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Daisy and the Pussycats
Stray cats have turned a dog’s happy yard into a source of misery
Daisy on cat patrol.

It’s 1:30 a.m. and Daisy is pacing. Again.

She hears a cat somewhere—or at least she thinks she does—and is in a hurry to get outside and attack it. If we don’t let her out, she’ll pace and whine for an hour or more. If we do let her outside, we’ll be reinforcing her demanding, unnecessary behavior. It’s the middle of the night, and we’re stuck. All of us.

I was so happy for Daisy when we first moved from our small apartment to a house with a yard. As of a month or so ago, because of the cats, that honeymoon is over.

She’s escaped our backyard four times, all in the name of chasing cats. Half the yard is bordered by a six-foot wooden fence; the rest is a chain-link job we thought was too tall for her. How cute—that’s become her primary method of escape. (Though she somehow wiggled through a loose board in the wooden one, too.)

After the escapes began we started checking on her every few minutes while she was in the yard. That didn’t work. Our new policy is to never leave her outside without supervision. Someone either goes outside with her or sits in the house and watches from the windows. She’s so quick it’s unwise to do anything else while watching, so it’s usually a 20- to 30-minute staring session.

All of this is because of her anxiety about the cats. If she perceives a cat nearby, whether real or imagined, Daisy will do anything to get to it.

We knew there were stray cats in the neighborhood when we moved in. We’d seen them while looking at houses, and one of our new neighbors mentioned occasionally trapping them and taking them in to be spayed or neutered. It’s a dense residential area, complete with dumpsters and alleys—it makes sense that there would be alley cats.

What we didn’t anticipate was the cycle of anxiety they’d set spinning. We figured Daisy would have a ball keeping them out of the backyard. We didn’t think her natural prey drive would spiral off into seeing and hearing cats everywhere and at almost all hours.

Sometimes her desire to chase is legitimate. There really is a cat sitting complacently in the yard next door or two cats mating loudly on the front lawn at 4 in the morning. (Always a treat.) But one real event will set off 24 hours of high tension with near-constant pacing on wooden floors, plaintive whines and vigilant watch at the windows. Potato-chip bag in the street? Cat. People talking? Talking cats, obviously. Passing cars? Really big, fast cats.

A couple of things help: A good walk, as always, helps ease her mind and burn off excess energy. Keeping the blinds closed, while depressing for an at-home worker, keeps her from getting locked into staring out the window. We’re all doomed, however, if a cat decides to start yowling on the front lawn in the middle of the night. There will be little sleep for any of us after that.

Clearly, we need to consult with a behaviorist about Daisy—while this is inconvenient and annoying for us, for her, it’s truly distressing.

Have you ever dealt with a similar problem with your dog? Got any tips for discouraging stray cats?

Kathleen St. John is a freelance writer for target The Denver Post and The Onion's A.V. Club, and a lifelong dog lover. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband, John, and her dog, Daisy, who's a mix of just about everything. avclub.com
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Submitted by Janet | February 22 2012 |

Check with your local animal authority. In many places it is unlawful to let cats roam free. I see you are in Denver, where the winter weather may deter you from trapping and surrendering the roaming cats until it gets warm again. It's worth the time to inquire if it gives you peace and quiet at 4 a.m.

Submitted by Jaye | February 22 2012 |

Boy, can I relate to your story about Daisy and the cats! I already lived in my current neighborhood when my miniature Schnauzer, Gretchen, came into my life as a puppy. She's now seven years old, and, though I tried to socialize her as much as possible, I've never had (or wanted) a cat.

My neighbors, however--particularly one next-door resident--have cats, lots of them. To say that she dislikes them would be an immense understatement. She hates them, and the sight of one anywhere within her line of vision sends her into paroxyms of barking.

I've rearranged my living room furniture trying to block her access to the large full-length windows that give her a wide view. Interior cottage shutters will be blocking the lower half of the windows as soon as I can get custom ones ordered. That should, at least, stop her from throwing herself at the window panes. Nothing, however, keeps her from seeing them altogether, since she can stand on a sofa and see out the window anyway.

The irony is that two of these cats seem to realize that she can't get to them, so they parade up and down the street in front of my picket fence and taunt her. I'm not kidding! One is a large long-haired cat of indeterminate parentage who will walk back and forth several times for no apparent reason except to excite Gretchen. I suppose it makes the cat feel powerful. Who knows? I only know it drives me crazy.

Wish I had some helpful hints to offer, but I'm living the same nightmare you are, with the exception that I don't let Gretchen into the front yard, and she can't escape the back yard's privacy fence. The cats do jump the fence into my back yard--there's no way to keep a determined cat out if the owner won't keep it indoors--and Gretchen goes bananas when this happens.

I'll watch this post for other responses. Maybe one or more will help both of us.


Submitted by Kathleen St John | February 23 2012 |

Yep, that sounds pretty close to what's happening here. The major difference is that the cats in our neighborhood are straight-up feral, not house pets. (Is it illegal in your city for owners to let cats roam free? Might be worth checking out.)

Most of the cats will run away if Daisy charges the fence to get at them, but there are a couple who just sit there - I guess because they know she's on the other side of the fence. Those are the ones that send Daisy into a frenzy and have caused the escapes.

The escapes were terrifying, but I would LOVE to have seen the looks on the cats' faces when Daisy came over the fence like a crazed wolf. ;)

One person on the Facebook thread for this story mentioned sprinklers, which I think would be fantastic. My husband and I are currently in the market for a Super Soaker to target any kitties that hang out on the front lawn..

Submitted by Anonymous | February 22 2012 |

Similar issue with one of my indoor cats . . . low dose Prozac pretty much takes care of the problem.

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