement.

  6. I think it totally depends on the cat and the environment. I’ve always had indoor/outdoor cats. They’ve all lived long and happy lives and I can’t imagine them not being allowed to climb, explore, run and chase things outside. I know I’d be devastated if something happened to my cat, but at the same time I know she’d be devastated if I locked her indoors. Gina comes and goes every few hours, happy as can be:)

    When I was first looking to adopt a cat, many rescues would not adopt a cat to me if I checked indoor/outdoor and I was shocked. I guess they are wary of people just throwing the cat outside and not caring about it anymore, but who’s to say I wouldn’t give a wonderful loving home?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yep, it definitely depends on the cat and the environment. I would not allow cats to roam outdoors where I live today.

      1. I know what you mean. When I take Gina to my mom’s house I don’t let her outside because there are too many animals who will eat her out there. Though she does spend a lot of time climbing the screens and meowing and the door. Was it hard for you cats to transition to indoor living?

        1. Only one of my cats used to be allowed outside. Since he is so obsessed with food, he is fine staying indoors all the time. He doesn’t want to miss out on any crumbs! It’s nice, though, since the “outside world” is nothing new to him we can take him out on the patio with us in the summer and he has no desire to run off. It’s like he thinks “been there, done that.”

          It’s our other cat we have to worry about, since he has never had full freedom. He is more fascinated with the big, wide world.

  7. I disagree. Letting a cat outdoors is setting them up to get injured, killed, tortured, or picked up by animal control – In which case, most shelters/animal control will not return a cat that has been picked up multiple times, no matter how good your intentions are.

    How do you ensure the cat isn’t going to leave your yard? How are you sure the cat isn’t eating something toxic? Attacking other cats? Terrorizing other homes? Befriending people with bad intentions?

  8. A responsible owner should make an individual decision based on their cat and were they live. You made some good points, although I disagree with most of what you said. I’m sure most people would not let their cat out if the area was dangerous or their cat was likely to be “picked up.” The part about “terrorizing other homes” I found really hard to picture. Just my 2 cents. My cat was found abandoned in an alley as a kitten and now lives a happy life inside and out in the country. He’s very street smart, and although I sometimes worry, I know he’s a free spirit and would never be happy confined.

  9. I have decided the most unacceptable risk to our previously stray cats is that I do not want them eating dry cat food from well meaning neighbors who are feeding community cats. If we have a cat that will stay away from the food or stay in the yard, they are allowed outside part of the time. We also need the city to help us get the community cats spayed or neutered to reduce the chance of fights. After a friend’s cat became diabetic from eating prescription diet kibble I don’t want to see that happen to any other cats. I do feed the community cats canned food if they are willing to eat it, but it can’t be left out when it’s below freezing or during the summer.

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