Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dealing with cat bullies: Managing a colony of outdoor cats

Franklin the feral cat resting on top of the hot tub
Franklin rests on top of the hot tub.
The new neighborhood is home to several outdoor cats, and it seems as though this house was once primo turf. The first few weeks I was here, I noticed many different cats wandering through the yard, and most of them took off at a fast clip when they realized new neighbors had moved in and claimed the land. Most of these pet cats aren't too eager to fight.

There is one cat, however, who seems to be an exception.

This brown-and-black tabby (which I call "Marble," because he has a whirled pattern on his sides) has decided that my yard is his yard, and all of my cats need to clear out to give him room. He stomps into the yard from the alley behind, and the fighting begins.

The first fight took place about 2 weeks ago, when Jasper took on this cat right at the fence line. The punches were pretty fast and furious, but Marble was a little afraid of me and took off a few short moments after he saw me.

Round 1 goes to the Dion household.

The second fight happened on or around the same day, and this time, Marble came into the yard in the thick of the night and went after poor Franklin right by the back door. I've never seen Franklin fight, and I'm not sure he knows how to fight, so he just screamed for help. Marble took off again, as soon as I opened the door.

Round 2 goes to Marble.

The third round took place over a period of about 48 hours, when Marble and Beorn got into a series of three separate fights. These were nasty, silent fights in which both cats had their claws dug in and their teeth bared, and they weren't spending any energy on making noise. These are absolutely terrifying. I broke up all three of these fights with a water gun, and Beorn had a bloody ear after the last round.

I'm calling this one a draw.

Dealing with a neighborhood bully like this is hard. I can't ask his owners to keep him inside, as I'm clearly not keeping my cats inside. I can't train him not to fight, because I want him to keep out of my yard and think of me as frightening. In order to train him, I'd have to be his friend, and this runs counter to my goals. I can't even train my own cats not to fight, as Marble is the aggressor in most of these cases. I don't want them to be attacked and feel unable to fight back.

Over the weekend, I blocked the hole in the fence to the alley with some dead plants, and I've been training the dog to pee on that spot both in the morning and at night. The one time I saw Marble, I squirted him with water as he ran away. So far, he's not been back. If he does come back, however, I'm filling that squirt bottle with lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

Cat fights can be loud and unpleasant, but they can also be deadly. Tiny puncture marks from claws and teeth can harbor bacteria that can lead to infections. If those aren't caught and treated, cats can die. I don't want my cats dealing with this, of course, but I also don't want Marble to deal with an infection, either. I'm prepared to get a little nasty just to ensure that it doesn't happen.