Keep your doggie door secure

Are you worried that your pet door is letting in more than just your pet – that it could invite in other local pets, or curious wildlife, or even a burglar?

The good news is, you're not just paranoid. The bad news is, you're…not just paranoid. A recent AP piece by Sue Manning about dog-door intruders tells the story of northern California's Deanna Souza, who called 911 when she heard her doggie door rattling in the middle of the night (the dog in question, a Yorkie named Zoe, was also raising a ruckus in response to the intruder). When police arrived, they found a female burglar wedged in Souza's pet door. (Souza, ironically, is a CHP dispatcher.)

It seems like a counterintuitive break-in method; after all, if a house has a doggie door, chances are it has, you know, a dog, who's likely to kick up a fuss if a stranger comes wiggling through the plastic flap. But not every criminal is a mastermind, and Manning quotes Bonnie Beaver, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M, snarking that "some idiots even try to come down the chimney."

And they do it because it works, at least sometimes. Only days after NFL linebacker Junior Seau took his life, some classy thief got through the pet door at Seau's Oceanside, CA house and walked out the garage door with a bicycle worth five hundred bucks. And in Minnesota, an East Bethel teen got busted using a dog door to "steal money and valuables from her neighbor so she could support a porn addiction." The doggie-door part is probably the least baffling thing going on in that sentence, but let's move on to how you can prevent an intruder – human or otherwise – from accessing your pet door. Manning runs down four tips that will let your pet use the door but keep pretenders outside: "replace it," "guard it," "minimize the risk," and "think like a pest." Some specifics below:

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Replacing it: Every kind of pet door you can imagine is available – weather-proof, wall-entry, panel-style. You can spend beaucoup bucks on a security system for the pet entrance, like the Honeywell Security Group Total Connect app, which monitors the door and sends an alert to your cell/tablet when the door is accessed. Train a camera on the door for added security. You can even get a bullet-proof door.

But many doors on the market serve as electronic doormen, and only open when a microchip or radio frequency, either implanted in the pet or attached to her collar, signals that it's that specific animal who wants in. A hungry stray or importunate raccoon? No dice. So if you've been getting by with the classic plastic-flap set-up, consider a SureFlap or a PetSafe SmartDoor.

Guarding it: Many dogs we know would, if presented with a felonious intruder, do something intimidatingly effective like licking him until he begged for mercy – but burglars may not want to take the chance that your dog is a "too friendly for her own good" type. Plus, even friendly dogs may signal their amiability by barking or yapping, which isn't something a burglar wants. The dog doesn't have to alert you, Zoe-style, that there's a stranger coming in; the dog's mere existence may prevent any strangers from targeting your home. (Nicole Aguon, a crime specialist with the Livermore, CA police department, suggests a Beware Of Dog sign, even if you don't have a dog.)

Minimizing the risk: Use the smallest size pet door your pet can comfortably get through; if it's already installed but too big, East Bethel crime prevention specialist Laura Landes suggests putting a bar or board across it to make it smaller. At night or when you're on vacation, lock the dog door or improvise a firmer barrier. And test the door's suitability for human crawl-throughs: go outside and see for yourself if a person can squeeze in, or even get in far enough to unlock the main door itself. If so, put a deadbolt higher up on the door or reconsider the pet entry's location.

Thinking like a pest: Depending on where you live, creatures could present a more significant intrusion risk than people. After a huge raccoon wedged herself through a two-inch opening in a patio door at our house last year, we've learned: outside wants in. To prevent unwanted visits from the unhousebroken, get a pet door calibrated to your specific pet, as we suggested above – and if an animal does get in, stay calm. John Hadidian, the Humane Society's urban wildlife director, recommends making a path out of little snacks like cheese cubes or marshmallows to lure raccoons back outside. Get behind the raccoon and make a racket and it should leave. Or don't mess with it and just call animal control in your community. Manning's article closes with a story about a 7-foot alligator accessing a Floridian doggie door; that's a visitor best escorted out by the experts.

The biggest issue we've found with pet doors is those brilliant mosquitoes that come in and can't get out – have you had unwanted "drop-ins" or break-ins via your pet doors? What have you used to make sure Tigger's the only one coming and going? Let us know in the comments.

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