Monday, April 18, 2016

November Hill cat haven - part 1

When we moved to our little horse farm we named November Hill, our cats were allowed to live a somewhat idyllic lifestyle: they had 24/7 access to our entire farm through a cat/dog door that feeds into our fenced back yard.

They lived happily for years that way, spending time outside but for the most part coming inside during the night to sleep (with us, of course).

Two years ago 3 of our 6 cats developed cytauxzoonosis. It's an awful tick-borne disease (ticks feed on bobcats who host the Protozoa, then carry it to domestic cats, who have little immunity). Our county happens to be one of the few "hot spots" in the US for this disease. Domestic cats get very sick very quickly. Early diagnosis and proper treatment give about 65% chance for cure. There are huge risks even during the treatment phase for fatal blood clots. After many thousands of dollars and very intense medical treatment, two cats lived and one sadly did not make it.

A year ago big development moved close to our rural property and clear-cut thousands of pristine forest nearby. Suddenly we started hearing and seeing coyotes in our neighborhood. Our most savvy cat, Dickens, disappeared one Saturday last fall and we fear he may have been killed by coyotes.

We decided we couldn't allow the 4 cats remaining to continue living their indoor/outdoor lifestyle. In one weekend's time we closed the cat door and determined that we had to figure out a way to secure the fenced in back yard so they would at least be able to continue going in and out to that area. It was a huge limitation to impose on their usual routines, but we felt we needed to do it to ensure their safety.

If they hadn't ever had total freedom it would have been easier to make this change! Overall they have accepted it far better than I anticipated. 

That first weekend we knew we had to secure the back yard to make this plan work. I spent hours online researching cat-proofing products, most of which cost a small fortune and would have to be ordered. We then took what I'd found and determined to make our own quick and inexpensive version - at least for the time being.

Here's what we did:

We bought a roll of chicken wire at the local feed store. We bought wood dowels from the local home-improvement store. We bought a staple gun.

My husband drilled holes for the dowels in each fence post at an inward angle. He wove the dowels through the chicken wire and then used wood glue to secure the dowels into the holes. Once he had that done, he stapled the bottom edge of the chicken wire to the horizontal wood strip that goes across the "pickets" of the fence. He left the chicken wire somewhat floppy - we read that this was essential as you want the cat to feel the sense of instability as they climb up the fence to the chicken wire. 

When he was done we let the four cats out and waited to see what would happen. 

They tested this for most of that day and some of the next. They went around the fence and tested every inch of the wire. They basically ran up the fence, got to the chicken wire, and then turned and jumped to the ground. The angle and the instability work together to deter them. 

Both our gates open out and this is the only thing we need to do to make this set-up perfect. If we change the gates to open inward, we can secure the wire so that it opens WITH the gate. That task is on our list, but for now we simply duck under the wire as we go in and out. 

We are on month 3 of this set-up and no cat has escaped. They gave up testing it after the first couple of days.

I was worried this would be a huge eyesore and that I would hate looking out the windows but as you can see it blends in to the degree that it's almost invisible when you glance out at it:

The only thing I miss is my horses being able to hang their heads over the fence to say hello! But it's worth losing that to know our cats are safe and still happy.

Having the back yard secure for the cats has made this transition so much better. They can go in and out, climb the hickory trees, play in the grass, dig, and lounge on the back deck. 

BUT - we also have a wonderful front porch that they loved hanging out on, as did we - and this month we decided it was time to tackle that project. Stay tuned for part 2 of the ongoing November Hill cat haven construction. 


Grey Horse Matters said...

It looks great! The main thing is that they are safe and have freedom to still come and go when they want to.

billie said...

Thanks, Arlene! I am thinking of researching something to plant that isn't too heavy that will climb and mask the wire a bit. Of course, it has to be cat and dog safe, and horse safe, and so it might be tricky to meet all those criteria! For now this keeps the cats in, and I can still see the horses easily on the other side, so it is doing the job. :)