Once you go backyard, you never go back
May 25, 2008 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Is there any neighborhood or general area in San Francisco that allows a carless commute to the Mission, and where an indoor-outdoor cat could be reasonably safe?

I live in Oakland right now, but I'm sick of my hour-long daily commute and hope to move to the city in July. But! Here in the suburban-ish East Bay, my kitty can climb in and out my window at his leisure and spend the days and nights frolicking his little heart out. My street is quiet enough, and the backyards are big enough, that most of the cats here are indoor-outdoor and I don't worry that he'll be hit by a car or eaten by a cougar. I feel a twinge of distress when I imagine the plaintive whimpers and mournful looks he'll aim at me when he's confined to an apartment - and the property damage from his subsequent tantrums.

Is there any neighborhood in San Francisco where indoor-outdoor cats aren't dead meat? The catch is that I work in the Mission (Cesar Chavez) and don't have a car, so places like the Sunset and the Presidio are out, because the whole point is to shorten my commute. I generally get around by bike, but steep hills pwn me.

I realize the little bastard severely limits my options anyway (check "allows cats" on craigslist and 90% of the listings vanish) but I just loooove him so much and want him to be happy. As an aside, he was an indoor-only cat for his first four years when I lived in Chicago. But he's definitely less insane now.
posted by granted to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could try the Excelsior district (upper Mission, close to Daly City) or Portola Valley (off of Silver Avenue). Those are residential areas that you could bike to from Cesar Chavez (just go straight up Mission street, turn left on Silver Avenue and explore the areas between Silver Avenue and MacLaren Park. I wouldn't say they are entirely safe for indoor\outdoor cats, but a lot of the houses in those areas have big backyards.
posted by gt2 at 10:24 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not a cat owner, so it's hard for me to assess good cat neighborhoods, but you might want to look at the Glen Park area. Not super far from the Mission, and you can always take BART 1-2 stops if your work is near enough to the Mission BART stations. It's always seemed like a fairly small, quiet neighborhood to me. I'd still be worried about the car-on-cat collision possibility though.
posted by zachlipton at 11:18 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to say Excelsior, too. That's my neighborhood and though my kitty is indoor only, I see cats out a bit and it seems pretty safe. Safe enough for a couple of neighborhood cats to crap in my yard pretty often. My poor cat just has to look down from the window in frustration as the intruders saunter through her yard, poor thing. Lots of yards and such round here and the commute (either by BART, Muni, or bike, would be easy to the Mission. If you were close to McLaren, I'd be wary of raccoons and other critters being a bit territorial but mostly I think it would be fine. Glen Park is a good option as well. More expensive, probably, than the Excelsior.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:56 AM on May 26, 2008

Do you take transit? I'd use 511.org to estimate travel times from potential neighborhoods. I say this because my Oakland commute to the Mission was shorter than my co-worker's commute from the Richmond.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:22 AM on May 26, 2008

Re Glen Park: there are lots of roaming cats in the neighborhood. It's also home to the occasional coyote, raccoon, and possum. There are also lots of dogs around that are interested in chasing/eating roaming cats. And lots of "lost cat" signs, as well. You be the judge.

To get to the Mission, you could take BART. The 26 Valencia bus goes there, too, but it may be discontinued.
posted by stonefruit at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: Suburban + San Francisco + less than an hour via transit to mission = megadollars.
But there is some hope. The general layout of most of the residential blocks I've lived in in a dozen years in SF is houses on the outside, complicated maze of backyards/gardens/back stairs/parking on the inside. Cats I've had have been fascinated by that complicated terrain, and totally uninterested or terrified of the "street" world. So it's likely that the obstacle course/maze/adventureland out your back door will be plenty for kitty, and make it unlikely that it would end up in trouble down the block. I've owned and otherwise lived with several cats in SF, and the only one who was indoor-only was one who had access to the backyard world but just wouldn't go further than the windowsill, for whatever reason.

So shop for your other criteria, and look for access to the backyard world (and a portal that you can control). Then you have to gauge your ability to deal with the following things your kitty will face in backyardland:
1) cats that don't go outside statistically live twice as long or more than cats that do, due to their exposure to toxins/germs/environmental hazards, whatever. So would you if you never left the house. (Anecdotally, the cats I had when living on 2 wooded acres all died young of misadventure - but I own one and know several other 12-year old urban indoor-outdoor cats.)
2) other animals: in my experience dogs tend not to care too much about cats (besides something to bark at as they walk the fence) outside of cartoons - except for working/rural dogs that are used to hunting and killing cat-size animals - hard to find in the city. Raccoons can pose some danger of fight injuries, but more of my cats' injuries have been caused by fighting with other neighborhood cats than anything else. Can your cat take another cat its own size?
3) Neighbors - kitty will go explore the other backyards inside your block, and may run into nasty neighbors ("get outta my garden -turns hose on cat-!!") and even, believe it or not, nicer-than-you neighbors (flatmates' collarless cat went missing for a week, then came home on its own wearing a new collar with an address from the opposite corner of the block - kitty found another cat owner that served better food and it must have played a convincing stray to get taken in and adopted by that neighbor).
4) the occasional night spent out, usually their own fault. The complicated nature of the inside of a block makes it nearly impossible for you to physically go capture the cat some night when you call it and it doesn't come in for the night. But a cat that has spent some time outdoors can generally find a warm/dry place to sleep for the night on its own. SF conditions aren't that bad for a cat outside overnight (as opposed to Chicago in winter), and it will learn the lesson that it better come when you call if it wants to sleep inside at night.

That's a long post, but it's all I can tell you from my experience. A cat in the city is not automatically dead meat, but you're accepting some additional risks; however those risks are the same they would face in picket-fence suburbia, just intensified by density.
posted by bartleby at 10:02 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as for apartment-hunting (craigslist), I feel your pain but SF landlords (craigslist) are much friendlier to cat owners than dog owners (craigslist craigslist craigslist). Many of the pet-hating places don't have anyplace for a cat to go anyway.
Check 511.org and a paper MUNI map for transit times/routes compared against apartment listings.
Oneirodynia's commment is absolutely true - congestion on surface streets means that commute times from point to point inside the city can be longer than from outside in. Look for places actually in the Mission or relatively nearby but nicer, like Duboce/Castro/NoPa/Haight; or for places on the MUNI train lines (routes marked by letters; buses are numbers and make less pleasant daily commutes) which avoid street traffic for the most part. Remember that the $45 monthly MUNI all-you-can-ride pass also covers BART from Embarcadero to Balboa Park, if you end up finding some great place where you'd need to transfer from MUNI to BART. Also know that most MUNI buses have a bike rack on the front now: it's not unknown for someone to bike downhill to work and put themselves and the bike on MUNI for the uphill ride home.
posted by bartleby at 10:20 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I lived in Glen Park for many years, and most houses there have gardens, there are lots of public gardens and parks, and there are few major streets with lots of traffic. In other words, cat (and dog) heaven! (Glen Park seems to be a community of gardeners, I haven't seen that kind of concentration of excellent gardens anywhere else.)

As stonefruit mentioned, there are also plenty of wild (and other) animals and hence missing cats, but if you already have an outdoor cat you know the risks.
posted by phliar at 4:57 PM on May 28, 2008

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