The Feral Cats Near My Home Use Planters as Litter Boxes


I’ve always said that cats are intelligent animals. It’s not due to their excellent hunting skills — as I’ve written about before, I can do without the gruesome gifts. It’s not their cuddly nature (though it’s always an honor to get a rub on the leg while being greeted). It’s the fact that they know exactly what to do with a litter box. What other animal would automatically know that a plastic tub and the sand-like substance inside would be their potty place from then on? I’ve only had one other animal teach me this lesson — our rabbits. Quite by accident, I learned that they, too, can be litter-box trained.

I’ve never placed a litter box outside for our feral cats to use. In the early years, they wouldn’t hang around long enough to use one. After a couple of months of being with us, they learned to go to the pine straw areas located under my neighbor’s Leland cypress trees to do their business. This worked out great for me. No cleaning necessary!

Two years ago our neighbors moved and leased their house. The new neighbors are nice people, mostly quiet, and they tolerate the cats walking through their yard to get to the open fields in the back. However, they really don’t spend much time outside. They’re definitely not into planting flowers in the large planters outside that the original neighbors left behind. They apparently got tired of seeing the big empty pots along their driveway and placed them on the side of the house to get them out of the way. This side of the house is along the path the cats walk in order to get to the back fields. In the cats’ mind, the big empty planting pots are placed just right for their new use — as makeshift litter boxes.

The cats usually follow the same routine daily:

  1. They visit our house and sit or lie in the driveway until I acknowledge them and promptly provide them with food and water.
  2. After the feast, they cross the corral fence, walk under the neighbor’s trees, locate their favorite planter, hop in to release some pressure, and then jump out for some self-grooming.
  3. They’re off to the fields for a day of hunting and lounging.

This process works for me, and it is quite the spectacle to see on a daily basis.

Unlike our neighbors, my wife, Kim, loves to fill our outdoor planters. They are located on the back screened porch, back lower porch, and on our wrap-around front porch. Some contain perennial plants, which are hardy and usually able to stay outside on the porch year round. The more tropical plants are moved inside the garage for the winter. Most of them survive, even though the garage door is always left partially open for the cats to gain access to their warm beds. The cats don’t pay much attention to these larger tropical plants. The plants do, however, provide a great hiding place for our opossum friends who sometimes venture in for a quick meal with the cats.

There are a few plant pots on the front porch that host annual plants. These stay vibrant and bloom throughout the warm spring and hot summer months. However, when autumn arrives, they are long gone, never to be seen again. This is when the cats usually take advantage of the partially empty pots, full of now dead plants. I usually don’t protest too much, because the plants are already dead. I simply wait until spring to take the dirt, dead plants, and kitty droppings to the woods out back to decompose. We then clean the planters and replace the dirt, and we’re ready to start the growing season all over again.

At least the plants in the pots are pretty and add color around our home when they’re blooming. They also provide a nice "pit stop" for our kitty friends when the plants have died off. I guess it’s good for everyone … as long as the cats don’t try to jump in the pots when the plants are in full bloom!

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