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Dashing Out the Door

Foil your escape-minded indoor cat, especially during this holiday season.

[From Tufts November 2011 Issue]

Posted in big letters on yellow paper taped to the door leading to my fenced back yard are the words, Zeki Alert!

I need this written declaration to serve as a reminder to myself and as a caution to visitors to be on the alert for Zeki, my quick and determined young Turkish van-mix. Each morning, she out races my two dogs to the patio door in hopes of exploring my backyard untethered.

A few times she has managed to dash out the door, leap over the 6-foot fence and sprint out of sight. I spent hours calling for her and searching in vain. Each time, fortunately, she returned — but on her time schedule. Many of us with indoor cats want to give them safe access to the outdoors but protect them from the dangers of roaming dogs, fast cars, disease-carrying stray cats and other perils.

To reach a safe compromise with feline escape artists:

- Retrain your cat to meet and greet you in a particular spot when you leave or return home. Lure him to a favorite place away from the exit, such as a window perch or a cat tree with treats or catnip to occupy his attention.

- Tap into your cat’s hunting instinct by tossing a favorite toy or treat in the opposite direction of the door for him to chase when you depart.

- Change the morning routine by purposely placing a trail of treats on the stairs or hallway for your cat to hunt while you take your dogs outside.

- Make the targeted exit door less appealing by keeping a water-filled squirt gun or a can of coins within easy reach. Spray water on your cat (not in his face) or shake the can to catch your cat off guard and to create an unpleasant noise. Just be careful not to overdo these tactics and foster distrust and fear in your cat.

- Provide a sturdy window perch and place a bird feeder near that window to give your indoor cat a front row view of wildlife activity.

- Add an enclosed, large pen in your backyard for your cat to safely enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, but never leave him in there unsupervised.

- Train your cat to go on short, daily walks while wearing a cat harness and leash. Do not expect him to heel like a dog. Let him determine the direction and pace. Take the walks when it is quiet in your neighborhood, if possible.

- Keep cat harnesses and leashes near your door. Fit your cat with this gear before you open the back door.

- Educate your guests to be careful when they enter and leave. If necessary, post reminder notes on both sides of the doors.

As Thanksgiving nears, we are about to kick off the holiday season. I encourage you to follow these suggestions so you can effectively foil your door-dashing cat and provide him with an enriched indoor environment.

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