Who remembers that phrase?
I grew up in the days when people still said this and meant it, and the phrase and practice were common enough that it had appeared on a greeting card of some sort along with a cartoon illustration of the activity. That meant it was part of our cultural norm not to let our cats be in the house overnight, but to put them out just after we wound our analog mechanical alarm clocks and just before we went to bed.
How strange that seems now, but I also remember the time we did this with my cat Bootsie, during the first few years we had her, after she’d had her litter of kittens and been spayed, out she went each night. Some of the neighbors never let their cats in, and yet they considered them their pets, and there were also a few people who never let their dogs in either. I’m not sure why we stopped, but it may have had something to do with me wanting to cuddle Bootsie at night, and the fact my mother was a late night person and ended up letting Bootsie in and out all night long as she did all day. My father, a baker, left for work in the middle of the night, and I think Bootsie had her re-entrance carefully planned, though she was often out hunting all night long.
That was 40 years ago. I know there are probably still some people somewhere who put their cat outside each night as a matter of course, but I haven’t encountered one in a long time.
I grew up seeing cats as pets with a distance between themselves and everyday life inside the home of the person who “owned” them and being put outside at night, and today I’m discussing species-appropriate raw diets, environmental enrichment, building “catios”, resolving behavioral issues with feline-specific techniques, advanced health care and the use of alternative medicine practices for them, and animal intuitives who can help me to determine how they feel about where they are and what I can do to make them more comfortable. And even though cats still receive less than half the health care dogs do, today at the Pittsburgh Pet Expo I discussed feline-specific practices with several people.
Somewhere in between these two extremes are dozens of cat rescuers who spent all day yesterday trapping dozens of cats for today’s free-for-ferals clinic with the Homeless Cat Management Team, appointments scheduled over weeks, the plans made over the course of days, humane traps traded and moved around from person to person, clusters of people staked out in sub-freezing temperatures to watch and remove the trapped cats and wait for the rest to step into the trap for spay or neuter during the clinic, the tallies reported in as the night wore on, cats trapped, new kittens this late in the year, friendly cats, possible injuries.
I am glad that in my lifetime we’ve made a big move away from putting our cats out at night, moving the expectation toward the end which indicates cats are an important and valuable part of our lives and deserve to share our homes. It’s disappointing there are still so many cats abandoned outdoors who need the care of strangers rather than the care of the humans who had promised to care for them by adopting them. But perhaps as our society moves away from that far extreme we will also move the measure for people who actually keep their promise of adopting a cat and someday soon there will simply be fewer abandoned cats who need the care of strangers.
As for the gratuitous photo of Smokie at the top, he’s one of the lucky ones.
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