On December 1, 2011, the Westchester County Department of Health issued a rabies alert to residents of New Rochelle, N.Y., who may have come into contact with a rabid cat. The cat, a red tabby, had been observed acting aggressively towards other animals and people. There are reports that the red tabby cat may have come into contact with a colony of feral cats in New Rochelle. Similarly, Westchester health officials had to issue a rabies warning to Ossining residents when a rabid calico kitten, who had been in contact with other feral cats, had attacked an adult cat before being captured. This problem of feral cats being exposed to rabies is occurring in other parts of the country as well. For instance on November 23, 2011, city officials in Fort Worth, Texas warned residents that a woman was attacked by a rabid feral cat.
One question arising from the problem of rabid feral cats is whether it is ethical for cat owners to allow their pet cats out of the house when there is a chance that these pets might contact rabies. It has been argued that cats have an instinctive need to hunt, climb, hide when they sense danger, and feel in control of their activities. When these needs are not satisfied they can suffer stress. Is it better for pet cats to naturally act out their instinctual behaviors outside and risk the danger of becoming infected with rabies, or would it be best if their owners kept them indoors and provided for their behavioral needs in other ways? Since a rabid pet cat would pose a danger to its owner, is it ethical for owners to keep their cats indoors in order to protect themselves? Is it ever ethical for a human to own a non-human animal? I don’t have the answer to most of these questions. I would simply argue that due to the dangers to both the cat and its owner of letting a cat outside, if someone decides to own a cat they should keep it indoors and do their best to provide for the cat’s behavioral needs.