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( Originally Published 1936 )
"I had to choose between giving him a short life and a merry one or a long life and a dull," a woman said of her cat whom she had allowed to wander at will, and whose career was unfortunately cut short by poison. "And I don't believe in shutting animals up."
If it were put to a vote of the cats I suppose many would say the same, at least the gay young blades would, and lively ladies like Don Marquis's Mehitabel. Of course what most cats prefer is home and a fireside when they want it, with the right to arise and go forth when the moon draws them. How can they realize the dangers that await them? But I have noticed that when they have their freedom there comes sooner or later a morning when the cat does not come back.
In the city and in the country dangers await the wandering cat. In New York, where the sanitary code allows janitors and apartment dwellers to spread exterminators around the premises without a permit, many cats and dogs die from eating poisoned baits put out for rats and roaches. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gets reports of from three to ten deaths daily from this cause, and there are many cases which neither this nor any other humane agency hears about.
I have not the facts about other cities, but the exterminator peril exists almost everywhere. We cannot blame it on the reliable exterminating companies, for they seldom use materials harmful to dogs and cats, and if they must resort to poison they do it with precaution. It is generally the janitors, who, acting under orders from the landlord, scatter cheap exterminators containing arsenic, strychnine, thallium sulphate, and other violent poisons. Then your cat, adventuring into a basement, finds a tempting morsel and tastes it, and creeps away to die in agony. If these landlords would spend a little more money and buy red squill or some other exterminator harmless to pets . . . but what is the life of an animal compared to keeping down the budget?
So it is up to you, the owner of the cat. If you do not let your pet roam it cannot be poisoned. Cannot, that is to say, unless you take risks with exterminators in your apartment. Cats have been made very sick by stepping in phosphorous preparations and licking the stuff from their paws. And remember that some cats will eat insects, and an insect that has eaten noxious powder or even merely run through it is not a wholesome thing in the stomach of a cat.
Automobiles kill fewer cats than dogs, but it is not uncommon to see the body of a feline victim of a hit-and-run driver lying by the curb. Then there is the peril of cruel boys, for in spite of humane education in the schools there are still many boys who delight to tease and torture a helpless cat. Then there are the dogs that kill cats. Some dogowners have a strange attitude about this. I knew a dear old Persian who was chased into his mistress's kitchen and killed there by a neighbor's dog, and the neighbor kept his four-footed murderer and did nothing.
Ever present dangers to country cats are the traps that boys and men set to catch fur-bearing wild animals. But they catch domestic animals too, and the terrible thing about most of these traps is that they do not kill instantly, but clamp their jaws on a leg or other part of the hapless creature and hold it there in misery till the owner of the fiendish device comes, which may not be for days.
Many country cats are poisoned and shot, too. It is difficult to understand the man or woman who will put out ground glass in meat, for instance, for dogs and cats to eat, or will riddle their skins with shot; but since such people exist and often contrive to do their devilish work secretly, we should protect our pets from them. When it is impractical to confine a cat, as it may be if he is on patrol service against rats and mice in the barn and granary, we can train him not to wander much. A cat that is one of the family, that is petted and fed regularly, is much likelier to stay at home than is the neglected cat. Neutered cats do not stray much, and they are good mousers, too; neutering does not, as many people think it does, dull their ardor in that pursuit.
In my old home we shut our mousers in the barn at night, a good plan when it is fixed so they cannot get out, and there is a haymow for them to sleep in. But a wild scramble it was to get them there! They had a flattering preference for the family circle, and such an uncanny sense of time that though at ten minutes of ten they would be lying serenely in our midst, at ten, barn-going time, they would have slipped mysteriously away, generally to the farthest corner under the biggest bed.
There are dangers awaiting wandering cats in city and country; there are even dangers in the confines of an apartment. High windows are one of these. Cats love to sit in a window and survey the world, but unless there is a screen to guard them there is always the chance that they will fall. Full-length screens hinged on one side and secured by a strong hook on the other are best if the architecture permits them. I have spoken of this before, but it cannot be mentioned too often.
Putting a cat on the fire-escape for an airing is generally a mistaken kindness, and roofs, too, are rather dangerous playgrounds. Unless you watch your pet closely you may miss him, to find him lying, grievously hurt, on the pavement below.