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A cat fence.

Fencing . .  a . . . . cat.

Okaaaaaay, pal . . . Keep your hands where we can see them, step away from the keyboard, face down on the ground, and nobody gets hurt.

Prior to the spring of 2002, that would have been how we would've regarded anyone who suggested it was even remotely possible to confine a pet cat outdoors in a structure other than a cage or pen.

Up until that time, we had allowed our kitties to come and go as they pleased in and out of the house through a small pet door. They loved being outside chasing lizards and frogs, and playing in the orange orchards that surround our home. We were concerned whenever they'd venture across the road in front of our place, but they would always carefully wait, watch, and listen before crossing. Yeah, the PETA zealots would tell you that all cats should be indoors at all times, and that's fine in theory. But once Fluffy has had a taste of the world outside, it's damn hard to stuff that genie back into the bottle. Our 3 were all used to life on the other side of the wall long before they came into our lives, and they let it be known that there'd be hell to pay (to say nothing of drapes, curtains, window screens and furniture ) if we tried to restrict them to an existence without fresh air and bugs to chase.

Things changed when a car hit and killed one of them on that same street; and we were faced with the prospect of either finding some way of protecting the remaining 2 or potentially losing them also.

Too, we had begun to seriously consider acquiring an exotic looking pedigreed cat and under no circumstances would it be allowed to roam free. With this animal, not only would it face the usual dangers posed by traffic on the road, its unusual appearance might also cause one of the neighbors to mistake it for a lynx, bobcat or other small wild predator and take a shot at it (in a rural area such as the one we live in, not an uncommon occurrence).

We briefly toyed with the idea of putting the cats on leashes and walking them several times a day to give them some exercise and let them experience the outdoors. This was a dismal failure. Maybe a kitten can be trained to wear a halter, but our adults were having none of it; with the fuss they put up you'd have thought they were being hung.

I had heard of some sort of invisible canine fence where a wire or wires conducting a very small amount of electrical current is buried in the ground. Apparently the dog wears a collar containing a device that gives it a mild shock whenever it gets too close to the wires. This didn't strike me as a particularly effective idea - even for dogs (maybe it'll keep yours in, but it can't keeps others out ) - but we were willing to consider any suggestion, and so I fired up the old search engine to find out what I could about shock collars.

The results were not encouraging. As I feared, these things didn't look like they'd work worth a damn unless you happened to have a yard or piece of property completely level and flat, and with no trees, bushes, outbuildings or other obstructions that could be climbed. The systems were also very expensive. As happens with internet searches though, you don't always end up where initially intended to go. In following random links, I stumbled onto the term "cat fence" and decided to feed the phrase to Google and see what came up.

The results were encouraging . . . and surprising. It seemed I was not the only one curious about the subject, and that solutions (or at least potential solutions) existed. They all centered on the idea of altering the top of a conventional fence - whether it be wood, brick, chain link, or whatever - enclosing an area to prevent the cat from climbing over. Some of the designs called for PVC pipe, others featured wire or plastic garden fence, and still more utilized plastic netting. I wasn't sure which of these methods had the best chance of success, but figured I had a little time to make a decision because before anything else happened, our existing backyard fence needed repair.

If any part of our property was to serve as a feline "Stalag" it would have to be the backyard. The prisoners' exercise yard : )It's about 50' x 80' with plenty of shrubbery, bushes, and 5 citrus trees to play in. It is enclosed by a 6' tall wooden grape stake (1"x2") fence. In this design, the stakes are about 2" apart. The project actually started in earnest with nearly a week's worth of tree trimming and brush cutting in order to clear away any vegetation touching or protruding over the fence. This was to not only provide working space for me to inspect the fence boards and make repairs, but also to deny an avenue of escape to the meowing ones. Once all the debris was removed, it was time to get busy.

The fence was built in 1989 along with the house, and was showing signs of disrepair. The summers here are very hot with low humidity, so untreated wood tends to split, bow and warp if constantly exposed to the elements. Therefore the first order of business was replacing over 60 of the slats so New 1"x2"that there would be no holes or gaps large enough to allow small animals to pass - either in or out. I then used rocks (which are extremely plentiful in this location) along the bottom of the fence as reinforcement in those places where it seemed a determined animal might try to dig its way out. My initial thinking was that this would be enough to prevent any escapes through or under the barrier. Paranoia overcame logic though, when I started to imagine our little guys squeezing themselves through some of the spaces between boards that just might be big enough. Chicken wireThis bout of angst led to almost 2 weeks spent unrolling (4 rolls), measuring and stapling (12,000 staples!) chicken wire to the outside of the fence. This was beginning to turn into a big  involved job, and the main event hadn't even started.

After taking a few days off to rest, I was ready to try one of the cat fence methods. One that seemed promising is detailed on this website. The people that built it reported that it did a great job of keeping their cats confined and appeared to not cost an arm and a leg. The fence topper is fabricated from 28" wide rolls of wire garden fence. This product is primarily used by gardeners to protect plants from rabbits and gophers, etc.

I started installing the garden fence in a fashion similar to that shown in the above web page. Right from the get-go things did not go well. Our tortoise shell cat Yodi had been spending most of her time each day out in the yard watchingYodi, Beta Tester the progress of the project, and figuring whatever it was she probably wasn't going to like it. The afternoon of the first day of installation, I was taking a break in the house when I heard a crash out back. Our little black @$#&% had climbed the grape stakes to the bottom of the garden fence and pulled it loose with her claws. When I came out of the house, she was sitting on the fallen wire with a smug look on her grille. Damn, this was going to be as bad as I first thought .

OK. Plan B.

On one of the web sites I'd stumbled upon, I'd seen a topper constructed of the same garden fence but affixed differently. The person had installed it at a 45 angle to the fence and bragged that his critters had no chance of getting loose. It looked like it should work (and with about $50 worth of fence still laying around, it had better), so back to the "job site" I go. After 10 days or so, I've got the yard surrounded.45 deg. garden fence It felt a little flimsy to me, but the theory appeared sound: the animal is able to climb up the wood to the topper, but the angle prevents it from going any higher. Perfect! What could go wrong?  Actually quite a bit. I had become accustomed to using Yodi as something of a 'beta tester' on this project. She's an extremely adept escape artist and I figured if she could be contained in the yard, any current or future inmates would have no hope of freedom.

Within an hour and a half of my congratulating myself on completion of this engineering triumph, Yodi had found the flaw in the plan and the weak spot in the fence design. The flimsiness of the wire proved to be its undoing; she found that by pulling on it she could  bend the wire down far enough to make a ramp up and over the top. It was actually easier for her to get out now than before the whole undertaking began .

Many adult beverages were consumed. Many adult words were . . . um, spoken? It was depressing to know I was being bested by this smirking 8 lb. Houdini, but for the sake of the human race - and to save face with my skeptical wife - I had to carry on. If the wire fencing was too flexible, what could be done to add some much needed rigidity? I kicked around different ideas, and they were all lacking in some way: too heavy, too light, too Rube Goldberg. I finally decided that a bracket of some sort might be used between the wire and the wood to lend enough support, and win the arm wrestling contest with Yodi.

Seemed like a winner! So off to Home Depot I go to find something that could be modified to suit my purpose. What I settled on were flat strips of galvanized steel strapping roughly 1" wide and 21" long.Bracket These are actually intended for use as reinforcements when nailing 2 or more pieces of lumber together, but they were relatively easy to bend (without being too limber) and I figured I could make 'em work. Back at the ranch, I got to work and put the brackets up about every 8' or so. I bent them in the middle to match the 45 angle of the wire, and screwed one half to the grape stakes and attached the other half to the garden fence with nylon cable ties.

Installed BracketThis phase of the job took the better part of another week, but I was confident that this time all the kinks had been worked out and nothing further stood in the way of declaring victory over my demonic tortie nemesis. I told Pam we could now plan on having a safe, secure, escape proof outdoor play and exercise area for Yodi, Cleo and the baby Bengal we were now ready for!

Wrong.   

In the words of, I dunno, somebody: Noooooooooo!

The %$#^%&*@ little quality control inspector kicked my a** again! This time if I hadn't watched her make her getaway, I would have not believed it possible for a cat to do what she did. While I was (again) admiring the genius of my work, and she was not 10' away, Yodi climbed the grape stake, grabbed the base of the garden fence, and hanging by and using only by her front paws, made her way to the edge of the wire, and managed to pull herself up and over.

I honestly didn't know whether to cry, cuss or applaud. On the one hand I was very disappointed that over a month's work had apparently been all for nothing; on the other it was hard no to admire Yodi's determination and athleticism. Then too, she was just doing her job - she finds the holes and I'm supposed to fill them.

It seemed like a good time for a mope break, so I took one.

Lasted the better part of 3 days.

Finally, I decided to give the cat fence idea one more shot. If it succeeded, good. If not, the hell with it. The girls could do whatever they wanted: stay in, go out, they wouldn't be in any more danger than they already were; and we would scrap the hope of acquiring the Bengal kitten.

Besides garden fence, the other popular product that seemed to crop up in many commercial kit packages as well as a fair number of D-I-Y cat containment systems is a plastic similar to bird netting but with a much bigger mesh. Proponents of this method swear that it is effective because a cat does not like to climb on a surface or object where its footing is unsure, and a net certainly has a lot of 'give' in it. Cat Fence-In, Inc. sells this sort of product pre-packaged and custom designed to suit each individual customer, but I didn't want to spend any more than I had to and besides, the netting is widely available in bulk rolls at most any garden center or home improvement warehouse for considerably less. It was my last chance.

Time for a road trip to Lowe's. There I picked up a couple of 48" x 100' rolls of Easy Gardner Multi-Use Plastic Netting with 1" square mesh, about a dozen 7/8" x 8' garden stakes (these are simply hollow metal poles with green vinyl cladding), an equal number of " x 2" eye bolts with " nuts, 2 packages of clips, a big reel of 25 lb. test monofilament fishing line, and a giant container of nylon cable ties. The bad mood and attitude I already had .

This part of the fence project only took a few days because I was anxious to see if it would work, and frankly because I was sick of messing with it. Garden Stake w/Eye BoltThe first task was to drill " holes in the ends of the green stakes and insert the eye bolts. Fortunately, I have a small drill press and that made this procedure relatively simple. It's possible to do the job with a handheld power drill, of course, but I'm one of those guys that always looks for the easy way out.

After the poles were all prepared, I attached them to the 4" x 4" fence posts which in my case are spaced at 8' intervalsClip. The clips are a 2 part item. The base which contains the 2 prong-like tabs, screws into the post; and the cap half fits over the tabs. There are one-way ratchet teeth on the tabs and corresponding notches in the cap. To tighten the cap against the pole, one just pushes the cap up against it. 2 of these base/cap assemblies per pole were used, and the poles were installed in such a way that they extend 4' above the top of the grape stakes and posts.

After the poles were up, I ran the fishing line from one to the next through the eye bolt eyes.

The netting was the last step. I first cut a length of it matching the approximate distance between my starting point - the wall of the house - and the first pole. Netting Stapled to WallUsing a stapler, I tacked the netting to the house; then used cable ties every few feet to attach it to the fishing line, and finally another tie to affix it to the pole eye bolt. The fishing line isn't absolutely necessary for this procedure, but it does add a bit of strength to the netting, and it certainly helps hold it in place while you move the ladder (I did this myself, without assistance). Once the first section was done, I duplicated the scenario with the next until all the poles were connected with 'panels' of net.

Then it was simply a matter of attaching the bottom of each panel with the top of the garden fence.Netting attached to garden fence This was pretty time consuming, though. I used cable ties to secure the net to the wire, to the fishing line, to the poles, and to connect the panels themselves. Altogether nearly 1000 ties were used.

Here are several more pics of the finished fence:

One of the Corners The Gate Another Corner It ain't always pretty, but it works! The orange trees need netting too.  Orange tree trimmed back from fence  Another tree that has been trimmed back Another Corner

The portions of the fence near the orange trees required a little special attention. The cats love to climb them, so I added a dose of netting to the branches that are within jumping range of the barrier

The ultimate test of this cat fence came the day after it was finally done. Yodi spent hours trying to find someway to gain purchase on the netting and was unable. For the first time, I think she knew the game was over. She made a couple more desultory attempts over the next few days, then gave up for good.

If I had to do this again, knowing what I know now, I'd dispense with the wire garden fence altogether and build the topper completely out of mesh netting and poles. It's comparatively unobtrusive, and very effective.

This project dominated most of my summer, but in the end it was worth every moment and every penny. The little fur balls are completely safe from not only the hazards of the road, but also from disease, predators and the aggressive feral cats that live in our neighborhood.

A month after the end of construction, we brought home not one but two new kitties, and now that they're mature enough, we let them have access to yard also. I'm not prepared to say there is no way any of our cats could ever escape, but so far, so good.

 

2002 Gene and Pam Leis

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