My 21 year-old-cat disappeared about a month ago, probably off to the woods nearby to die. She had a good life. I still have a dog, but she is also elderly, 14 years old and suffering from arthritis, so I will soon be without an animal companion. All my life I have shared my household and my attention with one or more cats, and in the last 13 years, a dog,. So, when the dog goes to that great doggie park in the sky, what is the right thing to do? For me, for any future animal companion, for the people in my life, and for the world.
One of the challenges of having studied and taught ethics is that every decision has at least a glimmer of ethical content. For myself, I would enjoy the companionship of a cat. They sit on your lap and can be playful and are fairly low maintenance. Dogs require regular medical and grooming attention. They have to be boarded when you travel (fortunately she loves to visit the dog farm). Dogs need to be walked or taken to the dog park, since I live in a community with city leash laws and HOA restrictions on putting up fences. My dog is largish, about 50 pounds, and in our previous home she had a dog door and a large, fenced back yard with access to the deck for her outdoor time. For the past eight years she has been more confined. For all these reasons I have ruled out another dog. But a cat is still an option.
Can I offer a good life to a cat? Probably. All my/our cats have been rescue cats, and there is an oversupply. I have a home. I could provide for at least one rescue cat. I am a good cat mommy who feeds her cat regularly and pets the cat a lot and buys cat toys and a bed and other things that cats like.
There is a pet door that allows the cat to come and go if she pleases. I could close it up and keep her inside, as many of my neighbors do, for several reasons. One is safety. There are cars and coyotes. Another is protecting the birds. My most recent cat was not a hunter, but many cats are. But I have always had free range cats, and part of me feels that a cat needs to enjoy the outdoors, risks and all. Also, a confined cat has to have a litter box, which is not only annoying but also creates landfills full of plastic-encased used litter. Even with access to the outdoors, my cat preferred a little box and insisted on regular cleaning. In her last few years, she also insisted on only canned food, no dry food, which generated lots of tins to recycle.
A free range cat pees and pops where she pleases, often to the annoyance of neighbors, although always discreetly, being a cat. I cannot enforce my request to a cat to use my lawn as her bathroom space. I also have friends and relatives who are allergic to cats, and I don’t want them to experience an allergy attack as the price of my company.
So, running down the stakeholders in my decision, cats and cat lovers say yes. Personally, I lean toward yes. Neighbors are mixed, since many of them have cats—one neighbor has seven indoor cats. Other neighbors worry about the birds or just find free-range cats annoying. Allergic friends and family members prefer a no. Coyotes say yes, but I don’t trust their intentions. Birds and the environment don’t much care for the idea. My upholstered furniture weighs in with a sigh of relief that there are no longer cat claws in the house.
What to do? Life was easier before I studied and taught ethics. What would you do?