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A lesson from Ashlan and the great indoors

I grew up in the country in a little town called Magnolia, TX.  We lived in a quiet neighborhood with large, spacious lots, surrounded by fields with cows and horses.  Our cats always went outside, and I never questioned it.  The biggest threat was only neighborhood dogs that may wander into our yard or driveway from time to time, only to be shooed away.

Enter Ashlan

During my college years I lived off campus for two years in a small condo with a roommate.   Cats had been a part of my life since I was born, and I was so excited to finally be able to adopt one from the local shelter.  I named him Ashlan, and he was a beautiful orange tabby with a large fluffy tail.

Ashlan

Ashland loved to play in my purse

Not truly understanding the dangers of letting cats outside in a big city like Houston, TX, I would let him out to wander the complex, and he always came back, never straying too far.  Until one day he didn’t.  It was the hardest life lesson I think I’ve ever learned, and to this day I can still remember finding him on the side of the major street that bordered our complex; he had been struck by a car and killed.  The guilt was tremendous!  Back inside my condo I held him, rocking him and sobbing for what seemed like hours before my parents, who just happened to be visiting that day, convinced me to hand him over.  They gently wrapped him up in some towels and took him home to be buried under my bedroom window.

After that horrible tragedy I never let my cats outdoors again, for their own protection.  It became very important to enrich their indoor lives with scratching posts, kitty condos, toys, and great views of the outdoors.  Luckily I’ve had a balcony at every apartment or house that I have lived in, which also provided great, safe outdoor entertainment.

Twin chairs

Birds and squirrels weren’t always thrilled to see the furry predators perched on the balcony, with constant scrutiny, chatter, and twitching tails, but the cats weren’t deterred.  Very often the birds and squirrels would protest their presence with shrieking and chatter of their own.

Customize your cat’s world

Fast forward to the year we built our first custom home.  We had six cats at the time, and we’d often laugh and joke that we were building the house for the cats.  It was complete with wide window ledges because we had eleven inch concrete exterior walls (called ICF), sunny glass block windows in the bathrooms, and a large outdoor interior courtyard where the cats could go without any danger from the outside world.

 

With twenty two foot high walls up to the roofline, a cat door installed in the mud room door, and lots of warm concrete to lay on, it was a warm, safe haven for them to get out and experience some fresh air.  We also had a balcony off the master bedroom with two small chairs that the twins enjoyed sitting in, overlooking their world, masters of their domain.  We had our trim carpenter build a cat-walk connected to a built-in armoire with book shelves in the living room.  It was quite ingenious, actually.  He created a hidden ramp built into the back of it that was accessed by one of the bottom cabinets when left open.  The ramp opened up on the top of this beautiful piece of built in furniture and the cat-walk was connected to it with another little ramp. The cat-walk itself ran about fifteen feet long and ten feet up overlooking the living room below.

catwalk

Built-in book case with hidden ramp and cat walk

Catwalk

The catwalk extends through the living room

The house was 2 stories, and the second floor had a long hallway to the master bedroom, as well as a large open area at the top of the stairs.  It was the perfect space to bat around balls, mice, or other favorite toys.  And do cat yoga! The long hallways became race tracks where thundering paws perfected wind sprints.  There were plenty of spaces to jump and climb as well as cozy places to snuggle in one of the many plush cat beds.  We also had two cat condos that doubled as scratching posts and one in particular got lots of use.  It was quite an eyesore and to this day is desperately in need of recovering.

No matter what kind of house you live in, try to see “the world” through your cat’s eyes; think like a cat and try to create some creative ways to enrich their indoor environment.  Give them some high spaces to perch or climb to and some sunny spots to sleep in or view the outdoors.  Allowing your kitty to roam outdoors may result in her paying the ultimate price, and the heartbreak and loss is just not worth it.

Aylen spends hours watching the birds



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