The Outside: The Cat Who Mastered The Cat Flap


A very small black panther, a patch of black which eats light, lies at my side. It has green eyes and the languid air of a seasoned explorer returned home.

He has had a busy day.

Because after an eternity of dithering, Clive Bond, the family cat, has mastered The Outside.

The development follows a considerable amount of sizing up Out There to see what it’s made of. And also, a fair amount of sitting next to the cat flap contemplating it.

The cat flap. An exit one has to nudge open with one’s face; and which, once you have edged gingerly through, shoots forward to spank you on the bottom as a parting gesture. I wonder, would humans use it?

I Β suppose needs must.

In the old days there was no flap, just a hole. No nosework, no goodbye spank. But a very draughty house. Exeter Cathedral has one to help the kitty who used to mouse the clock tower. Geoffrey Chaucer, in the MIller’s tale of his 14th century Canterbury Tales,Β has a servant knock on the door and when there is no answer, he looks through the cat flap:

“An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at the hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the last he hadde of hym a sighte.”

They are everywhere, and like those who use them, have been for millennia. Farm cat doors – made to welcome ferals in to hunt the mice – are still visible in France and Spain. The Spanish call them Gateras, the French – my favourite – chatiΓ©res.

And cats got the better of Isaac Newton and his genius if one fairy tale about him is to be trusted. Contemporaries report he never had cats or dogs. But folklore has retained the story that this genius of physics had a foolish regard for a cat and her tiny offspring, who arrived at his house one day. And when he came to offer them hospitality and make cat flaps, he made a large one for the mother; and a tiny one for the mewling kittens of the family.

And whatever the tale’s provenance, there are indeed two holes in the door which used to be Isaac Newton’s at Trinity College, Cambridge, blocked up to protect today’s central heating; one large one, and one tiny one.

So these cat flaps have a pedigree, so to speak. Whilst the Oxford Dictionary only referred to cat flaps for the first time in 1957, our feline friends have been referring to them for millennia.

Clive has tackled the robust physicality of the cat flap by staring fixedly at it for weeks. He knows it carries the many siren secrets of the garden. But he is equally aware it requires brute force to operate.

This should not be a problem for Clive. He has been punching the dog for months.

But Clive’s little grey cells move slowly.It has taken a long time to come to terms with the whole concept.

When he finally took the plunge, it was with incredible mystery and panache. For none of us knew a thing. There was Phil, standing in the kitchen one day in the week, and the cat walked in through the cat flap. As if there was nothing at all surprising about him emerging from The Outside, where he had rarely stuck a toe before now.

And yesterday, Saturday, he took full advantage of humans being around. Not only did he show the cat flap who was boss, he took a stroll down the drive and into suburbia. Clive has surveyed his world, and when he arrived he – usually the strong silent type -spent some considerable time telling Phil all about it.

The Outside. It’s a brave new world for Clive Bond.


53 thoughts on “The Outside: The Cat Who Mastered The Cat Flap

  1. good for Chaucer:) I won’t have a cat flap and my feline companions rly on the window, they have been trained to come in over night so they d not need a door! I was concerned that if I was away all day and the weather changed they would be reliant on igloo cat bed nestled in the greenry so put a cat flap into the bike box with dry bedding on the inside – they have in the 7 years its been there refused steadfast to even try it out for size:) spoilt brats that they are – but they are not so stupid (does any cat owner truely believe they are stupid?) they know I won’t abadon them to the elements, know I will come searching for them if my absence migh coincide with hail/snow/storm – gather them up and bring them indoors before wven their whiskers can drown – i refuse to contemplate who is the stupid one:)

    well done Clive:)

    1. Alberta! How lovely to hear from you! Hope all is well. It sounds like your cats have made their choice of exit perfectly clear. And in all honesty, I don’t blame them: I don’t see that the cat flap is the nicest way to exit anywhere…

      1. better every day the sunshines thanks:) younger and older cat and moi drew up a new contract when we met – Kipling’s was way out of date we felt – cat flaps they remind daily were not included:) they come home when called, give up night time carnage, desists(mostly) from killing the furniture (younger cat is a little hazy on that one) in exchange I feed them, let them sit on my typing arm and protect them from the cold – seems reasonable to them:) (they are lucky I tell them often that I do not go out to work!

  2. Our first cats mastered the flap (which gave them access to a screened porch and their litter boxes) in a day or two. Tigger, in contrast, had no need to learn until we moved to Florida and installed one to the screened patio in our first apartment.

    At age 4, he was used to asking us for all he needed and was uninclined to master this new skill. Instead, he cried until we opened the door for him.

    Now that Clive has mastered the flap, watch out what the cat drags in!

    In Florida, gators stroll through dog flaps on occasion:

  3. Imagine a catflap in Chaucer (even if flapless) – that guy didn’t leave much of anything out of his tales, did he? (And trust you to find it!)

    I wonder, when they came up with the word for the modern version (complete with door to keep drafts out), why they didn’t christen it catslap? πŸ˜‰ – but don’t tell Bond I said that…

  4. This is great. I am a sucker for anything about cats, but the image of the drafty holes of old will stay with me, as will the larger and smaller for the little kittens.

    1. I was surprised about the amount of lore that surrounds cat flaps. I suppose we should not be surprised. Cats have been around for long enough, and have their own rich lore.

  5. Clive Bond is lucky as he has wide open spaces to explore. Here in suburban Florida, gators are one excellent reason why our cats are indoor cats.

    But that practice really began when we still lived in New York. Tumbleweed, who lived to be 17, kept fairly close to us. She’d walk behind me down to the stop sign and then go no farther. Then, on one outing, she didn’t return for several days. We were told she was cat-napped by a most unlikely source, and then released. Once home, she never strayed off our block again.

    1. Thank goodness she made it home! I’m not sure I’d rate Clive’s chances in a city…but here next to the forest the world is full of sights and smells to bewitch a cat. The rest of the cats in this area are very savvy; we’re hoping Clive will be the same, and first indications bear this out.

  6. Lovely piece, Kate. Good luck to Clive with his Outside World explorations. I love the way he had to tell Phil about it. It’s very amusing when cats suddenly feel the need to get it off their chests. Usually happens here when Leo’s gone missing and Fat Lily gets very loquacious – no doubt instructing us to go find him and be quick about it! πŸ˜€

  7. We had a cat flap in our old house, only it went down to the basement where the kitty litter box was. It was, on occasion, used by most of the children in the neighborhood, however, who found it quite a lot of fun to pretend they were cats. Fortunately, no one tumbled down the stair, but, all meowed and purred and hissed!

    Miss that old cat flap.

  8. My cats never had a cat flap. I just got up and down to open and close the door. Frequently. Indoor cat William darted out one day while the door was open but within ten seconds chose to run back into the house.

    The story about Newton is delightful, whether it’s true or not. But after seeing the gator, I will never never never have any door that doesn’t stay locked. I’m not likely to wake up to a gator, but opossums and snakes might come in. And raccoons. And the neighbor’s cat, who seems to like us a lot.

  9. Such a simple thing, and yet I’d never thought about cat flaps being used centuries ago.

    My cat is strictly an indoor kitty. Too many bad things can happen to cats outdoors in the city.

  10. Is there any creature on earth who dithers more than a cat? I don’t think so. Doors and flaps pose a particular challenge for them, for sure. Congratulations on the adventure, Clive Bond!

  11. I’m the cat door person. Because of Duc’s hunting prowess, I cannot have a cat door. Fortunately, Duc and I seem to be on the same wave length and I usually sense when he wants in. If I’m distracted from my duties, he pounds at the window.

    In the middle of the night, I practice “cat shove”. Duc wakes me to open the bedroom window so he can do night duty. However, he wants to stand half in, half out to check for danger, ghouls and ghastly predators. Who knows, maybe he’s heard of the gators in Nancyland. His surveillance does illicit a cat shove so I can ggo back to sleep.

    Trust you, Kate, for bringing this subject to such intriguing levels.

  12. I’ve had friends with cat flap stories that are a bit too risky for me! I don’t want to find an opossum in my kitchen. πŸ™‚ I love the idea of Isaac Newton having had two holes in his door–even if it’s all folklore, it’s a fun thought. I enjoy hearing about Clive and his accomplishments. This was a great story!

  13. Our little ginger had been in an accident: on Saturday night, I found him with a nose bleed and a cut above his eye, and made arrangements for a vet visit on Sunday am. So we locked the cat flap to ‘in only’ and put Pippi out. During the night Pippi came in and wanted out again – so she broke the cat flap after head butting it for a while! It was old (about 19 years old) and fractured irreparably. I installed a temporary measure of a tea tray fixed in place with duct tape.

    So on Sunday after Greg had been to the vet (OK, but a little bruised after his altercation with a motorised vehicle) I went out to buy a new cat flap – an all pristine white cat flap to stop the draught.
    Both cats eyed the new window dressing with suspicion. It was stiffer to push than the old one, but they soon got the hang of it!

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