Sunday 16 December 2018

Escape proofing gardens - for cats as well as dogs

Cats are safer if they’re fenced in (credit:
Cats are safer if they’re fenced in (credit:

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

Two incidents in my pet-keeping life forced me to take radical action today.

The first happened four months ago, and it was deeply upsetting: my beloved Maine Coon cat, Aslan, was killed after being hit by a car on the busy road outside our home. Aslan had to travel some distance to reach that road: he went out his cat flap at the back of our house, he walked around the building, and he slipped through a narrow opening between an old fence and a wall. He stepped from there onto the driveway at the front of our house, and he then walked a hundred metres to the road. It was there that he met his fate. I deeply regret that I hadn't realised how far he was travelling from home: he seemed like such a quiet, lazy cat that I didn't suspect he'd go so far.

The second incident happened last week, and although it was far less serious, it had the potential to be far worse. I had come back from work at lunch and let the dogs out into the garden. They normally mooch around for a few minutes and are then happy to come back inside. But this time, when I went to the back door to let them in, only Kiko, my terrier, was there.

There was no sign of Finzi, cross-bred Labrador. She's prone to rummaging in piles of leaves at the end of the garden, so I kept calling her. She didn't come back, and when I searched the garden, I realised that she had somehow vanished. I checked the garden boundary, and I discovered that the narrow opening that Aslan has slipped through had been made wider, presumably by a curious dog. Finzi must have escaped through this gap, and goodness only knew where she had gone.

I ran down the driveway, calling her name, and to my relief, I found her, sitting at the foot of the drive, just metres away from busy traffic. Our postman was standing beside her, and he told me that she had actually ran into the road, and he had grabbed her to take her to safety. She was a lucky dog not to have been hit by a car.

Enough was enough: we needed to take steps to make sure that our garden was escape-proof, and ideally, I wanted to make it secure for cats as well as dogs.

It wasn't an easy task: while the gap between the fence and the wall would be easy enough to close over with extra wire mesh, this would only be a short term fix. The fence was only four feet high, and a cat could easily clamber over it. It was an old fence, leaning to one side, and an excited dog might be able to find a way to scramble over, around, or even through it. I decided that professional help was needed, so I contacted a company called ProtectaPet who specialise in making gardens escape-proof for pets.

The company was established less than a decade ago by a school teacher, Simon Davies, whose own cat had escaped from his garden and been killed by a passing. He set about finding the best way to keep his cats safe, and he concocted a combination of fine mesh fencing with inward-leaning panels at the top of the fence. This meant that even if the cats climbed to the top of the fence (as many cats are able to do), they wouldn't be able to get to the other side: the inward leaning panel would always prevent them from managing to do this.

Simon's home-made fencing project was a great success, and his cats never again managed to escape. He soon found that friends were asking him if he could do the same task for their own gardens, and he realised that he had stumbled upon a service that might be popular. He found sources for the best materials to make the job as efficient and pleasing to the eye as possible, and he gave up teaching: he set up a company to escape-proof gardens across the United Kingdom and Ireland. He expanded the options, including special enclosures to keep cats in just one part of the garden, and heavy duty fencing designed specially to stop large, lively dogs from escaping.

Simon now has seven vans on the road all the time, with his installation teams helping to keep cats and dogs safe and confined in their owners' gardens. There's a huge demand for this service, from two aspects. First, people want their pets to stay safe: the best way to ensure that is to keep them enclosed. And second, neighbours get fed up with cats (and less often, dogs) wandering into their gardens, digging up seedbeds and chasing garden birds. A bespoke pet containment system, using a proven system with high quality materials, is the obvious answer. Simon's website also offers a do-it-yourself option, where he just provides the materials.

When I contacted Simon, he asked me to email photos and Google-Earth images of our garden. After scrutinising these, he came up with a plan. We set a date, and he arrived this morning with a workmate.

By the end of the afternoon, the two men had constructed a new, special, cat-and-dog-proof fence that took the place of the tired old droopy fence that Aslan and Finzi had slipped through.

This evening, Finzi inspected the new construction. She sniffed around the area where there used to be a gap, then she turned around, and headed for her favourite pile of leaves at the other end of the garden. Her escaping days are over. And now that our garden is safely secured, plans are afoot to get our next Maine Coon kitten.

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