Sunday, November 23, 2008

You Be the Judge--Please

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent

Again she stretched, again she bent,

Nor knew the gulf between.

(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)

The slippery verge her feet beguiled,

She tumbled headlong in.

"Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat"

Thomas Gray

Good fences may make good neighbors, but they are mere nuisances to felines. I need feedback on this post, to settle an urgent question of practical ethics, in the general area of neighborhood pet management. Our neighbors are cat-intolerant, and this has generated friction. We are aggrieved--do we have a right to be?

We possess a number of cats that is well above the mean, but still in the single digits and still, I would argue, short of the threshold of pet-hoarding pathology (all were shelter cats or strays). Most of the cats stay in the house, but all are free to come and go, and while they generally stay in the immediate vicinity, they sometimes feel the need for more extended perambulations. Our cats are typically well-mannered, and most of the neighbors whom they have visited have expressed pleasure in having made their acquaintance.

A month or two after having moved into the neighborhood, the fellow next door, with whom we had had minimal contact (it is a rural area, and he keeps to himself), came over and politely mentioned that at least one of our cats had ventured onto his deck, and that his wife is allergic to cats. I had never heard of cat allergy being triggered by a cat passing through the back yard, and I mumbled something about the difficulty of constraining the movements of felines. I told him we'd keep an eye out for cats in his yard, and that he should feel free to shoo them away (in point of fact, I had never actually seen a cat in his yard--if anything they seem to prefer the yard on the other side of us--but I didn't doubt that it had happened once in a while).

We heard nothing else from them, until a few days ago we got a call from the county animal shelter about one of our cats--it had been caught in a trap set out by our good neighbor. The cat was unharmed, but of course there was a fee to reclaim our cat, and this time of year one hates to think of a cat stuck in a trap for whatever period of time it might take for someone to realize it is there. This time the complaint, per the animal shelter, was that paw prints had been found on the neighbor's car.

My point of view is that roaming cats are very much like barking dogs--they can be annoying to those who don't care for them, but they are just a price of living in proximity to other human beings, who tend to like to keep animals of some sort. Actually, I can't imagine how a cat or two walking through the yard is even remotely as annoying as a back yard dog that won't stop barking. The cats do not tear up plants or otherwise destroy property. The worst they could conceivably do is leave a bit of fertilizer behind, although they usually do that in the litter boxes or in the woods behind our house. Ours are certainly not aggressive in any way (they are all healthy and up to date on their shots).

Obviously with respect to law our neighbor has a right to trap any animal on his property that he doesn't want to be there. But with respect to ethics and social convention I think this is a ridiculous situation. Is the onus really on us to keep all the cats in the house so that none of them might venture past the property line? Oh, how I hope this fellow decides to get a dog--I have sensitive ears!


vanderleun said...

Trap the wife. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

There's a sub-species of human animal that is characterised by it's savage territorialism and arrogance. Being of large brain--albeit of little substance--this creature will strut and pound the chest, bleating/grunting common phrases like 'me man big brain top of food chain kill all vegans!'. When 'man with big brain' is confronted with what it perceives to be a ratio disparity in terms of human to cat population density, 'man with big brain & small heart + other deficiencies (most commonly an inability to sexually satisfy woman mate with equally big brain, and with faux cat allergy)', it will hunt down the offending felines to produce a more favourable species balance.

Of particular irritation to the arrogant sub-species exemplar is confrontation with the more evolved gentler species of human that typically exhibits the nobler traits such as compassion, altruism, civility, generosity, kindness to species other than one's own etc. The 'man with big brain' will furiously defend it's territory with much sound and fury. Once neighbour condescends to it's demands, arrogant bastard will feel all powerful and in control again; and be more attractive to the opposite sex of its species.

Moral of the story: flaunting noble traits in presence of fragile ego makes for bloody cat war.

The extent of a society's civilisation is reflected in the way it treats it's animals (the furry, feathery,scaly kind).

Point out all the positives of keeping pets: improved cardiovascular health; decrease in depression; improves immune system of children; teaches kids about caring, responsibility. Cat allergy sufferers who sleep with cats might have reactions; open spaces, minimal indirect contact will not affect a sufferer (despite what good neighbour claims).

Suggest that good neighbour gets a hobby so energy is fueled constructively.

Failing this, trap wife as per earlier suggestion.

John J. Coupal said...

Per anonymous' suggestion regarding cardiovascular benefits of cat ownership,

Buy collar and leash for cat and take cat on its daily constitutional walk for it to do its business. That will improve heart health of cat and owner, and keep cat out of neighbor's yard. That is not as extreme as herding cats.

Your neighbor does have the right to want trespassers (human or otherwise) out of his yard and off his deck. You're fortunate he chose a live trap to catch your feline, instead of using a .22

Voila. problem solved.

Anonymous said...

Every thought of trying an invisible fence? Works great at keeping my dog and cat from wandering.

vanderleun said...

Yes, indeed, the invisible fence -- at hundreds to thousands of dollars. Nothing like a neighbor who makes you reach for your wallet.

Here's another ploy. Find a friend, if you have such a friend, who has several large guns -- shotguns, rifles, ideally semi-automatic rifles. Borrow them for a few days and make an ostentatious show of carrying them to and from the car, or cleaning them in the driveway or backyard when your neighbors are going to and fro.

An armed neighborhood is a polite neighborhood.

Novalis said...

Thank you for these helpful thoughts. I think I have only once in my life seen a cat on a leash, though; if cats could laugh, hearty guffaws would ensue after the brandishing of the leash.

Hadn't thought of invisible fences for cats, but maybe so (is it painful I wonder?).

Don't have access to much firepower--might have to resort to Thorazine-tipped darts (if not for the Hippocratic Oath of course).

Anonymous said...

No, the invisible fence isn't painful (the people who sell them say, at least). It's just a brief buzz-like shock. They eventually learn to stay away from the area and it's not a problem.

Anonymous said...

I would understand the concern if this were about a dog. Dogs can leave quite a mess and some can be aggressive.

In terms of environmental impact, passing cats seem more like the wild critters that roam my urban neighborhood--skunks, raccoons, possum, chipmunks, squirrels, birds and the occasional fox or coyote.

Actually, raccoons and squirrels are a far greater nuisance than cats.

As for allergies, I'm highly allergic to cats. The idea that a cat passing through a yard or stepping on a deck presents a serious problem strikes me as ridiculous. I'm also highly allergic to birds. I have no problem going outdoors in areas where birds have been.

Novalis said...

Good point, thank you--cats perform the useful service of warding off the legions of pesky rodents and avians that can plague any neighborhood.

When we moved earlier this year, the cats preceded me by a couple of weeks (they are quite resourceful), leaving me in an empty house. I started to notice peculiar movements about the yard and, upon closer inspection, noticed non-feline creatures--chipmunks and birds, no less--invading the territory. It took a little getting used to.

Anonymous said...

Your neighbour sounds like a real jerk. Trapping a cat is extreme behaviour and totally unnecessary. Rather than advocating the use of fire-power, I've heard that a simple spray bottle (like the type they use for Windowlene) kept handy will deter the cat just as well. You can give it to your neighbour with the instructions that he can feel free to spray your cat if s/he ventures near his house. But I'm guessing that your neighbour has some strong Axis 2 traits so reason probably will not work ;-) Good luck with the catfights.

Unknown said...

Hi, we're being held hostage by 13 cats, so I sympathize with your situation. In our area, cats can be rounded up and euthanized without contacting the owner (although I haven't heard of this happening; our neighborhood has a number of feral cats that several neighbors feed). Our city also recently enacted a barking dog law in which -- and I'm not making this up -- if a dog barks at a level that can be heard over a lawn mower for more than one hour, the owner can be fined $100 per offense. I also haven't heard of this happening, but we have a barky Sheltie who goes crazy when the neighbors mow, so we just bring him inside when he starts carrying on.

Your neighbor sounds like a jerk, but you can still be held liable for your cats wandering. Most people wouldn't care. Try the electric fence, and be sure to let your neighbor know that's what you're doing; maybe he'll back off a little if it doesn't always work.

BTW, 12 of our cats are indoor-only pets, and wouldn't stick a toe outdoors if the house was on fire. Indoor/outdoor is more humane, but is discouraged by our local SPCA.

Rairy said...

Is your neighbor a bird watcher? If so you are not likely to win them over to your side - cats are an invasive species that are destructive to the native North American songbird population.

What are the local laws or ordinances concerning cats? Even though cats are excellent creatures and wonderful pets, being a cat owner doesnt exempt you from following the rules.

A note of caution about invisible fences - the cats can not get out but other animals can get in - which could put the cats in the position of being unable to escape a larger animal invading their space.

Anonymous said...

Insider to author of blog has planned an aluminum fence (which claws hopefully cannot climb) as a partial solution, at the bargain price of $3500. I'd considered the electric fence as suggested, but thought the psyche of a cat would make this a somewhat risky implementation.
I tried to deliver water guns to the neighbors (which to clarify, are "terrified" of cats, not "allergic" as previously thought), and they told me I could keep them and "they'd get their own". 6 year old son promptly took them and broke them (they were cheap anyway). But at least I persuaded them to abstain from the trapping (inhumane in the freezing temperatures), but for how long? The fence will take 3 weeks to special order...and the cats will probably figure out how to climb it anyway, but at least they know we made the effort...
Anyway know a good psychiatrist for desensitization of irrational cat phobias?