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Training a cat to stay in the basement takes tricks and time

This cat should stay downstairs.

This cat should stay downstairs. Credit: iStock

Q My niece is staying with us while she finishes grad school. She came with a sweet rescue cat that has become her support animal. They are staying in a separate apartment on the lower level of my home. There is an interior staircase with a door at the top that connects her space to my main floor.

Here's the problem: Mr. Purrfect waits at the top of this staircase for the door to open so that he can run like a crazy cat around my home. I have COPD and cannot have furry little animals running through my home. My niece has tried to keep Mr. Purrfect in her bedroom, but he scratched up the carpet by the door trying to get out. She mentioned that Mr. Purrfect had the run of the house back home, but unfortunately, that is not possible here. How can we keep him from escaping when she comes home or comes upstairs?

— Tired Cat Auntie,

Northampton, Massachusetts

A Mr. Purrfect may be bored and in need of exercise and stimulation. Your niece should play with him for 10 minutes three times a day to tire him. She should buy him a tall cat tree where he can climb and stretch, and some catnip and interactive toys to entertain him when she is gone. She also should feed him right before she leaves, so he is eating and distracted when she heads up the stairs.

If that's not enough, purchase two baby gates that open and close like a door. Mount the first baby gate at the bottom of the stairs, preferably level with the first step, so it opens away from the stairs. Being one-step elevated will make it more difficult for Mr. Purrfect to jump the gate. Place the second baby gate on the inside of the door at the top of the stairs, so it swings out and over the stairs. While cats can certainly jump baby gates, it's a little harder to do when the cat is on the downside of the stairs.

When it comes time for your niece to go back downstairs, she can open the door before opening the top gate to see where he is sitting. If he has somehow managed to get over the first gate and is waiting at the top of the stairs, she can toss a catnip toy down the stairs, so he chases it, which gives her time to get past the top gate and close the door. Or, she can use a piece of cardboard to block the cat from racing past her when she opens the gate. With this latter suggestion, she will need to learn to open the gate and close the door in almost a single motion.

This two-gate system should give your niece more control in keeping Mr. Purrfect on the lower level.

Q I have a very sweet 40-pound mixed breed pup who I rescued when she was just a year old. We really bonded in the 18 months before my partner and I bought a house together. She was never hostile, but it did take her a while to get used to him. Now she is very friendly and affectionate and even comes to him asking to be petted, but only when I am home.

When I am not home, she retreats to her bed in our bedroom, does not eat when he puts food out for her, and just stands on the patio when he lets her out to do her business. She does come when he calls her but otherwise refuses to have anything to do with him. This happens both when I am gone for a long time during the day and if I am away overnight. Do you have any advice?

— Deborah, Ginger's Mom,

Tucson, Arizona

You said, "It did take her awhile (for her) to get used to him." Ginger may be afraid of men, so likely just needs more time to continue building trust. She is making progress, even if it feels a bit slow.

However, if you want to help Ginger relax more around your partner, have your partner spray canine pheromone spray on his pant legs and lap, especially when you leave the house. The pheromones should make her feel more at ease with him. Also, have your partner give her some high-value treats, but only when you are gone. This will help her learn that your partner is the source of good things.

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