“Who Let the Cat Out?”

I grew up in a small town in North Carolina where my house was situated far from any neighbors. It was a quiet, wooded area around my house where I could watch wildlife right outside my window. It also meant I had wildlife brought right to my door, but not by their own accord. Throughout my time living in this house, from birth to the age of 13, we had frequent stray cats. All of these stray cats were friendly, which made us think that people kept dumping their pets at our house. I was (still am) a child obsessed with animals, so I didn’t mind that these adorable kitties kept finding their way to my door.

When we had a stray cat, being the animal lover I’ve always been, I would pet it and feed it until we found a home for the cat. In the meantime, the cat would grow accustomed to my house and stay around, often leaving gifts on the front porch. To be clear, these gifts were often in the form of a dead bird, mouse, or squirrel. My mom grew up with an outdoor cat who did the same thing, so this was just a normal sighting to her; she said it wasn’t a big deal. It was obviously sad for the animals that were killed by the stray cats, but we moved on with our lives not thinking much of it. Over the years, we had a total of six stray cats show up that we found indoor homes for among my friends or family. It wasn’t until the last stray we had that my family decided to keep for ourselves. This stray was named Bailey, and she was the most affectionate cat we had encountered. immediately, we all fell in love with her.

Shortly after we had found and taken in Bailey, my family moved homes to a more suburban location. Bailey lived mostly indoors, however, we allowed her supervised outdoor time per her constant begging. The only reason she was even supervised at this time was because we lived next to a busy road and I’m a paranoid owner. Even so, one day she had escaped into my fenced-in backyard (without two young Blue Jays at the Wildlife Centersupervision). While my family and I were out looking for her, she had come trotting back with a deceased Mourning Dove in her jaws, to which my dad ill-timely replied, “Who let the cat out?” in an effort to be funny and reference the 1998 song “Who Let The Dogs Out” by the Baha Men. From this time onwards, I was sure to never allow Bailey outside again. When I was growing up with the handful of stray cats that had killed a few dozen wildlife animals collectively over that thirteen-year period, it didn’t seem like an issue. I had never heard how detrimental outdoor cats were to the wildlife population. It wasn’t until I started my wildlife rehabilitation externship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia this summer that I quickly learned how harmful cats are to wildlife populations.

At the Wildlife Center, every injured animal that is brought in by a good samaritan receives a cage card with their case number, species, type of injury, cause of injury, etc. It only took me two days to find a frequent pattern in these cage cards. Under the “Cause of injury” section of the cage card was the abbreviation CBC. Being a pre-veterinary student, I’d known that abbreviation to stand for “Complete Blood Count,” which is a common blood test. However, I learned that in this context CBC stood for “Caught By Cat.” 

This was a real eye-opener for me. The fact that the Wildlife Center sees so many animals injured by cats that they have an abbreviation for it was jarring.

I spoke with one of my wildlife rehabilitation supervisors to get a real number of how many CBC cases had been brought in the two weeks since I started as an extern. There were a whopping 37 confirmed cat-caught cases in that short time period! This data doesn’t even account for the number of animals brought in with unknown causes of their injuries and could very well have been from a cat.

Jarica faces the camera, while holding a young cottontail in a gloved hand.This statistic just blows my mind – that there are so many wild animals injured because of an action that is preventable. By keeping your domestic cat indoors, you can save the lives of so many unsuspecting little animals. I got to experience the damaging effects of outdoor cats firsthand through my time working at this Wildlife Center. As pitiful as these patients are that come in from cat attacks, it has educated me on not only how to care for the wildlife around me but also what actions I can take to mitigate the negative effects we humans have on their populations. I wasn’t educated early enough in my life to know why I should keep cats indoors, but I hope through taking the time to read my story, you too can take the steps to help protect our native wildlife species from harm. Don’t be the one asking, “Who LET the cat out?” instead, ask, “Who KEPT the cat IN?”

 ~Jarica Edwards
Wildlife Rehabilitation Extern
Summer 2024

Author’s note: Build or buy your own catio (cat patio)!
If you have a cat who begs to go outside (like mine) but you’re an owner who wants to protect the wild animals, I suggest getting a catio! This cat patio keeps the wildlife safe from cat attacks and allows your kitty to enjoy bird watching, fresh air, and lounging in the sun! I have included a website link below (not sponsored) where you can find DIY catio building plans or buy your own custom catio. 
Catio Spaces: Custom & DIY Catios & Cat Enclosures