Dear Readers: Thanks for such a tremendous response to my inquiry for information and tips on magnet-activated pet doors. As promised, I'm passing along the experience and advice you've so kindly shared.
It seems there are several manufacturers--in the United States and abroad--of these pet doors, which require your animal to wear a magnet on its collar in order for the door to open. On the whole, readers report this is an ideal way to keep wild animals and stray cats from following pets into the kitchen, which so commonly happens with a traditional pet door.
If you're in the market for an automated pet door, you'll want to read the following caveats and helpful hints. As always, I look forward to hearing from readers who have had success living in harmony with one of our country's most precious resources, our wildlife.
* We bought a 4-year-old indoor cat named Dusty, whom we taught to use a traditional door. One night we woke up to find a neighbor's cat in our house (the cat had come through the pet door). After that incident, I bought an electronic pet door. When Dusty was confronted with the new, smaller door and the clicking noise it made when activated, he refused to use the door. I remember from my experience in classroom teaching that new concepts are best learned in small increments. Thus, I removed the magnet and waited until Dusty was comfortable using the new door before putting the magnet back on his collar. The door has worked perfectly for Dusty ever since, and has foiled many an animal, both wild and domestic, including raccoons.
* I read your column with amusement when a reader reported the problem with raccoons coming in through the pet door. We had the same problem about two years ago when I found a family of raccoons in my kitchen feasting on the cat food. After scanning cat magazines from the local pet store, I found Solo Pet Door, a motorized and latching security pet door. It works marvelously. You can find this fabulous invention by contacting Solo Pet Door, 970 W. 25th St., Upland, CA 91784, or by phoning (909) 989-9999."
* We too have had problems with raccoons invading the house via our pet door. But we've solved it a lot easier than the drastic measure you recommend. We now simply close the pet door at night after making sure the cats are in the house.
* We've had our magnet-activated pet door for seven years. Originally, we installed it to keep neighborhood cats out of the house. It does provide a little protection from raccoons, but it also depends upon how desperate the little critters are. Sometimes they can follow the cat in the door if they get there before the door closes. Also, they sometimes use brute force. We've had them push the whole [pet] door in, as well as simply break the plastic flap that covers the opening.
* Sometimes when my cats rest on the washing machine or dryer, it takes a little extra resistance for them to disengage their magnets from the surface, but not enough to be considered whiplash. Every now and then they also pick up a stray paper clip or nail.
* One source for the automatic pet doors is online at http://www.smarthome.com/petdoors.html. They have doors of various sizes for dogs and cats, including larger dogs.
* Was I shocked to get up one morning and find dirty footprints all over my kitchen floor! A raccoon had figured out the design flaw in our automated pet door. The magnet on the cat's collar activates the door, but it is activated when the door is pushed in. The raccoon was able to lift the flap back with its long narrow claws and then come in. I called the distributor, who suggested caulking around the outside of the door so the raccoon couldn't lift it up so easily. My own solution was to set the cat door to the locked position at night and get a litter box.
* My cats and I also live in an area with abundant wildlife. In the past, I used a cat door called Cat Mate Electromagnetic Door. It worked wonderfully. The last address I have for the company is Ani Mate Inc., 1300 S. Frazier, Suite 303, Conroe, Texas 77301, (409) 760-4333.
* Be sure that your unwanted guest does not wear a magnetic key on its collar or it will be able to come in. One collar can unlock all doors.
* I bought the collar-activated door for my cat, but when I saw the size of the magnet that would have to be strapped to her neck all day, I decided to go back to the old-fashioned cat door.
* Having just retired after 30 years in law enforcement, I can tell you another good reason not to have a pet door: burglars. Over the years I was constantly awed by the ability of small-statured thieves to avail themselves of this opportune avenue of entry, unwittingly provided by the homeowners themselves.
* We used the battery-operated pet door with our cat, Angel. It took just a few days for Angel to get accustomed to using it. Eventually, Angel fell victim to one of the many hazards of outdoor life. We retired our pet door and got an inside-only cat.
* Automatic dog doors are not limited to small dogs. Since dogs pick up their feet, the primary concerns for sizing doggy doors are the dogs' shoulder width and vertical height of its chest. The bottom lip of the Solo Pet Door can be raised for larger dogs.
* Indoor cats are prisoners in their own homes. They have no life. Cats are not alive unless they have the ability to be cats, to sleek through grass, prowl around, and, yes, hunt if they like. I've met plenty of indoor cats. Poor examples of cats they are.
* I used to have raccoons come in through the cat door. They never bothered me. They'd even come in when I was having dinner. Unfortunately, when they started to eat my [aquarium] fish, I had to buy an automated pet door.
Got critter conflicts? Send your queries to wildlife biologist Andrea Kitay at P.O. Box 2489, Camarillo, CA 93011, or via e-mail to email@example.com. Please include your name and city. Questions cannot be answered individually. For a list of Wildlife Bulletins ($4 each) that provide sound advice on homeowner-wildlife conflicts, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the above address, or visit http://www.livingwithwildlife.com.