Most of the time, Tux is a good-natured, well-behaved cat, content with his indoor- only lifestyle. But whenever he looks out a window and spies a strange cat in his yard, a different side emerges. He races in circles, yowling his displeasure. He mangles window blinds and sometimes attacks his feline sibling, Tango.
Karen Ramsey adopted Tux and Tango as kittens four years ago from a local shelter, and for a while, neither cat seemed overly upset by the sight of unfamiliar felines wandering into the backyard of her row house in Washington, D.C. But last summer, Tux’s reaction to feline trespassers escalated from mild annoyance to full-on frenzy. Around the same time, some of the outdoor cats began spraying on Ramsey’s front porch and using her vegetable garden as a litter box.
Ramsey reached the end of her rope. She didn’t want anything bad to happen to the outdoor cats, and she appreciated their role in combating her neighborhood’s endemic rodent problem, but her overriding thought was “they have to go away.”
It’s a common reaction, says Katie Lisnik, HSUS director of cat protection and policy. But removing cats is seldom a long-term solution as more cats move into the area to take advantage of handouts from caretakers and other food sources.
If community cats are aggravating you or your pets, you should first identify who is caring for the cats and connect them with local trap-neuter-return (TNR) resources, says Lisnik. Sterilization is the most important step for mitigating feline nuisance behaviors and reducing the number of cats over time. And if you need a more immediate fix to your problems, check out these high-and low-tech strategies for communicating the “no trespassing” message to cats.
Laurel Cats, a Maryland-based TNR organization, has successfully used motion-activated CatStop devices to keep the peace between feral cats and their human neighbors, says president Helen Woods. CatStops and similar products emit a burst of ultrasonic sound (inaudible to humans) that startles cats who pass into the device’s range. A single device will deter cats from doorways to prevent territorial spraying or aggression between indoor and outdoor cats, but two or three may be needed to keep cats away from flower beds and smaller yards.
Cats can become habituated or learn to maneuver around the device’s trigger, so changing the location or adding other deterrents can improve your chances of success. (If you have dogs, you’ll need to take them into consideration when positioning the devices, as they may also be bothered by the sound.) Focus on points of entry to the off-limits area, whether it’s the yard, garden or hood of a car.
Home base improvements
Are there aspects of your property that are particularly appealing to cats? You can work with the cats’ caretakers to replicate those features in the yards where cats are welcome. This might entail providing a perch in a sunny spot, a place to get out of the rain or to find shade, or a comfortable lawn chair with a cushion.
Plant catnip as well as its showier cousin, catmint, to lure the cats to the welcome zones, and set up an outdoor litter box (with a mound of sand, dirt or soft-particle mulch). Cats also enjoy water fountains and large flower pots where they can lie down.
Mix and match
Many times, a relatively simple intervention will resolve your cat-related frustrations, says Lisnik. Other cases will require a combination of solutions. If all else fails, you may need to look at more expensive options, such as cat-proof fencing. Over the past year, Ramsey has learned that when it comes to deterring cats, you have to be persistent “and try as many different options as will work.” She first installed a CatStop on her front porch, chicken wire around her raised vegetable garden and mats with plastic nubs inside her garden. She talked with the cats’ caretakers and enlisted neighbors to help trap the cats for sterilization. Those steps alleviated many of her problems, but didn’t stop cats from loitering by her backyard gate, so she recently added a motion-activated sprinkler there.
Tux seems much calmer now, she reports. “He’s just happier when we can find ways for the other cats to not come around and get him riled up.”