Residency Trained in
Veterinary Behavior

Albuquerque and Santa Fe, NM
(505) 792-5131

Cat Frightened of Yard

One-Event Learning can be Permanent

Question:
I have an outdoor Invisible Fence for my guy Rocky. He has loved being outside and usually just stays on the patio for hours at a time. That is until a few weeks ago. He was outside and I heard this crash, he came running in, but returned to the patio shortly. Not long afterwards another thud happened and I then noticed a basketball had hit the side of my house, not far from The Rock. He came running in and hasn’t been past the doorframe since. Basketball came from the kids in the house behind us. When I went out to get the basketball, I noticed a broken Coke bottle. How do I get Rocky to once more enjoy the outside? He’s a big guy, 20 lbs. Rocky was a feral cat and has been a wonderful companion.

Dr. Nichol:
Thanks for the clarity. It wasn’t until I reached the end of your question that I realized The Rock wasn’t your significant other. I almost referred you to Dear Abby. I don’t have the right letters after my name to give advice on freaked-out humans.

Cats are the poster species for “one-event learning”. There are the John Wayne kitties who can look death in the eye and not flinch. Our family has one of those. But Rocky is different. His long term memory has become permanently conditioned to associate fear of annihilation with your porch. With time, and a cessation of bombing raids, he may start to venture out again. Attempts to desensitize him would be pointless; no amount of coaxing or cajoling will accelerate the process. You will need patience and tranquility in order to succeed.

In the meantime I would bake cookies for the neighbor kids. Welcome them into the fold of kindness by reinforcing their quiet behavior. Cement the bond with an offer of gainful employment. Your generous spirit will inspire them.

Dog Behavior Help
A dog who plays nice, respects authority, doesn’t demolish the house, and understands that the restroom is outside is priceless.  I’ll address out-of-control behaviors as well as the dangerous in my seminar at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center, 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE from 6-9 PM Wednesday, March 8. Cost: $50. To register call 792-5131. Bring plenty of questions.