One of the neighborhood cats has taken a liking to our back porch. And if the back door from the porch to the kitchen happens to be open when he wanders in, he likes a few spots inside the house even better.
In fact, if he gets past the threshold, he makes a beeline for the spot where we keep food for our four cats.
How we ended up with four cats is a good question.
We have had two for many years. First, it was Butch and Bullwinkle. They are long in the grave. The last two came as a package deal about 16 years ago. They were mother and daughter, and they had been abandoned along a bike path. Both were malnourished and, in a word, scrawny.
We were looking for only one cat, but even the mother in her deprived state looked like a kitten. Mom had a sandy blond coat, and thus we named her Sandy. The daughter is a classic tabby with gray, brown and black stripes.
Later, a cat that one of our daughters picked up while living in Texas joined the mix. He is named Toothless, because he looks like the main character in the movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” He is an independent dude who wouldn’t give me the time of day if I offered him a thick steak and milk fresh from a cow.
Sandy was as friendly and cuddly as anyone could imagine. Daughter Jobie clearly suffered the most from their time without food and is a neurotic loner who hides in corners and hates to be held. Sandy died a couple of years ago, leaving us with the lovable but neurotic and not very cuddly Jobie.
And not long after Sandy died and I had sworn off getting attached to any more animals, my wife and Daughter No. 2 showed up with two kittens. The gray tabbies had been abandoned near where my wife works, and we were “fostering” the two (now known as Ralph and Alice) until someone could adopt them.
I refused to even look at them, because I learned long ago that a cute kitten can steal your heart in a flash. To look at them is to adopt them. “Nothing doing!” I said.
A week or two later, I woke up from a weekend nap to see my sneaky daughter holding two kittens right in front of my face. Ack! Smitten again!
All of that is to say that there is a decent amount of cat food in our house for a neighbor cat to covet. And while the visitor is a friendly guy, he is not a kitten, and I am not smitten. And I draw the line at four.
We have tried many ways to discourage his visits, but he is undeterred. He continued to find ways to open our old-fashioned back-porch screen door. And when he couldn’t get in, he sat and meowed loudly. When he became really desperate, he would climb the screen door — yes, climb — and hang there by his claws and meow until he got someone’s attention.
He got mine, and I told my bride that we had to do something to stop this. Her solution was much more high-tech and humane than my idea: She bought a pet door that only allows our cats to move through it.
Genius, right?! I loved the idea. This battery-powered device is activated by the chip we had implanted in each of them so that we could find them if ever they went missing.
The door allowed us to program it so that each of the three cats that venture outdoors (Jobie would die before she would set foot outside the house) can unlock its little lock just by standing within an inch or two of it.
Theoretically, if a neighbor cat were chasing one of our cats, which happens, our cat could dive toward the high-tech door and it would unlock as she touches the clear-plastic door with her nose. And then it would instantly lock behind her so that the neighbor cat would hit the door with a thud if he tried to follow.
I spent a good part of a day rebuilding a screen door that looks like something straight out of the last century so that it could accommodate this wonderfully modern electronic cat door.
The screen door is in better shape than it has been in years. The cat door locks and unlocks as it should. The neighbor cat is not able to get into our house when the big door is locked and the little door is activated.
All is right with the world.
Except that our cats don’t use the fancy new door. Even though we nudged them through it to show them how it works — and placed treats by the door to coax them — they sit and stare at it.
It has been weeks, and one of them might have walked through the fancy door once. Otherwise, they do as they always have done and beg someone to open the big door for them.
And, as I prepared to write this, I found neighbor cat on the back porch. Someone had forgotten to lock the big door.
Alan D. Miller is a Dispatch editor who writes about old-house repair and historic preservation.