Rural Virginian Ask Cheryl Article--9-23-09
Q: My daughter told me not to write in this question, because it makes me sound like a “creepy stalker.” However, I’ll risk the reputation to satisfy my curiosity. I pass your house all the time and love watching you with your animals out in the yard. You are like the Pied Piper with both dogs and cats following you around inside the fence. I learn so much from watching you interact with them. The other day I passed by a couple of times, and you were busy working on something at the top of your fence. I can’t really see what’s there, but you were at it all day. Can I ask what it was you were doing as I’m sure it was something for your animals?
A: The first time I got a question about what I was doing in my backyard I was a little freaked out that people watch me so closely. I now realize that it’s not creepy so much as curiosity as what the animal lady is up to now. As a result, though, I no longer pooper scoop in my PJs!
As far as what I was up to the other day, I was adding some cat-proofing to the top of the fence so my cats can have more time outside. Up to now, they had a small outside enclosed pen they could access, and they came outside when I was out with the dogs. (Yes, even my cats have a recall, so they come inside when I call them.) The other day one of the cats decided to pull an escape routine and scaled the fence heading for the neighbor’s yard to torment their cat. It was then I realized that I needed to do something to the fence to make such escapes impossible or go back to restricting my cats to just the house and their outside run.
Different countries have different ideas on how to keep happy, healthy animals. When I lived in England, the cats I adopted from a rescue came with a clause that they were NOT allowed to be kept as house inside only. They felt that in order for cats to be happy, they needed to have outside access. This went against all my instincts to keep my cats safe as I didn’t want them wandering into a street and getting hit or being attacked by other animals, so I built an outside cat run. I discovered that the cats really are happier having access to fresh air, grass, and little critters to bring inside to share with me. (The latter I could live without, but they seem to get great joy from it.)
Recently I decided to see if I could expand on the idea of a cat run and added a “shelf” to the top of my six foot chain link fence to prevent the cats from climbing out. The “shelf” is made of L-brackets (used to hold wooden shelves) and deer fencing. I wove the L-brackets into the chain link fence and attached them with plastic zip ties. I then put the deer fencing along the top of the fence with a fold at the break in the L-brackets so half of the deer fencing ran along the fence and the other half attached to the arm sticking out from the bracket (once again using zip ties to attach the deer fencing). This created a “shelf.” When the cats scale the fence, they run into the shelf and cannot reach back over their heads to get over and around the shelf.
This concept won’t work on a four foot fence as most cats can jump to the top of the shelf from the ground on shorter fences. With a six foot fence, the cat must climb, so the shelf keeps them from getting over the top. One of my cats tested the fencing at almost every section (the one who had the successful escape attempt earlier), so it’s important to attach the deer fencing to the chain link fence every foot or less so a cat cannot maneuver under the deer fencing. If you have a wooden fence the same thing can be accomplished by screwing the L-brackets into the fence, or making your own out of 2 x 4 pieces of wood in an L-shape at the top of the fence.
Be aware that cats who are outside (even in a fenced yard) are still exposed to diseases if stray or neighborhood cats have access to your yard. Some diseases are spread just by having cats go nose-to-nose through a fence, so make sure your cat is fully inoculated if allowing outside access.
I’ll post pictures on my website for those interested in learning more. I’ll also put some ideas on how to create an outside cat run in case you don’t have a fence to cat proof. Whether you have a safe outside area or keep your cats inside, please remember cats need stimulation and exercise. Make sure you have a variety of heights for cats to explore using shelves and multi-level cat scratches to help your cat be healthy and happy. Thank you to my “creepy stalker” for bringing up an important quality-of-life aspect for our cats.
The Fluvanna SPCA is raising money to erect an outside cat run for cats in their care. Right now the dogs have an outside area, but the cats are stuck in their cages all day. An outside run will allow cats to have some room to stretch and play, and a wonderful place for people to visit with a cat to decide if one will be a perfect forever friend for their family. If you would like to help the cats at the Fluvanna SPCA have a better life while waiting for their forever home, you can send or bring a donation to 5239 Union Mills Road, Troy, VA 22974. Please put “Cat Enclosure” on the check so the accountant will know where the donation goes. Thanks!