DEAR DR. FOX: I adopted three kittens that were roaming outside my unit, probably under my deck, in 1997. They were part of a litter of six.
There were three orange tabbies, two mixed colors and one white cat. I caught the white one in October. I wanted another for a playmate, so my neighbor caught the tamest one. I thought he was dumb to let us pick him up, but I was the dumb one and he turned out to be the smart one. He adjusted almost immediately to his new home.
One orange tabby showed up on the far corner of my balcony about a week later -- he probably knew two of his littermates were inside. I went out on the balcony thinking he would see me, but he didn't. He just kept looking out, and he didn't even hear me coming. I bent down and grabbed him. He got mad, but I just put him in my living room, where he acted like he didn't like me. He changed his mind pretty soon.
The smart one pushed a small screen out in the basement in 1998 and went outside, and the others followed. They all just wanted to go outside, not run away. I knew I could get the orange ones back in, but the white one was a different story. It took me about 11 days to get him. The smart one pushed the screen out again about a year later. I don't know how he did it, since he didn't tear the screen at all, just pushed it out. It was very secure in the slot. He did it upstairs in the bedroom also. Anyway, they liked going outside, especially the smart one, but I wouldn't let the white one out.
The smart one disappeared in December 1999; I think a coyote got him. I don't think he ran away, and I looked all over for him for several days. The other orange one was in a hurry to come in when I got home, which was unusual. The white one would go to the screen door the next few days and yell out.
After that, I didn't let them out except for when they go out with me in the morning for five or 10 minutes. Don't let your cats roam! Not only will you prevent them from killing wildlife, you'll also stop something from happening to your pet. -- D.L., Maryland Heights, Md.
DEAR D.L.: Readers will appreciate your feline saga, and hopefully adopt your protocol of allowing them outdoors if they wish, but only under strict supervision. I wish you had caught and found good homes for all the kittens. Many cats are taken by coyotes who are in many communities across the U.S. Eagles and other large birds of prey take some cats. Several cat owners tell me that they now walk their cats wearing a harness around the body, and they love it!
SAY NO TO DECLAWING CATS
Many veterinarians routinely declaw young cats. It's often part of the package when pets come in to be spayed/neutered. Many cats suffer as a consequence. The operation, called an onychectomy, entails more than simply removing the claws under general anesthesia. It entails removal of the first digit (digitectomy, or deknuckling). It's like you having your toes and fingers removed at the first joint.
Cats are very dexterous, and this operation essentially eliminates their dexterity, greatly reducing their behavioral repertoire when it comes to grasping and holding. It also hampers their ability to groom and scratch themselves normally. Their ability and self-confidence when it comes to climbing and agility are similarly crippled. Their first line of defense -- their retractable claws -- is eliminated, which could make some cats more anxious and defensive.
Declawed cats tend to walk abnormally back on their heels rather than on their entire pads because of the chronic pain at the end of their severed fingers and toes. They often develop arthritis, and as the front toe pads shrink, chronic bone infections are not uncommon.
Many declawed cats find it painful to use the litter box, develop a conditioned aversion to using the box and stop using it. This is why many declawed cats are put up for adoption or are euthanized. They may also bite more and become defensive when handled because their paws are hurting and infected.
I strongly advise all prospective cat owners and those cat owners who are contemplating having the entire first digit, not simply the claw, removed surgically from their cats' paws to never have this operation performed.
Cats need their claws to be cats, and the routine surgical amputation of all their first digits is considered unthinkable in the U.K. and many other countries. They know that properly handled and socialized cats quickly learn not to scratch people and will learn to enjoy using a scratch post and not destroy upholstered furniture.
For more details, visit the Paw Project at pawproject.org.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)