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Keeping cats inside holds those vicious birds at bay

Saturday was "National Keep Your Cat Indoors Day" according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Try telling that to Lewis. He charges the door every time it opens. The doorbell sends him rocketing toward the front of the house, eager to meet a guest and escape between the legs of some unsuspecting soul. So far he has made it into the garage a dozen times and out into the front flower bed once.

He is absolutely convinced that something to eat is out there. His Siamese brother, Clark, is hiding inside, afraid that something outside will eat him first.

Together they stalk catnip toys, Beanie Babies, us and anything to eat _ inside the house. They have yet to sample genuine bird, but they spend a lot of time watching. They absolutely love the bird feeders outside our windows and spend hours salivating at the prospect of a feathered lunch.

Outside is forbidden territory. So it is, of course, exactly where Lewis wants to be. Every closed door is a challenge to him. The cat-free bedroom we keep for allergic friends and relatives is equally attractive. They wait outside the door to dart in and hide under the bed.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants everyone to pay particular attention to keeping cats indoors right now. They've even developed a Web site with more information:

They say free-roaming domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals each year.

Now that is hardly news. But what they don't tell us is about all the evil-tempered birds that attack cats.

In years gone by when our cats had the run of the neighborhood, it was not unusual to see one sunning himself in a nice patch of grass only to have a divebombing blue jay take out a patch of his head.

The Ole Poo Cat spent half his life with nicks between his ears. He also understood how tasty bird morsels could be and learned to stretch out, feigning sleep, and leap straight up when they came at him.

This is not a one-way street, folks. There are some vicious birds out there on the street. The bird watchers say this time of year is particularly sensitive because newly hatched songbirds are vulnerable to roaming cats.

The wildlife conservation folks even want to protect beach mice, saying they are an important part of the ecological system along the state's beaches. The population is declining, and they blame the cats. (I swear they actually make this accusation in a written press release that landed on my desk last week.)

They have issued no such warning for poor yard-bound kittens who are about to be attacked by diving birds.

Cats with bells on their collars also kill wildlife, the bird watchers complain. That's because they can stalk animals without making the bells ring.

Sadly, none of them admire the talent it must take to sneak up on a mean, nasty blue jay without ringing a pesky bell.

Okay, I'm kidding. Don't write me all that save the birds drivel you were thinking about. I like to look at birds, too, and our cats are INSIDE cats every day.

So I will advise all of you to keep your cats inside every day _ even when it is not National Keep Your Cats Indoors Day. But my advice is born out of a desire to keep cats safe from birds, cars, dogs and other predators.

Years of experience in the world of cats has taught me that they can get deadly diseases from rats and other crawling creatures. One of ours even was shot by a pellet gun and left blood on every window sill around the house trying to get our attention in the middle of the night.

Cats also are stolen if left outside. One of ours was stolen and then returned after two days. He probably drove them nuts since he was in the habit of leaping from one piece of furniture to another every time we left him with someone else.