NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: Henry, our 8-year-old black cat, came from the U.K. and moved to the U.S. with us in 2007. We’ve been told he might be part Siamese — he’s friendly sporadically but also skittish. He’s not a fighter, so he doesn’t clash with other cats. We’ve never had problems letting him outside for two or three hours at a time. Our older cat died in November, so Henry has been solo since.
We moved 300 yards across a busy road in May, from a townhouse to a single-family home. We have a nice, open backyard for Henry to explore. We kept him inside the first couple of weeks, as advised. On three successive outings, he looked around for 15 to 20 minutes (there were two stray cats we haven’t seen for a while now), sniffed a lot, then promptly crossed the road to his old house.
I looked into an invisible fence — $1,500 — and who knows if he’ll take to the training. I tried a harness and he slipped it off within 15 minutes and went under our deck where, thankfully, I was able to fall on him like a fumble.
My wife is all for keeping him indoors permanently. We’ve added a scratching post and he has a few toys. The problem, to me, is that he sleeps while we’re gone all day and comes to life at night. I’m not the heaviest sleeper, and one to two times per week, he decides he’s hungry or needs to go to the loo and yowls loudly at 3:30 or 4 in the morning.
I’d love to be able to trust him to go out when we’re home late afternoons and evenings. I think he’d be happier, though he’s been pretty good about it. All I can think of is getting him a better harness and slowly acclimating him. We have a large deck, so that would be a good place to let him explore a bit.
That’s about the long and short of it. Do you have any ideas?
— R.B., Columbia, Md.
Dear R.B.: Clearly you are devoted to Henry, and you have some issues not easily resolved. He misses his companion cat and the old home, so he will be “yowly” and unsettled for a while.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you will know the many reasons why I advise never letting a cat roam free. Invisible fences, which I do not endorse, are designed for dogs, not cats, and they do stop animals outside the fence from coming in.
Build a “cat house” or screen in the deck so he can spend time outdoors. Some people build a covered catwalk connecting, via a cat door, the house and an outdoor enclosure so their animals can go in and out as they choose. If this is not feasible for you, I would follow your wife’s initiative to help Henry adapt to indoor life.
Purchase a better-fitting harness, and consider adopting an easy-going companion cat for him to enrich his time when you are both gone from the house.
There are cat TV programs to also consider. Setting up a padded window ledge and a bird feeder or two outside for the cat to watch is helpful. One of our cats loves that and is entertained daily.
Check my books, “Understanding Your Cat” and “Supercat: How to Raise the Perfect Feline Companion,” which includes mind and body stimulating games and IQ tests.
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For more information, visit naturesrecipe.com or call 800-237-3856.
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