I’ve been thinking about getting a cat. Well, two cats actually because unlike dogs I’ve always felt felines should come in pairs. But there’s a problem. I really like the idea of an outdoor cat, but I’ve seen too many road traffic accidents involving beloved pets to take that risk – particularly for someone living in a built-up area where cars are just one of a number of hazards an urban cat has to overcome in order to both survive and thrive. On the other hand, I could never deny any cat of mine the sweet smell of fresh air in its nostrils or the feeling of warming sunshine on its belly. It’s quite the dilemma.
Then one day, in a scene reminiscent of that moment in The Graduate when Benjamin Braddock has his card well and truly marked as to the future employment potential of a career in plastics, I heard the word that could possibly change my life forever – “catio”. Five letters, three syllables, a charming portmanteau of a word meaning, of course, a patio for cats. Now, when I hear the word patio I think of a kaleidoscopic mishmash of TV through the decades – a sort of Margo Leadbetter meets Terry & June meets that deadbeat husband who got buried beneath the paving slabs in Brookside. A catio, on the other hand, brings to mind the African plains, the Highveld, the northern grasslands, a veritable safari landscape surrounded by the metaphorical bubble wrap of a couple of rolls of chicken wire and a few feet of four-by-two.
Finding the right balance between giving your cat the freedom to wander and interact with nature at will and protecting it from injury and a premature demise is difficult to achieve. It’s interesting that in the US the concept of an outdoor pet cat is far less common than in the UK. This is partly due to cultural differences and partly because of the higher number of natural predators there that pose a risk to the humble moggie. That’s not to say there aren’t a ton of outdoor cats in the US. They just tend to be feral or abandoned.
Ultimately there is a choice to be made. I can still recall the feeling I had as a young boy when my shaking the box of Go-Cat routine didn’t result in the sight of the bouncy, confident stride of my pet cat returning from the fields beyond the bottom of my garden. I never saw Sandy again and four decades later I still carry the mental scars. All hail the catio!