What it took to give our cat a happy life

Last fall, I picked up a magazine and saw a Lock Haven SPCA ad for a black cat. About a year earlier my husband and I had our 18 year old black cat and 17 year old tabby cat put to sleep. They had a cat door and full reign over the woods behind our house and a drink of water from our pond.

I wanted to adopt a cat and give it the same luxury. When I went to the SPCA I was disappointed to find the black cat was not what I was expecting.

So I looked around and removed some cats from their cages to see if there would be some chemistry between us. Low and behold, my grandson Ayden, unloved by most cats, became friends with a three year old tabby cat named Connor. I figured if he liked my grandson, he was a catch. So we took him home and changed his name to Riley. He stole my heart because he was the first lap cat I ever had.

We were so excited to get a friendly tabby cat we overlooked the fact he was declawed, which meant the outside world wasn’t a possibility. We accepted the fact that he’d have to be a housecat. Little did we know that at one time in his life he was indeed allowed to go outside. He cried and meowed to go outside constantly. Since he’s a good sized cat, we bought a dog “snake” harness and I took him outside.

But it never failed that every time I took him out, he’d slip out of the harness in a split second and take off. We never saw how he did it because he was so fast.

So we bought a vest-like harness with the belief it would do the job but again he escaped as fast as he did from the first one. Typically, he ran to our garden, nibbled on one particular plant out of a choice of dozens. Then he’d just lay down in it as though he was in paradise. As tempting as it was to just allow him to enjoy the garden, we couldn’t take a chance of him seeing a squirrel or chipmunk and chase it into the woods so we kept him inside.

Winter fixed the problem or so we thought. Then spring returned, and so did his crying. So my husband made a cat door for the balcony that faced the woods so he could have free access anytime he wanted. At first he was satisfied but started to cry again. So my husband built him a cat condo.

He seemed to enjoy it but still took advantage of every time we went outside as he snuck out behind us.

One time he ran to the woods and was gone for what seemed like forever. He came back to the sound that he loves most, the crinkling sound of his cat treat bag. We were running out of ideas.

Sure enough, he found a way to push the screen door open and out he went.

So we added a spring loaded latch to the door to keep it closed. Still, he found a way to sneak out by head butting his way through the bottom corner of the screen door. So we bought another latch to put extra pressure on the door to keep it shut.

Overall, I guess he escaped through the screen door about 15 to 20 times. Because of the harness escapes and door break outs , I nicknamed him Houdini. After all, he got away regularly despite our attempts to keep him from taking off. At first it was cute but when we finally figured out how to secure the screen door and went on “cat alert” before opening it, he went back to crying again. I went from having the lap cat of my dreams to a broken hearted cat. It seemed there was no remedy.

What we couldn’t understand is that all this time, he had a cat door that went onto the balcony with the cat condo and comfy wicker furniture and yet he was still unhappy.

The only thing I thought that could possibly make him happy is to bring the outdoors to him. So my husband built him a 4′ X 4′ “yard” on the balcony and filled it with sod and a couple plants that he preferred from our garden.

He’s been content all summer. After all, he has everything imaginable any indoor cat could dream of, a cat condo, cat door that leads him onto a balcony with fresh air, and a yard with grass and his favorite plants to nibble on.

I think it’s safe to say he’s finally happy. Houdini has left the building and Riley is back.

When I share the story about the yard, I get the same comments and questions, to which I?reply:

– He doesn’t go to the bathroom in the yard. Cats are fussy clean animals, and they prefer loose litter not solid dirt.

– I cut his grass with scissors and it’s kept plush with a watering can.

– The perennial plants in the corners are proof Riley likes his natural snack. They continue to sprout new leaves.

– The grass and plants might die over the winter.

If that’s the case, when the weather is warm we’ll lay fresh new sod to make him a brand new yard and plenty of plants from our garden.

We’ll do whatever it takes to have a happy Riley.