My boyfriend and I were both keen for the cats to be able to go outside. I knew I’d find it quite difficult and worry a lot, especially as they had been indoor cats. Although all went ok in the end, we did make some mistakes.
While the cats were still settling in the house, we went on a search for a cat flap. We both wanted a microchip flap to prevent other animals coming in, especially as we had their food bowls next to the back door. This type of flap detects your cat’s microchip and only unlocks for them. The only problem was that it soon came apparent that we were looking at cat flaps at wildly varying ends of the market. My boyfriend showed me a basic flap which met requirements. In fact, the only thing it did was meet the requirement of the microchip function. I then showed him my choice, much to his disapproval.
My choice of cat flap was the all singing, all dancing Sure Petcare smart flap. The flap links to an app on your mobile phone via a hub, informing you whether the cats are in or out. You can also lock and unlock the flap remotely (e.g. from my office desk) and set a curfew so that you can control the time the flap shuts without having to remember to do it manually (which was important to me as I did not want the cats going out after 11pm at night). After much discussion and persuading on my part, ‘we’ decided to go for this one.
While researching Sure Petcare’s products, we found that the cat flap came in two sizes; one smaller, specifically for cats, the other larger, for cats and dogs. I was keen to get the cat flap, seeing as this had a helpful mode allowing you to keep one cat in while the other was allowed out. Luckily, my boyfriend pointed out that Charlie the larger than average size tabby, may not fit through the small one! In order to prove his theory, he had a great idea and cut a ‘cat flap’ size hole out of a cardboard box, wedging it in between a half-open door and the door frame. Summoning both cats with treats, Socks skipped daintily through the opening. She was followed by Charlie who barrelled through the hole enthusiastically, taking the cardboard with him around his mid-riff. After much giggling, we both agreed to buy the larger, more expensive pet flap.
Before the cats could go out and try out their new flap, we needed to make one more trip to the vets for their booster vaccinations. The vet also performed a thorough check-up. We were thrilled to learn that Socks had put on 600 g in the first four weeks she had lived with us. She was starting to look like a proper cat rather than a skinny kitten. We were less thrilled to learn that Charlie had also put on 600 g, making him 6.6 kg. The vet recommended cutting his food down, even though I was feeding him the guideline amount for a 6 kg cat. The vet also recommended keeping them in for a further two weeks, but truth be told, we could not cope with the shut windows and doors in the untimely heatwave. The time had definitely come for them to go out! I had already bought them their collars and collar tags so they were all set.
Note on collars – I found the Rogz cat collar to be the most reliable at staying on and I felt reassured with the safety features of the collar including the breakaway buckle and the glow in the dark feature. They also come in many colours! We also bought personalised collar tags and got our mobile numbers engraved in the back. I chose the ‘do not feed’ tag due to their incredible appetites.
When we got home, we opened the back door and supervised the first trip outside. We hadn’t fed them much that day, so they were going out hungry meaning they were more likely to come back if you called them, a tip I had learned from the shelter. I’ll never forget their looks of uncertainty and trepidation, as if they were setting off on a space expedition to the moon.
They both wandered around the garden, climbing up the fences and the pergola, looking around. They were absolutely thrilled! Socks began chasing the grass and retrieving leaves, lining them up on the kitchen floor, much to my boyfriend’s delight. Charlie sunbathed on the fence, until he glanced up and noticed another cat on the other side of the fence. He wasn’t thrilled to see him. The other cat, which happened to also be a tabby, wasn’t keen on him either. I went to speak to the tabby’s owners and luckily for us, they were absolutely lovely people and happy for us that we had cats. We just needed to keep an eye on how they got along.
We then let both cats leave the garden and explore a larger area. Our neighbours later informed us that Charlie hadn’t been exploring and had in fact headed straight to their garden to give their tabby a piece of his mind. They had spent nearly two hours growling and staring at each other. In hindsight, I now realise that we should have brought Charlie in and introduced him to the neighbourhood at a much slower pace. At that point, we had decided that the cats would just get used to each other over time. I now know that it is much easier to introduce cats than to re-introduce them once they have decided that they hate each other. More on that later.
That afternoon we were ready to deploy the cat flap. Socks shot out of it like a rocket. She didn’t need any training. I immediately relaxed! If Socks was showing Charlie how to do it, it would only be a matter of days before Charlie was using it too. Charlie, however, proved me wrong. It took: four different types of treats, smothering the flap with wet food, endless hours of encouragement pushing him in and out the house and locking him in the kitchen while we all waited for him in the garden (Socks included!) before he finally realised he could use the flap to go outside.
Once he had mastered the outside direction, you would have thought that coming back inside would be instinctive. Nope! It probably took about three weeks for Charlie to master both directions. The first day they went out while I was at work, I noticed that Socks was in and out all day, while Charlie was just out all day and did not come in. I tried not to worry and drove home later that day. I came in to the kitchen to find him lying outside the cat flap forlornly, not able to come in. I showed him again what do and he seemed to finally understand! He needed a day locked outside to get it. After that, everything appeared to be going well, until a few weeks later…
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