DEAR JOAN: Animals are using my yard as a litter box.

There are multiple piles of scat from a feral cat digging around in bark mulch. The cat also sprays a rose bush. Another animal, maybe a possum or raccoon, is leaving larger piles of scat on top of the plants everywhere. The yard literally reeks.

I am also concerned about health hazards because I am a gardener and need to work in these areas.

Neighbors will not stop feeding the feral cats, and I know there are laws protecting wildlife. What can I do?

I have tried wolf urine and mothballs. With the rain, these methods do not work. One area I covered with chicken wire, but I can't put it everywhere, and the problem is everywhere. Help.

It’s difficult but not impossible to keep cats out of your yard.
It's difficult but not impossible to keep cats out of your yard. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Ellen Cohan

Bay Area

DEAR ELLEN: You are not alone in your struggles, which probably doesn't make you feel any better, but it does mean I have a lot of suggestions for you. You'll have to experiment until you find the right combination that works for you.

Let's start with the basics, and that is to make your yard as unwelcoming to outside creatures as you can. That means making sure you aren't leaving out food that might attract the wild animals -- the cats will come regardless.

Look for places where raccoons, opossums, skunks and rats might find to their liking. That might mean taking down wood piles, pulling out ivy or heavy ground cover, and closing holes under decks.


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The chicken wire is a good idea, but you can't completely cage in your yard. Instead, concentrate on the places where most of the scat is being left.

There are physical solutions and chemical ones. For the cats, I recommend covering garden beds in jagged rocks, scattering the spiky seed pods from liquidambar trees, or putting out other materials that will be prickly on the cats' feet.

My favorite method involves going to Sam's Club or Costco and buying the largest box of plastic forks you can find. Then stick them handle first into the soil, burying them so that only the tines are exposed. Cats will not walk on areas that will poke them -- not injure them, just annoy them. That should discourage them from using your beds as litter boxes.

Once you've gotten a handle on the cats, no pun intended, you can dig up the beds, do your planting and return the forks to the bed, if needed.

For the wild things, I recommend smelly chemical warfare. With the rain, it's a bit harder to keep the smell from washing away, but if you, again, focus your efforts on known problem areas, it becomes easier. Place a few sticks in the ground and hang towels that have been soaked in a dog or creature repellent.

A few years ago when I had an issue with a family of raccoons beneath the house, I used Critter Ridder, which worked like a charm.

You also can try natural repellents, scattering orange peels or hair clippings around your beds.

Mechanical deterrents -- motion-activated light and water devices -- also can work. Experts say it's good to have both and alternate their use.

A radio placed outside and tuned to an all-night talk show also may help, but be mindful of your neighbors and keep it low.

Always wear gloves when working in the garden. You never know what might be lurking in the soil.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris. Read more of her Animal Life columns at www.mercurynews.com/animal-life.