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On Cheezburger, the online network that captures all things funny, people post ludicrous photos of their "LOLcats" and cats have been dubbed "weapons of mass cuteness."

With their quizzical faces, demanding natures, propensity for getting caught in compromising positions and patrician adore-me-but-don't-tie-me-down personalities, cats are sometimes said to own their humans. Dog owners have the reputation for devotional excess, but cat lovers will also go to extraordinary lengths to accommodate their persnickety feline family members.

"I'm a huge cat lover and people do make fun of me," said Cathi Pritchard, whose three felines have their own enclosed playground in the backyard that they can reach by way of an underground tunnel they enter through a cat door inside the house.

"She dreamed it up, but I took it to a whole new level," said her husband, Ken Pritchard, a UPS driver who constructed the 25-foot-long enclosure along the back fence at their Santa Rosa home without formal designs, and outfitted it with a little treehouse for snoozing, a ramp leading to ledges for birdwatching, a spigot for fresh water, a catbox and a scratching post with an artificial grass perch.

The Pritchards say that when people step into their backyard for the first time, they're blown away. But as more cat owners face the risks of letting their cats roam free, such enclosures may become a more common part of pet ownership.

Cats are territorial animals. When they are faced with competition in the tight quarters of a neighborhood, fights are bound to occur, resulting in infected wounds that can be life-threatening. Cats also face dangers from larger animals, cars, parasites and poison. Their roaming can cause tension with neighbors. And, hardwired for hunting, cats can kill birds and contribute to an alarming decline in songbird populations.

Wider territory

Some cat owners are opting to keep their pets inside, a policy promoted by many vets and animal experts. But other cat owners feel bad about forcing confinement. A backyard enclosure gives their cats a wider territory, greater exercise and more stimulation.

"I love the fact they can come and go as they please from inside the house and I'm happy they have the freedom to get some of the outdoors that they should be able to experience. I feel bad keeping them in the house all the time," Cathi Pritchard said of cats Fred and Boo, who were raised indoors.

Older sibling Tyson, brought up as an outdoor roamer, has his freedom grandfathered in, but he still likes to run through the 18-foot flexible plastic tube into the cathouse.

Ken, who has no special carpentry skills, spent only $600 on materials like pressure-treated board and heavy-gauge wire fencing from Home Depot and put it together in two weekends.

Other cat owners have added safe outdoor space for their cats right onto the home.

Diane Naylor and Anita Easland put up deer fencing on 4-by-4 posts along the side of their Oakmont home for their two elderly cats, creating a safe and spacious 25-by-15-foot "mini park" with tunnel tent, grassy knoll and sandy beach for rolling. They built a see-through, 15-foot-long tube to the playground that the cats enter from the garage.

Special cat fence

They attached overhanging extenders with hinges onto the fences, sold through PurrfectFence.com, that are spring loaded to drop kitty back to the ground if she tries to jump on the fence.

If you're missing a pet

If you're missing your Sonoma or Napa pet, check with Sonoma & Napa Fires Missing and Found Pets on Facebook, or call/text 707-349-6005.

Community-based, grass roots effort

— For photo albums click here
Hundreds of lost, found, and roaming pets are posted and albums are updated every day.
☆ MATCHING: The team will look for matching postings, and notify you.
☆ CONNECTED TO RESCUE: People doing rescue in burn zones are posting pictures and updating the team.
☆ FIND PETS BEING FOSTERED by Good Samaritans — they may only be posted on Facebook.
☆ UNIFIED EFFORT: No need to be overwhelmed by keeping track of numerous links.
☆ FLYERS: The team prints and distributes flyers of your postings to key locations.

More info: pd2go.net/FireMissingFoundPets


Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

"I think this gives them that outdoor feeling without having to watch them constantly," said Easland, a retired nurse. "They get a fair amount of exercise just by going up and down that ramp."

Jennifer Lawrence completely covered her back deck with deer netting so her pampered pet Cleopatra "could get some fresh air and we could lounge around together out there."

She calls it the Cat Palace, 650 square feet of screened deck where Cleopatra has a solar-powered drinking fountain, a scratching post, cardboard boxes, her own Adirondack chair, a pot of fresh growing cat grass to nibble and another container of fresh catnip brought down for an occasional nip.

Lawrence hired a contractor to frame the netting neatly into the deck and arbor over it so it looks like a screened porch. Cleopatra scampers out through a flap in a screen door.

"I didn't want a little contained area," Lawrence said, referring to the small cat pens commercially available. "This way, we can all be together on the deck and not worry."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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