Bailey (our cat) nuzzled in the grass outside the back window. When he lifted his head, something tan and brown wriggled in his jaws. A snake. No, it was a lizard.
A few weeks earlier Erika saw him holding a dove in his mouth. She ran outside, carried him in, and then went back out to tend to the bird. But today I did not run outside to rescue the lizard.
A few days ago I found a pair of rat’s feet in the yard. There are lots of rats from the river near us. At night we sometimes hear them climbing up the side of the house. People tell me to lock our cats inside to protect the birds. But no one tells me to lock them up to project rats, snakes, or lizards.
Years ago in New England, a vet told us to lock up another cat, Billy. He had kidneys the size of golf balls. The vet didn’t think he’d live for six months and would be better off indoors. But he didn’t seem better off: he sat gazing out the window looking depressed. So we let him out. Billy ran outdoors year around including jumping through the snow in winter. Eighteen years later he died purring in my lap.
I believe our cats have lived long, happy, healthy lives because we have not tried to confine them. Still, what about the bird? And what about the bunnies? In New England, I tried to protect the rabbits from our cats until I saw one hop into you yard and sit flapping his ears at the stalking feline. I thought it might smarten up the rabbit population if I let the cat take a stupid one out of the gene pool.
All this raises interesting moral questions. We share our world with lots of creatures, each with its own temperament. If I enjoy a being enough to want to take him into my home, feed him and take him to the vet when he’s sick, how responsible am I for his behavior? Do I prevent him from going outside because I don’t like his instincts for hunting birds and bunnies? I don’t like killing anything. But I don’t mind if he kills rats. What does this say about my moral compass? And what about the Argentinian ants that invaded our house this summer? Nothing we did seemed to keep them away. How many thousands of ants can I justify killing to make a few humans more comfortable?
If you have clear answers to these questions, I may listen politely. But if you struggle with them, I’ll listen with deep interest. It’s in vogue these days to take black and white moral stances. But the real world is not black and white.
Meanwhile, we put a bell on Bailey’s collar and let him outside.