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What, you may ask, is a Porch Cat?  It's any cat whose "lineage" probably includes (rather than 'Mrs. Mutton's Skeezix of Albuquerque' who's won three ribbons for best in show) 'that cat that eats out of the dumpster at the grocery store' or 'my aunt's old tuxedo cat with the ragged ear who used to kill and eviscerate chipmunks on the davenport, then deposit their heads and feet in Uncle Ted's slippers.' 

I grew up in a small town not too far from the Ohio River, in southern Ohio.  When I was a kid, most of the cats I was around were inside/outside or completely outside cats, including a big, muscular black cat with a white locket that my parents creatively named 'Blackie' (who lived outside all the time, and who was run over by a car when I was about five, but that's a long time ago).  They're generally big, robust mutts with good appetites and even tempers.  In case you might wonder, there's a sort of 'Southern Ohio Porch Dog,' too.  It's usually a cross between a beagle, a hound and some kind of terrier.  My older sister has had more than one.  They, too, are usually robust, happy dogs with even tempers.  (Max is a spitz cross of some kind or other -- either that, or somebody spilled a whole lotta Scott's Miracle Gro on a ginger sable Pomeranian.)

Even though our cats stay inside, all of them came in from the cold at some point.   They were found on somebody's porch, one way or another, or would have been if they hadn't been taken to a shelter as kittens -- hence 'Porch Cats.'  They're the kind of cats who come to your door hoping to stay.   The ones somebody dumps in the store parking lot, near the dumpster, because at least there's food there.  The ones people feed on the back stoop because they don't want to take them in, but can't stand the thought of them starving.  The ones who are perfectly good-tempered, personable companions who ended up on the wrong side of the door for any one of a thousand reasons (mostly to do with human error).

All three (oops!  four, now ...) of our cats are either stray rescues or shelter adoptions.  Tink and Gord stood the best chances of being homed if we hadn't adopted them when we did.  Tink was a kitten born at the end of 'kitten season' (late October) and, therefore, a wanted commodity at Christmas time.  Gord was at a shelter that doesn't euthanize for space, and he was very personable and sweet-tempered -- though admittedly large, not very sleek, and a bit mouthy.  Doodle probably would either have been killed by neighborhood kids or dogs, or run over on the road, because she's small, stupid and too puny to fend for herself outside -- we don't really know if she was dumped or wandered off from her original home, she lived under my mother's storage barn for about a week before she pointed her out and threatened to call animal control.  And as for Squeek -- well, she probably would have lasted a few years on her own, but yay!   She doesn't have to!  Max came to us from the Franklin County Humane Society in Brookville, Indiana, another stray about whom nobody had any back-story.  He doesn't act like he's been abused, and he's incredibly well-socialized; we suspect perhaps he belonged to an elderly person who died, and whose family didn't want him, so they turned him loose to 'fend for himself' somewhere.  It's bad enough to do that to a cat, but to do it to a dog is distressingly cruel.  I don't even want to know, for that matter.  I'd be tempted to smack somebody.

I have nothing against responsible breeding toward the preservation and improvement (as long as the improvement is primarily for health, temperament or longevity) of specific breeds of dogs or cats.  For our part, we adopt animals other people didn't want.  In their own ways, they're beautiful, and they deserve to have warm places to sleep, a balanced diet and whatever attention they require every bit as much as Mrs. Mutton's Skeezix.  After all, no matter how much or little you pay for one, pedigree or no pedigree, they're all pets.

It all depends on your perspective, of course.  And it's one of those "your mileage may vary" deals.  But as far as household pets go, our cats are all neutered, they've all got all their claws, and they all stay inside.  Oh, sure -- that may sound like a recipe for disaster, but our furniture is relatively unscathed and they don't fight all that much.

Tony had never had a cat before we adopted Tink, back in 1997.  My first husband and I had a cat (sadly, Norman Bates passed away just after the first of the year in 2003; he was a pretty good cat by anybody's measure).  Norman Bates was adopted as a tiny kitten, probably no more than six to eight weeks old (he got the name when he jumped into the shower with my ex the day we brought him home, and wouldn't stay out until the ex got out).  We got him in 1985, so I've been around cats on a more or less regular basis for nearly 20 years, now.

Some folk think it's okay to declaw cats.  We don't.  We both think it's unnecessary surgery at best, and at worst, mutilation merely for human convenience.  Some say it's a matter of opinion.  Our opinion is it's unnecessary elective surgery, and if you don't want a cat, claws and all, go buy a hamster.

There may be a rare circumstance in which the amputation of a cat's toes is necessary due to injury or disease.  I can hang with that.  As long as the "circumstance" isn't that the person who has the cat finds its claws inconvenient or troublesome (and the "injury" isn't to the sofa, or the "disease" isn't a deficiency of patience and will on the part of the human to teach the cat not to destroy furniture) and it will, in no way, improve the health or life of the cat.  See?  I'm only so dogmatic.

Some folk are at leisure to let their cats run around outside.  There are those who are more dogmatic about that one than I am.  I grew up in a small town where there was a lot of farming -- farm cats were working cats, and many of them lived in the barn, not in the house.  Those cats were never going to live inside the house (nor, I suspect, would many of them have wanted to), but most of them seemed happy and, though they didn't live as long as inside cats, healthy enough.  That's one of those things that brings, "okay for you, but not my cats," out of me.

There are places cats can run around outside in relative safety, even today.  We don't live in one of them, however, nor do I anticipate that we will for the life of the cats we currently have.  We live in a busy suburban neighborhood.  Our cats could be stolen, poisoned or run over by cars; abused by neighborhood kids or bit by raccoons or squirrels.   We like them the way they are -- alive and healthy -- and intend to keep them that way to the greatest degree possible.  We believe one of the simplest ways to do that is to keep them in.  There are too many jerks around, both animal and human, here where we are.

It was, of course, a personal decision.  Personally, I couldn't live with myself if I let them run loose outside and something happened to one of them.  I took on the responsibility of caring for them, and had certain well-defined parameters as to what that meant to me.

There's no way in the world I can make any sense of failing (or even refusing) to neuter a non-breed cat, especially if you live in the States, with our stray/feral overpopulation problem.  As I've mentioned other places here, I volunteer at an animal shelter (SICSA), from which we adopted Gord.  The oldest of our three cats, Tink, came from a shelter near Cincinnati (Clermont County Humane Society).  The bottom line is, cats end up at shelters because people don't want them, and they die there for that same reason.  Unless it's a no-kill shelter, and it advertises that it's a no-kill, don't ever dream a cat is safe if you turn it in there, no matter what they tell you.  Publicly-funded shelters euthanize for space; even privately funded shelters euthanize for poor health or incorrigible behavior, and refuse to take cats if they are overfull -- which means they end up in a kill shelter, anyway.

If you really love having kittens around, and you  want to devote your time and money to taking care of them, please go to a shelter and adopt kittens. There are plenty, especially in the summer and fall here in the States.   If you like being around kittens but don't want one in your house, see about volunteering for a shelter to help care for the ones who are already born and already nobody wants them.

Better yet, If you really like being around kittens get involved in a fostering program for a local shelter that allows you to help find good homes for the kittens once they're socialized. Save a kitten from being snuffed -- have your cats fixed and adopt kittens already born instead of breeding them, unless you're a responsible, professional breeder.

Even if your cats don't go outside, register them, have their inoculations and regular vet visits, and have permanent I.D. for them.  If your cat will wear a collar or harness, tag them; if not, microchip (or ear tattoo) them -- especially if you let them go outside to roam unattended. 

All of ours have chips.  Here in the Midwest, most shelters now check dogs and cats on entry to see if they have microchips.   If your pet has a chip and the I.D. number shows up on their scanner, they'll call the company where it's registered and the registry will call you to let you know where the animal is.   Apparently, this is very successful.

Tink got out by accident one time, right before her appointment to be spayed and have her chip installed, and she never would wear a collar, so we couldn't tag her.  We genuinely thought we'd never see her again.  Imagine your relief.  I can imagine your relief.

What you feed your cat is your business.  Tink grew up into the velvet-coated behemoth she is eating Purina Kitten and Cat Chow.   We feed a better brand now (Iams) because we have multiple cats and the economies of scale make it affordable, but I can't honestly complain about the Purina other than to say she pooped almost as much by herself eating it as any three of them do now, eating better food. 

There are many good midgrade foods (Iams, Eukanuba, Purina One) and premium brands (too many to name), only the Iams with which I've had any experience.  We fed Tink and Doodle a pricey, premium food for six weeks when we first brought Doodle home, because she had diarrhea when we first took her in and we thought it might be the inexpensive, shelf-brand cat food.  For six weeks, instead of getting rid of Doodle's diarrhea, we had two cats with loose stools (I won't name the brand, it probably wasn't entirely the fault of the food).  

So, I'm not one of those people who will accuse you of killing your cat if you're not paying three times too much for the cat food.  Up to a point, you get what you pay for, but the cat is still better off getting a regular, complete, packaged diet than fending for itself or eating table scraps or dog food.  Even the cheap food has taurine in it, which is essential for a cat's vision.  Dog food doesn't, and not all table scraps do.

Neither will I libel or slander Iams, as much of it as I've seen dished up on pet message boards (and heard it said by people who work at veterinary offices and pet stores, that the Nutro distributors do).  They give lots of food and money to shelters here in Dayton, where their original factory is -- including helping sponsor a spay/neuter certificate program here.  I rather doubt they're using roadkill, no matter how often the rumor is passed around, and even if they are -- I'd rather buy a bag of cat food that has some roadkill in it than a bag of cat food that has that brand of envy and hate in it.

If you don't care about breed, go to an animal shelter and adopt.  If you don't care about having a kitten or puppy, adopt a young adult (or even not so young adult) cat or dog.  Go to your local public kill shelter first, if you can -- those animals might die if you don't adopt them.  If there isn't one, or they don't have an animal you're interested in, go to a no-kill shelter as a second option.  Please.  You'll know what you're getting into if you find a shelter that has a foster network, because someone will have lived with the animal before it was placed in the adoption system.  Even if not, you can talk to shelter volunteers and employees about the animal's personality.  I can't say it too many times -- save an animal's life, if you want a companion that doesn't have papers.   Buying a kitten or puppy in a pet store -- especially one that doesn't have a pedigree -- is stooooopid and a waste of money.

Keep an eye on your cat's weight.  Profoundly overweight cats don't get around as well, tend to develop joint problems later in life, can't groom themselves as well, and are inclined to develop diabetes.  Yes, I know -- Tink's a big girl.  Our vet told us she's a little overweight, but as long as she doesn't get any bigger, she'll probably be okay.  I just don't think the poor guy could get his brain wrapped around the concept of a normal, moggie female cat who weighed thirteen and a half pounds and wasn't a blob.  As we all know, the average female cat weighs eight to ten pounds.  Right.  But she and Gord are on measured food, so they won't get any fatter than they already are.

There's something that happens, time and time again, on the pet newsgroups and the online pet chat boards.  Someone will send a post that reads something like this:

"My cat (is vomiting / is bleeding / is sneezing blood / has a swelling / has a cut that doesn't heal / is chewing all its hair off / won't eat / won't drink / won't poop / won't pee / etc.).  I can't afford to go to the vet if this isn't something important.  Can anybody give me any advice?"

To which any number of people who know a great deal about cats and who regularly post to these boards or groups almost invariably respond:


And are, quite often, bombarded by accusations of insensitivity or combativeness. 

What must be understood is, sometimes there is no other answer.   The solution, if you can't afford to take your cat to the vet if something goes wrong with it, is for you to take your cat to a no-kill animal shelter.  Better yet, if you know you can't afford it, don't even get a pet. 

I'm not a hypocrite, either -- I lived by myself on an income I didn't feel was sufficient to allow wiggle room if I had a sick animal so, though my apartment allowed pets, and I could have paid the deposit and kept a cat in food and litter, I elected not to have one, at that point.  It was a lonely three years, but I never had to ask myself if I was doing the best thing, or if I should take a sick animal who couldn't do anything for itself to the vet.

As cat stewards, we are endlessly thankful for:

Scratching posts.  Some cats like carpet, some like sisal.  Also canvas furniture and furniture covers.  Nylon Berber carpet, which holds up remarkably well to those cats who like neither sisal nor carpet scratch furniture (nor cardboard, nor anything else you can name that's not the family room carpet).  Go Cat's "Da Bird" toy, which gets even lazy ol' Tink up off her hiney to play now and again.  Scoop litter.  Water bottles.  Nail clippers.  Treats.  A good camera.  A good vet clinic.  A good animal shelter.  Microchips.   Drs. Foster and SmithPetsMart.  The WWW (great place for information -- see the Links page for the links you've seen so far and any others I can remember that have proved useful).  Cat newsgroups, especially FAQ (frequently asked questions) postings from said groups, most of which contain links for pages that are entertaining or helpful or, in the best case, both.

We don't have children, but our pets are not progeny replacements.  They're little, highly specialized food processing machines.  We call them 'the kids' on occasion, but we draw the line at calling ourselves 'mommy' and 'daddy.'  Don't get me wrong -- we love the little beasts.  But if I had given birth to any of them, I'd be making a load of dough doing the talk show circuit. 

We love the cats for what they are -- the end of a long line of evolution from feral felines (who probably looked a great deal like Tink); beautiful little fur-covered machines with personalities, quirks and loyalties that make them very entertaining, pleasant companions for humans.  They find us entertaining and pleasant company, too, mostly (I suspect) because we have thumbs for opening the cat food and the windows, scooping their poop and rubbing their chins.  As long as neither we nor they expect anything the other can't deliver, the exchange seems fair enough to me.

Max is a dog.  He's a reasonably well-behaved, lovable little psychopath who, when he's not leaping on your lap when you're in the middle of something or barking his fool head off, is a pretty good dog.

That's about as good as it gets.