Zeke, a white and grey short-haired cat with a penchant for taking down rats, is understood in his Boston neighborhood as a fearless prowler.

Once, a neighbor known as his proprietor, Tricia Brennan, sounding barely panicked.

“‘Zeke is in the back and seems to be antagonizing a raccoon,’” the neighbor mentioned, in accordance with Ms. Brennan, a Unitarian Universalist minister.

“‘What do I do?’”

The showdown ended when the neighbor scared off each creatures with a brush, however the story solely cemented the legend of Zeke. It was additionally a reminder that cats are descendants of the Near Eastern wildcat, a fierce, solitary hunter.

You’ve seen them on the market — well-fed cats, typically with collars on, stalking the streets like they personal them or collapsing on a heat sidewalk to loll within the solar.

Cat lovers discover them charming. Wildlife conservationists and chicken lovers see furry killers and blame them for a decline within the chicken inhabitants and the deaths of untold numbers of voles, chipmunks and different small animals.

How you are feeling about outside cats might also rely on the place you might be on this planet. In the United States, about 81 p.c of home cats are stored inside, in accordance with a 2021 demographic examine of pet cats. But elsewhere, it may be much more frequent to allow them to roam. In Denmark, solely 17 p.c of cats are strictly indoor pets, in accordance with the identical examine. In Turkey, it’s so frequent for feral cats to stroll freely out and in of cafes, eating places and markets {that a} documentary was made concerning the phenomenon. In Poland, they’ve just lately been known as an “invasive alien species.”

And in Britain, the place the 2021 examine mentioned that 74 p.c of cat homeowners let their felines roam exterior, many cat charities advise pet homeowners on the most effective methods to maintain cats protected open air. The concept is perhaps surprising to their American counterparts, which frequently refuse to undertake cats to individuals who wish to preserve their pets exterior.

“We’ve always done it that way,” mentioned Nicky Trevorrow, a cat behaviorist at Cats Protection in Britain, which inspires homeowners to convey cats in at night time and feed them high-quality diets to discourage predatory habits.

“As a behaviorist,” Ms. Trevorrow mentioned, “I would have to say very much that I’m in the camp of giving cats space to breathe and be outside.”

But ought to cats have this a lot freedom?

During a lot of the twentieth century, most cats stayed exterior, mentioned David Grimm, creator of “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship With Cats and Dogs” and a deputy information editor at Science.

The invention of kitty litter in 1947 made indoor cats extra acceptable.

“But even then, people considered cats the less domesticated animal,” Mr. Grimm mentioned. “And no one wants to clean a litter box.”

In 1949, the Illinois General Assembly handed the “Cat Bill,” a measure geared toward defending birds, which might have fined individuals who left their cats open air. Gov. Adlai Stevenson vetoed the invoice.

“It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming,” he mentioned in a letter to legislators. “In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.”

It was not till across the Eighties and early ’90s that extra Americans started bringing their cats indoors, as conservationists warned of declining chicken populations and veterinarians cautioned that an out of doors cat was extra liable to illnesses, parasites and infections, and might be susceptible to assaults from bigger predators like coyotes and hawks, or rushing automobiles.

But many homeowners have additionally felt conflicted about conserving a curious, stressed creature inside, mentioned Mr. Grimm, who has skilled his personal cats to stroll on leashes after they’re exterior.

Keeping them inside “didn’t feel right,” he mentioned. “Just like I wouldn’t keep my kids inside all day. We can only take so much animal out of them.”

Ms. Brennan, Zeke’s proprietor, tried to maintain him indoors at first. But he nipped heels, yanked at Ms. Brennan’s hair, and pounced a lot that her teenage daughter locked herself in her room.

“It’s an uneasy peace that you make,” Ms. Brennan, 65, mentioned, “having an outdoor cat.”

Wildlife specialists typically inform the story of Tibbles, a cat that traveled along with her proprietor to New Zealand in 1894.

The pair settled on Stephens Island, the place a sort of small, flightless chicken abounded.

But when Tibbles arrived, she single-handedly hunted the birds to extinction, conservationists have alleged.

Where cats have been launched, they’ve decimated native creatures, in accordance with a 2011 examine by biologists.

“I feel pretty strongly that it is a pretty devastating invasive species,” mentioned Jason Luscier, an affiliate professor of biology at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. He helped develop an app, known as “Cat Tracker,” to get a extra correct studying on the variety of outside cats world wide.

Professor Luscier, who emphasised that he’s keen on cats (“they’re super snuggly”), mentioned it’s colonies of feral cats, which multiply simply and may overwhelm an ecosystem, which can be the larger risk to birds and different wildlife, not outside home pets that are available in at night time and are fed common meals.

Ms. Trevorrow, the behaviorist in Britain, mentioned individuals typically fail to take a look at the bigger threats dealing with birds, akin to lack of habitat and the industrial use of pesticides that kill bugs, the pure prey of birds.

“I just feel like cats are used as a scapegoat,” Ms. Trevorrow mentioned.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain mentioned the decline in chicken populations has been brought about primarily by man-made issues akin to local weather change, air pollution and agricultural administration.

While there’s proof that cats could kill as much as 27 million birds a 12 months in Britain, “there is also evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly garden birds,” mentioned Anna Feeney, a spokeswoman for the group.

“Cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations,” she mentioned in an electronic mail.

Ms. Trevorrow has written guides for cat homeowners who wish to preserve their pets exterior and preserve a backyard that can appeal to birds and different pollinators.

“There is a way to have both without carnage,” Ms. Trevorrow mentioned.

Still, the easiest way to maintain your cat — and wildlife — protected is to place it on a leash, preserve it in a fenced in-area, or construct a “catio” that can permit it to play exterior with out being uncovered to the weather, mentioned Dr. José Arce, a veterinarian and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Not all cats like the good open air.

Kelly Goshe mentioned two of her household’s three cats, Catson and Puff, are decided prowlers. They roam round their deck and yard in suburban Cleveland, beneath the watchful eye of her kids, Sylvia, 9; Corinna, 7; and Wesley, 4.

The cats gave them little alternative, she mentioned. Catson “will do anything to get out,” Sylvia mentioned.

Puff has found out how one can open the sliding door along with her paws, she mentioned.

But Luna, Puff’s sister, is afraid of going exterior.

“We let her stand by the screen door,” Ms. Goshe mentioned. “She’ll just look at it and run away.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.