I WAS expecting to receive at least a few opinions on the philosophical questions underlying last week's dilemma - how to deal with a tom-cat that terrorises your own neutered pets. Is owning animals a kind of slavery? Do we have a moral right to interfere with someone else's pet?

Not a bit of it. Instead, I was inundated with a fascinating collection

of letters from people who had ex-

perienced exactly the same problem themselves and were dying to share their tales of water-pistolling, collar- buying and cat-trapping. Letters from people such as Rosamond Cossins of Bournemouth who thought nothing of waiting up all night with friends in shifts to see off an unwanted tom.

Water was the favoured weapon and lots of readers suggested how to use it. (This is crucial: whenever I've lurked in the bushes with a bucket the only thing to get a soaking has been my lawn, as the cat in question has sprung away, sat on a wall and wiggled his claws at me.)

'Buy a kid's large pump-action water pistol. They look like a space gun but throw a 50ft jet. Blast the cat each time he appears on your property,' wrote Peter Edwards of Norwich.

Caroline Houching of East Horsley, Surrey, recommended getting the type of cat-flap that can be set to allow a cat access but no escape. Once you've trapped him, 'stand squarely in front of the cat and soak it completely using a bucket of water, then immediately allow it to escape'.

Angela from Broadstairs, Kent, advised attaching the sprinkler system to the hosepipe and planting it in the middle of the garden. 'When you see the cat approaching, quietly turn on the tap.'

More original weapons were flea- spraying and shouting. After catching Timmy and spraying him mercilessly with flea-spray, wrote Sally Gibbons of Margate, 'all you will have to do is leave the tin prominently displayed somewhere on his path between his garden and yours and you won't see him again. Of course, you would probably not see your own cats for dust, either, but that's another problem.'

Romy Johnson and her husband lay in wait for the intruder all one night. When it came in, they locked the cat door and 'my husband proceeded to shout at it very loudly for about five minutes before opening the flap again'. The cat did not return. I only wish Romy had included what her husband actually said.

Despite the fact that the cats in question were allergic to collars, Norma Heaton of Carnforth, Lancashire, insisted the owner should persevere with the idea of the electronic cat-flap, operated by the cats' collar. But Gill Cloke of Edinburgh told of a tom who followed some friends' cats through the flap and proceeded to guzzle their food and beat them up. 'Electronic cat-flaps are programmed to open for a certain time so that they don't close on your mog's tail.' This tom worked out the system and piled in after the cat had entered and before the flap had closed.

Quite a few readers thought that other animals could be usefully deployed to eliminate the problem. Get another cat, preferably a male seal- point Siamese, wrote Gwen Mackintosh of Bath; a Maine Coon, said Caroline Bosworth of London NW8 - 'the tom-cat will never re-visit after the first encounter'; a Kerry Blue terrier because they hate tom-cats, said John Fahey of Maidstone.

A cunning plan was devised by Jean Summers of Brentwood, Essex, who dreamt up the idea of getting an un- neutered female and dumping it on the neighbour with a sob-story.

'You have no space yourself . . . its owner is destitute . . . With en-suite facilities, so to speak, the tom in question is unlikely to venture very far, and his owner, in the fullness of time, will no doubt change his views on neutering]'

But what about more drastic solutions, such as neutering? Many readers pointed out that because the tom could have already learnt behaviour that even an operation could not change, neutering might not be an answer late in life.

As a secret neuterer myself, I was relieved to hear from other guilty parties. An anonymous writer who didn't dare give her real name, captured her cats' tormentor 'by wearing gardening gloves. Then we deposited him at a vet's 10 miles away, giving a false name and address. The 'unlovable' was collected the next day, drowsy but still managing to look malevolent. We cared for him, and finally released him back into the garden the next evening.' He was never seen again.

However, would-be-neuterers be warned; secrecy is essential as Michael Steele of Warrington pointed out. When his stepmother and several neighbours sneaked a tom away for an operation, they found themselves charged and convicted of criminal damage to the 'now docile tom-cat'.

There were even more extreme solutions. One, from Phillipa of North Wales, was particularly cruel. She seized the tom, drove miles away and simply dumped him. 'Putting down a tempting dish laced with rat-poison' has crossed the mind of a certain reader from Ashford, Kent, whose name I won't reveal in case her neighbour reads the Independent.

Having read all the letters, water- spraying or temporarily scaring the poor devil stiff would now be my options. But two other solutions were worth considering. Miss S Rayner of Whitstable, Kent, took an increasingly fashionable view: enforced medication. 'Ask the owner if he would consider hormone tablets for his cat, prescribed by the vet. These might be more acceptable than neutering, which in any case does not guarantee a personality change, and are usually successful in calming aggression.'

This would be fine unless, as Laura Pendlebury of Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, pointed out: 'It's possible your neighbour has transferred his own fear of being emasculated on to his cat.' If so, tinkering with its potency wouldn't go down well.

But the fairy-tale ending came from Marjorie Power of Ipswich. To remain good friends with her neighbours, they have constructed a plastic-mesh fence around her patio, over which Luffy, her own terrorising (though neutered) tom, cannot climb. 'From 8.30am till 5pm the neighbours' cat- flaps are blocked up, their downstairs windows closed and Luffy goes out roaming. Then, after 5pm, the other cats roam safely while he is confined to house and patio.'

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