What can I do about three cat-murdering dogs in a neighbourhood yard?

Eleanor Gordon-Smith
Photograph: Darren Lehane/Getty Images

There are three massive dogs in a yard in my neighbourhood that keep murdering local cats. I wonder whether I should letterbox the neighbourhood to let them know this is going on so cat owners let their cats out at their own risk. I am related to one of the murdered cats (I was his devoted cat-auntie). My family does not want me to do this. They have a small child, so it is important they have as smooth a relationship with the dog-owning neighbour as possible. Am I potentially antagonising the dog-owning neighbour with a letterbox drop?

Let’s do the easy part first: you are absolutely right that someone should alert local cat owners. In fact, I think it would be unkind to know about the threat and not say anything. If it happened again you’d always wonder whether you could have stopped it, and you know how you’d feel if someone could have kept your beloved cat-nephew safe.

The more complex question is how? I agree with your family that the letterbox drop has an air of conspiracy. It feels a bit j’accuse. There are escalators and de-escalators in all kinds of conflict. An anonymous accusation almost always escalates.

Why not talk to the dog owners directly?

Nobody wants the dogs to kill more cats, especially not them. I know they seem like negligent monster-creeps when it’s your beloved cat their dogs have killed, but you do have something in common: you both know what it’s like to love a pet. It’s the purest love there is. Like all love it means that we hope that the worst of the thing we love is just an aberration, and like all love it makes us really hope that the thing we love won’t be taken away. There are laws for “dangerous and menacing dogs”. I bet they know that. What would be wrong with saying to them over the thing you have in common: “None of us want to lose our pets. How can we make that happen?”

You could get a family member to do the talking, and then your family wouldn’t feel so much like you made a conflict and then left them to the awkward social aftermath. Of course they want to keep things smooth with their neighbours, but in close living arrangements sometimes a frank, kindly handled conflict brings us closer.

If, on the other hand, the dog owners really are awful monsters, what would be wrong with setting out an alert which didn’t antagonise them? You could do a telegraph pole wrap which says “Something is killing cats! We think it’s a local animal. Keep your moggies indoors!”

As I see it, the question here isn’t choosing between keeping cats safe and keeping the neighbours onside. It’s a pragmatic question about what strategies would dissolve the tension between those two things.

There’s a question in here about blame. One attitude to blame thinks of it as a kind of moral invitation – to be blamed is to have it recognised that you’re an adult capable of behaving well. Nobody blames a rock for stubbing their toe, and we all know that one way to stop blaming someone is with the sad release of the realisation that they’ll never change. In this light, blame is a kind of compliment. It says to the person: “I believe you’re a fully fledged adult and that you want to do better.” I think there’s a way to reach these dog owners that feels more like that and less like jabbing a finger.

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