In Soveit Russia, doors escape cats.
May 16, 2011 9:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I cat-proof my front door with a lever-style handle?

I have two orange tabbies, Fred and George, who continue to find ways to open my front door to get out of my apartment. This is obviously a problem because they can figure out how to open the door, and while they might not spend the whole time hanging out in the hallway, they forget to close the door when they go back inside. This leaves all of our earthly possessions unprotected, and also leaves two overly-friendly cats wandering in and out of our apartment.

This started happening about three weeks ago, and I'm at my wit's end. We live in a third-floor apartment. The door has a lever-style handle, and it's a hotel-style . We use a keycard to get into the apartment. To get out, we just open the door and the apartment locks to the outside. When the deadbolt is thrown, the only way to get into the apartment is to break the door down... but when you open the door from the inside with the deadbolt thrown, the deadbolt "unthrows" and the door opens. The door opens into the apartment. The inside handle turns independently of the outside handle; when the outside handle turns, the inside handle turns as well.

Things that have been tried and which failed:
1) Putting the cats in the bathroom when we leave the apartment or go to sleep - results include rage poops, massive destruction, and sleepless nights on the part of the human.

2) Putting heavy objects in front of the door (from the inside of the apartment. Works, but makes it difficult for the humans to get into the apartment, and is not replaced by the maintenance staff if they come in when we're not home.

3) A baby-proofing handle from Babies R Us. It works when we're inside the apartment and can lock the handle, but if we lock the handle and then go outside, then the outside handle won't turn either. It does add a little bit of torque so that it's a bit harder to turn, but they figured out how to get past that obstacle tonight.

Ideas we're throwing around:
-Taping a sock/washcloth to the top of the door to jam the door shut (tried and maybe works, but makes the door hard for us to open, will probably be removed by maintenance staff, might be a fire code violation).

-Running a bungee cord from one side of the door to the other - this theoretically makes upward tension on the door handle (and makes it harder to push down), and adds friction where the door meets the frame. Same possible problems with fire code and maintenance.

-Throwing down a whole bunch of duct tape to make the area around the door inhospitable (but will gum up frequently and runs the risk of being ignored by the cats).

-Begging the apartment management to install/allow us to install a top deadbolt that locked from the outside. This is ultimately the best option, but is unlikely to be accepted by our management company. We're pretty sure that any proposals that involve structural changes (like drilling holes) will be rejected.

Has anyone else encountered this problem? Any potential solutions we haven't thought of? How did you solve it? How did you manage to outsmart your felines?
posted by honeybee413 to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
Your cats sound smart and stubborn so I don't know how helpful this will be. Have you tried spraying the handle and area with bitter apple? (Of course then you will have to was your hands every time you touch the door, so maybe not the best choice.) What about tinfoil on the handle? I remember hearing years ago that cats hate tinfoil, no idea where I heard it. We have a cat who likes to flip his water fountain (he's convinced something lives in it because it occasionally gurgles.) We solved the problem by putting tinfoil on the top/back of the fountain. He hates the tinfoil so leaves the fountain alone but will still drink from it. Good luck.
posted by sadtomato at 10:02 PM on May 16, 2011

One more thought! Do the cats have toys and distractions to keep them busy while you are out? We have found that the criminal activity has decreased while we are out since we got a bunch of new toys and some cat grass. We rotate the toys every week or so and they think they get brand new toys every week.
posted by sadtomato at 10:08 PM on May 16, 2011

Instead of duct tape try tinfoil on the floor around the door, as well as on the door and handle? Most cats hate the feel of tinfoil on their paws.
posted by cgg at 10:10 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you affix a basket/cover of some sort over the interior lever, so the cats cannot grab and pull it, but the lever can move freely when it is opened from outside?
posted by Scram at 10:12 PM on May 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

The way you describe your door, the outer knob and inner lever sound like they are on the same shaft. If you can get hold of another identical knob, replacing the lever with that knob might be the work of a few minutes.
posted by jamjam at 10:14 PM on May 16, 2011

This is a fun problem (for me, not for you, I guess). Some ideas that might spark one for you:
- Set up some fans near the door so if a cat is in prime door-handle-opening position, a strong wind is blowing in his face at the same time.
- Duct-tape some kind of wedge onto the door handle so the part the cat has to press on is too high and sloped for his paw to get a grip.
-Get some kind of box and put it over the handle on the inside to protect it. I was thinking of this- it's not right, but the same idea. Something where the handle can turn freely inside the box but the cat can only hit the box, not the handle. Suction-cup box? Strawberry basket? Would even a normal cardboard cereal box with a hole cut in the back work?
-Put a little railing over the door handle to guard it, so the cat hits the railing, not the handle.
-Put some kind of loose cylinder on the handle so the cat hitting it rolls the cylinder, instead of being able to press on the handle. Kind of like the basic concept behind this homemade mousetrap.
-Use wire to attach a plastic dinner plate or frisbee (hole drilled in the middle and with the rim cut off) in a way that the disc can still rotate like a kid's steering wheel, to your inner door handle, so the cat can't get a paw on the lever. When the cat tries to hit the lever, the frisbee will just rotate uselessly instead.
Please let us know what you ended up doing that worked!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:26 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Umm, photos please! We love kitty pix!
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:27 PM on May 16, 2011

Building on pseudostrabismus's ideas, how about you take a box slightly larger than the door handle and attach it to the door with tape along the box's top edge so that it covers the handle? Since it would only be taped down on one edge you could easily flip it up to open the door yourself, but the cats would have to be extremely talented to manage to get under the box and pull the lever.

(I don't think I did a very good job explaining this -- it's like the box covering the big red button on "Deal or No Deal," except on a vertical plane.)
posted by enlarged to show texture at 10:31 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The solution may be to keep the cats away from the door, rather than trying to jerry-rig the door itself. Two options:

- Compressed air activated by a motion sensor, like this.
- A mat that gives off a mild electric current when the cat walks over it, like this.

I hesitate to mention the second one, because I'm not convinced they're humane, but we're talking about your home security here. You cannot have the cats opening the front door and leaving it open, especially if they're doing it when you're asleep. Losing possessions would be awful, but confronting a burglar in the middle of the night could turn into a tragedy.

Good luck, and do let us know what works.
posted by Georgina at 10:51 PM on May 16, 2011

I think I would just replace the lever with a smooth, round knob while you live there. Modern locksets are pretty standardized, and you can get a knob for a couple of bucks at a decent-sized hardware store.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like the idea to cover the inside handle with a basket or bowl so the handle can swing when a key is used from outside, but the cats can't get purchase and open it from the inside.

All of my tabby cats have been CRAZY smarter than my other cats. Our recent joke is that we must hide our car keys and credit cards or else our current tabby would run off on a Vegas Bender. She's defeated and broken out of every window in every apartment she's lived in. She's broken into the neighbor's homes. Really, it's not you - it's them.

If the worst result here is that you must lift up a bowl to access the handle, you're ahead of the game. Cats like this can not be trained, only outsmarted.
posted by jbenben at 12:59 AM on May 17, 2011

Compressed air activated by a motion sensor, like this.

Not to derail, but why is this not for sale in Catalina Island? Is it ruled by cats?
posted by spasm at 2:16 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

props for naming the Weasley boys...

I think some sort of box installed over the handle is the best way, but I think that the electric mat would come in a close second. I don't think it's inhumane...cats are smart; they will realize that if they stand there it is ouchy, and then stop standing there.
posted by aloiv2 at 5:08 AM on May 17, 2011

There is a child safety product called Safety First Custom Fit All Purpose Strap. Contact your management and show them that it claims to not destroy the finish on the walls (hell, you could even use a command strip instead of the provided adhesive). Place the strap on the outside of the door and click it shut when you leave. The cats can turn the lever all day long but won't be able to open the door. They hold up to my two year old, VERY uh, *inquisitive* boy so a coupla cats should be no problem at all.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:35 AM on May 17, 2011

Duct tape (or otherwise affix) a heavy shoebox over the door handle, taped at the top like a sturdy hinge. When humans need to get in or out they can just lift it to access the handle, but the handle stays out of feline reach at all times.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:51 AM on May 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for so many great suggestions. Keep 'em coming. Right now, I think we will probably engineer some sort of handle guard, possibly with a heavy bowl. I don't think the shoe box will be heavy enough to overcome Fred's overwhelming desire to explore the hallway. I like the idea of the safety straps, too.

Per request, here is a link to an album full of kitteh photos. They are very big cats - both of them are very long, and Fred is also very heavy, which is part of the problem. Our working theory is that he stands up and pulls on the lever, then leans back until the door opens enough for him to sneak through. They never do this while we are home and awake. They have a house full of toys, but they only play with them when there are humans watching... Unless we're not home and there are iPod cables to nom on. They know how to hit us where it hurts, to be sure.
posted by honeybee413 at 7:25 AM on May 17, 2011

Response by poster: Also, link (oops)...
posted by honeybee413 at 7:26 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you ever seen those Halloween doormats that make noises (ghosts howling or whatever) when they're stepped on? Sort of a doormat version of a whoopee cushion. Place one just inside your door, right below the door handle, and maybe the noise would scare 'em off.
posted by easily confused at 7:39 AM on May 17, 2011

i think your best solution is to upgrade your door handles. from the description of them i'm guessing that there are probably not any way you can change it to a knob. but you should be able to swap out the hardware for a new set that was made for a door with a window. why that one? because that one will have the door handle lock on both sides when the door is locked.

i'm not sure but it might even be possible to reset your current door lock to do the same thing. look at the manufacturer's instructions.

any other solution--capping the door handle, electric mat, tinfoil and whatnot will eventually be defeated.
posted by lester at 8:02 AM on May 17, 2011

Perhaps set up a webcam so you can see *how* Fred is opening the door, so you can better thwart him? Cats figure out more baroque solutions than we expect them to. Also, you can then set it to music, put it on youtube, and wait for it to appear in a SLYT FPP.
posted by jeather at 1:47 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

At least your problem can be self-funding, or even make a profit!

Set up a video camera to capture the door opening behaviour, and submit it to Funniest Home Videos (or whatever the equivalent is in your country). Pretty much any cat video will make the grade.

Use the appearance fee (I think it's like $500 per video shown in Australia?!?!?) to pay for the modification.
posted by trialex at 3:15 PM on May 17, 2011

Have fun playing "hide the door handle from the cats"! I'm sure your cats will enjoy the game too. :-)
A couple of other ideas: (1) products for child-proofing door handles, to keep wee ones from opening doors, and (2) travelers' door locks, the portable kind you carry in your suitcase and slip onto a hotel door.
Thanks for the kitteh photos! Now we really need a video of them opening the door.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:12 PM on May 17, 2011

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