Cats, screen doors don’t mix

Well, you learn something new every day (and if you don’t, you probably should). Today’s tidbit has to do with who invented the screen door.

Such a simple thing, an almost unseen presence as you breeze in or out, turns out to be a fairly contested item.

Some will insist that Hannah Harger of Man­chester, Iowa, obtained the first patent on a screen door because she was supposedly tired of flies bothering her babies back in 1887. Others will point to 1634 and the somewhat common use of the new material, cheesecloth, to screen windows.

The magazine American Farmer ran an ad in 1822 for “Wove Wire For Window Screens,” but it seems to have been a rather flimsy material that rusted easily.

Probably the most practical use occurred during the Civil War, when a sieve company painted and sold their surplus mesh. Then, in 1917, we find the Rockefeller Foundation funding screening programs in the South to combat the spread of mosquito-borne malaria.

So, for all of that information, we’re still not exactly sure who was the first person to staple mesh onto an open wood frame and hang it in the doorway.

I know I can thank my mom for instilling the importance, nay, the veritable requirement of the proper use of the screen door in regard to our home ventilation.

But it was good for more than just airflow. It smacked shut very satisfactorily after a spat with my brother. It sighed peacefully closed after welcoming in a friend. The neighbors didn’t have to worry about finding our doorbell, they could just holler through the screen door. It was an integral part of growing up in small town Kansas.

When I got older and moved to the city (or even down to South Texas), there seemed to be an almost alarming lack of screen doors. How did one keep the bugs out? Easy, really. You just left the air conditioning on all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME.

My inner “mom voice” gasped at the wastefulness. Why, you could easily save untold amounts of money by shutting off the air at night. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that the number of fans we had running at any given time probably negated any real energy savings, but you know what they say about hindsight.

So, I got used to constant air conditioning. You might say I got spoiled by it. Besides, you really can’t leave your front door open in the big city unless you have a sincere wish to be the recipient of unwelcome nocturnal visits of the criminal type.

When we moved out to the farm, I could hardly contain my joy. Screen doors! A whole screen PORCH! At last, we could leave the windows and doors open again and use the fresh night air. Unfortunately, my childhood experiences with screen doors had not included one vital part of farm life: the barn cat.

Or, actually, the yard cats. One does not simply have little kids and kittens within a mile radius and expect them not to interact. We started feeding them by the barn, justifying the name “barn cat.” As they got tamer, we got lazier and eventually we were feeding them on the patio. Yes, the same patio adjacent to the full screen door.

To be fair, my dog’s habit of scratching at the door to be let in hadn’t even entered my mind. After all, our back door in the city had an old storm door, and the metal bottom didn’t show many scratches.

Screen, however, was no match for even the softest scratch. So, we tried “petproof” screen. That’s a joke. I honestly don’t think it could stand up to a determined declawed cat.

Within hours of install­ing new screening in the perfectly good door frame, small holes would appear, growing alarmingly to large holes that could admit an army of June bugs in hours.

Our next move was the panels you can screw into the door to theoretically deter claws. The laughably short screws included in the kit yanked out in less than a week. We did try drywall screws once, but quickly tired of the scratches we got when trying to hold the door open.

Even dual no-climb panels didn’t work. Within days, they simply released their hold, one screw at a time, dangling sadly until we removed them.

What could wreak such destruction? The kittens, who seem to think that climbing trees just isn’t done by the discerning feline. They must climb the screen, sometimes launching themselves upward for maximum hang time.

It’s particularly fun when they leap at the door in the middle of the night, causing a series of muffled bumps and bangs. Nothing deters them, not even squirts of water aimed for their little dangling bellies.

Thankfully, it seems to be something they outgrow. It’s just a matter of waiting for that to happen, and trying not to jump too high when you hear that screen door going bump in the night.

Until we manage to install one of those newfangled retractable screen doors, we’ve just learned to live with it, part of which entails leaving the heat pumps on. ALL OF THE TIME. Gasp.

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at

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