Is there a happy medium between keeping cats completely indoors and letting them roam where they wish? Is it possible to fence in a cat? The answer to both of these questions: maybe so.
Alley Cat Allies, a Washington, D.C.-based feral cat advocacy group, swears by cat fencing, and at least one reader does the same, writing me recently that I need to let people know about an option that will keep cats from roaming beyond their owners' property but will let them enjoy the outdoors.
"I have rescued cats for more than 10 years," writes the reader, "and after one of my cats was hit and killed in front of my house, I built a cat fence. The fence has been up for about eight years and not one cat has escaped."
Cat fencing works on the principal that cats can't stand unsteady material under their paws. Using loose netting with lots of "give" convinces cats in short order that they're better leaving the fence alone and staying put. Now I wouldn't want to put these theories to the test where matters of love and hormones are involved, nor would I count on fencing to deter coyotes or other predators who have been known to consider house cats as meals. But for altered city cats, cat fencing has real promise.
The heart of cat fencing is 1-by-1-inch garden mesh, a polypropylene net product available at nursery or hardware stores, or by mail. On a low fence, such as a 4-foot chain-link, 7-foot poles are used to rig the net high enough to thwart any jumping. On 6-foot wooden privacy fences, flag-pole mounting hardware keeps the net screen at an angle, low and out of sight. Fishing line is used liberally between poles as the top "frame" for the netting.
Alley Cat Allies says cats will usually spend a couple of weeks trying to figure a way out before deciding there's no place like home. Although many cats can and do live healthy and happy lives indoors, if your tiger is one of those who won't give up the outdoors, cat fencing is certainly worth your consideration. I'm for anything that keeps cats safe and neighbors happy.
Complete instructions, including sources for the netting and other materials, are available for the asking from Alley Cat Allies, P.O. Box 397, Mount Rainier, Md. 20712, or via e-mail: alleycat(at)alleycat.org. You can also find detailed directions on the Web at www.feralcat.com/fence.html. Alley Cat Allies can be found at www.alleycat.org, with a site offering humane and progressive ideas on dealing with the problems of feral cats.
Since this gem of an idea was brought to my attention by a caring reader, I'd like to share another. A recent question about a rubber-band-eating kitten brought this suggestion for how to keep rubber bands in line. "We keep our excess rubber bands on a cardboard core from toilet paper rolls," shares the reader. "We then give the rolls to the paper deliverers. And any rubber bands headed for the garbage dump are cut to prevent entanglement on any animals that might visit the dump sites."
Great ideas, all. If you have any you're like to share, please do. We're all in this together for the love of animals.
PETS ON THE WEB
Sometimes you just gotta go for the giggle. The Internet is such a great source of information -- and sometimes misinformation -- that you can sometimes forget Web surfing can be a great source of serendipitous pleasure. If you doubt it, check out the Hamster Dance Web site (www.hampsterdance.com). The site is nothing but dancing rodents and goofy music, but it'll make you laugh. When you've had enough, click on the links at the bottom of the page to go to related sites, including dancing fish and cows. Silly? You bet. But don't we all need it from time to time?
Is it possible to top a purr-fect book? Bob "BobCat" Walker has just proven you can get awfully close. His first book, "The Cats' House," is one of my all-time favorites, so much loved that I have bought more than a dozen copies as gifts. "The Cats' House" is a colorful celebration of the cat-centric world that Walker and his wife, Frances Mooney, have created in their San Diego home. Filled with floor-to-ceiling cat trees and ramps leading up to catwalks that cut through walls, the home is a paradise for a group of lucky cats (and one earthbound husky). "Cats Into Everything," the new book, is just as delightful, showcasing more of Walker's whimsy and his creative ideas of art and photography. When I die, I want to come back as one of these cats! You must have these books, each $18.95 from Andrews McMeel Publishing.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have been looking for a cure for lawn spots. I have a 1 1/2 year old yellow Lab, Carly, who weighs 85 pounds. This is the first summer she has been fully grown, and I am noticing a considerable amount of yellow spots from her urine.
I am frustrated with the appearance of my lawn, and I will replace those spots already burned. However, how can I prevent or lessen the burning effects of my dog's urine? -- D.S., via e-mail
A: O spring, when thoughts turns to lawns, and lawns turn to brown patches, thanks to our beloved dogs. I have to admit I have long ago thrown in the towel on this particular problem. My lawn is nothing more than green weeds, kept watered and mowed, and I have shifted my gardening efforts to keeping my oldest dog, Andy, out of the tomatoes.
As for lawn burns, you can't mess with the chemistry of the situation. Urine is what it is, and it has an effect on plants that cannot be altered. You can flush freshly flooded spots with water to dilute the urine, and you can cut out the damaged areas, replant or plug in fresh sod. But you can't much alter the nature of what your dog's eliminating. Personally, I cannot recommend adding substances to your dog's diet in an effort to dilute urine from the source -- if you want to mess with your pet's health for the sake of a lawn, you won't get a nod of approval from me.
The only surefire way I know of to keep lawns perfect is to keep dogs off them. One way to do this is with barriers that keep your dog in "her part" of the yard unless you're with her. Another is to train her to use just part of the yard -- around the corner, out of sight -- for her bathroom. To train, keep her on leash in the yard and take her to the part of the yard you wish her to use, then give her "potty command" (I use "hurry up" with my dogs), and praise when she goes. If you're consistent and patient, she'll get the point in due time.
Q: I know that the purple tongue is a trait of chows. Are there other breeds that have this same trait? I have recently added a new member to my family, and he is a mix of shepherd and who-knows-what. He has a purple tongue. -- P.D., via e-mail
A: While anything's possible, I suppose, I'd go along with what you're guessing and put my money on some chow in your new dog's background.
According to the American Kennel Club, the chow is the only dog in the world with a purple-black tongue. In fact, in the part of China where the breed is considered to have originated, the name for the chow translates to "black-tongued" or "black-mouthed" dog.
Chow fanciers very much intend to keep the breed's distinctiveness alive -- at dog shows, chows who don't feature black tongues are disqualified.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to WriteToGina(at)YourPetPlace.com.
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