Cats: Companions, Pets, or Free Beings?

My wife and I are wrestling with the roaming habits of our cats. Our two boy cats got out when the house was being painted last month, and since then have gotten better and better at finding ways to escape into the vacant land behind to our home. In front of our home is a very busy road, which they’ve avoided thus far in their adventures, but it makes us nervous.

Working for a vet, I have gotten her opinion on the matter: she thinks we should let them run about outside. It may reduce their aggressive play towards our lone girl cat, she argues, and she thinks they’d be happier overall.

My reasons for keeping them in since they first came to us (each of them at about three months) were pretty well-thought-out:

  • It reduces the chance of death by car to zero.
  • It makes parasites almost a non-issue.
  • It keeps them out of fights with other cats.
  • It preserves the local bird population.

My wife agrees with all of these. However, I’ve been thinking more about the issue, especially in the light of their uncanny ability to get out anyway.

  • Is it right to imprison them?
  • Would they be happier going out from time to time?
  • Since they get out sometimes anyway, would it make more sense to work out a system for them to go in and out, so they know how to get back inside?

I’m not entirely sold on the idea of letting them out – my reasons for keeping them in still make sense to me. But I have a lot of doubts about the right way to go about this. All my prior cats did go out, but it was a much quieter road and the chances of random mishap were far lower. I’m frankly scared to let them roam free, but I’m also wondering if I’m doing the right thing or now.