You might have noticed the earth is crawling with cats, millions of adorable cats wandering the streets, slinking into storm drains and darting across alleys. I know I noticed, and I thought, ‘Are they searching for new homes? Are they starving? Are they lonely? Don’t they—all of them, every cat—belong in my house, warm, content, safe from speeding vehicles? I can just grab one or four, liberate them from this hostile, godless hellscape full of rats, disease, and hungry coyotes. It would be my sacred duty as steward of the Earth and its many beings.’
But unfortunately, you can’t snatch cats off the street. You can’t wander down back alleys late at night with a great big bag and “adopt” every cat in sight. You can’t crawl into a storm drain and wait for them in the darkness, lurking for hours, listening to your own heavy breathing. You can’t stalk the earth with dead eyes, cutting any connection to your previous life, living in garbage, hugging sixteen dead cats to your chest as you fall asleep while crying. Like a thirsty castaway in the middle of the ocean or a man who drops his phone in lava, the cats are so tantalizingly close and yet you must restrain yourself with monkish discipline.
Why? Well, you don’t want to hurt any cats. They are squishy animals with toothpick bones, and any attempt to snatch a cat without, say, a net, is liable to result in an injured kitty. Feral cats scamper with blazing speed, so the only way to catch them is by diving on them like a linebacker, a dangerous practice for all parties involved. I’ve never injured a cat, but one time as a child, I leaped from a moving vehicle and dove into some bushes after a particularly cute cat, emerging with a scratched up face and slashed arms. Another time, I wandered into an old abandoned barn after a cat and rifled through dusty mason jars and rusty farm equipment until a dead snake scared me enough to leave. Are cats worth all this danger? Yes, of course they are; why did I even pose the question? But there are easier, less hazardous methods of acquiring cats, so why not utilize them.
Still, I know what you’re thinking: why would I go to an animal shelter when I can harvest the hundreds of cats in my neighborhood and keep them in my bedroom like a thick, writhing, hissing carpet? Why would I go to the ASPCA when I can be blanketed in a hundred wriggling cats like the scarabs in the Mummy? I completely empathize with you. But what if the cat you snatch belongs to someone. Why, then you’d be a catnapper, a criminal, and what’s worse, you’d be depriving a family of the only family member who matters.
For example, one time, I lured a kitten into my house with a bowl of Reese’s Puffs, and the next day, the doorbell rings. It’s a six year old girl, searching for her kitten. I said, “Little girl, this is your fault. I’m not the crazy one for rescuing the kitten; you’re the crazy one for letting a tiny kitten wander this dystopian nightmare world like an orphan.” She said, “MY MOM SAID SHE WOULD WATCH HER I’M SO SORRY!” And then she cried until I handed her the kitten, as if I’m supposed to feel sorry for an irresponsible pet owner. Children operate under the impression there are no consequences to their actions, but guess what, little girl, sometimes you’re an inattentive little girl and then you lose a kitten.
Plenty of people keep outdoor cats despite the (irrelevant) harm to bird and rodent populations. But even if it’s not someone’s cat, in your frantic pursuit to acquire it, you might not notice the cat is not a cat. The cat could in fact be a possum, a skunk, or an enormous rat. The other day, while walking home, I thought a cute cat had strolled up next to me, but when I reached down to pet it, I saw it was actually a raccoon. I shouted, “No!” and the raccoon hissed at me before scuttling under a fence into a graveyard.
At the end of the day though, the most important reason not to grab cats off the street is because they, like all living things, deserve freedom. Freedom from human intervention, freedom from suburban imprisonment, freedom from tyrannical love. I often daydream about a rainforest filled with cats, who scamper through the trees and underbrush and hunt mice in vast herds, living as nature intended (though domesticated cats were never subject to natural selection). But also: if you leave cat food on your porch, they’ll eventually just show up on their own.