The studio was in darkness with only the faint glow of a waning moon casting unfamiliar shadows. After ten minutes or so my eyes adjusted and I began to make out familiar shapes and just about see the pitiful light coming through the cat flap.
I had previously positioned my arsenal of aids and weapons, placed an old wobbly wooden chair on a cloth so as not to rattle on the tiled floor when I struck and practiced my reach to illuminate the intruder at a strategic moment.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love cats but the nightly appearance of a fat ginger tom frightening my two castrated male cats, eating all their food and marking his territory on my plastic flour bin is something I am not prepared to live with.
We suspected there had been a visitor because the food bowls were empty too many times on a trot. For the past 6 years we have free-fed our two cats so there is always food available. In addition, our two cats were unsettled, nervous and wary of coming and going through their cat flap.
We’d initially installed the cat flap thinking that rural beasts would never work out how to use it, how wrong we are.
Detective work then ensued with us trying to establish which cat it was, where it came from and what time it did its cat burgling. The evidence mounted; there was the unfamiliar rattle of the front gates, the fact that it was male and probably visiting between 11pm and midnight.
Sure enough, at 11.25 pm it would jump through the metal gates and being a bit on the podgy side it would rattle them as it passed through.
I spent the following two nights waiting with a cup of water, poised from the balcony ready to soak it.
Lesson 1: Cats run faster than water travels.
It returned the following night.
Radical action was required. Wentworth, our braver black cat, was a little wary of coming and going through his cat flap whereas Gawber, his brother, was literally having panic attacks. It was their home, their security and normally a safe haven where they could rest and eat in peace.
I thought about cat behaviour, their agility, their cunning and acuity. What would be required to deter this ginger tom once and for all?
Water alone probably wouldn’t help as this was a feral male used to harsh and wet conditions. Maybe watered, floured and egged; a sort of battering without physical harm, more of a tempura than a batter?
I decided entrapment and dousing with water as the thought of clearing up clouds of flour and slimy eggs wasn’t something I would relish doing at midnight.
So my plan of action was to wait in the dark, in the studio from 11 pm onwards with our two cats secured in the house.
After luring our two into the house, I made my way to the solitude and stillness of the studio.
I sat silent and out of immediate sight tucked behind the washing on the clothes horse with my arsenal of weapons; three containers filled with water, a 2,000,000 candle power flashlight and a sweeping brush.
I silently practiced manoeuvres ready to strike the second it came through the flap.
At 11.23 pm the flap rattled. My heart fastened pace, my breath became shallow and rapid, I reached out in the dark ready to strike. I could see the light from outside disappearing as he first pushed with his nose, several times, then his forehead. My heart was pounding, I stretched out for the 2 million candle power lamp…I could see nothing but heard the cat flap slap shut. Gotcha…
Lesson 2: cats can smell anticipation and hear bated breath.
I might as well have been wearing neon and singing Land of hope and glory.
An hour later, the food had gone, again…
This cat wasn’t a fool, his cunning and courage was to be admired.
Taking the entrapment theme one step further, Luis joined the plot and we decided to lay in wait; one of us observing from the bedroom window and one listening from behind the slightly ajar terrace doors. The plan, once spotted, was to listen for the cat flap to slap shut, sneak out with a sack, put it over the cat flap, capture, soak and release, just enough to worry it.
Lesson 3: Agree on a battle plan.
My advice would be to discuss plans in great detail and make sure you and your partner are following the same battle plan. Running out like a screaming banshee, banging the door, stamping and shaking sacks in the general direction of the cat flap is not conducive to capture or coterminous with the softly, softly sneak, peek and capture approach of your partner.
The cat heard Luis’ commotion and shot out of the cat flap, breaking it in the process, never to be seen again…that night.
After seeking advice on forums we decided not to follow the suggestions of “capture, neuter, love and cherish” nor the “put extra food down and get to know it” or the “encourage it and let your two have another friend”.
Lesson 4: A problem shared is still your problem.
A problem shared does not always tell you what you really want to hear. Unless you can create empathy in others by stealing their food, pissing on their stores and watching their pets shake with fear; you are mostly wasting your time seeking opinions.
There was however a glimmer of hope; chips.
Microchips and a chip reader cat flap; guaranteed to block any unwanted intruder unless he, she or it is chipped and programmed in.
Living where we do it had to be ordered, via the vets, the cats were booked in for micro-chipping and until it arrived we locked our two in on a night-time and blocked the cat flap. They began to settle and eat more. They became less stressed and seemed happy to be incarcerated once in, until they wised up. Even the lure of prawns couldn’t get them in as they soon got to know that it was just a ploy to lock them in for the night.
Lesson 5: Don’t deploy the prawns too early.
We succumbed to the lure of prawns far too early and had nothing left to up the ante. Cats cannot be fooled into enforced imprisonment with the same lure, they learn too quickly.
The new cat flap (we need a new one anyway since the screaming banshee incident) arrived and we took the cats to the vets for chipping; a major logistics operation in itself.
Lesson 6: Keep calm and hide the cat carriers.
Once our cats see you going anywhere within 2 meters of the cat carriers, alarm bells ring and you might as well forget any trip, anywhere, for the foreseeable future. We had forgotten this fact but after several attempts we managed to capture them and take them to the vets for chipping. This is always a treat as we are usually accompanied by whining and howling protestations both there and back.
The chipping was rather easy by comparison as they both are so well-behaved (aka petrified), once in the surgery they were as good as gold.
We installed the new cat flap and programmed them both in. All we need to do now is to let them get used to it. The sight and smell of this alien contraption has been enough to keep them away and not even the lure of a prawn could get them to go through it.
Lesson 7: Technology does not impress a cat
There is no doubt they will get used to the new electronic cat flap and I am sure deep down they really, really appreciate our efforts in keeping tom at bay and the €170 it has cost for the flap and chips. Once they have overcome their wariness of the new flap I know they will sleep soundly and whenever the big ginger tom tries to poke its nose into their space they will lie there on their fleecy bed laughing and pointing, rolling around playfully tossing their prawns in the air and flicking biscuits in its general direction.
I wonder if they do a human version, how cool would that be?
Lesson 8: Be careful what you wish for…