Earlier this week, I received a letter from Jeanine Fetterly, a very nice woman from Oakland who I apparently pushed too far. It wasn't an easy letter to read as her passion led her to say some tough things, but it has spurred me to have a conversation with all of you about cats, and whether or not they should be permitted outdoors.

Here's just a snippet of what Jeanine to say.

"In your column of July 25th, once again you rag on people who allow their cats outside. Why do you have this insane prejudice? You have written many times, ad nauseam, that inside cats live longer and outside cats are a threat to wild life. People who let their cats outside are sick to death of having your opinion on this subject crammed down their throats. Do you have to repeat yourself so often?

Are outdoor cats causing as many problems as they are accused of?
Are outdoor cats causing as many problems as they are accused of? (Dan Rosenstrauch/Contra Costa Times)

"Obviously, I disagree with you. I am a cat lover and many people I know who keep their cats exclusively inside have fat, lazy cats. Is that healthy? I have a 7-year-old lean, healthy, active and highly intelligent cat. He runs, bounds around, climbs walls and trees, scratching my posts and trees instead of furniture. More than that, he's a wonderful companion when working in my extensive gardens. Dog owners have the pleasure of their animals' company when they take their dogs on walks or to dog parks. As you know, cats balk at leashes so do I not deserve the pleasure of my cat's company when I'm outside?


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"I have a large piece of property in Montclair. The cat rarely leaves my/his own property. He is safe here and does no one any harm. I bring him at night when the rare predator might be out. I sympathize with people who find neighborhood cats are defiling their flower beds. I feel strongly that, like dog owners, cat owners should be responsible for helping the offended neighbor protect their gardens. Perhaps the cat owner could dig up and make attractive an area in his own yard for an 'outdoor' sandbox. I don't think you've ever suggested this; you just continue to rail against outside cats."

Jeanine and I have since had a very nice email exchange, and I think she has some valid points. I do go on about outdoor cats, not out of dislike for cats and their owners, but because I have a true concern for the animals, both the cats and the wildlife.

When I was a kid and my cousins used to visit, my mom would get overly upset at things they did, but she couldn't bring herself to discipline my cousins, so she would yell at us in the hope, I presume, that my aunt and uncle would get the message and rein in their children. Am I guilty of doing the same thing? Am I shouting at the good cat owners in hopes the bad owners will recognize the problem?

Jeanine appears to be a responsible cat owner. She has provided her cat with an outdoor area where he apparently is content on remaining. He is a companion to her when she's outside and although he occasionally kills a gopher, mouse or bird, that is the way of the cat, and of nature.

When I'm on my soap box, I'm preaching to those who have let their cats become nuisances, roaming without any supervision and, worse, possibly contributing to the feral cat population. Is there a difference between these cat owners and Jeanine? I think so.

So, I want to hear from you -- free-roaming cat supporters and those who believe cats need to be indoors. Is there a middle ground to be found?

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read the Animal Life blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/pets.