Most of the time people don’t ask that question. They ask instead, “How long can I leave my cat home alone?” My answer, the only one I am comfortable with based on personal experience, is “not one night.”
Responsible pet owners who wouldn’t dream of leaving a dog home alone while they go away, think it’s perfectly fine to leave their cats to fend for themselves. Many people see cats as self-sufficient creatures that don’t need the same amount of care as dogs. On a very basic level, this is true. You don’t have to take a cat out for a daily walk or to go potty. And cats generally won’t tear the sofa cushions to bits if left alone for a few days. But everything else, every other reason you wouldn’t leave your dog home alone for a week with nothing but a bowl of kibble and some water, applies to cats too.
Cats cannot take care of themselves if something should go wrong. What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Anything can happen, especially if the cat is allowed to go outdoors while you are away. Bad things can happen to indoor cats too. They can knock over a glass vase and cut their foot open. They can spill water into their bowl of kibble and turn it to mush. The thing is, accidents happen, and they’re unpredictable.
If I went away and didn’t arrange for someone to come over to check on my cats, and something bad happened to one of them, the guilt would be very hard to live with. I know, because it happened to me a long time ago, and that was the very last time I ever left my cats home alone.
My then-husband and I went on vacation and left our cat Tosha with enough dry food and water to last for more than a week. We even left a little extra, just in case. We didn’t need to worry about someone cleaning the litter box, because we had a cat door and Tosha could come and go as she pleased. At the time, I thought nothing of leaving my cat home alone for a week. I’d heard it said many, many times that a cat left alone would be perfectly fine, and I believed it. Oh, how wrong I was.
Our return was delayed because our car broke down and stranded us in the mountains. When we finally did get come, I called and called Tosha. She always came when I called her, but this time she didn’t. We went to look for her, and found her behind the house lying in the bushes. She was alive, but one of her back legs was mangled.
We rushed her to the vet, who said it could’ve been caused by a dog or a car; he wasn’t sure. We were given the option to put her to sleep or amputate her leg. She was just a year old, and I thought it would be unfair to let her die so young. The vet said she would be able to get around fine with three legs, so we agreed to the operation. A few hours and $2400 later, we had ourselves a three-legged cat.
Tosha lived to be 16 and did manage to get around quite well on three legs, albeit with a hopping gait that was funny to watch. Her nicknames were Tripod and Hopalong Catsidy, and we joked about buying her a little kitty wheelchair. One could argue that it turned out okay, so what was the harm in leaving her home alone? For starters, I have no idea how long she lay there in the bushes, bleeding and in pain. Her suffering was needless, and incredibly selfish on my part. And had we kept her inside, we’d have spent $80 to have a pet sitter come twice a day versus $2400 to amputate her leg.
My beloved three-legged cat taught me a valuable lesson in Responsible Pet Ownership. Nowadays, if I can’t get a friend or family member to come and check on my cats twice a day when I’m gone overnight, I hire a pet sitter. It’s the right thing – the only thing – to do. In my eyes, there is nothing to gain and everything to lose by leaving my precious kitties home alone.
Read more articles by Julia Williams
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