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Daisy and the Pussycats
Stray cats have turned a dog’s happy yard into a source of misery
Daisy on cat patrol.

It’s 1:30 a.m. and Daisy is pacing. Again.

She hears a cat somewhere—or at least she thinks she does—and is in a hurry to get outside and attack it. If we don’t let her out, she’ll pace and whine for an hour or more. If we do let her outside, we’ll be reinforcing her demanding, unnecessary behavior. It’s the middle of the night, and we’re stuck. All of us.

I was so happy for Daisy when we first moved from our small apartment to a house with a yard. As of a month or so ago, because of the cats, that honeymoon is over.

She’s escaped our backyard four times, all in the name of chasing cats. Half the yard is bordered by a six-foot wooden fence; the rest is a chain-link job we thought was too tall for her. How cute—that’s become her primary method of escape. (Though she somehow wiggled through a loose board in the wooden one, too.)

After the escapes began we started checking on her every few minutes while she was in the yard. That didn’t work. Our new policy is to never leave her outside without supervision. Someone either goes outside with her or sits in the house and watches from the windows. She’s so quick it’s unwise to do anything else while watching, so it’s usually a 20- to 30-minute staring session.

All of this is because of her anxiety about the cats. If she perceives a cat nearby, whether real or imagined, Daisy will do anything to get to it.

We knew there were stray cats in the neighborhood when we moved in. We’d seen them while looking at houses, and one of our new neighbors mentioned occasionally trapping them and taking them in to be spayed or neutered. It’s a dense residential area, complete with dumpsters and alleys—it makes sense that there would be alley cats.

What we didn’t anticipate was the cycle of anxiety they’d set spinning. We figured Daisy would have a ball keeping them out of the backyard. We didn’t think her natural prey drive would spiral off into seeing and hearing cats everywhere and at almost all hours.

Sometimes her desire to chase is legitimate. There really is a cat sitting complacently in the yard next door or two cats mating loudly on the front lawn at 4 in the morning. (Always a treat.) But one real event will set off 24 hours of high tension with near-constant pacing on wooden floors, plaintive whines and vigilant watch at the windows. Potato-chip bag in the street? Cat. People talking? Talking cats, obviously. Passing cars? Really big, fast cats.

A couple of things help: A good walk, as always, helps ease her mind and burn off excess energy. Keeping the blinds closed, while depressing for an at-home worker, keeps her from getting locked into staring out the window. We’re all doomed, however, if a cat decides to start yowling on the front lawn in the middle of the night. There will be little sleep for any of us after that.

Clearly, we need to consult with a behaviorist about Daisy—while this is inconvenient and annoying for us, for her, it’s truly distressing.

Have you ever dealt with a similar problem with your dog? Got any tips for discouraging stray cats?

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Kathleen St. John is a freelance writer for target The Denver Post and The Onion's A.V. Club, and a lifelong dog lover. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband, John, and her dog, Daisy, who's a mix of just about everything. avclub.com

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