Why I prefer outdoor cats
Having grown up with cats in the countryside, I never could get used to even seeing a cat on a leash. I understand the masters' wish to preserve their pet, yet it makes me feel so sad. An outdoor cat is so much more alive and great to learn from.
Buying a pricey cat is no excuse to keep it in-house if you live in the countryside. I'm thinking about the Maine Coon in particular. I've got two - along with ten other cats - spending most of their time hunting squirrels in the trees, quite a sight.
Luckily I had the chance to get two coon kittens with a great "outcross" gene pool coming from a very wild mother, and who had had very little contact with humans for the three first months of their life.
Oddly enough, the excesses of inbreeding and the resulting slightly degenerated genes of such cats make them socialize easily with humans, to the point that they can almost behave like dogs, which I didn't want. It seems, though, that most breeders prefer to raise them that way. Ultimately for marketing purposes: I guess it is an easier sell.
Yet, a Maine coon on a leash, when they can make up to 13 feet leaps from tree to tree ? That's not my idea of a big cat.
Granted, indoor cats will live longer, but then so do wild animals detained in zoos. Which life is best? The longest, or the free-est?
If you can offer your cat the second option go for it.
Most people who have indoor cats don't realize that their favorite pet might become completely neurotic with age. (I am not saying it is always the case, yet sadly it does happen quite often.)
A longer lasting fur toy, for sure - although some have been bred by humans over centuries to become just such a companion. I will leave that consideration to everyone's personal taste.
If you can stand the shorter lifespan of an outdoor cat - plus/minus 5 years for a male if he's lucky, females do live longer -, I'd recommend to let them live as they would in the wild. It won't make them less friendly at all and natural selection will get rid of the weak ones, as it should. Bad genes are eliminated in very efficient ways.
In the wild, for instance, the mother often eats the weakest kitten: more protein and thus more milk for the strongest ones. As a rule of thumb, out of five kitten two will survive and reach adulthood.
Cats are very independent creatures by nature, you don't actually own them like you may own a dog, it is quite the other way around.
They choose when to visit you, they can survive by themselves and if they were brought up in the fields and the woods you don't even have to bother when going on vacations.
They will keep the house for you while you're away, sort of. Of course when you're at home they appreciate all the food you can give them, will eat almost anything as long as it's meat and bones - I sometimes buy them steak to make them happy -, although some will love chocolate or other sugary goodies - but never give them undiluted milk, unless you want them to suffer from acute diarrhea.
We sometimes have up to 15 cats around the house in the countryside - it helps to live on a large estate. At night we put them all outside "into the night of the cats", winter included, except for the sick ones who need a rest in the warmth of the house. For the others there's always the barn if they want to.
Indeed you'd better give them all the proper vaccines and learn some basic veterinary knowledge to take care of them, such as cleaning deep infected and smelly wounds. A bit of courage is needed there as it can be quite disgusting when you're not used to it.
Males fight a lot during the mating seasons; when badly hurt they come home limping to get proper treatment, eat and sleep in for a few days and then off they go again. Sometimes it feels like your house has turned into a field hospital for weary warriors. They do heal incredibly fast though, much faster than humans.
Neutered cats are not really welcome in the countryside as they get beaten more often and more badly, while being completely out of the race. I'd rather have the natural selection process do the job and keep the numbers stable.
Talking about surviving skills, I've also always been amazed by outdoor cats as great hunters.
Mice but also rabbits, squirrels, bats and birds of all kinds whose remains will be at your doorstep the next morning. How sweet. Yet that's life. Watching a mother teaching her kitten how to hunt is truly a wonderful experience.
All in all I've learned a lot from outdoor cats. The relationship can be very intense with some of them that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Walking in the woods with a few cats who have chosen to come with you is one of the things I like most. They decide, you don't. Yet when they do they are incredibly candid and close to you. They will even take a nap with you in the woods.
You do feel chosen by them in such moments and that is wonderful.
It can reach very high levels. One of them, a dominant female who had been mildly tolerant with humans so far, spending most of her time in the woods, once decided her duty was to protect our newborn son. Thus she came home, acted as a real bodyguard until he could walk on all fours, came and called us when he was hungry or crying or doing something he shouldn't be doing and so on, insisted in raising her own kittens in the same room.
When he started walking she left the house again.
I won't ever forget that unique relationship and our son, now 12, still remembers her as her "mother cat" in his very first memories. She died last year at the respectable age of 14 for an outdoor cat.
A true family member indeed.
In truth I never considered a cat as a pet (even less as a pricey investment). A cat is a cat is a cat. Free, noble and proud.
Who sometimes chooses the company of humans, with a unique kind of generosity when it does.
I understand not everyone has the possibility to live on a large estate in the wilderness, yet please do not consider cats as furry pets only.
I've read such naive things around the web about cats best kept as indoor animals by default, and the need for "safe gardens" and leashes. It just isn't true for most of them. If you don't have a choice, do pick a breed that has been created for such purposes.
Understand their true nature, buy them meat, not only dry food, mimic fights (put some gloves on to prevent scratches and bites, yes they will learn how to make a difference with the glove on or not), play play play... and you will have a truly healthy and happy companion. Love and understanding is after all what they need the most from us.