Could this idea for a "wilderness retreat for housecats" work?

The other day, I had an idea. It seems to me that the instincts of a housecat are not really that different from those of a lion or tiger. I was watching something on the Discovery Channel showing a leopard hunting, and the big cat moved and acted just like my little cat does. I think all cats, even those which have been domesticated for living in homes, wish they were wild and free, and if they had the opportunity to go outside and hunt, they would. It’s just in their instinct.

So how about this: say I set up an indoor, or walled-in outdoor, wilderness environment for cats. It would have trees, bushes, plants, and streams, and a varied grade of terrain. In the environment would live mice, chipmunks, small fish, and birds.

For a small fee, one could bring their cat to this little place, and the cat could be free to hunt and stalk its prey just as a wild cat does. It would get to have a little “taste” of the lifestyle of a wildcat; it would be like a little vacation for the little cat. I figure that house cats must get very bored having to sit inside all day when they could be outside chasing small animals. I toyed with the idea of getting some mice from a pet shop and letting them loose in my house so that my cat could chase and eat them, but I figured it would get blood everywhere and make a mess. Then this idea came to me of establishing a wild habitat specifically for domestic cats to go to and chase prey in a controlled environment that simulated the wild.

Would it be feasible to create such a thing? Would there be animal cruelty laws or something that would get in the way (on the part of the birds, mice, etc?) Or some kind of health code regulation? Because otherwise, I bet a lot of people would use this kind of facility, to let their cats have a little wilderness retreat.

There are a number of diseases a cat can get by killing and eating other animals. This being an enclosed environment, and the mice/chipmunks being indoor bred, might reduce the chances of these.

But then there is always the injury factor - the cat doesn’t always emerge from such attacks unscathed.

The work required to clean the enviroment between cats to prevent the spread of disease between cats…

Clearly you’d only be able to allow one family’s cat’s in the environment at a time.

Sounds like fun for the cats. You’d have to do a bit of market research to determine if people would be willing to pay the fees it would take for such an endeavour to make a profit.

Noting that you can feed live rodents to snakes, I am unaware of laws that would prevent you from doing the same with cats…except housecats are the only creature besides man that kills for sport.

Cats don’t like being moved, either. I didn’t know that and took my first cat over for a playdate with a friend’s cat - it did NOT go well. He spent the time hiding under a desk or trying to kill the other cat. Actually bit the friend, too.

I had a co-worker who had a very large outdoor enclosure for her house cats. It was quite ingenius really. It was like having a whole room of a house outdoors but with things they could climb on. Like ramps and stuff. The narrow chainlink cube also extend about two feet underground so that they couldn’t dig under it and escape.

AFAIK, she never introduced live game though.

ETA: My cats have always hated car rides and hated new environments. I don’t think it would really work to try it with “visiting” cats.

The trouble I see is that cats generally don’t like to travel and are territorial. So I don’t think having this be a situation where you drop off your cat for the afternoon (or even the weekend) would work all that well-- it would probably take most cats a while to get over the car trip and get comfortable with a strange area that reeks of other cats and so they’d probably spend most of their kitty retreat skulking around.

Hah. Faulty premise.

Our housecats are all rescue cats, 100% indoor since their rescue and return to feline health. They like watching through the windows but want no actual part of the outdoors except through a screen. While they much enjoy the screened-in porch during the summer, if we take them for a brief escort to the real outdoors, they pretty much indicate, "“Oh, sh!t, this room is too big! And scary!”

They don’t know how to hunt efficiently. Having never learned as kittens, they are not about to do so now. They’re incapable, literally of harming a fly. A mouse got into the house once and one kitty of them managed to corner it in the front hall. She patted at it – very gently – and the poor thing was leaping up and down like a cartoon mouse in sheer terror. We captured the rodent in a towel and released it outside, completely unharmed.

They definitely have a hard-wired instinct to chase small moving things, but would probably starve to death if they had to actually catch and kill their own dinner.

one practical problem : how would you retrieve your pet when you want to go home?

Whenever I take the cat carrier box out of its closet, my darling little fluffy wuffy putty-tat runs off to hide.
I have enough problems pulling her out from under the bed— but at least I know where she is, in a small apartment.

At home, at least I can pretend that I’m the one who’s in charge…But in a rent-a-jungle, the roles would be reversed, and she would know it…

I can imagine myself standing–helplessly!— in a mall-sized artificial jungle, anxiously looking at my watch, while kitty is hiding in the bushes or up in the branches of a tree, taunting me.

I love her…but not that much. :slight_smile:


Ugh. That would be true too. If Squiggy was even in a tennis-court size “jungle” he’d be so scared it would take a day or two to find him and coax him out of hiding.

He catches the occasional house mouse, but seems to only think of them as self-propelled toys. The two we’ve failed to rescue from his clutches were batted around until they expired, whereupon he “put them away” where he keeps all his other toys: he slid them under the dish washer. :smack:

Our rescue cat sounds like a littermate of MLS’s cats. It watches the squirrels and birds intently through the window and gives every indication of dying to get outside and ‘be wild.’ Then it accidently got out. We searched and searched and a day later found it in the far corner of the yard under a Chinese Palm in a bit of a hole facing away from EVERYTHING, just staring at the fence inches from it’s nose. It was freaked out and hating life. An hour after being back inside; presto, happy cat.

Although all cats seem to have some instinct to hunt, cats seem to be wired such that fully tummy=happy content cat=sleep all day. I agree they might be happier outside, but cats seem content as long as they are fed.

The problem with this is if the cat does decide he likes being outside, you might find yourself with a cat that is no longer happy indoors, and is always trying to escape.

I’ve heard that a lot, but I’ve never seen a proper citation for it.

I have seen, in examining reports of government reimbursement for livestock killed by predators, cases of wolves killing ten or fifteen sheep and just leaving the bodies behind. Many young animals, when learning to hunt, will kill prey without eating it. And I have no reason to believe that (given a food-rich environment, of course) wildcats wouldn’t exhibit the same behavior as housecats.

It’s a Man’s Life in the kitty wilderness retreat.

My cats have a year-round enclosed patio with a cobblestone floor and lots of plants, plus cubes and ramps to climb onto. The “game” is filled with catnip. They especially like to roll around on their backs when the sun warms the cobblestones. Since they are both declawed, this is as far “back to nature” as they’re allowed.

My cat was indoors and outdoors and absolutely loved to hunt and kill anything smaller than him. And if it was his size or bigger, then he would devise elaborate ambushes in order to at least try to kill them. I’ve had to chase off the neighbors dog because he would intentionally bait it and then run away to a pre-determined launching point from which he was hidden from the dog and could jump down on top of it, displaying all the wiggling behaviour of his usual hunting crouch. He was never pleased to see me rescue the dob by chasing it off my yard. Found a dead owl once. Decapitated with the head lying next to the body not a bite taken out of it. Half a minute later I see my cat under the porch cleaning a large amount of blood off his paws.

Make no mistake, my cat at least, loved to kill for sport.

Cats are extremely conservative creatures…they do not like change. They do like outside…but they hate change. :slight_smile:

Many of the objections to the idea here are a little silly. “Oh, my indoor cats are afraid of outside, so bad idea”. So ok, that’s 1 non-customer. Many indoor cats I’ve known have tried to escape every chance they get so I’m sure there’s some owners, if they have the extra cash to blow, might try it. Especially if you made it easy for the cat to get in and out of the wilderness enclosure so they could choose the amount of time they want in there.

A more likely to succeed twist on this business idea would be as boarding kennel(?) for cats that are already outdoor cats. Owners of those cats would probably like the idea of their pet still getting to enjoy that experience when they leave them behind. And since you’re going after customers already intent on forcing “change” on the cat, it’s a moot point that they don’t like it.

eta: yes it obviously feasible. Might be an idea to give each cat some kind of tracking collar so you can find him when you need to. Don’t know how much that will run u.

A possible explanation (other than killing for “sport”) for that behaviour is that while the wolves will indeed kill all the prey animals they can, they are in fact still killing for food, and if left undisturbed will remain or return to eat.

My reason for making this point is that in Europe, foxes are often accused of wanton killing because when they get into the henhouse they kill all the chickens, and not just as many as they “need”. But I’ve seen a film that shows that if undisturbed, the foxes will then make as many return trips to the henhouse as necessary to carry away all the dead hens, one at a time.

This is a fascinating idea. Cats are pretty territorial and might be more offended about the move than they are amused by the offerings, but…

What about renting a tiny explorable environment that you could bring into your own home? They certainly do like exploring boxes and luggage and, if they are outdoor cats, the interiors of cars and trucks parked in their normal territory. Somehow they must make some distinction between territory and containers, and accept new containers even though in a sense it is an environment that could be territory.

It’d be like renting a Moonbounce for your kid’s birthday party.

Trees, bushes etc. are not a cat’s natural environment; your living room and the alley behind your house is. The common housecat is an animal designed by evolution to flourish in urban environments; more than any other creature, it has adopted perfectly to living alongside mankind.

I think though that was for that one time. Of course kitty is scared, it’s new to him. But given enough time kitty would learn not to be afraid.

When I was young I had a cat. We got it in the winter so it didn’t want to go out. Then it started looking out windows, so we let it out. It went out then ran back in. Then each day it would go out farther and it would find places outside to hide if it felt uncomfortable. Evenutally over time my cat worked out with the other neighborhood cats what it’s territory was and all was fine.

But cats need more than one time out to establish boundaries and not be afraid. Even though my cat was indoor/outdoor as soon as winter hit and definately when the snow fell it refused to go out. As soon as spring came and the weather warmed up as soon as it got dark the cat would ask to go out.

From what I could tell it spent most of the time hiding in bushing and dodging birds (in the Spring when the birds had babies all the cats in the neighborhood were routinely dive bombed by birds)

So overtime a cat, even if it’s afraid at first will lose the fear and gradually extend it’s “safe” boundaries or territory.