Tim Dowling: the cat and I are both struggling with the new cat flap

I am on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor, trying to install a new cat flap while the cat watches. “The central ring section is adjustable,” I tell the cat. “You know, depending on the thickness of your door.”

The cat looks at me, then at the flap.

“For the same reason it comes with three sets of screws – short, medium and long,” I say. “I don’t have to measure because I have the screws from the old flap, which are clearly medium.”

The cat yawns, ostentatiously.

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The old cat flap was wrecked when the dog crashed through it in the middle of the night and ended up wearing it like a skirt. The cat never really mastered the old flap anyway – he sat in front of it for hours, delicately prying it open with one claw and watching it fall back into place.

“You don’t pull, you push it, you idiot,” I would say. The cat didn’t listen.

The new flap won’t be any easier to work out, because it is as near to exactly like the old one as possible: same make, same size. The actual model is out of production, but this, I’m assured by wife, is the closest match. I want the replacement process to be seamless – like for like. I don’t want to have to saw a bigger hole, or buy a new door.

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When I take the new flap out of the box I am gratified to see how much it resembles its predecessor. It appears to be put together the same way the old one came apart, so the instructions are superfluous.

But nothing is that simple. The tolerances between hole and housing are tight: all the components need to be precisely aligned to meet in the middle, and this is difficult to manage when they are on either side of a door. It doesn’t help that my assistant is a cat.

I move outside, with the cat following, and drop to my knees on the wet brick. It’s dark already, and a light rain is falling. I push a medium length screw into its intended hole, but it doesn’t find the corresponding threaded slot in the component on the inside of the door. Plastic creaks alarmingly when I try to tighten it.

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“Arse,” I say. As I speak a second medium screw falls from my mouth, bounces once on the brick patio and lands in front of the cat. He bats it away into the darkness, and looks up at me.

“If you’re not part of the solution,” I say, “you’re part of the problem.”

Finally, with the open door pinched between my knees and my arms stretched at full length, I manage to finesse the pieces into an arrangement that allows two medium screws to span the distance between them. With everything tightened, the new cat flap is firmly secured in place.

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“Allow me to demonstrate,” I say to the cat, pushing a finger against the flap from the outside in. The flap does not move.

I find my wife at her computer.

“Have you put it in already?” she says. “Well done.”

“It has a magnetic lock,” I say. “You have to be wearing a special collar to go through it.”

“Yeah,” my wife says. “It’s to stop other people’s cats getting in.”

“Our cat is too stupid to use a regular cat flap,” I say.

“I know,” she says.

“And it only comes with one collar,” I say. “What about the dog?”

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“It was the only kind they make that matched the measurements you gave me,” she says.

“How did you imagine this working out?” I say.

“I figured you could just dismantle the mechanism,” she says.

“Did you,” I say.

“I did,” she says.

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There are few things more dispiriting than one of my wife’s sudden demonstrations of faith in my abilities – they are infrequent, but they are wholly random and largely misplaced. With the new cat flap now uninstalled, I sit down at the kitchen table with the parts.

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The magnetic lock is, as you might imagine, not designed to be got at. A lot of ugly prying and cracking must take place to gain access. Once I’m in, though, I find myself fascinated by the simple beauty of the mechanism, by the little weighted seesaw that holds the lock in position, and the magnet that counteracts it when a suitably collared pet approaches. I look up to find the cat sitting on the table watching me.

“Miaow,” it says.

“Believe me,” I say. “You wouldn’t get it.”