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Cats Vs. Dogs: One Neighborhood's Cautionary Tale

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Isn't there a saying about pets making strange bedfellows? Lately, in my Virginia neighborhood, unfortunately pets also make for strange and strained relations. Let me explain. Two years ago my family adopted a cat named Coco who had been feral for two years and then rescued. Although I had previously only owned inside cats, I understood that she was an inside/outside cat although it made me nervous. The first few weeks, I anxiously peered from the window to make sure she watched out for cars as she crossed the residential street in front of our house. I breathed a sigh of relief every time her little head popped up at the patio window. Eventually I made peace with the fact that she needed time outside -- even beyond our fenced backyard -- and that she was going to be okay.

That was until June when our neighbor across the street -- never friendly under the best of circumstances -- informed me that Coco had climbed his fence and spent some time in his back yard. He was angry. His wife and daughter are allergic to cats. His toy poodle felt threatened by Coco. The very enjoyment of his home was being threatened by our little Coco. As someone who believes in coexistence and harmony, I was horrified to be an offender. I hustled Coco off to the vet who has cared for her since she was first rescued. She assured me that Coco's presence in a backyard would not threaten the health of people with allergies and that she could not now be forced to remain inside. The vet offered to call the neighbor and also told me about a spray that acts as a deterrent to cats.

I contacted the neighbor, offering to spray his fence and even asking if the vet could call him. The answer was no on both counts. He indicated that he was going to make it his focus to enact legislation against outside cats. He's begun the campaign with a letter to the editor of our local Arlington, Virginia paper. His letter reads, in part, "For the record, I am not a cat fan. But this is not about cats and dogs. It is about common courtesy and responsibility. If you have a cat, keep it on your property and take care of it. I don't want someone's dog, guinea pig or turtle roaming around all over my property."

For the record, his dog has peed on my yard. His dog has barked many times. But I can't imagine complaining about that. Birds have pooped on my car but I wouldn't shoot one or declare a Bird Ban on my yard. Another of my neighbors has small children who cry and yell and play and are generally noisy. Sometimes they wake me up in the morning. But isn't that what living in a neighborhood is all about -- learning to live well with others? Figuring out how to ignore things that are annoying and finding ways to help others who live nearby? I agree that courtesy and responsibility are important components of living in a neighborhood, but is my roaming cat more of a nuisance than his barking dog? Do we really want to begin keeping track of these things?

I agree that this likely is not about cats and dogs. Fundamentally it is about learning how to get along with others. I will continue to seek solutions to this Coco Issue, short of giving Coco away or forcing her to live solely indoors -- a move my vets predicts will result in Coco acting erratic and miserable. I pray that my neighbor isn't over there, behind his big fence, shooting birds, squirrels and turtles that make the mistake of wandering into his backyard. But mostly I wish that people would learn that we must all get along, as neighbors, as citizens and as fellow human beings. Or maybe: Don't sweat the small stuff. But also: Sometimes it IS about cats and dogs. Meow.