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.
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.
Resources To Help
North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373
NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655
Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181
For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org