Stop looking at me like I’m the bad guy from Room, writes Alex Casey.
Do not be fooled by my cat’s appearance. His tuxedo fur may suggest he is a noble gent, politely requesting to be taken to the nearest black tie gala on a Penny Farthing. The perpetual white napkin around his neck could imply he is a regular on the Michelin star circuit, politely requesting a full degustation meal with wine matches. The distinct white bra and undies shape on his belly may even hint at a career as a Calvin Klein model, fresh off the runways of Milan.
Alas, our nine-year-old cat Link has never been to a gala, or a restaurant, or Milan. He has been an indoor cat since we moved into an apartment in 2021 and, even after we moved into a house with a backyard, has remained that way. Well-meaning visitors sometimes ask when we are letting him outside. When we tell them that he’s an indoor cat, there is often a flash of something in their eyes – concern, confusion, judgement, the sudden urge to rewatch the movie Room. An indoor cat is, for most, simply not the New Zealand way.
We have our reasons. During his years as an outdoor cat, Link (and his late sister Zelda) killed heaps of birds, once leaving nothing but a piwakawaka head and two spindly legs in the middle of the rug like a horrible True Detective centrepiece. There’s no guilt quite like taking an injured and scared fledgling to the bird hospital with a cat bite – the manager of BirdCare told me that cats are responsible for 36% of their patients, and only about 20% can ever be saved.
There’s not just the staggering impact on birdlife – Forest and Bird estimates cats in Aotearoa kill around 1.2 million birds a year – but the risk to Link’s own health to consider. We’ve spent hundreds on vet bills after our cats got into scraps with other cats, coming home limping with puncture marks all over their bodies. I once caught the neighbourhood bully (a giant British Blue) pinning down Link and doing a (possibly toxoplasmosis laden) POO on his HEAD?!?! Neighbours at War could never.
Another time, Link got a horror abscess on his tail from another neighbourhood cat bite and had to have it shaved and stitched up, forcing us to live with whatever the hell this is for most of the first lockdown:
And it’s tense to talk about, but there’s also the car problem. I will never, ever forget the agony of finding Zelda’s little lifeless body on the side of Mount Albert Road one grey Sunday morning, a small handpicked bouquet of lavender resting on her belly from a kind stranger. We took her home wrapped in a blanket and Link cautiously sniffed her face, wondering what was wrong with his sister. We decided we didn’t want anything like that happening again, even if it meant daily sacrifices from both cat and human alike.
Because, of course, you have to make changes to keep a cat happy indoors. Having a big, lovely, clean litter box is paramount, as is having toys to keep them active and stave off depression. People build luxury catios and elaborate cat tunnels across their property, but I know that Link would troll us by not using any of it and instead choosing to sit, unblinking, in a reusable New World bag all day. A friend once gave us some cat mint, which he noshed on for 30 seconds and then forgot about entirely.
As the indoor cat vs outdoor cat debate rages on in Aotearoa, I reckon our Link has a pretty good life inside, even if some people think it is weird. Every night he sleeps below a giant portrait of his own face. He gets lots of play time and sometimes even screen time. If I’m lucky, he will sit with me in my office during the day and gaze out the window. Outside, goldfinches gobble up the dandelions, piwakawaka flit happily through the trees, and the neighbour’s annoying cat digs up our garden to do its daily crap.
At least it’s not on Link’s head anymore.