How should we deal with the neighbor's cat?
March 29, 2013 3:55 PM   Subscribe

We live in a residential neighborhood in a small city. A neighbor's cat sometimes spends time in our backyard. It has left dead birds and a dead rabbit in our yard. It has also used our garden beds as a litter box. We have a small child. There is an active neighborhood organization. What is the most socially appropriate response?

Here are our ideas.
(1) Bag up all the dead animals and put them on the neighbor's porch
(2) Call animal control
(3) Confront the neighbor and tell them that they need to somehow restrain/control the cat or keep it indoors
(4) Find some plants/spices (cayenne?) that we can put in the yard that repel cats
(5) Ignore it and clean up the messes, this is normal cat behavior and a sort of inevitable part of interacting with the outdoors.

Any other recommended approaches would also be welcome! Thanks!
posted by steinwald to Human Relations (61 answers total)
I know it's irritating, but...5 is it. Sorry.
posted by thereemix at 4:04 PM on March 29, 2013 [9 favorites]

Holy cow! It's OK to start with the obvious answer: talking to your neighbor in a friendly, neighborly way, about how their cat is causing problems for you and why, and asking nicely if there's anything they can do. If that fails, then you can think about escalating, but any of these before a friendly conversation is sort of nutso, and definitely not socially appropriate.
posted by brainmouse at 4:07 PM on March 29, 2013 [37 favorites]

Are you absolutely certain it's just one cat? Because you have to be 100% sure before you start confronting neighbours.

Here's what I'd do:

Bring up the dead animals at the neighbourhood organisation meetings. Just say something like "Dude, some cat is totally leaving dead animals in my backyard, and the last thing I need is Steinwald Jr. bringing in half of a rabbit into the house. Can y'all check on your cats, because if it turns out it's a stray, then we got a problem."

Douse the garden beds in Sriracha. Do it once, then if it rains, do it again. Especially layer it on the areas you've had to clean up before. It's worked a treat in my garden beds.

If you see the cat in your yard, spray it with the hose. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Get Steinwald Jr. in on the act too, if s/he is old enough to hold a spray bottle.

Confronting your neighbours, calling animal control, or, god forbid, leaving dead animals on their porch are all bad ideas. Unless you want to be that neighbour. Which isn't a great role model for Steinwald Jr, really.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:08 PM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

In the UK, you are legally responsible for a dog's behaviour, but not a cat's. The law recognises that cat behaviour isn't controllable.

So I'm sorry but the answer has to be 5.
posted by tel3path at 4:08 PM on March 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is normal cat behaviour. I'd be surprised if there weren't ten other cats within cat commuting distance of your yard; you're not going to persuade all the cat owners to keep all those cats indoors, and you'll certainly have a funny reputation in the neighbourhood if you try. I don't understand the relevance of your child - people with cats have kids all the time!

Smelly plants sounds like the way to go, if you really don't want cats on your property.
posted by emilyw at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

In the UK, you are legally responsible for a dog's behaviour, but not a cat's. The law recognises that cat behaviour isn't controllable.

The OP is in Indiana, USA, not the UK.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:10 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

It may be normal cat behavior, but it is not normal cat behavior for a cat you don't own. There is nothing wrong with confronting your neighbor because their property (yep, a cat is property) is damaging your lawn. If they refuse, I would have no problem contacting animal control. If animal control won't do anything about it, I'd go for paprika/cayenne/animal repellent/sriracha wherever the cat tends to go. If that doesn't work, consider trapping the cat and then contacting animal control.

There's no excuse for a neighbor letting their animal out of their control.
posted by saeculorum at 4:11 PM on March 29, 2013 [11 favorites]

Deterrent is your best bet. You can put hazelnut shells on your garden beds -- nice looking and cats don't like to walk on it.

To keep them off your porch, you might try a cat alarm. Or search about for this particular problem -- I'm sure there are other people who have tried things to keep animals from marking or leaving presents.
posted by amanda at 4:12 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

(5). And maybe once your child is out tootling around the yard, at the cat will am-scray
posted by Lornalulu at 4:12 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Step one is a friendly conversation combined with actions that deter the cat from hanging out in your yard, but don't harm the cat.

"Confront" is probably the wrong framework to think about the conversation you should have with your neighbor.
posted by JPD at 4:16 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is hugely frustrating and I feel for you, but 5.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:18 PM on March 29, 2013

Mostly #5. Though I would be tempted to catch the cat and put a nice bell collar on it. Our little killer is much less successful since we put the bells on. The owners will get the message.

Using some cayenne in your flower beds and spraying the kitty with the hose are also humane. When we had neighbors who would always let their dog poo in our yard I bought one of these motion-activated sprinklers, which worked wonders.

Honesty, it won't take that much to greatly reduce the visits.
posted by LarryC at 4:18 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

OP, to be clear, I was describing UK law to make the point that the law is this way for a reason. Laws may be different in Indiana, but cats aren't.

I think the advice to make your lawn less appealing to cats is more likely to be productive than asking the owners to exert control that can't be exerted over this kind of animal. I especially think the idea of motion-activated sprinklers is a great one. Cats hate to get wet.
posted by tel3path at 4:23 PM on March 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

It's 5. Sorry.
posted by Broseph at 4:24 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's possible they are not aware what their cat is up to outdoors.

Since you have an active neighborhood organization, can you start an educational campaign to encourage people to keep their cats inside? It's not only good for the other little creatures, but indoor cats live longer too. Framing it as a wildlife preservation concern (think of the birds!) might make it seem less hostile.

If you don't single out your neighbor, but make it a general thing, you might avoid becoming That Neighbor.
posted by ambrosia at 4:32 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am in the "it is wrong to let your pet damage others' property and kill wild animals" camp, but we are a minority, and I doubt your neighbors will do anything to help. People who don't mind risking their own pets getting hit by cars in the street aren't likely to care much about other peoples' yards. If you want to give it a shot, get a bell collar and ask them to put it on the cat.

I'd go with cayenne and motion activated sprinkler. Bonus: will also work if it is more than one cat.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:34 PM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Wolf urine extract
posted by slow graffiti at 4:46 PM on March 29, 2013

Seconding ambrosia. I used to have an outdoor cat (hey, I was young and didn't know any better) and I would have been mortified to know that my cat was causing a ruckus anywhere.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. It works for me. It's entirely possible that the owners do live in your complex and have no idea what their cat is up to.

I'd bring it up in a neighborhood meeting, if possible, and see how that goes.

In the meanwhile, ain't nothing wrong with a little sriracha sauce and a squirt gun.
posted by kinetic at 4:49 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ok when this question was asked from the perspective of the owner, everyone was all down his throat to be NOT option 5.

Askme, I'll never understand you.

OP, I think your first step should be having a conversation with the owner and seeing what they are willing to do. It is not good for "pets" to be disturbing you and the native fauna so much.
posted by cakebatter at 4:55 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The difference, cakebatter, is that the owner of the cat is not asking for advice, and thus we cannot give the owner of the cat advice in this situation. I think the vast majority of people in this thread agree that the cat should be kept indoors and that is the responsibility of the cat owner, but this OP is not in the position to magically make that happen, so we're giving advice for how the person asking for advice can reasonably deal with the situation.
posted by brainmouse at 4:57 PM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you go with #4, do NOT use cayenne! Use plain old BLACK pepper only. Never EVER use any red pepper, cayenne pepper or any other 'hot' pepper: good old common household black pepper is cheap, readily available, and will DISCOURAGE the cat(s), as opposed to HURTING them.

(And for the same reason, please do NOT follow the poster above who recommends drowning or shaving the cat: that's cruel.)
posted by easily confused at 4:59 PM on March 29, 2013

We read a previous response where people suggested an anonymous note to the neighbors. Is that a good idea?
posted by steinwald at 5:02 PM on March 29, 2013

Yeah but the assumption here is that the owner shouldn't do anything and remain oblivious, whereas in the last question, the brunt of the responsibility for action was clearly on the owner. If the asker of this question talked to the owner, they would create that same obligation, because the responsibly is innate to the owner which is what is being ignored here.

Talk to the owner OP! Then you create the trigger for action because of the owners innate responsibility!
posted by cakebatter at 5:03 PM on March 29, 2013

We know it is one cat, we see it all the time. One of us works at home.
The relevance of our child is that we don't want our child to be exposed to dead animals and poop in the yard.
posted by steinwald at 5:05 PM on March 29, 2013

We would prefer not to spend a lot of money on this. Motion-activated sprinklers and wolf urine are not cheap!
posted by steinwald at 5:07 PM on March 29, 2013

If you're the sort of person who could cheerfully call up the cat's owners and in a firm yet friendly way inform them that their cat crapped in your flowerbeds again and yeah, they're gonna need to come clean it up, I'd go with that.

If you're not, or if they're jerks about it and assert that their cat has some sort of right to use your property as its bathroom, I'd escalate to humane deterrent methods as described above.
posted by prize bull octorok at 5:07 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could do that "Dear Neighbors" note Miss Manners suggests that looks like everyone is getting the note and you're not even sure which cat it is, explains the cat's behavior and the health dangers it is causing with its poop and dead carcass-leaving, then you only give a copy to that one family, sure.

You could also mention in the letter that the cat is going to be captured and sent to Animal Control if it's spotted again. That could work.
posted by kinetic at 5:11 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

talk to them first, an be polite. maybe they don't like it either. if it keeps happening then move on to some cheap passive means, as others have described. if that doesn't work ... is the cat afraid of you? can you get a cheap small-mamal, no-kill trap? depending on how much time you have, you could some how capture it, and take it to a (no kill?) animal shelter. people usually have to pay some non-trivial amount, say $75 to spring their kitty out of kitty-jail.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:13 PM on March 29, 2013

We would prefer not to spend a lot of money on this. Motion-activated sprinklers and wolf urine are not cheap!

Yes, but talking is free. Why haven't you tried to discuss this with them first, before going to "let's let the carcasses on their porch"? I am non-confrontational myself, but you have to start with a friendly neighbor-to-neighbor discussion. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Then, I'd bring it up at the neighborhood meeting, maybe. You could also consider getting a dog (if you want one anyway, obviously).
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

We read a previous response where people suggested an anonymous note to the neighbors. Is that a good idea?

It's not a terrible idea. But you know what would be an even better idea? Just having a friendly face-to-face conversation with them. Is there a reason that's off the table?

This isn't just a matter of etiquette, either. The face-to-face conversation is more likely to get you what you want. It's very easy to say "ha ha ha NO" to a passive-aggressive anonymous note, and significantly harder to say it to a smiling face that you see around on a regular basis.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:26 PM on March 29, 2013 [20 favorites]

Have a face-to-face conversation. Be courteous. Bringing some baked goods to the neighbors in question probably wouldn't hurt, either.

"Steinwald Jr. and I made a big batch of brownies; we thought you might like a few. Hey, incidentally, I've been noticing your cat a lot in our garden, and I was wondering...."
posted by Spinneret at 5:36 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

the only concern about talking to them face to face is they might think we're horrible cat-haters.
posted by steinwald at 5:46 PM on March 29, 2013

Nthing everyone who just says talk. I'm sure you'll find a way to phrase this in a way that says it nicely -- make it about the cat's behaviour and not the cat itself.

They probably don't know the cat is doing this, or realise how often it's happening. I also learned recently through the magic of webcomics that you might only be seeing less than 25% of the killings this cat is causing.

Pepper sprays on your garden are a great suggestion -- as well as keeping cats away they can have a repellent effect on horrible aphids and other pesky bugs, as well as small prey animals that your neighbour's cat might want to chase. It's cheap and easy to make, so I'd consider giving that a go anyway.

OP, to be clear, I was describing UK law to make the point that the law is this way for a reason. Laws may be different in Indiana, but cats aren't.

Well, it's the law in my area to keep your cats indoors after dark. It is completely reasonable and easy to achieve (I have a cat myself), and the movement is growing. I'd urge anyone reading this thread who despairs of domestic cat killings to suggest something similar to your favourite local lawmaker.
posted by raena at 5:52 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could also mention in the letter that the cat is going to be captured and sent to Animal Control if it's spotted again. That could work.

I'm not opposed to this but it should be a Level II or III plan after an initial Friendly Conversation fails.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:55 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

The relevance of our child is that we don't want our child to be exposed to dead animals and poop in the yard.
posted by steinwald

If there are enough animals for the cat to be catching them that frequently then your child is already being exposed to plenty of various animal poops in the yard anyway. Perhaps a good opportunity to reinforce the importance of washing one's hands/removing shoes/etc when coming indoors.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:12 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Please, please have a friendly conversation with your neighbors first. A passive aggressive note never did anything but create feelings of ill will. The way to convince them that you're not cat haters is not to sound like cat haters. "We love cats! Kitties are wonderful. The dead birds are just a wee bit upsetting, though."

(I'm a cat person and I'd understand that, easily.)

Honestly, I've never lived in a neighborhood where at least one neighbor didn't have a roaming cat (and I'm in the US). If you curb this cat's behavior, it's like that, down the line, you'll face another cat at some point. If you're a homeowner, the best solution would be to save up for a high fence.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:43 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

thanks. I do like learning about things through webcomics. We're going to let them know about this tomorrow very nicely. If that doesn't work, we'll try the pepper.
posted by steinwald at 6:44 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

(4), and (6) have a friendly chat with your neighbour about how their cat is affecting your life and your space. You don't have to confront them in the first instance.
posted by goo at 7:01 PM on March 29, 2013

Try a friendly talk with neighbor, to explain why you'll be squirting kitty with the hose. It won't take long for the cat to get the message.

You don't have to get too detailed about it. Cat's leaving dead animals and poop in the yard, so you'll be squirting him with the hose is all you really need to say.

Then laugh it off. Even if the neighbor doesn't see the humor in it you'll be better off than if you jump up and down and make demands you can't enforce. Life is better when it's about what you do, rather than what you can make someone else do.

Just be clear, you don't want to be the guy that shoots cats with a pellet gun or wrist rocket. No. This is bad, and it could be dangerous to neighbor kids. (Besides, do you want to explain to steinwald jr why the neighbor cat has only one eye?)
posted by mule98J at 8:24 PM on March 29, 2013

Get a dog.
posted by walla at 9:07 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could just play dumb and get your point across. "Hey there! Your kitty left me half of a rabbit last night. Can you train him not to do that? I just LOVE cats, but my child is going to freak out if he sees Peter Cottontail partially devoured."

Or "There was an epic cat/squirrel fight in my yard last night. I think the squirrel might have been rabid. I don't know -- I didn't get a chance to look at it before it got eaten. And it also had a nest of baby squirrels. Can I bring the babies over to you since your cat ate their mother?"

Or "We have a terrible mouse problem. We're going to be poisoning the suckers. You should keep your kitty inside so he doesn't get sick and yak all over your carpet."

Or "I found ANOTHER dead pigeon with the head eaten off. You want it? Might make a cool Halloween decoration?"

Or "You cat seems to be deriving its nutrition from bats and snakes recently. I'm concerned about his health, since those species are kind of stringy and bony. Have you thought about adding a vitamin supplement to his diet?"

At any rate, you just need to have a talk with the owners in a friendly way. It's likely they don't know what kind of havoc their kitty is unleashing on the neighborhood.
posted by Ostara at 9:09 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Years ago, my cantankerous grandfather was threatening to shoot the stray cats coming into his backyard with a BB gun. I managed to convince him a super soaker was less likely to get neighbors upset with him and it seemed to work pretty well. You also have the world's best deterrent which is a small child that can chase a cat around with their arms out yelling "Kitty!" It's hilariously effective, even if it makes me feel like I'm a bad person to enjoy watching.

Do talk to your neighbors and do your best to be nice about it. Your asking them to try to control a cat which isn't easy. Let them know that you don't want to hurt the cat but don't want you kid picking up dead animals or cat waste so you plan to spritz any invaders into your yard. On the upside, a gardener neighbor lady wasn't a big fan of cats until I moved out. Then she noticed how many moles, voles, mice and chipmunks were now eating her plants and she said she wished they were still around. One last thought, cats like shredded mulch as litter so stick to bark pieces or rocks instead.
posted by stray thoughts at 9:21 PM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

OP, I don't want to rain on your parade, but about the webcomic thing....

Cat owners who let their cat out (like me) know our cats kill a lot. We know.

We think it is natural behavior, and we're ok with it.

If you mentioned this to me, behind my back, I would laugh at you. And if you were shitty about this point, I would be disgusted and offended by your ignorance.

People who let their cats outside feel very stongly about the practice. So, this is a consideration for your approach. You want a nice conversation and a positive result. Eye on the prize!

Do you know what time of day this is most often happening?

I keep my cats in at night. It cuts down immensely on the hunting, but the cat still gets to go outide. Ask if they do this already, before you suggest it.

FWIW, I know this is annoying and a health issue - I have a toddler, too - but my hunter cat only left treats for one of my neighbors she had a crush on a few years ago. So on the upside, the cat leaves you kill because she likes you:)
posted by jbenben at 9:45 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please... Don't use cayenne, Sriracha, or other capsicum-based deterrents where animals can walk on them. Cats and other mammals wash their faces with their paws. If they get irritants like hot sauce or peppers transferred from paws into eyes, they can blind themselves trying to get the irritant out of their eyes.

Spray kitty with the hose. Keep a jar filled with pennies or similar loud noise-maker around, and shake vigorously whenever kitty hits your fence line. And agreed...try talking to the neighbors.
posted by theplotchickens at 11:07 PM on March 29, 2013 [12 favorites]

When you go over to have your nice talk, it will really help if you offer a suggestion for how to solve this problem. They might get defensive just because they might not have the foggiest idea to how to stop the cat from doing its thing.

Here is what I suggest. Go to any pet store and buy a little clip on bell. Don't buy a whole collar just get the clip on bell. They cost about 50 cents. Maybe buy a few of them.

Then in your talk, do not demand they put the bell on their cat. Just suggest it and give them the bell. Tell them you have heard the bell is an really easy way to cut down on the killing because the animals can hear the cat coming. Tell them you have a couple little bells and you want to give them the bells so they can try them out if they want to. Have the bells with you and give them to the neighbor at that juncture.
posted by cairdeas at 11:09 PM on March 29, 2013

the only concern about talking to them face to face is they might think we're horrible cat-haters.

Also a really easy solve if you go over there in a positive and neighborly frame of mind, rather than a resentful pissed off grar frame of mind. "Hello Jim! We've been getting a lot of visits from your cat lately. Little Steinwald loves this! But it looks like your cat is a really good hunter. He's been leaving us a lot of animal remains in our yard. Little Steinwald has been finding them and that's not good." That's when you pause for a reply, because the neighbor might offer their own suggestions right then and there. If you get a kind of helpless "oh no!" response, that's the time to segue into the bell suggestion.
posted by cairdeas at 11:15 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Talk to them face to face!" has already been piled-on, but i'd just like to drop a coin in here that anonymous notes are the shittiest shit to ever shit when it comes to passive aggressive terrible neighbor stuff. Every time i've figured out who left one, i've thought less of the person.

They strike the perfect balance of seeming completely reasonable and ^_^ from the leaver, and completely worthless and passive aggressive from the receiver. Even left with the best intentions, whenever i've received one the best response it's ever gotten out of me is "oh, hmm". Never "oh wow, i'm going to get right on this!", and generally often right down to "Fucking busybody". And i might not be the nicest guy in the world, but i'm not an abject dickhead. I feel like i'm pretty average in this opinion.

The only exception to this, at all, ever are the ones that are like "hey, i found this key next to your car!" or "your gate was open so i closed it, have a nice day" type stuff. Which is a pretty narrow band of what people think of when anonymous notes come in to play.

Having a discussion with someone puts a face to the problem, and helps them actually relate to you and empathize or at least make some effort at seeing it from your side. An anonymous note, even ignoring it's other problems of inherent tone, completely sidesteps this.

The only two options of potentially getting a message to them that will mean anything here are talking to them directly(please!) or the neighborhood organization. The notes shouldn't even be on the table.
posted by emptythought at 1:45 AM on March 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

It has left dead birds and a dead rabbit in our yard. It has also used our garden beds as a litter box.

It's not clear how often these problems are happening. IME, to have these things happen once in a while is pretty much normal suburban life and I would just clean up and otherwise ignore it. If it's happening frequently, like every week or so, I might go further.

Since there's frequently someone home to see that the cat is in your yard, get into the habit of scaring the cat away whenever you see it. You don't even need a hose. My mom used to open a door or window, stamp her foot and hiss aggressively, and cats would take off in terror. You can't train the cat not to hunt small animals or crap in your garden, but you can train it to avoid your yard, or at least the parts of your yard where it's likely to encounter you.

Unfortunately there's not much the neighbor can do aside from keeping the cat indoors, apologizing and/or offering to clean up messes for you. You might get lucky and find that your neighbor is ambivalent about letting the cat out and thus willing to convert it to an indoor cat, but I wouldn't bet on it.
posted by jon1270 at 2:37 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

As offended as people are by cats killing critters, we rely on our cat for pest control. Before she moved in, we had to get the exterminator over several times to deal with rats and mice. Even despite that, we would move furniture and find mouse droppings and even the occasional dead mouse. On more than one occasion a rodent died in the walls or pipes and stunk the place up for days.

Since the cat moved in, we no longer have this problem. She used to bring mice into the house so she could hunt them more easily, but she doesn't even do that any more because the mice don't come around.

Even the exterminators said the best solution to a rodent problem was getting a cat. If you think you don't have a rodent problem, removing the cat problem may uncover that you do.
posted by tel3path at 4:01 AM on March 30, 2013

Coffee works. keep your coffee grounds. cats HATE the smell of coffee. dump your coffee around you house . you will have to do it again when it rains.

you could always get a big dog also lol
posted by majortom1981 at 4:42 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

As for your little one being exposed to dead animals in the garden. When I was in kindergarten we were fortunate to have a proper garden including massive sandpits and play equipment but also established trees and grass areas. Playing outside one day somebody found a dead baby bird of some description under a tree, which appeared to have fallen out of the nest. We got the teacher, she explained what had probably happened, got a paper towel and picked it up and we had a little bird funeral when it was placed on the compost heap. Really a complete non issue, I have no recollection of anybody being perturbed by this because it was sunny and we had lots of fun stuff to do.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:05 AM on March 30, 2013

Cats kill something like 3.7 billion birds a year. Even if a cat owner doesn't care for birds, it seems like common decency to realize that some people do. First, a friendly talk. I would specifically ask for the cat to be kept indoors so it would stop needlessly killing wildlife, and to hell with it if they think I am a hippy. If I was ignored, I would catch the cat and take it to the Humane Society.
posted by amodelcitizen at 5:11 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I was ignored, I would catch the cat and take it to the Humane Society.

That is a terrible thing to do.
posted by theredpen at 5:58 AM on March 30, 2013 [17 favorites]

I'm glad you've decided to talk to your neighbor. I hope it goes well. And it probably will, as long as you are polite and clear about what you want. When my neighbor's dog started jumping the fence into my yard a few years ago, I talked to my neighbor and asked him to do something about it, and we both survived the conversation and in fact remain on friendly sugar-borrowing terms.

I just said, "Hey, I like your dog -- he's pretty cute -- but lately he's been jumping the fence into my yard whenever I water my plants because he wants to play in the water from my hose. And when he does that I get a little concerned, because I have a small child and small children play in my yard pretty often, and I am worried that if the dog jumps the fence while kids are in my yard, the kids might get scared and react poorly to the dog, and then the dog might get scared and we both know how that could turn out. So can you think about ways to keep him from doing it, and let me know how it goes?"

And that was that. No biggie. He started making an effort to retrain the dog, and he tried to keep the dog inside when I was out watering my plants or when there were kids in my yard.

It's much harder to control a cat than a dog, though. Your neighbor may not be able to do that much; a bell on the collar only goes so far, and frankly, ecological issues aside, I think the cat using your garden as a litter box is a bigger problem for you personally than the dead animals (Because as a homeowner, you are GOING to find dead birds and rabbits in your yard on occasion with or without the assistance of a nuisance cat -- trust me. There are owls and hawks in the city, too.).

So I'd recommend also researching (safe!) ways to make your garden unfriendly to cats. Coyote or fox urine repellents may work; I've heard also that cats are not fond of garlic plants or lavender. (Rue is often recommended as a repellent, too, but I wouldn't plant that if you have a small child because it can cause skin irritation.) If you are growing vegetables, you should fence them with a high chicken wire fence (and yes, cats can climb fences, but they don't always want to just to use the bathroom).

And you might also consider getting motion-activated sprinklers installed. Assuming this cat has a typical cat attitude about water, that could be a very effective deterrent (and it probably wouldn't seem as mean to your neighbor as you personally shooting the cat with a water gun, which I would not recommend trying unless your neighbor specifically suggests it).
posted by BlueJae at 6:48 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Even if you talk to your neighbors, there's really not a lot they can actually do apart from keeping their cat inside. And a cat who's used to going outdoors will be really, really miserable if that part of his world is suddenly made of-limits (and I say that as someone who has cats that are indoor only but have been that way since they were kittens). It's a huge ask and not one that your neighbors are likely to agree to, unfortunately.

I think you're just going to have to suck this up and learn to deal. You don't live in a bubble and this is just one of the annoyances of living in a community with other people around. You actually will have less poo in your garden (as there will be less rodents, etc there) although yes you'll have more dead animals unfortunately. But if your child isn't old enough to not touch dead animals he or she isn't old enough to be playing without pretty constant supervision. I think you'll just need to check for dead things and poop before you and your kid go outside to play in the yard. Sorry but that's just how it goes.
posted by hazyjane at 8:32 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please... Don't use cayenne, Sriracha, or other capsicum-based deterrents where animals can walk on them. Cats and other mammals wash their faces with their paws. If they get irritants like hot sauce or peppers transferred from paws into eyes, they can blind themselves trying to get the irritant out of their eyes.

Repeated for emphasis. I like the suggestion of a Super Soaker mentioned above as a harmless deterrent.
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:10 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was in your situation about a decade ago. My experience was that "talking to the neighbours" didn't work out so well. Not because they were jerks, but because it's a big change for a person to make an outdoor cat into an indoor cat, even just for the nights, and many people don't want to have to readjust their house to having a cat inside all the time. So basically, they end up saying "we'll try" and then attempting to monitor the cat's outdoor activities for a few weeks until they realize that cats are notoriously hard to track keep up with outdoors, and give up. Then you're right back where you started.

What worked for us wasn't talking or writing letters or tainting the garden, but using a Super Soaker (they were really popular back then). As people above mentioned, they're relatively harmless* and cats hate them.

*Very Important note: I vividly remember our first attempt at spraying a cat. We had gone to Toys-R-Us an bought the coolest looking Super Soaker they had, because hey why not? Super Soakers are made to spray people, and as we discovered, some of them are surprisingly powerful. The Super Soaker BLASTED the cat with such force that it knocked the poor thing over. Granted, the cat never came back, but only because we had traumatized it. We bought a much smaller one after that, and it was effective at scaring away all further neighbourhood cats with minimal mental scaring. Thus, I would recommend that you buy the medium-to-small size toys. It only takes a small jet of water to scare a cat away.
posted by Shouraku at 10:01 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I lived in a house once that was the congregation point for all of the strays in the neighbourhood (this was in Japan, near a fish market, so there were a lot of strays). It was really noisy at night, and sick cats would even find places in our yard (mostly our laundry area) to die.

So, I used cat repellent, and it worked. I sprinkled it around the perimeter of our yard, and places (like the outdoors laundry drying area) where they liked to congregate.

They went away.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 AM on March 30, 2013

[Folks, please answer the question being asked and don't start an argument with other commenters]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:53 PM on March 30, 2013

One thing you might want to very carefully consider is if there are other stray or loose cats in your neighborhood (they may not be super visible). The reason I say that is that my ex-upstairs-neighbor had two cats that were indoor/outdoor, but became outdoor only after she had a baby. When she moved, I was a bit relieved because although I liked the cats, they became quite yowly after they couldn't go inside anymore (loudly crying to go inside all the time), and started trying to come into my place (problem for me because of my dog).

Well, guess what. The two cats are gone, and now we have five different cats that have each staked out territory here (I recognize them: the black one, the gray one, the striped one, the black and white spotted one, the gray and white one... plus I've seen a big ol' ginger more than once, and I never saw these cats before the two house cats left). So, the two feline former residents were keeping the others away, and now there's a lot more cat fights at all hours. I don't mind them much otherwise, because they keep me entertained at my desk by the window (plus birds here seem to be better equipped to avoid them, and we have a courtyard with potted plants and trees rather than a lawn for pooping on)... but it definitely upped the kitteh population in my immediate area.

So, unless you feel pretty secure that there aren't other loose or stray cats who might move in on the territory, I'd be more inclined to spend effort on tactics that will repel or discourage any cat, while leaving this one to still defend the general territory and keep others away, if that's what's happening. Cat poop+kills x several new cats is worse than one cat boss.
posted by taz at 2:02 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP let us know how your talk with the owner goes.
posted by LarryC at 8:46 AM on April 1, 2013

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