6: Father Meets Cat Door

6: Father Meets Cat Door

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Father Meets Cat Door

It’s really the cat’s house — we just pay the mortgage.

~Author Unknown

My father loved gadgets and tools almost as much as he swore he hated cats. So when he was visiting my sister and found a catalog for upscale devices, he was in handyman heaven. One of the contraptions he saw was an electronic cat door, keyed to a transmitter that slipped on the cat’s collar. Torn between love (gadgets) and hate (cats), love won out and he ordered the door.

On his next visit to me, he pulled out his special gift. “What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s a cat door,” I said, not overly impressed. All of the cat doors I had previously seen were simply flaps that pretty much let any cat — or other animal — in.

He smiled. “Not just any door. It’s electronic. Only your own cats can get in and out. And it has four settings. Closed. In only. Out only. In and out. You can control how much freedom you want to give them.”

Up until then, the only cat door my cats used was the back door, with me playing doorman. Being cats, they were never on the right side of the door. If they were in, they wanted out. If they were out, they wanted in. An electronic cat door was just what I needed to retire from doorman duties. “That’s a brilliant idea. Where can we put it?”

We looked around the house. The front door had a separate storm door, so that wouldn’t work. The back door was an oversized sliding glass door. While my father was semi-handy with tools, there was no way I was letting him put a hole in a glass door. None of the windows on the first floor opened, so we couldn’t fit the door into their opening.

“Guess it’s the basement,” I said.

My father, my two cats, Tiger and Sammy, and I trooped down to the basement. There was a sliding window at the back that opened under my deck.

“This is perfect,” my father said. “There’s a plug nearby. I’ll just remove the pane, get a piece of plywood to take its place, and cut out a hole for the door. Shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.”

I mentally doubled his estimate, then doubled it again, and wondered how many things he’d manage to break while installing the door. Still, it was nice of him to think of my cats, so I smiled weakly and prepared to do my usual job of assisting, which meant handing him tools and applying bandages when he accidentally cut himself.

Luckily, my father followed one firm rule in DIY: Never start a project when the local hardware store is closed. That way he always had somewhere to go for a needed tool, missing part, or help. More often than not, he needed all three.

That rule proved handy. The cat door project required a trip to the hardware store to get a piece of plywood to cover the window-pane, plus a second trip for a special jigsaw to cut out the shape of the door.

Five sweaty hours, a pile of sawdust, and two bandages later, my father stood back and admired his handiwork. We moved an old chest under the window so the cats could use it as a launching pad to the windowsill. I grabbed the nearest cat, Tiger, shoved her through the door and then coaxed her back in with her favorite treat. The third time I did it, she refused to come back in. When I turned to grab Sammy for her lesson in Cat Doors 101, she hightailed it up the stairs and out of the basement.

An hour later Tiger was sitting outside the sliding doors in the kitchen, yelling to come in.

Realizing that I had forgotten to put the transmitter on her collar, I opened the door for her. “This is the last time,” I said. “From now on, this is a self-serve house. Use your own door or stay inside.” That evening I put the electronic transmitter on both cats’ collars.

The next day, I came down to breakfast to find Sammy outside on the deck. I turned to my mother who was sipping coffee at the kitchen table. “Did you let her out?” She shook her head. Either Tiger had been instructing her sister on the finer points of electronic cat doors or Sammy was smarter than I thought. Either way, both cats were happily using their own private cat door.

When I moved several years later, one of the first things my father said was, “Don’t forget to take the cat door.”

Taking it was easy. Finding a place to install it proved a problem. My new house had no basement windows, and the only windows on the first floor that opened looked onto the mutual driveway — not the best place for a cat door. The street was heavily trafficked, so I didn’t want to use the front door, even if I had been willing to let my father cut a chunk out of it. That left my enclosed back porch. While two sides were floor-to-ceiling windows, a third wall was mostly dry-wall, and more importantly, it had a power source nearby.

Having done this once before, my father figured he’d have the door installed in no time. As my cats and I watched, my father made a template of the door, carefully traced the outline on the wall, and began cutting. Drywall, insulation, and cladding fell to his blade. Once done, he smoothed the sides of the hole. “Perfect,” he said, as he stood up to survey his handiwork, wiping drywall dust off his pants.

“Good job,” I said, “and you didn’t even need a bandage.” Then I quickly grabbed a broom and dustpan and cleaned up the mess on the floor.

Once the floor was swept, he unwrapped the door and carefully mounted it into the hole. It fit perfectly. “How’s that for a good job?” he asked just as my mother walked into the room.

She stared at the door for minute, looked away, and then turned back with a puzzled look on her face. “Sam,” she said, “why is the writing on the door upside down?”

“Huh,” he said, as he peered at the door. A deep sigh escaped his lips. He turned to me. “I don’t suppose you’d consider giving the cats a key to the front door?”

I shook my head. “They’d just lose the key or invite all the neighborhood cats over for a party while I was at work.”

He sighed. An hour later my dad the semi-handyman and avowed cat hater had the cat door reinstalled right side up. “It’s done. But if you move again, leave the damn door behind.” He paused. “Leave the cats, too.”

~Harriet Cooper

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