The View from Faraway Farm: Should the cat stay in or go outside?

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Life is better with a pet. Even though I suffer from animal dander allergies, as does my fiancee, neither of us could imagine living without a pet. In our case, it's always one or two cats. Some people are cat people, others are dog people, both are great. I have no idea why or how we develop a preference. I grew up in a family that had both. The cat we had wasn't overly friendly. Her name was Tiger and my mother hit her with our powder blue `53 Dodge and that was the end of that. We had a black Cocker Spaniel that was a great family dog and was beloved by all.

Dogs take more effort than cats. While dogs are certainly trainable, cats can be trained as well. However, cats can be more independent. Dog people feel that dogs are more affectionate. Cat people beg to differ. They are both quite affectionate, you just have to be attuned to what cat affection looks like.

We have two cats. Both came from Walpole Valley Farms and were socialized by my grandsons Sam and Henry. We are cat people. We brought our daughters up to be cat people. When I found my biological father I learned he was a cat person. My half-brother and his wife are cat people. It runs in the family. Anyway, our two cats are cousins but are quite different. Bentley, the kitten, was born with a birth defect. His right rear leg is deformed, lacks muscle tone, it is stiff and of little use.

Despite the deformity, Bentley can run like the wind. He makes a hell of a lot of noise doing it with his stiff, elongated and bent leg slamming on the floor in an odd rhythm, but he is fast. He has amazing upper-body strength. He can grab onto the dining room table cloth and pull himself up almost every time, even though he's not supposed to do that. He is amazingly curious and seems desperate to venture outside where his bigger cousin Gracie goes several times a day. We keep Bentley in.

At first, we kept Bentley in because of hawks. He was so tiny he would have made a very handy hawk lunch. Now we keep him in because we're just not sure how well he can climb a tree or get back down. If he is going to be an indoor-outdoor cat (hopefully like Gracie who is never outside for more than a couple of hours) he needs to be able to get up a tree should a coyote come along. It is quite wild where we live and coyotes are common neighbors.

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We've all read about cats who get up in trees and somebody calls the fire department. My fiancee and I agree, if one of our cats goes up a tree, it's up to the cat to come down, and they always do. We're not so sure about Bentley due to his leg issue.

Bentley was born all barn cat. He was born outside. His instinct is to hunt, mostly rodents. We like that and encourage it. So far he has hunted a few of those lady-bug look-alikes that invade the house every autumn, and some furry, rattly toy mice that we got him. I taught him to retrieve those mice just like a dog. I can pick one up, shake it to make it rattle, then toss it across the room. He's on it in a nanosecond and brings it right back to me for another go. Little Bentley is all heart and he seems raring to go. When spring breaks, will we break Bentley's little predatory heart by keeping him inside?

That opens up a bigger can of worms ... the can labeled "Predator of birds." A cat has to be able to jump to get its claws into a bird. Gracie, our big, gray female, is simply too unwieldy to catch birds. She is content to keep the rodent population down. I don't think Bentley can jump like his peers, so he shouldn't be much of an ornithological threat. I'm all for our cats taking mice and moles, but birds? Not so much.

So the question is still on our minds. In or out? We've still got time to think it over. There are always downsides with pets, but I'm still a big believer that the benefits for both parties outweigh the negatives.

The Morning Almanac with Arlo Mudgett can be heard Monday through Saturday mornings on radio stations Oldies KOOL FM 106.7, 96.3 and 106.5 and over Peak-FM 101.9 and 100.7. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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