An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Poop in the Flower Beds

Dear Greyce, We are distressed by the actions of a neighbour’s cat who uses our garden for a toilet. As a cat, surely you must know what should be done to discourage such action. We have tried sprinkling cayenne on the ‘gifts’ and have scattered moth balls around, all to no avail. We weighted down plastic netting over a previously gifted area and that seemed to work but we cannot cover the whole garden with netting. And so we’re baffled and could use some cat intuition. Your fans.

Dear Fans, It is not often that this blog is visited by humans and I am flattered that my entries are simple and clear enough for lesser minds to understand. No offense intended, you understand; but you cannot imagine how difficult it is for a cat to clearly communicate with human beings whose cognitive capacities often leave something to be desired. How that species has managed to survive for so long leads me to become a fervent believe in dumb luck.

There is however a hopeful sign. On Herself’s recent trip (when I luxuriated in having Himself all to Myself - and what a pleasure that was), she acquired a book that I’m sure is setting a new record in feline-human communication: Dizionario Bilingue: Italian/Gatto. Gatto/Italian. (Larousse 2010). Yes a bilingual dictionary for cats and their humans! Alas only in Italian. At least Italian cats will no longer be left in the dark. They will be able to travel within human environments and have the potential to be understood. Just as humans can pretend to be tourists (something Herself has learned they are very good at) in feline-land. Hope is indeed on the way.

However, I doubt that you speak Italian and so I will address your concern in English with the help of my in-house secretarial and translation service.

The Evolution of the Problem

The phenomenon of the roaming cat speaks volumes of the nature of current society. Not so long ago, even humans (whose cognitive capacity . . . well . . . let’s not go there) accepted the fact that cats would roam – particularly if not ‘altered’ – my goodness, it sounds like sterilization is similar to getting your bloomers hemmed! But where was I?

Oh yes, cats roam. It is in our nature. Cats by their nature are relatively solitary. Yes there are exceptions, and circumstances can be engineered to have us accept company; but by and large we prefer to be on our own thank you very much. Each of us has a territory sufficient to support one cat. The territory requires repeated patrol to ensure that resources are intact and invaders are kept at bay. It is all part of who and how we are.

Even cats who are no longer able to reproduce, like to roam. Indeed the smallest territory is that of cats such as me who are spayed females - a tenth of an acre. As you can imagine, it is awfully hard to simulate a tenth of an acre (or whatever the heck that is in metric) in an apartment or a house.

Enter the urban human. With urbanization and the subsequent invention of processed cat food and of litter, our further entry into the realm of the house pet was assured. Indeed there are now more pet cats than dogs in North America. However, that does not change our basic nature.

Now so-called experts advise that we be kept indoors under lock and key at all times, apparently for our own safety. Interesting . . . but let us look at this as a cultural phenomenon. Domestic cats in North America have the highest rate of total confinement in the world. They also have the highest incidence of behavioural problems. Coincidence? I think not.

Most people (including those who house us) know precious little about cat behaviour and thus do not put into place any measures related to environmental stimulation that could prevent us from going stir crazy while we are locked up. For many humans, it is easier to let us go in and out of the home than to think of alternatives. And therein lies the problem. We are cats. We behave like cats. And we are considered property. Human boundaries are not meaningful to us – no disrespect intended - and thus we carve out territories suitable to our needs - areas of land that usually extend well beyond our person’s property borders. We look for areas in which to hunt, others to have a cool drink, some shaded or sheltered areas for rest and, of course, an area away from the prime valued ones to use as our toilet.

Of course, there are other humans who find this repulsive. They argue that they are allergic and will die of anaphylactic shock if we darken their door. They say we kill all the birds in their backyards. They say that, thanks to us, their own little Fluffy is now spraying the curtains. And they say we have filthy habits like depositing our waste amongst their tulips. I could go on and on.

In some jurisdictions such as where I live (the fine city of Edmonton in Canada), the city burghers (not to be confused with hamburgers) passed by-laws that restrict cats to their own (meaning their purrson’s yard). Put one paw over the line and you can legally be trapped, taken to the pound and they can have their way with you – unless your purrson tracks you down and is prepared to pay a hefty fine. If you are not already sterilized, you will be – at your purrson’s expense – prior to release.

Rest assured the city politicians did NOT enact this legislation because they care about the health and safety of cats. Simply put, they were tired of receiving calls from homeowners about cats wandering into their yards. Think about it: Edmonton has potholes by the tonne, its infrastructure budget is shot beyond limit, there are problems with urban density, it requires further public transportation – and the simple fact of a cat’s presence in someone else’s yard gets highest priority!

My goodness – I am so enervated that the fur on my tail is starting to rise. So let me get to the nub of your query.

I understand your concern. I also understand that from a human point of view (my cognitive capacity is large enough to accommodate multiple perspectives unlike some of your own species), the presence of a wandering cat is unacceptable.

- because of concerns about allergies;

- because of concerns about the bird population;

- because of behavioural problems it may trigger in resident cats; and/or

- because of concerns about property destruction – like using your flower beds for a toilet.

An Array of Solutions

So let me look at possible solutions. Since this column is bound to be read by members of the cat-loving population, I want to fully outline the options rather than confine myself solely to those most suitable for you. But rest assured, I will provide those as well. Having ploughed through this text, you will undoubtedly be learning how much we felines value patience and how by indirection we do, eventually, get to the point.

Options for the Cat-Loving Purrson with a Cat at Home

If you are a purrson with a cat, then you should do the following. First, familiarize yourself with the needs of said cat and implement a full environmental stimulation program. (This will subject of at least one upcoming article in this blog.) second, if you have a balcony or yard consider the installation of a cat enclosure or, better still, a non-electric cat fence. (Click on the 'outdoors' label to have access to previous articles on said subject.)

Options for the Neighbour Whose Yard is Visited by Roaming Cat(s)

If you are bothered by the presence of a wandering cat, here are the options available.

The first option is, in my mind, NOT top priority. I just want to get it out of the way. Humanely trap the cat for release to the proper authorities. I hate to mention this possibility but it is allowed in some jurisdictions including Edmonton where the authorities will loan bothered neighbours said device. Because there are several trapping methods that are not humane and traps are often not properly monitored, I am not a fan of this method except in the more dire circumstances. Besides humans can get it into their heads that putting the cat (with trap) into the trunk of the car and releasing said animal in the country is a responsible option: it is NOT. Shame on you if you are even thinking of it!

At best, trapping will be a temporary solution to the problem as many roaming cat’s so-called owners claim and then continue to release said cat. However repeated trapping may change their behaviour (i.e., they may stop claiming the cat who will then either be disposed of by the pound or taken to the animal shelter). In my experience such owners seldom resort to other measures (e.g., cat fencing of their own yard, etc.) to allow the cat a measure of freedom without inconveniencing the neighbours.

Assuming that you are not mean-spirited enough to try this option or perhaps are afraid of retaliation from your neighbours, the trick then is to make your yard less attractive to the cat.

1. Putting down chicken wire (or plastic netting) will work (often if installed a few inches below or on the surface of the ground) because it hampers one’s ability to dig through the soil to make a suitable toilet hole and then to cover the waste up so that others do not detect it. Admittedly this works for smaller areas or for those eager beavers who wish to cover each and every flower bed in this way.

2. Areas such as window wells (a favourite haunt of wandering cats) can be made less attractive with the addition of a layer of pine cones. It is not the rough surface as much as its stickiness that renders it unattractive to we felines. Pheromonal deposition via our paws is essential for marking territorial corridors and thus we have having our paw surfaces compromised.

3. For that reason, keeping an area well-watered to the point of being quite damp, may also act as a deterrent.

4. The use of citrus peels and/or citrus-scented products has worked for many. I am a great advocate of the use of Jean Nate spray, an inexpensive cologne now available over the internet from websites such as Because the scent deteriorates with time, reapplication is necessary. However with patience, the invading cat will learn (over time) that the quality of this part of the neighbourhood has deteriorated (from his perspective) and thus move on. This is the only scent I know of that has a hope of being effective. While moth balls have been recommended by others I believe that:

A cat is not a moth.
Moth balls are to deter moths.
Being not-a-moth, moth balls don’t deter cats.

5. Lion urine or other, similar repellents. Some zoos regularly collect said parfum from said residents and sell it to those looking to discourage wandering cats. Similarly, there is Shake-Away animal repellent. Either product applied to the area as directed, sends an olfactory message to the wandering cat that the territory has been claimed by someone several times larger and more fierce. This is usually sufficient to send the smaller invader packing. Reapplication may be necessary from time to time, just to remind everyone of where things stand. See also comments related to citrus scent, above.

6. And now for the use of technology. Lee Valley Tools (select the Gardening tab) stocks three items that might be of interest:

a. Cat Stop is motion sensitive and emits high noise only audible to cats. Said noise is unpleasant enough to encourage said cat to move on. NOT recommended if you also have a cat residing in your home.

b. Cat Scat (mats to put over ground areas to discourage the cat), similar to the chicken wire or plastic netting discussed previously.

c. Motion-Activated Sprinkler (which sprays the invader with a small amount of water). I prefurr this method to having the human stand at the window and rush out with a water pistol or other such device for at least three reasons. First, the cat associates the water with the human and learns to fear humans (not the best idea to my mind, even if that particular human has little interest in making the acquaintance of said cat). Second the fact that the purrson cannot be on patrol 24/7 leads to intermittent reinforcement - that is, sometimes the cat gets sprayed with water and at other times not which just makes the invading behaviour stronger! And third, some mean-spirited and/or ignorant (or both) people use water to harm the cat – either applying water on cold days when it could freeze the fur or give the cat a serious chill, or aim for the face or anus which can seriously injure the cat.

7. And if you happen to win the lottery and feel so inclined, there is always the non-electric cat fence, in this case to keep cats out of your yard. A newer version (compared to the net system in my own yard) called Kitty Klips is considerably more pleasing (to humans) option. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT install an electric fence. Should you not heed this warning I will not be responsible for the karmic consequences that WILL ensue!

I trust that somewhere is this array of options is at least one suited to your situation. You will note that nowhere do I suggest approaching the people who are the source of this problem. That is because, in my experience, it will do you no good. They will either become insulted or angry and persist in letting the cat roam; punish the cat and then give up and let him outside again; or retaliate in some manner of which I can only imagine. Sad to say, but your species' strength is NOT the management of differences. But I digress . . .

Whatever option you choose, I trust that you will implement it in a way that not only meets your needs but also keeps the cat from harm. Remember: The cat is NOT the source of your problem; the people who house the cat are. And they are likely without the understanding and/or disposition to creatively solve the problem. So the onus is on you to ensure that a problem created because a being is doing what comes naturally, is solved in a compassionate way.

No comments:

Post a Comment