How to keep cats from using yard as a litter box

I am having a problem with seven cats that wander loose in my neighborhood. These cats are all over my property and use my kids' sandbox as a litter box. Is there anything that I can put down to keep the cats away? The owners of the cats do not care and just laugh when I express my concerns.

- Pat Palermo, Islip Terrace

 Although there are products sold that claim to keep dogs and cats off your property via some kind of noxious-to-the-animals odor, I personally have yet to see any of them work.

If the cats were just using your flower beds as a litter box, then placing chicken wire flat against the ground or marble chips over it would keep them off. But that will not work in the kids' sandbox.

I have a similar problem in my yard: My cats are always kept indoors, as I am respectful of other people's property, but my neighbors are not. I solved the problem of neighboring cats going into my backyard by surrounding it with a 6-foot-tall white fence with smooth sides flush against the ground. The cats cannot dig under it nor climb it. If a cat made an extreme effort it could jump a 6-foot fence, but in most cases they will not bother, and they will just go somewhere else.

There is nothing I can do about keeping them out of my front yard, though; every time I pull into my driveway at night, there is always a cat convention going on there.

My 5-month-old Chihuahua has lived with us since she was 10 weeks old and loves our entire human family and our other pets. Even though I have exposed her always to other people, she still growls and snaps at anyone outside the family. How do I stop this activity before she gets too old?

- Dana Higbie, Blue Point

All animals love to eat, and any animal - domestic or wild - will learn that humans are not to be feared if they are food providers. Any person who has fed squirrels and pigeons in a park regularly knows that, as soon as the animals understand the presence of humans means food is forthcoming, they lose all fear and clamber around human benefactors.

The same thing will work with your dog: When guests come over, just have them casually drop a few treats on the floor in front of the dog and talk to her in a happy voice, then walk away.

As the weeks go on and she realizes that only good things happen when strangers come over, she will gradually lose her fear and start to follow your guests around looking for treats.

Then you can graduate to having the guests give her the treats by hand and picking her up, but do not go to that stage until she is comfortable eating the treats off the floor.

I read in one of the papers last week that cottontail rabbits have disappeared in Central Park, and I have noticed that they are very scarce now in Nassau County as well. We never see them on the side of the road anymore. I contacted the county, and it could not give me any answers. I was wondering if you could?

- Barbara Flanagan, Baldwin

The answer is pretty simple: Rabbits are prey animals and there are now lots of predators in Nassau County. Years ago, when the fur market was strong, there were quite a few people who actually trapped raccoons in the winter in Nassau and sold the pelts. This kept the raccoon population in check. But since the price of fur has dropped, the fur-trapping business around here has stopped and the raccoon population has exploded. Raccoons are strong, but not very fast, and it is hard for an adult raccoon to catch an adult cottontail. Instead, they find the nests of baby rabbits as they make their rounds, and this is a main reason that the cottontail population has gone down.

Gray squirrels make their nests high up in trees, so their young are protected, and that is why there are still plenty of squirrels.