Old cat learns new trick

Halloween and Joe

We have two cats. We brought them home from Dean’s brother’s farm in Illinois when the kids were small, making the cats (who are litter mates) around 11 years old. We have a screened porch with a door that doesn’t latch. We’ve had this kind of door on the porch since we’ve lived here (over 15 years).

The cats have always been indoor cats. Dean probably would be OK with letting them out, but after losing one cat to a bus in Pittsburgh, I vowed to never let a pet cat outside. Besides, the cats belong to our kids and they don’t want the cats outside.

Somehow the lower screen in the screened door was loosened last fall. I remember wondering if critters would be coming in the porch or if our cats would push through the screen. All autumn the cats would sit by the door, but never tried to go through it. During the winter when they were allowed on the porch the same thing happened — neither cat was aware that freedom was so close at hand.

One day, Halloween, the black. female cat, ran up to me. Then she ran away from me. Then she ran to me, all the while meowing. Think Lassie when she wanted someone to follow her. I swear, if she could bark she would have been barking. I ignored Halloween, although I did wonder if possibly Joe, her black and white litter mate, got outside, but since he had not figured out about the loose screen as far as I knew, I assumed she was just being weird in the way Halloween often is. (This is a cat that was put on Buspar for a while when she wouldn’t stop licking her fur off.) Anyway, later that day our next door neighbor stopped by to ask if we wanted Joe outside. I went out the door and, sure enough, Joe was standing by the Azelea bush, nibbling on some grass. I scooped him up and took him in the house. I told the family about Joe’s adventure and warned them that we needed to fix the screen and in the meantime not let the cats on the porch.

Later that week, after going to a local Irish Pub with my husband, Joe walked out from the next door neighbor’s back yard. I think he heard our truck engine and came to greet us. We took him in the house and the kids demanded we fix the door. Andrew brought duct tape and wire and set to work fixing the broken screen. The next morning Dean fixed it properly. The cats were safe.

Or so we thought.

It was then discovered that Joe was still able to get out of the screened porch. He just applied pressure to the newly fixed screen and low and behold, the door opened. Joe is a strong cat, and can push pretty hard — I know this because I often wake up with my head off my pillow because he’s decided to take over the entire pillow by pushing at my head with his body.

Now, Halloween has not figured that out yet, and when Joe manages to get outside, Halloween sits, looking perplexed and somewhat jealously, at Joe who is now magically outside the screened porch while she is still inside. We know this, we tested it under supervised conditions. Our solution was to always to remember to use the hook on the door so it couldn’t be pushed open, which is a pain because it makes that door unusable when the doors that lead to it are open (which they usually are in good weather). Still, we want to have safe cats, so dutifully remember to use the hook on the door.

Last night we had a bit of high drama at our house involving teen angst, failed practical jokes and a car trunk. This was right after a peaceful picnic supper and as I carried in the last tray from the picnic table was confronted by an angry teen who demanded I drive after the teen’s father. Being the strong and disciplined mother that I am, I did what the angry teen wanted. But — I didn’t latch the door.

Problem solved, everyone home, most of the family settled down to Saturday evening activities then to bed.

Just after midnight my daughter woke me up wondering where something was that she needed. Then I tried to fall asleep again, but couldn’t quite get there. I felt Halloween, who was asleep at my feet stir. Then I remembered the unlatched door and knew that Joe had gotten out. (He usually slept on our bed; Halloween usually slept with Clare.

I got up, searched the house and saw that the porch door was ajar. I woke Dean up and Clare, who was already awake, got up to help look for Joe.

Adrenaline does amazing things. I don’t like being outside, alone at night, but here I was in my pajamas walking around the block, shaking a box of cat treats and calling for Joe. Dean looked in the yard and walked around another block. I had visions of how Andrew was going to react when I had to give him the news that his cat was dead or lost. It was not a pleasant way to be spending time I would normally be sleeping.

I’d pretty much given up and decided to go back to the house when I heard a high pitched noise. I thought it was Joe, calling back to me. As I neared the house, the noise grew louder. Dean heard it too and said it might be the raccoon. I then noticed Clare walking around inside the house and realized she was whistling. She’d noticed that when she whistled very loudly and shrilly, the cats would run to her (probably to see if she would please stop hurting their ears).

I walked in through the side gate, and across the lawn, still picturing Andrew’s sorrow. As I neared the screen door, there was Joe, at the top of the steps, looking at me as if he’d just been in another room and why-are-you-making-such-a-fuss? Now pick me up  and give me one of those treats. I’m pretty sure Joe heard Clare’s whistling and came running. Smart girl!

Now we need to figure out how to fix the door so he cannot push it open.

Duct Tape!

2 thoughts on “Old cat learns new trick

  1. Great story. My sister has indoor cats, and when a friend visited with her husband and two young sons, they had a conversation about how to be “cat smart” and not “cat stupid,” and to always be aware of the doors!

    This line made me laugh, though: “Last night we had a bit of high drama at our house involving teen angst, failed practical jokes and a car trunk.” Fabulous!


  2. I like that — be aware of doors. We now have a real door latch on the door complete with lock and a pushy thing from outside. No more hook and eye locks for us.

    Glad you liked the high drama line – it makes me laugh too (now — then it was not so funny)


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