Catfood Bandits

One morning this week, these two little guys came romping along our fence purring and chirping at each other. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from this picture, but they were each about as big as a grapefruit. I’m glad we didn’t move their parents.

Somewhere along the Clarks River, there are two raccoons who hate me.

When the kittens adopted us in the fall, we moved them into our sunroom.  They have a warm hidey-hole with an old dog bed for cold nights, their litterbox, and all our porch furniture and firewood to romp and play on.  They also have their water bowl and food bowl.

In the spring, when it got warmer and they got restless being confined to the sunroom, we decided to let them go outside.  Since we never envisioned having cats here (and therefore had no cat door), the only real way to do that was to prop the people door open a few inches so that they could come and go.  This worked very well.  Hunter and Darcy were content and began happily exploring the back yard and surrounding environs.  Around this time, I noticed that we started going through their cat food.  Really going through it.  As in emptying the bag about twice as fast as previously.  Unusual, I thought, but probably just a symptom of growing kittens.  Their water bowl also was dirty most mornings, but again, I thought that was likely their doings.

I was wrong.  Now for some reason, it never occurred to me that strangers would come into our sunroom and help themselves to our kittens’ food.  Imagine my surprise when my darling one night called out in a stage whisper “I think there’s someone in the sunroom.”

Being in the study grading papers, I didn’t know what she was talking about.  So I went to ask.  She said it again.  “Oh good grief,” I thought.  “Why can’t the kittens go to bed and keep quiet so I can get some work done without being interrupted?”  I turned on the sunroom lights, opened the door, and stepped out to tell them to pipe down and go to bed.

Two of the biggest (and, I admit, prettiest) raccoons I’ve ever seen turned from washing their purloined cat food in the water bowl.  We stared at each other in momentary surprise.  I could just hear the bigger one saying “Do you mind?  We’re having dinner here.”  Then pandemonium ensued.  I yelled at them to get out.  They ran for the door, tripping over each other all the way.  It was almost a Keystone Cops moment.  In hindsight, it was probably hilarious.

And thus began a week of cat-and-mouse (no pun intended).  The raccoons would come to steal food, and I would chase them out.  We tried closing the door while opening the screen for the kittens.  That should have worked.  Unfortunately, while the raccoons couldn’t jump up to the screen, one of them could climb up, open the door latch, and then he and his buddy opened the door and continued helping themselves to the buffet.  We tried leaving the lights on, but the raccoons figured that one out and just went about their merry way.  We tried a couple of other things, but the little buggers were smart.  Anything we did to let the kittens in and out also let the raccoons in and out.  It was quickly turning into an arms race, and I felt like we were losing to wild animals.

We fell back to consider our options for a couple of days, during which Hunter and Darcy were chased out of their room each evening at sunset.  The night they came to the kitchen door meowing pitifully, afraid to go into their own room, I actually considered borrowing a neighbor’s gun and just killing the invaders.  Fortunately, my darling pointed out that I may be an okay shot with my BB rifle, but shooting a real gun in the sunroom was probably not wise.  We looked into trapping and relocating them, but I was afraid that they were a mated pair with kits somewhere.  We didn’t want to leave their babies to starve to death.

Finally, Mary Anne said, “You know.  We should just get an electronic pet door with collars for the kittens.  That way they can come and go, but the raccoons can’t come inside.”

“I don’t want to put collars on cats who go outside,” I said.  “They might get caught on something and get hurt or starve to death themselves.”

“Well, we have to do something,” she said.

That night, I suddenly woke up at 3 a.m.  “She’s right,” I thought.  “But there’s no need to put collars on them.  An RFID chip is an RFID chip.  I can’t be the only guy in the world who’s thought of making that door scanner just read their identification chips rather than fitting them with extra hardware.”

Sure enough, with about an hour’s searching, I found just the device.  There were a couple of companies making them, but I settled on the SureFlap Cat Door.  We ordered it the next morning from Amazon, and waited for it to arrive.  When it was delivered, I took it straight to Murray Animal Hospital who tested it with their microchips.  It worked like a charm.  I made an appointment on the spot for Hunter and Darcy to get their own chips the next day.

The Sure Flap electronic cat door has made our cats feel much safer in their room. The door reads their ID chips, and the little gray latch opens only for them. No more invaders stealing their food.

That night, I helped the kittens chase away the intruders from their last stolen meal.  The next day, we went for their new jewelry, and I cut a small hole in the wall beside the people door and installed their new private entrance.  With a bit of coaxing, they learned to put their heads in the tunnel and wait for the lock to click, then to go right on through.  Problem solved.

The story does have an epilogue, though.  The next night, my darling called out quietly, “I think the raccoons are back.”  Sure enough, one of them had climbed up and opened the door latch again.  He ran away as soon as we turned on the lights.  We stacked blocks in front of the door and covered the screen.  After he tried and failed to move the blocks, he’s not been back.

P.S.  I don’t want to leave the impression that we begrudged the raccoons a meal.  They still have free access to anything they want to eat from my compost pile.  Judging by how quickly things disappear from it, they’re doing just fine.

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