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No Pet Doors on the Frontier

November 4, 2013

I was awoken at 3:30 this morning by my little white cat Sage, who wanted to play with a scrap of felt she’d found somewhere. After expressing my disinterest in nocturnal feline stimulation I lay in bed listening to the night. Some minutes later a larger animal crashed its way through the pet door.

It was probably her brother Buddy, but you never know. Last year a rogue stray had invited itself inside, overturned the compost, and made itself a nest on my favorite cushion. It took a rented trap and two servings of tuna to reestablish domestic tranquility.

I got up and looked around. Buddy wasn’t visible, but nothing went running for the door either – so that was a good sign. Maybe the noise was Buddy going outside in the first place. I got down on my hands and knees and peered into the blackness. Less than six feet away, a white dowsing-rod was wiggling across the lawn.

“SKUNK!”

I blocked the door with the first items available – a tub of sidewalk chalk and a gallon of vinegar. Suddenly it became very important to locate Buddy. Was he still outside? Was I going to have to venture out as well? After a thorough search I found him perched on the upper stairs on full alert, his coat soaking wet – with water. It seems I’d dodged one very smelly bullet.

It was a good moment to remember that while the skunk was technically in my backyard, my house was also technically in the middle of its native habitat. A hundred years ago this was fertile farmland; another hundred or so, it was old growth forest.

I’m willing to bet the first pioneers didn’t include pet doors in their architectural designs. Nature, back then, had more threats than a bad smell or some pilfered food remains. A simple infection could kill you and the nearest doctor might be several days away. Those who kept pets must have brought them in at night – or left them out.

You see my dilemma? I can either lock the pet door at night or maintain the risk of invasion. And while it seems a foregone conclusion that I choose the former, which side of the door should the cats be on?  Keeping them inside at night means reintroducing them to the litter box, a cost and a chore I’d rather avoid – not to mention missing sleep during the transition period while they freak out about losing their freedom. But putting them outside at night wouldn’t go over well with my daughter, and these cats weren’t bred for the outdoors in any case. I don’t think they’d last much longer than the chickens.

Humans no longer want the dangers of the frontier. We have been domesticated into the illusion of safety, and anything that reveals a chink in its armor is dealt with swiftly and mercilessly. Would you want a world with more tigers?

Today my little tigers did their best to transcend their breeding. One woke me up and the other got me out of bed, and together we kept a skunk out of the house.

I think I’ll take my chances tomorrow night.

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