When we first moved to our current home I was faced with a decision that required serious consideration. For the first time in our four years together, my cat Jefa wanted to go outside. She had always seemed content to remain indoors, free from the dangers and discomforts of the streets from which she came. All that was about to change, however, in a manner that caused me to wonder not only at her dark side, but possibly my own.
As so often happens with people, I can only assume that her past caught up with her. She started showing interest in the great outdoors. By the time we moved to the Sunset district of San Francisco, she was ready to make a comeback. The house had a fairly large backyard and I decided to let her out to see what would happen. Imagine my panic when she disappeared in a euphoric state over the fence. I stood and called her with tears in my throat, wondering what I had done, how I could be so stupid as to let her out of my sight. A few deep breaths and mental calming exercises later, she reappeared over the fence chirping and prancing happily, tail high in the air.
I was so relieved to see her back safely that I carted her inside and vowed never again to let her out. She stood by the door and cried for the rest of the day. I decided I had a serious decision to make. Could I trade my peace of mind and the surety of her safety inside for the happiness she had shown out in the open air (from which, to be fair, she had voluntarily come to me in the first place)? After much deliberation, I decided we would give it a try.
I would like to stress here that this was a very difficult decision. I would also like to acknowledge that some may not agree with my decision and will only say that as guardians we must make choices with discretion and hope for the best. I knew it was in her nature and roots to run free outside and I decided to honor this over my own need for security.
All the houses on our block were connected by a closed network of backyards, but I still shuddered to think of the dangers she might face, and what I would do if anything happened to her. What didn’t even occur to me was the danger that she would pose to the previously (presumedly) peaceful neighborhood.
Soon after, the blood bath began. At first it was a dead mouse here or there, delivered with love to the doorstep. Often I would be prompted outside with urgent war cries to watch her hunt a freshly caught victim. Upon discovering that I was less than thrilled and unwilling to join the hunt, she devised new methods to keep me involved. The situation escalated. Ultimately she discovered the perfect way to get me to join in. She started bringing live mice into the house, injured enough that the most they could hope for was to crawl off into a corner and die, leaving me to sniff out the bodies a week later.
I once again found myself facing a moral dilemma. I had never even set a mouse trap, let alone participated in cold blooded murder. Could I allow this to go on? Whose side was I on? On the one hand, it was her nature to hunt, and I couldn’t bring myself to scold or punish her for doing what came naturally to her feline instincts. On the other hand, how could I stand by and watch as she tortured her victims in a display of raw, shameless cruelty? From an environmental perspective, I supposed that this was a natural process and it was hardly the case that mice were in any immediate danger of extinction. From a humane perspective I felt partially responsible on a personal level for the suffering of these small creatures.
I couldn’t stop her from killing as long as she was free to roam outdoors. Keeping her inside seemed cruel, especially observing her joy at being allowed outside. In the end, I suppose I sided with her because she is my baby and, having to choose, I opted for her happiness. I remain undecided as to whether this is the right choice, and find myself questioning it continuously. I hope that you all, readers, will offer your insights and opinions. I will close by saying that moments of doubt come most often at those times when I find myself crouched on the floor at midnight, plastic bag in hand, acting as second in command to my cat’s chase, as I try to rescue, or at least remove, her victims from the premises.