The first step is to remember that just because a baby is by itself doesn't necessarily mean that it's an orphan or has been abandoned. While it seems counter-intuitive for humans, in the wild leaving a quiet baby alone in a hidden spot is a good strategy for keeping them safe. Fawns in high grass are likely exactly where their mother left them while she forages for food. She may not be in sight, however she will recognize you, a human, as a threat and will likely stay hidden until you are gone. Deer aren't the only wild animals that use that strategy either. Rabbits will also leave their babies unattended.
The Indoor/Outdoor Debate
Preventing felines from encountering toxo in the first place by keeping them indoors, providing them with fresh, clean water and feeding them a diet that does not include raw meat is one way to keep them safe and prevent them from exposing humans, livestock, and wildlife downstream to toxoplasmosis.
Encounters with Other Animals
While many people cite the uncertainty of free-roaming cat numbers as a big variable when it comes to estimating their impact on native wildlife, what is known is this: based on the estimates we DO have, the impact is decimating. More information is being gathered by studies looking at just how far and wide cats allowed outdoors roam, and the number of kills they so generously bring to their owners isn't necessarily representative of the number of kills they actually make.
That said, not all kitties are lucky enough to encounter other animals that their hunting skills can conquer. Footage of cats attacked by birds of prey such as chicken hawks, owls, and eagles is easy to find. What's not so easy to find is a cat once its gone missing. We like to think that our free-roaming feline companions have simply moved on to greener pastures, but the laws of nature don't support such rosy notions as reality.
Advantages of Cats Indoors
Indoor cats live longer. Average lifespans alone should be all the argument we need to see that cats kept indoors lead longer, healthier, better quality lives. By being able to carefully observe your feline companion, you'll be the first to know if they're not feeling good or if there's something amiss. They won't encounter wildlife or other animals that might harm them, saving cat owners trips to the vet and expensive treatments to stitch their cats back together afterwards. Not worrying about when (or if) your cat will come home is also a massive relief when it comes to our pets and companions.
For folks who work in animal welfare, encouraging cat owners to keep their cats indoors makes sense too. If an indoor cat goes missing, the owner knows right away and can immediately make a Lost Report to an agency such as ourselves. Free-roaming cats are much less likely to get reported in a timely manner with owners often telling us that they have been missing for several weeks or more before they make a report. In Virginia, stray holds are 5-10 days, which means that a free-roaming cat may have already been adopted, transferred out to a rescue group, or, if their health had been fatally compromised by their jaunt outdoors and/or their temperament makes them unsafe to handle, euthanized before a report even comes.
As we move forward as an animal shelter, we continue to find solutions and do the best with the resources we have for the 2,000+ animals that arrive at our doors every year. We have carefully vetted dozens of rescue groups and transfer as many animals as possible to our supporting allies to save as many animals as we can. Our allies have limited resources too. Our staff makes every reasonable effort to avoid euthanasia, prioritizing healthy, friendly pets and placing as many animals as possible into our local adoption program or with our rescue groups. We cannot continue to improve without community support. While our intake numbers are steadily declining, we're still experiencing high intakes of unsocialized cats. Keeping cats indoors, spaying and neutering them, and encouraging your friends and neighbors to do the same has an impact on keeping kitties safe and sound in the homes that love them. Our commitment to remaining open admission as a place for any local animal to come at any time means providing temporary housing and care for any pet regardless of temperament or health, but we're not able to safely adopt out animals regardless of temperament or health. Please help us, your community, and kitties right here in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County by committing to keep them safe indoors.