The Transition

Annette from Catnip and Coffee asked:

“How do you retrain a cat to indoor only after being outdoors in the daytime for years?”

I was going to comment a response, but realized I probably had enough to blog mine. 

Spooky was 8 1/2 years old when he came to live in my house – he belonged to my then-roommate, Geoffrey.  Spooky had come and gone as he pleased his entire life (G came from a big family and there was always someone around to let him in or out), but I knew I couldn’t take not knowing where the cat was, particularly after dark.  This was a dealbreaker for me, so Spooky became an indoor cat.

Mostly, we re-trained him by not letting him out.  This sounds ridiculous, but really, I didn’t have a better plan.  And it was a poor plan, because we also had two dogs in the house and Spooky could plot a mean jailbreak.

They happened, those jailbreaks.  He would watch us let the dogs out, and slooowwly position himself somewhere out of sight such that when the door was opened to let the dogs in..he was gone.  There were at least two occassions when he was gone all night.

We got smarter.
He would sit at the door and let out these pathetic yowls until the dogs started whining.  I would go upstairs.  Then he would sit outside my bedroom door and yowl.  I would turn on football.  Then he would wait until five o’clock in the morning, climb on the bed and sit on my kidneys and yowl.   
Then.  I got him a tiny dog leash.  I hooked him up to the dog leash and walked him in the backyard.  He said, “You have got.  To be kidding.”  And I told him that this was it.  He could walk on the leash or he could go inside.  I totally stared him down.  He glared, and started walking away.  I followed him.  He glared out of the corner of his eye.  A few times, he tried to dart under the fence and nearly choked himself.  Eventually, he settled down.  But it took years before he really gave up the fight.
Eleven years later – he is nineteen! – he is mostly content with sitting in windowsills.  I still take him in the backyard sometimes, but now he mostly rolls around in the dirt and then plops down on the blanket where I’m reading.  Really?  You just wanted to roll in the dirt?  You know you are just going to spend all afternoon cleaning that off your fur…

Obviously, I am a dog person.

Side Note:  Spooky gained some weight in those first couple of years being indoor-only.  The vet was not concerned and the weight eventually came off, but I think we went from 11 pounds to 13 pounds during that transition. 

4 Comments on “The Transition

  1. Cool, a whole post for me! 😉 I haven't felt the urgent need to do this yet, since he NEVER stays out overnight, but he's starting to slow down and I'm afraid he's going to get eaten by something one of these days. I'm thinking that winter might be a good time to start the transition since he doesn't want to go out as much then anyway. Unfortunately he's already 13 lbs so hopefully he won't gain another 2…

  2. My cats are super happy to be indoors only, because they know the vet and the car are "right outside." Spooky is a hilarious little guy, glad he adjusted.

  3. My cat was originally a stray who was taken care of collectively by the theatre company I was in. She could come and go as she pleased. But when care of her was passed to me and I took her home, I wasn't going to let her out.Over the years and the eventual move to Chicago, she has escaped twice, but she doesn't even try any more, and its because of the El.Seriously. I used to live in an apartment building, the rear of which overlooked the red line. I – :coughDrunkenlycough: thought it would be a swell idea if she saw a train go by one night. So I took her in my arms and waited on the back porch. When the train roared by…well, suddenly the cat was gone, and in her place was a sizeable puddle of cat urine and several claw marks on my shirt. I went back into my apartment, and there she was, cowering under the bed.She's been perfectly content to stay inside since.

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