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Neighbourhood Cats and Neighbourhood Fences

October 17, 2012

Our house is quite unusual in that although we live in a market town, we don’t have a road outside our house.

All we have is a path for pedestrians.

All of our gardens front this path and have no walls or fences, so as you are walking down the path to your house, you see a wonderful expanse of open gardens.

When I look out of my front windows, I get a fantastic uninterrupted view of the trees in my neighbours garden and spend many a pleasant morning  eating breakfast whilst admiring his cherry blossom or watching the sparrows in his tree.

We don’t feel overlooked – there are a number of bushes to give us a feeling of privacy even though we face each other across our gardens.

When we first moved here I was worried about having people walking along the path which separates our garden from our neighbours. It is a shortcut for people further up the road to get to the town centre.

Now that we are used to it, I would find it strange not having people walking past our house. We have got to know most people by sight and if I am out in the garden, I often spend a good ten minutes chatting to people who we have got to know because they often walk past and say hello.

My husband goes out at night with his telescope and many a neighbour has stopped to look at the stars on their way home from a night out.

My neighbour across the road now feeds our cat when we are away, and even popped over to mend the brakes on my bike. In return, I give him my spare cat food and any spare food I have when I have bought too much – he tried Salmon for the first time the other day because I had bought too much at the market – well, actually, my family decided they didn’t like salmon any more so I found myself with too much for one person.

My son and his friends love the garden arrangement – they have spent many an afternoon chasing each other down the lane and across our garden. The openness means that they have a bigger area to play in.

A little further down the lane, people have fenced in their gardens and what a difference it makes. The lane feels dark and I’m always slightly scared about who might be lurking in the shadows when I walk around at night. Fencing in the gardens has actually made that area feel more dangerous.

A classmate of my son lives just around the corner – she arranged to meet him at the corner of the lane one Sunday. He waited and waited, but no sign of her. It turns out that her parents wouldn’t let her go out of the garden without being accompanied.

I know you have to be careful of your child’s safety but it seems to me that their six foot garden fence has created fear rather than protection.

When my neighbour calls his cats in each evening, my son often runs out to have a chat with him. We don’t have grandparents living nearby and it’s great for him to have someone like this who he can talk to.

And talking about cats, this area is a haven for cats – and hedgehogs.

Nearly every house has a cat or two. My neighbour has five. All of them have come to him as strays and now live with him. One found his way back to this area after his owner moved away. He walked all the way back and had been sitting outside his old home down the road until our neighbour found him and started feeding him. When his owner was traced, she visited and decided that the cat would be better with our neighbour as he would only try to find his way back again from her new house.

Last winter  an old cat turned up. He could hardly walk. His fur was all matted and he just about managed to wobble to our tree each day to sleep in the grass. Every day it looked as if it would be his last. He started sleeping in my neighbour’s shed and I offered our brand new cat bed for him to use. With piles of blankets and the odd hot water bottle to keep him warm at night, the cat made it through the winter.

It turned out that his owners around the corner had bought a dog and the cat (Harry) had decided he would rather live outside than in a house with a dog.

Our neighbour used to see him sitting on the garage roof covered in ice.

This summer, I happened to bend down and stroke the cat, and he decided there and then to adopt me.

Every time I go outside he follows me – all around the garden, out to the bins, down the lane – hobbling along with his arthritic legs. Even though my neighbour was feeding him, he was so thin that you could feel his whole backbone sticking out. I started putting out the odd bowl of food, and it got lapped up as if he was starving.

We couldn’t let him in our house as our cat was scared of him, so all summer I’ve been worrying about how he will survive this winter.

Our odd bowl of food turned into 4 or 5 bowls a day and he still seemed ravenous, but he had put on weight and was looking more sprightly.

A lot of the people who walk down our path know all the cats by name, and as well as stopping to chat to us, they often stop to say hello to whichever cat happens to be out and about. The cats love the company – when we’re chatting over the garden path, they all come out to join us.

One of the ladies from a few doors down showed an interest in Harry, the stray, and confided she had bought some packets of cat food in case he passed by – so I hatched a cunning plan. He should move in with her.

Chatting to my neighbour yesterday we realised that Harry, this “hungry” stray, is now having at least four breakfasts each day.

If my husband is up early he will often give him something (how can you resist that face peering through the cat flap!) then Harry has breakfast with my neighbour  at 7am, then he arrives back on our doorstep when my son’s friend arrives for school at 7.50am, then he trots down to the lady down the road who gives him another bowl of food. The same thing happens in the evening.

We have only just worked this out, although to give him credit, I think it’s only a recent thing.

We’ve all agreed that if this lady takes him in, all the neighbours will chip in to cover the vets bill in getting his toes clipped, worming him again and getting his leg checked.

I don’t think any of that would have happened if we had six foot fences between us.

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