Who let the cats out? I did, and here’s why

November 16, 2009 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

Around the time Heather was dying, I let the cats start coming and going as they pleased.

There actually is a relationship between one and the other.

Heather was the focus of my attention the last six weeks of her life. Getting her to eat, keeping her pain controlled, giving her special time … the rest of the animals got little of my attention beyond basic care, sad to say. And as part of coping with their situation, I removed the cover from the pet door leading into the dog yard.

When I bought this house, I wanted to be sure the dogs (and there were only dogs at the time) had access, always, to a “relief zone.” I called a contractor, who installed a pet door through a wall in the back bedroom and a long, enclosed ramp with a gentle slope that ends in a small, fenced-yard-within-the-fenced-yard for the dogs to use any time they wanted, no matter if I were home or not. The narrow structure matches the house and includes a sharp right turn through a double-flapped pet door. It was all done at higher cost than I really wanted to pay ($1,200), but I wanted it done right, and my design had two purposes: 1) Energy-efficiency — no heating or air-conditioning is wasted in the set-up, and the room into which the door opens is never any cooler or hotter than the rest of the house; 2) Security — a very small child contortionist can crawl up the ramp, execute the hard-right turn and wriggle through pet door, but there said child will be met by four dogs, three of them large. There are easier houses to burglarize, believe you me.

The set-up was perfect, but then came the cats.

Clara was first to figure out the pet door, and Ilario followed her lead. Since I intended them to be indoor cats, I regretfully closed off the dog yard, which meant coming home for lunch every day, or some crossed dog legs when I got home. Not good, either way, far as the dogs were concerned.

The cats didn’t like it, either. Keeping them in was not to their liking. They charged the back door when I let the dogs out like desperate convicts dodging machine-gun fire across a prison yard, and they cried plaintively through the screens on warm summer evenings as the dogs and I sat on the back patio.

When the cats got out the back door, they ran from me, convinced (and rightly so) that I’d be re-incarcerating them. When locked inside again, the feelings of frustration and resentment were palpable, especially on the part of Ilario, who would not be touched for days, could barely be lured by a game of laser pointer and would never, ever join us all on the bed at night.

claraDuring Heather’s decline, she was so slow getting in and out of the back door that the cats had a great deal more success in getting out, which of course reinforced the behavior. Once out, they stayed out as long as their hunger would tolerate. Clara would come back in pretty regularly, but Ilario took up hunting and would not come in the back door at all.

He was becoming an owned feral, and I didn’t want that, so I opened the pet door to the dog yard, to let Ilario come back in through the back bedroom on his own terms. I figured I’d get everything back under control after Heather passed, and turn them wholly into indoor cats again.

Now, mind you, I have a pretty good situation for cats to be outside. I live on a lightly traveled, hardly noticed lane, for one thing, and more importantly, my home backs up to the ultimate cat paradise: a couple acres of undeveloped land with a creek running through it and bounded on all sides by the back fences of my neighbors.

I have never seen my cats anywhere but in my own yard or on the “back 40.” Could something happen to them back there? Well, sure. Wild things roam the creekbed (although we’ve never seen a coyote this far up from the river parkway)  and who know if the neighbors I don’t know six or eight doors down are trapping cats or poisoning rats. But my cats are tagged and chipped, current on their vax and … since the pet door opened for good ….

they are mostly inside. It’s true, and quite a surprise.

They are in more than they are out now that the choice is completely theirs. They also come in to use the cat boxes in the garage, which is great since I don’t have to worry about annoyed neighbors or dead otters. I’m not really that keen on Ilario’s hunting, but on the other hand the rat/mice problem near the chicken feed is a thing of the past. (And yes, I’m happy that the vermin he eats are fat on organic chicken feed!) And before you ask: No, I have never seen him with a bird. Apparently the rats/mice in the chicken area are easy pickings.

Best of all: Ilario no longer views me as his prison warden. He sleeps on my bed at night, and wakes me every morning. Outside, he no longer runs from me, and will even jump in my lap if I’m sitting outside.

He is happy. I am happy. And life … is never without risk. But in this case, the risk is minimal, and probably less than my own in driving to work every day. Rationalizing? Sure … but the pet door is staying open.

Ilario in the morning:


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