DEAR JOAN — Last year when we put up our Christmas tree, our very active and curious cat, Maisey, immediately knocked it over and created a huge mess.
We put it back up, cleaned up the broken ornaments and mopped up the spilled water, only to have her immediately launch herself at the tree and make another huge mess.
This went on pretty much all month until we finally gave up, took all the decorations off and tied the tree to the bannister. If we didn't love Maisey so much, this might have been her last Christmas with us.
But here we are again at another Christmas. We'd really like to put up a tree, but we fear a repeat of last year. Is there anything we can do, other than nailing the tree to the wall, to make sure Maisey doesn't knock it over?
Sara L., Oakland, California
DEAR SARA: You could try nailing Maisey to the wall, but no, no, I'm only joking.
We can hardly blame our cats for their interest in our trees. For one, it's a tree, something they love to climb when outdoors, and here we've so nicely brought one inside for them. Next, we cover it with cat toys. We might call them ornaments and decorations, but the cats know what they are.
There are a few things you can try. The first is to scale back your Christmas tree dreams. Go for an artificial tree, and get a smaller one that will thus have fewer ornaments. Cats can be attracted to the aroma of a "real" tree, and an artificial one doesn't have the same smell appeal.
Artificial trees also are safer for cats that tend to chew — pine needles can be harmful if swallowed — and smaller trees are less likely to harm the cat if they are caught under a falling one.
Whether you go for real or fake, set it up, but don't decorate it for a few days. Maisey might lose interest in the tree after a few days, and then you can slowly start adding ornaments. I'd stick with unbreakable ones and keep family heirlooms under wraps for now.
You might also want to invest in a bigger, sturdier base that will make tree-tipping more difficult. If you have a real tree, be sure to keep the water basin covered so Maisey can't drink from it.
If Maisey tends to launch herself at the tree from a piece of furniture, put the tree as far away from jumping platforms as possible. Then wrap aluminum foil around the trunk to discourage her from climbing it.
You can also scatter lemon or orange peels around or in the tree as another deterrent. Most cats don't like the smell of citrus, but the temptation of the tree might outweigh the dislike of the odor.
You also can concentrate the ornaments near the top of the tree, which won't win you any decorating awards but might keep them out of reach. You also can get rid of the flimsy ornament hooks and instead tie them on the branches.
DEAR JOAN: Can you identify what ate our porch pumpkin?
Danny Francis, Pleasanton, California
DEAR DANNY: It could be any of an assortment of creatures. My first suspect would be squirrels. They have the teeth to gnaw quite a large hole. If the damage happened at night, then it likely was rats.
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