This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 15, 2003 6:30 PM. The previous post in this blog was What it's all about. The next post in this blog is A year on wheels. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Saturday, March 15, 2003

The Cat Warning System

We have two cats, both around seven years old. The girl kitty is Gloria, a.k.a. Brownie, and the boy is Ralph, a.k.a. Pinkie. We love them both dearly.

But Ralphie, who also goes by "the Man," has a wicked agenda most of the time. For example, whenever he goes outside, which is often, his first order of business is to head down the street and look for the neighbor cat, Simon. If he finds him, Ralphie promptly proceeds to kick his ass. Simon isn't much of a fighter, and his interactions with Pinkie have resulted in Simon's taking several expensive trips to the vet.

Eventually, the animal kingdom turf battles spilled over into the human realm. Simon's owners (apologies, you animal rights activists, but that's what most of us still call such people) have come over a couple of times, presented us with vet bills, and informed us that we need to do something with that bad boy Ralphie.

And so our diplomacy schooling has begun.

Our first reaction, of course, was that it couldn't be the Man's fault. Teach your cat to defend his sorry ass, or else keep him inside!

To which the neighbors' predictable retort was, Hey, Simon's just trying to sit on his own front porch. Either keep Ralph inside, or build some kind of pen to keep him in his own yard!

Keep Ralph inside? They must be dreaming. This guy whines mercilessly when he wants to go out. Persistently. For hours, if necessary. No way.

A cat pen? What, are they kidding me?

But after several of these front-porch chats, with some raised tempers and bruised feelings knocking around, we realized that we had to do something to keep those two cats apart.

Our first attempts at accommodating the feline combatants were primitive. We noticed that Simon's outside time was pretty predictable, and so we vaguely agreed that he would be allotted several designated hours of the day when he could be outside, and the rest of the hours would be Pinkie's time.

The arrangement lasted only a short time. Cats don't like schedules, and within a few weeks, the inevitable interaction occurred. In fact, the long layoff between battles made Ralphie even more of a Mike Tyson sort. Another nasty vet bill, more steam emerging from human ears.

The Cat Scheduling System (CSS) was a dismal failure.

And so I devised the Cat Warning System, hereinafter sometimes referred to as the CWS.

In the earliest stages of its development, the CWS was crude. I went down to the pet store and purchased one of those plastic yellow signs that mimic an official traffic warning sign. On it was the silhouette of a cat in a crosswalk. When Ralph was out, we would post this sign on the dogwood tree along the curb in front of our house. I also purchased a ceramic cat ornament, which the neighbors were to hang from a beam on their front porch when Simon was out. Whoever got their sign out first had priority; only when that sign was withdrawn could the other cat go out (and his sign must then be posted).

This worked well for a while, but it got darned tiresome. To get out to the dogwood, we had to walk several yards in whatever the weather. And we couldn't see the neighbors' porch without walking out into the elements roughly the same distance. Eventually we got tired of the dark, wet and cold, and we just left our sign posted full-time, for weeks. Our bad.

Next, failure of human communication compounded the failure of human energy. Rather than complain that our sign never came down, the neighbors just started posting Simon's, too, and letting the two boys attempt peaceful co-existence from time to time.

Until the Man kicked his ass again. Another vet bill. More heated human conversation, in which traps and county Animal Control officers were mentioned.

And then it dawned on me: Technology must have the answer! Rather than the signs, how about a system in which we could each use a remote control to turn on a light as a warning? We could each identify a lamp that would be lit only when our respective cat was on the street. We could post ours where they could see it, and they could post one where we could see it. Same rules as before -- whoever gets the light on first gets first dibs on the fresh air -- but this time, no one would have to get wet to post or observe a warning. Whaddya think? I asked the neighbors. It sounded good, we agreed, so let's give it a try.

I've got to hand it to myself. Sometimes my ideas are decent. We determined that the easiest place for the neighbors to see from their house was the window in our garage, and that the easiest place for us to see on their property was their upstairs bathroom window. So we each got a cheap desk lamp out for the designated spot, and I picked up a couple of remote switches down at Radioshack for around $20 apiece. We hooked up our lights and were ready for peace of mind for all the species.

Then came a setback. Both of the remote switches I bought were on the same frequency, so that when the neighbors clicked theirs, it turned on both their light and ours. Not good! "Both-lights-on" was the sign of impending kitty disaster. These false alarms would make the system unworkable.

But did we let this hold us back? No!!! I boldly pulled out another remote switch, which we had used for Christmas lights, and returned the second conflicting switch to Radioshack. Now our remotes blessedly limit their signals to their respective lights, and so the Cat Warning System has moved out of its beta testing mode and into permanent usage.

Our friends scoff at our system. One if by land, two if by sea? they sneer.

But we endure the ridicule gladly. We now know Simon's whereabouts at all times, and Simon's folks know Ralphie's as well. And no one needs to leave the cozy indoors to obtain this priceless information. We also recall the two guys' customary times from the ill-fated schedule days, and that knowledge helps us predict which light is likely to be on at which times.

I am proud to testify that since the Cat Warning System has been fully implemented, hostilities have been eliminated entirely. I shudder to think what may occur if somebody forgets the light and the two of them meet up in a driveway some dusky evening, but as long as the system's working, that won't happen.

So we can all relax and enjoy our pets -- and our neighbors.

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