By Ruth Young
Monty had some adventures this summer, but not of the kind I would like to see repeated. My husband and I spent some time beefing up security in his cat enclosure in order to better keep him in and other cats out. Since cats cannot get over a fence topper placed at a 45 degree angle, we created some of these with some thin landscaping poles, plastic ties and green chicken mesh. We cut the mesh in half and Jeff installed the orange poles to tie it to. We also put a sturdy wire mesh in the shape of a cone part way up any tree near the fence.
Monty is not happy about his movements being restricted. He used to love to climb some of the trees near the fence. But we left him some other trees and all the trees have an area near the bottom on which he can exercise his claws. The metal shed he used to love to walk on top of is gone. We cut it apart and I took it to be recycled. They gave me fourteen dollars for it!
Without the shed the yard seems more spacious, but Monty seems a little hesitant to climb the tree that was next to the shed without the shed being there. Perhaps it just seems higher.The other thing we did was to block any and all possible exits through gaps in the fence. We think Monty had actually escaped through a hole at the bottom of the fence rather than by going over. While we were working he came out and walked straight toward that hole. Jeff covered it with the mesh using a staple gun. Monty tried to breach the hole, and when he could not he walked away with his tail down.
Since adding the fence toppers, coning the trees and blocking holes in the fence we have not seen any strange cats in our yard. We have also not seen as many rabbits or possums, which is a good thing on both counts. Monty still has access to lots of birds, mice and chipmunks. He has suddenly turned into a furry killing machine. But at least his activities are now restricted to his own yard.
Over the summer, more than once I caught Monty outside of his enclosure and he was not easily coaxed back into his own yard. I got scratched pretty seriously in one instance. He seemed completely wild and attacked me as I came near him. I grasped him firmly and carried him into the house, dropping him onto the floor. He didn’t even look like himself, his fur was so puffed up. I thought in that moment that perhaps this was not Monty at all, but that I had grabbed some random feral cat and had just thrown him into my house. But the cat walked right to Monty’s room where his food dish is kept, so it was in fact Monty who had behaved like a wild animal, growling at me and attacking me. It’s like his adventure outside of his enclosure had restored him to his feral state, bringing out the little wild kitty in him.
He also had gotten dirty under my car, so when I returned home later I held him over the sink and washed the greasy spot at the base of his tail. I poured warm water on him and all he did was clutch me a little tighter. I dried him with a towel and he just meowed a little with impatience, but let me do what needed to be done. I don’t understand how one minute he could have been completely wild and just a short time later he would let me hold him and pour water on him with barely any reaction.
But it was after that incident that I knew I needed to find a way to make sure he did not roam. If he could so forget himself, would he forget to return home? Would he revert to being wild and not come back? My sister didn’t think so, since Monty does love a full food bowl. But what if he got lost and didn’t remember to come home until it was too late and he could not find his way back? What if he got hurt by fighting with another animal or hurt by a mean human who didn’t like cats on his property? We had to take action.
The other reason I wanted to improve security in his yard is because of his altercation with a cat early in the summer. He really injured the other cat. There was nothing I could do for that cat, who quickly retreated over the fence, and I felt somewhat responsible since Monty’s enclosure did not prevent her from entering. I also felt responsible for his roaming because I had started throwing his kills over the fence onto the yard of the vacant house next door. No one lives there. And I was really tired of burying things.
Honestly, living with Monty is like living with a furry little serial killer and it’s my job to dispose of the bodies. I fear that Monty saw me flinging his chipmunk over the fence.
I had to make a decision about Monty’s enclosure as to whether it is our responsibility to completely protect local wildlife from him. This would involve a very different model– a smaller area, enclosed on all sides and on top. This would provide him with an outdoorsy experience, but would severely curtail his freedom. I understand that some people feel cat predation of birds and other small animals is a problem. But for me, given a question of a good quality of life for Monty over the chance to save a few creatures from his clutches, I have to side with Monty. I have to allow him to be what he was created to be. I do attempt to scare away his prey when I can, but once he got a bird in his mouth while he was on his leash! I started out putting him on a leash when he was a kitten, thinking that would keep him and other animals safe. He was so quick that before I had seen the bird, he had it. That one did get away, because Monty let it go in order to have the fun of catching it again, and I was able to hold him back. I don’t like that because of me, he hunts for sport and rarely eats his kills. But it is because of me that he is alive. Feral cats live about one to two years tops around here. Monty is six.
I have managed to save animals from him on other occasions by alerting them to his presence. Monty probably thinks I am a very stupid cat who cannot hunt. Only once did I try to facilitate his hunting and that was when he brought a mouse into the house, let it go, and I could not find it. We hunted for that mouse together. I also did open the back patio door for him once when a chipmunk was coming right up onto the step by the door, shaking his tail at Monty as if to say, “Ha, ha, you can’t get me!” I think the chipmunks have figured out Monty can’t get out when the door is closed and they probably routinely torment him this way. I felt anger at the chipmunk for teasing Monty, so I opened the door and Monty bolted out after him. The chipmunk escaped with his life, but barely.
Fences, toppers for fences and even complete enclosures can be purchased online. For those not able to construct something themselves, it is very possible to purchase what is needed to create an enclosure for cats that provides safety while giving the cat some freedom to explore the outdoors. Although I know it is sometimes necessary, I don’t like the idea of indoor only cats, because I would not want to live my whole life indoors. Monty, as an ex-feral cat, is naturally going to desire time outdoors. I applaud efforts people make to give their cats the outdoor experience in a safe way. I think it is important to remember two things about our cats: They are absolutely smarter than us and will find ways to outsmart us and do what they want to do. They are also little idiots. They don’t know the dangers of humans who can’t be trusted, automobiles that aren’t going to stop for them, things outside they absolutely must not try to eat or drink and that if they fight with other animals they absolutely can lose the fight and get hurt. Just as we wouldn’t hand our fourteen year old the key to car because he asks, we don’t have to give our cat every desire of his heart if we know that doing so puts him at risk.
I do feel sad for Monty that he can’t climb every tree in the yard anymore. But is it not normal in life to have things we once enjoyed doing no longer be available to us? They become happy memories. I will never again get to push the merry-go-round at recess and listen to the kids shriek with delight when I got it going really fast. I’m never again going to climb up that huge pine tree in my parent’s ravine, because although I gained two inches in height since age 13, the tree grew so that the branches are completely out of my reach. Also the top of it snapped off in a tornado. My days of climbing up and standing in upmost branches of that tree are long past. So believe me when I say that I know how Monty feels to be denied access to his favorite tree. I feel his loss, because I know that loss and a million others like it. Sometimes new pleasures replace the old, but sometimes not. I cannot, in trying to give Monty a good life, make the world anything different than what it is. It is not always fun. It is not always perfectly safe. I can only do my best to give him both fun and safety, because I love him.
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