From Indoor Cat to Outdoor Cat (or, Why I Am Not a Bad Dad)

I’ve been swamped at my other sites making preparations for a long vacation, so I haven’t had a chance to share any animal stories, despite the fact that people are sending me them in droves. (Thanks for that, by the way.)

However, I did want to take some time to respond to concerns raised in the true-life tale of the raccoons on my front porch. Toto on her heating padIn that post, I mentioned that my 16-year-old cat Toto has been relegated from mostly indoors to mostly outdoors. Many folks are justifiably concerned that this may be causing her distress. Let me reassure you that Toto is fine.

All of our cats have always been indoor-outdoor. We currently have four cats, and the three boys spend most of their days outside, coming inside only to sleep in the laundry baskets or at the foot of the bed. Toto used to spend a lot of her time outdoors when we lived in a small town. But since we moved to this house in 2004, she’s been mainly an indoor cat. (I’m not sure what made her switch; I think maybe she was nervous after moving, and then never adjusted to outside here.)

This summer, however, Toto spent much more of her time outdoors. I brought her out one day in June, and it’s sort of like she said, “Huh. Outdoors. That’s right, I like it out here. I wonder why I forgot about it?” She’d ask to be let outside so that she could lounge on a lawn chair almost every day. (The boys go in and out a window at will, but Toto can’t make that jump.)

When Toto’s urination issues became difficult for her human companions to bear, I decided to give the “mostly outside” thing a try. Yes, we did try other things first. We didn’t use a branded “piddle pad”, but I build an elaborate layered system on the floor around the litterboxes. And note that plural “litterboxes”. We have three litterboxes, each a different type. Toto now refuses to use the covered boxes, opting only for the uncovered box that she can get in and out of easily. Unfortunately, it’s still not big enough for her because she cannot squat, so she just pees out the back end. She doesn’t like it, I don’t like it, and my wife doesn’t like it.

Toto has taken the move outside without complaint — mostly. We did our best to make things comfortable for her. She has ample water (there’s a dish on the porch and a dish on the sidewalk). She has her heating pad. (Toto has had — and loved — a heating pad for three or four years now. It’s coated in black fur.) And she’s right next to a window that lets her see me working.

Plus, Toto’s not banished from inside. She’s just banished from upstairs where the bedrooms and litterboxes live. Many times each day, I let Toto in and out. (She is always shut out for bedtime and when there’s nobody home.) Unless she’s “in a state”, she doesn’t complain. (And cat owners will know what I mean by “in a state” — when a cat’s that way, they complain about everything!) In fact, she seems to prefer outside. Yes, she asks to be let in, but she asks to be let out just as often. And she sleeps on her chair contentedly for hours at a time.

To me, the best part of the whole deal is that Toto has adapted to using the outside world as her litterbox. She was reluctant at first, but now when she’s inside and needs to go, she asks to be let out, dashes down the steps, and goes to do her duty.

The only bit of woe in the system still has to do with mornings. Toto is used to being able to have a snack whenever she wants one, which generally includes when she wakes up. But since I took her food off the porch (to protect against the coons), she can’t have a snack first thing in the morning, so she wails until I let her in to get her food in the kitchen. This is unfortunate, but I don’t know a better solution.

In summary: I appreciate everyone’s concern for Toto, but I want to set your minds at ease. I love this cat, and don’t want her to be miserable. She’s not. She actually seems to be happier than she has been in a long time. And if Toto’s happy, we’re all happy!


  1. Pamela said,

    September 19, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

    I’m glad you have a sense of humor and hope you don’t take all our “helpful” comments too personally. But isn’t it nice to know a bunch of strangers in cyberspace actually care?

  2. Amanda said,

    September 20, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

    Aww I’m so glad to hear that she’s enjoying herself and is okay outside.

  3. Elsa said,

    December 31, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    I think it is great that you have found a solution that works for both you and the cat. About the morning feeding problem, have you considered an automatic food dispenser? I tried the Petmate LeBistro when I went on vacation last summer and it worked really well. It has programming options so that you could have it dispense food at 6:00 am. Just a thought.

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