Mimi couldn’t stand the heat this weekend so she let herself outside Sunday evening at dusk for nice walk around the back yards. Yes, I was running around dry-mouthed with a flashlight, but I also knew it was Mimi, who is experienced with the outdoors and whose territory at one time included my yard and several others so she was likely exploring and cooling off after a horribly hot day and would not be “lost” requiring a rescue. I don’t take this for granted, Mimi is 15, it’s 4th of July weekend, but I knew I could rely on her on sensibility.
Our heat wave began Friday with a 95-degree day and the daytime temperature barely dropped below 93 for six days. That is highly unusual for my area, and I don’t have air conditioning. I can keep myself cool and was more concerned about my cats, urging them to stay in the cool basement, especially the constantly cool concrete floor. I typically begin most days with laundry done and hung outside then some yardwork under the careful supurrvision of at least Mimi, if not also Mewsette. These days grew too hot to stay out for long.
But Mimi saw getting outside as the ideal way to cool off, and in a way she’s correct. When she was an outdoor cat she knew all the cool shady places to move around to during the day. She was eyeing the courtyard out front and thinking of stretching out on a nice cool stone in the shade of the birch and spruce. Normally she’ll hint this to me, but she was actually meowing at me that she wanted this. I can’t take her outdoors at any moment she wants, so she had to wait, but we did have a few visits, like this one the next day.
On Sunday evening I went outside to talk to a neighbor, then sat for a few minutes on the wicker seat in the courtyard before going in. Mimi wanted to join me, meowing at me through the screen, but it was dinnertime and finally cool enough that everyone was hungry. I went in after organizing a few things on the front porch and got their dinner together. I actually had the food in the bowls before I realized that Mimi wasn’t in the kitchen. Sometimes she’ll be peeved with me if I’ve been outdoors without her and she’ll sit in the office or in the basement, but she wasn’t in her usual places.
She was keeping herself contained to the basement and first floor in the heat, but I grabbed a flashlight and went to the second floor, calling her, down to the first, to the basement, but I knew, I could sense, that she wasn’t in the house. As I came to the bottom of the stairs I saw a slight opening in the screen at the bottom of the top panel of the basement door, and I knew she’d busted out.
Again, Mimi is reasonable and experienced, but though sky was still light the yard was dark and I couldn’t see nor hear her bell. Rather than running outdoors I decided to give everyone else their dinner or I’d have food and possibly broken dishes all over the kitchen. As soon as I had their dishes down I grabbed the flashlight and the bottle of brewer’s yeast treats. I’d decided to start with the front yard because she liked the courtyard, then work my way around the side yard, look under the deck where she loves to go but I don’t let her, and from there across the yard to the portal between the trees to the neighbor’s yard.
Mimi is very tiny, and she’s black, and it was nearly dark. My back yard is regularly kind of overgrown because that’s part of the backyard wildlife habitat, to leave areas more natural, but it’s also been from trying to get my fences and gardens back in order and letting things go. What I’d been working on that weekend was clearing things out of the back yard to prepare for my garden so it was for more clear than usual, but still taller than Mimi. I came around toward the patio in the back, shaking the treats, calling her name, moving the flashlight into all the dark spaces, and I heard her bell jingle out in the yard. I looked into the area that leads to the neighbor’s yard and there saw a dark moving shape, flashed the light and it caught her eyes. Mimi just meandered through the yard to the patio and meowed a hello to me, came over and rubbed on my leg as she always does.
Occasionally the neighbor has a dog in that yard, and it’s 4th of July weekend with neighbors blowing things up at unexpected times, and it was just that time of day when they start that. Mimi knows what she’s doing, but she’s also now 15 years old, not a muscular little four-year-old anymore. I was glad that finding her was that easy.
I had closed the basement door when I found the opening, concerned that someone else might try to get out that way, though I really didn’t think any of them would figure it out. I don’t know how Mimi figured it out, unless it was by accident. The screen door is an old salvaged oak storm door with a panel insert for the screen, where the panel insert is cut vertically down the middle, the screen is stretched between the two halves, which are then glued and nailed back together like a sandwich. The screen itself is metal and has stood the test of time for decades, but it was weakening where it ran behind the edge of the wood. Mimi has stood on that horizontal bar for years, in the photo at the top from 2013, for instance, and it’s been fine but her climbing and standing on it all the time have made me check it regularly. Recently I’d noticed it was a little stretched and a few of the screen wires were broken off here and there, and I stapled it tighter and added some duct tape to help protect and support it until I have the time to take the door apart and fully replace the screen in one piece. Mimi may have known it was growing more loose, or it could have been that when she jumped up on the door to climb it as she often does, a section large enough pulled loose, and she worked on it until it was large enough for her to slip through. When I put my hand through it, the opening was barely wider than my hand and only a single vertical tear made it large enough to have fit Mimi through. But that’s all it took.
On Monday I left the door closed all day, which no one liked. Hamlet and Bella watch at the basement door all day long, and Mewsette sleeps on the cat tree there. Through the day everyone makes at least one visit there and gets as close to nature as most of them get. On Tuesday morning I knew I had to figure out something and kept close watch while I was doing laundry and cleaning litterboxes, and I couldn’t stand the door being closed either so I opened it. Mimi immediately proved my theory by jumping up and getting her paw through the opening.
I had installed a piece of light gauge fencing on the bottom panel because I was concerned about neighbor cats and wildlife who might be able to claw through the screen in search of food or if a fight broke out there with my cats protecting their turf. That was decades ago and I couldn’t find a trace of any more of that fencing.
Then I remembered the baby gate on the bathroom window and how well that worked. This door had enough structure on the inside edge that a smaller baby gate could fit and hold. I did have one in the bathroom that I usually used as a baffle across the bottom of the doorway when I had fosters in there. It fit perfectly inside the top screen area, and so it is now. Mimi has climbed it to the top and it doesn’t budge. I will definitely have to repair the whole door, but this will give me a little time, at least.
Who would think a 6.5 pound cat could do all this?
A previous escape
Mimi has busted out of screens in the past. She was unspayed until age four and motivated to get outdoors for personal reasons. Obviously she still enjoys the outdoors for other reasons than in the past. I try to get out into the yard daily for my own exercise and yard care, which I thoroughly enjoy, and Mimi usually goes with me for a portion of that time, on her leash. That suits both of us though we’d both like more time outdoors, and usually Mimi will still make gentle hints to telling me right out that she wants to go back outside through the rest of the day.
I’ve refined my windows and doors over the years at the “suggestions” of my felines. Both Kublai, who had thumbs when I wasn’t looking and removed screens from their tracks and turned doorknobs to get outside, and Namir, whose one non-retractable claw badly healed from an injury was, in fact, a cleverly disguised utility knife that neatly cut screens, showed me where I was deficient. I purchased windows with reinforced screens, replaced screens with heavier or metal screening, and made use of the rolls of old metal screening I’d collected from old windows. After 25 years the heavy-duty screens in my downstairs windows finally need to be replaced, but the company that purchased the original manufacturer will not honor the lifetime warranty, so I’ve been repairing them and then replacing the screening one by one on my own. I’ve also added reinforcements to the structures that hold the screens in place, replaced easily manipulated door handles, and added movable clips to window tracks to prevent them from being opened farther. These are all added safety features too, so it works for all of us. Mostly, it keeps my cats safely indoors. But while I was busy taking care of family members with medical needs things around here were kind of wearing out, and I have a lot of catching up to do.
I’ve watched Mimi closely since she came in. She’s never been insistent and at first showed no interest whatsoever, but especially after we lost Cookie and I was alone in the yard for the first time in forever, she came to the door and asked to join me. A few times she has tried doors and screens, to no result. Only once I found she was outdoors first thing when I went to the kitchen with the rest of the cats and saw her sauntering around on the deck, pretty pleased with herself on a nice summer morning. I did a quick head count and “casually” went outside and picked her up. She was purring. And silent on the topic of her escape.
She had settled down on the bed with me the night before, and earlier, before I’d gotten out of bed, I’d heard the bell on her collar upstairs and thought she was headed to the basement to use the litterbox, so she hadn’t been outdoors for long. All the doors were closed and the windows open slightly but blocked so they couldn’t be opened far enough for even slender Mimi to slip through. Unless a new portal had opened up I was unaware of, she had managed to figure something out for herself.
And here is what she had done: I was then rehanging my basement door, customized by me for the irregular opening, to be better insulated the following winter. I had left the top section of the doorframe off until I had the rest of the frame in place for the door to swing without binding, but covered it with a towel to keep insects from coming inside because the screen door also needed to be rehung. When the towel was moved away, the vertical opening between the two doors was about six inches wide, and the top right corner of the screen door was open enough from the frame to get a paw in there and loose enough to pull open far enough for Mimi to slip through…maybe? I only pieced this together because I looked down the basement stairs and saw the towel on the floor that had been draped over the top of the doorframe and clearly saw the opening from where I was standing. Kublai was smarter than most people I know and kept me on my toes. Namir was engineer-class but kept it hidden behind his cuteness. Mimi?
After breakfast Mimi had immediately gone down the steps, jumped up onto the shelves near the basement door, leaped cross three feet to the top of the door and began letting herself down between the doors, happy to have found her new way to get outdoors. I knew she wouldn’t run if she got back outside, so I let her go and watched. She did exactly as I described above, and was back outdoors in less than a minute.
I know that cats have an intelligence far beyond what we think they do, and it differs slightly from our own problem-solving skills but is just as valuable. I wrote an article for a customer’s website entitled “Feline Intelligence” in which I explained the concept of “multiple intelligences” which include eight different types of intelligence and encompass the concept of an animal being able to use problem-solving skills for its own needs. Cats excel in two of those eight intelligences, bodily-kinetic and spatial, and as we see with boxes and paper bags, and getting out of doors and windows, combine with their problem-solving skills with their particular intelligence for their own needs. The article won a Certificate of Excellence in the very first Cat Writers’ Association contest I participated in, in 2007. The article series is no longer available on the customer’s website, but you can click here for a PDF of the article. I think I’ll also publish it on its own here too.
Check your screens and windows, and recover a lost cat
“Windows, Screens and Cats” contents:
- Charm’s escape—twice!
- Make sure your screens can handle your cats
- Installation, new screens and reinforcing old ones
- High-rise Syndrome
- Meanwhile back in 1998, the first escape
If your cat has escaped read “Your Indoor-only Cat Got Out the Door!” for tips on how to recover your cat.
Art and Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
Feline Images from Portraits of Animals!
It was a scene I loved for my love of my garden, my appreciation of Mimi relaxing in a place she’d once hunted for food to feed her kittens, and the memory of the generations of cats before her who enjoyed that very spot, this little patio and the verdance of my garden. Read more and purchase.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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