Do we value life too much?

My cat Buddy, always an indoor cat, recently discovered the wonder of his own feline power:  He can break through window screens and escape to enjoy the great outdoors. He did it twice this week. My response (thus far) has been to make sure any window is open just a crack. His response in turn, has been to let me know he regards me as a jailer, or at the very least, as a bad parent, meowing and clawing at the window panes intermittently throughout the day.

Not that I’d ever anthropomorphize, but our conversation the last few days has been something like this:

Buddy: Hey Dad, I want to go out, OK?

Me: No, it’s not okay.  You’re an indoor cat. You’re staying here with me.

Buddy: C’mon, Dad! I’ve already shown you I’m responsible. I don’t go too far away, and I always come back home.

Me: I understand and appreciate that. But it’s because I love you. You’re my little Buddy-cat, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.

Buddy: You should talk! You leave home every day!  Sometimes several times!

Me: That’s different. I’m a human being. I have to go to work to make the money to pay for things like our apartment and your cat food. But you’re a cat. Outdoor cats generally die much younger than indoor cats. And they’re more likely to get hurt in fights with dogs and other cats, and to have problems with fleas, parasites, and illnesses.

Buddy: But I can take care of myself!  Remember when I ate the cockroach? I didn’t get sick at all! And I practice martial arts every day with Talbot.  Sometimes I even beat him and he’s almost twice my size!

Me: Are your claws going to save you from the 18-wheelers on Hampton Blvd.?

Buddy: Do you think I’m stupid? There’s nothing on the other side of Hampton worth checking out anyway.

Me: So you’re not missing much if you stay here with Talbot and me.

Buddy: Yes I am! Freedom! Walking in the grass, on the sidewalk! Chasing birds, and hearing their songs so much clearer! Scratching trees instead of your mattress! Breathing fresh air! Sunbathing on the lawn! It feels so good! And I don’t have to worry about missing the stupid tiny litterbox that you always forget to clean!

Me: No.

Buddy: But the cat next door goes out!

Me: If the cat next door jumped off a cliff, would you?

Buddy: I’m not stupid! Why don’t you trust me?

Me: It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that it’s a mean world out there.

Buddy: Look, I can take care of myself.  I know what streets to cross and how to avoid traffic.  I can win or escape any fight. And that birth-control talk you gave me when you took me to the vet that time…

Me: I remember.

Buddy: Yeah, I remember, too, thanks for nothing!  Let’s just say the effects are still with me, and I won’t be getting any she-cats in trouble.  I’m old enough, I’ve got my shots, and my tags are RIGHT here!  C’mon, let me go out! Please!

Me: Buddy, I love you, but my answer’s still “no.”  C’mon, who wants a belly rub?

Buddy: I want to go out! I hate you!  You never care about what’s important to ME!

Actually that was the translation … we usually talk in Esperanto. But seriously, the reason I’m posting this is I’m beginning to see his POV. I was raised by over-protective parents, and I’m fully aware that over-parenting can be just as destructive as under-parenting. Is it better for a cat to live 15 -18 years pampered, fat and cramped, or maybe a few years less, but fully enjoying everything the world has to offer in the few blocks of his territory?

I wonder how this relates to other aspects of my life, and the world in general… I haven’t been skydiving yet. Maybe it’s time.  And maybe when I’m old and doctors are pressuring me for an iffy operation that might give me a “few more years” of a lesser quality, maybe I should say, “F-k you! I think I’d rather die in my own bed.” Everywhere, understandably humans try to extend life, and increase “security” as much as possible.  But nothing in the world guarantees or can guarantee long life or security. Does our drive for them stem partly, maybe even largely, from our insecurity?

I’m almost at the point of opening the door and telling him the feline Esperanto equivalent of “Okay, son, here are the keys… Don’t stay out too late.” What are your thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Do we value life too much?

  1. Oh, please don’t. I saw a cat killed by a car recently in my neighborhood. It was horrible. The cat was just trying to get home and dashed out in the street.

    Also, I had to have a cat put down for FIV (Feline AIDS) infection a few years ago. (He was feral so had been outside most of his life. That’s how they get it – either by sexual contact or getting in fights with infected cats.) He tamed up nicely and was such a sweet boy. It broke my heart.

    I recommend putting in a screen porch. My three cats are so happy being able to go out on the porch. They sniff the breeze and can hear the birds… I’m sure they “think” they are outside.

  2. I’m with you, I also had a cat die of FIV. It’s horrible.

    Nowadays I don’t have cats, but I do have a little doggy and yes, I’m very protective. Just the other day an idea came to mind about how I feel, expressed in a cartoon. The cartoon shows a little doggy and the parent, hunched and looking at all the other dogs in the park, three times bigger than they really are. That’s me. I’m terrified some other dog will bite him. It has never happened (very social dog) but still….
    I’m also afraid he might get Lyme’s disease through a tick.

    Of course I would love for my dog to be able to run wild and follow his instincts. But it’s a hard world out there and he’s family.

  3. Hey man, really enjoyed the conversation. That was great.

    You bring up a great point – though I’m not sure I’m much experienced with death enough to have a good opinion. I would like to say a shorter life lived more fully would be better than a long life in dreary captivity – but that’s just from where I am now.

    Interesting topic – both feline-related as well as how it applies to ‘you and me.’

  4. Ellen, yeah, I haven’t done it yet, and probably won’t. If I lived farther away from Hampton it might be more tempting. Great idea about a screened-in porch, except that I live in a small apartment with no porch. (And Buddy is keen at breaking through screens now, anyway.) I used to feel bad about keeping one cat cooped up in here, now I’ve got two, and one is wanderlust. Just makes me feel rotten.

    Margreet, I hope he has a yard at least. Maybe it’s a misconception, but are homes with yards uncommon in Belgium? Also, I believe dogs tend to get lost very easily compared to cats… I grew up with dogs. We never let them get beyond the fence. I joke sometimes that I’ve raised my cats to be my dogs.

    Trev, yeah. When discussing “Into the Wild,” I heard the word tragic used about Chris’ fate, yet it didn’t seem that tragic to me… Chris followed his own path to enlightenment, and it looked like it worked, taking him a lot farther on the path.

    The tragedy was the horrific suffering his family endured.

    A few years ago, I would’ve probably called it “tragic” as well, though, before I came to believe in rebirth. You can see losing your self as tragic if you believe you “have” a self to lose.

  5. Great post, Jon.

    “…haven’t been skydiving yet. Maybe it’s time.”

    Let’s do it!

    “Does our drive for long life and security partly, maybe even largely, from our insecurity?”

    Just now learning… I asked my mom right before she transitioned and she was so at ease with what she felt was day to day life… she was secure in surrender- not to dying- but to living… each day as it came.

    She taught me a wonderful lesson:

  6. I say let him out from time to time. I’ve had many animals in my day living out in the country in Illinois and I never liked leaving them indoors. I can’t imagine what a life that would be to be caged up or pinned inside all day long.

    Imagine if you couldn’t walk around outside because there was a door or window stopping you. Confined to your house or apartment. Confined to sitting inside every day until you died. To make things worse, you’ve tasted freedom. You’ve smelled the air outside, felt the grass under your feet, and felt the cool breeze rustle through your hair. You have felt nature’s beauty and been a part of it and now it has been ripped away to make you dwell inside a stuffy old apartment never to have that freedom again. And what’s worse is you can see it, you can almost touch it if it were not for your powerlessness to these man made devices that keep you trapped from what you desire and instinctively need with all your being!

    I say let mother nature’s beasts roam free. Let her children have their freedom and if she chooses to take them back with her then so be it.

    We humans are entirely too selfish and self-righteous to think we can tame these animals and own them as property. Who are we to decide their fate. Who are we to use our feeling of powerlessness to control something weaker than ourselves to fulfill our pathetic need to maintain some sort of power.

    You want to love that cat, then set it free. We are but the care takers for these animals. We love them, we respect them, but we DO NOT own them!

  7. Just opened the back door tonight to let the cats out for the first time. Buddy jumped at the chance. Talbot, very confused by this, turned back.

    I took out the trash, and enjoyed watching Buddy enjoy himself like I haven’t seen before, rolling on the sidewalk, exploring the fire escapes.

    Yep, my baby’s all grown up, now. [snif].

  8. Dude. Go skydiving. It’s awesome.

    And Jon, I’ve been invited to go visit you. If I do that, how about after I have my skydiving license in the spring… we can all go jump out of a plane together.

  9. Trev, Tommy, Zach, and whoever else is in town should also participate. You know, ’cause.

    F*** yeah!!!

    (Sorry. Got a little excited there.)

  10. I’ve returned 3 dogs to their owners this week. It must have something to do with the We changing weather. Can you blame them?

    I’ve found it impossible to keep our cats indoors, no matter how hard we try. We had to sign a waver for our first cat promising we’d never let him outdoors because we lived in black bear territory. But he got out anyway and I would have felt like a jailer keeping him in. That probably had something to do with my upbringing.

    Since we’ve moved to Texas where the biggest threat is coyotes (which is virtually nothing compared to the what we encountered in California), he hasn’t wanted to get out. That kind of makes me sad. Something died in him that was alive in Califoria. (Or maybe it was really something that died in me that was alive in California?)

  11. Hi John, i appreciate how much thought you’ve put into this question. It’s definitely a tough one, how much freedom to allow a companion animal: wanting to ensure their quality of life but also wanting to keep them safe. As you know, the world is filled with dangers for outdoor cats: disease, infected wounds, broken bones, UTIs, attacks by other animals and cruel humans, automobile accidents, freezing temperatures, starvation, dehydration. The list just goes on. Personally, I feel the perils that face an outdoor cat are just too great to allow them to roam unsupervised outside. As you know, homeless cats never die of old age.

    And it is obvious that you love your cat.

    On that note, I left you a voice mail this morning concerning a black cat named Talbot whom I picked up on the side of the road last night. He seems very well loved, constantly purring for attention, and particularly amenable to belly rubs. Unfortunately, I don’t have any salsa to give him, and I’m sure he’d love to see you soon. My phone number is on the voice mail I left, I look forward to hearing back from you!

  12. “Do we value life too much?”
    I say ‘no’, there cannot be too much value on life…true life, but to equate life with the time we experience in our physical selves is an issue. It is likely that ‘Buddy’ is not nearly as attached to his time in his body as we are to ours. ‘Buddy’ understands that life lies beyond the confines of our physical selves.

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