How to secure your doggy door from burglars, pests
LOS ANGELES -- A burglar will use any open door -- front, back, side, garage or doggy.
Deanna Souza was sleeping in her Northern California home March 1 when her doorbell rang. Zoe, her 4-pound Yorkie, started barking. The bell rang again. Zoe was making such a fuss that Souza went to see who was there. Through her blinds, she saw a woman heading for the back yard while putting on rubber gloves.
When the doggy door in her sliding glass door started rattling, Souza called 911 and hid in a closet. Zoe ran and hid under a bed.
Police arrived and arrested the woman -- wedged in the doggy door.
The FBI says there was one burglary in the United States every 14.6 seconds in 2010. The agency doesn't compile statistics on method of entry, but experts agree doggy doors are relatively low on the list because not every house has one, they are usually small, and a crook can't be sure what might be on the other side.
"If the door is big enough for a Lab or mastiff, I'm not sure I would want to crawl through it," said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. "But some idiots even try to come down the chimney."
Recent accounts make that case. On May 7, just days after NFL linebacker Junior Seau's suicide, a man squeezed through the doggy door at his Oceanside, Calif., home and walked out the garage door with a $500 bicycle, police Lt. Leonard Mata said.
In East Bethel, Minn., a teenager was caught using a doggy door to steal money and valuables from her neighbor so she could support a porn addiction, said Laura Landes, crime prevention specialist with the Anoka County Sheriff's Department.
Souza, a dispatcher for the California Highway Patrol, still has the same doggy door because Zoe needs it. "If someone really wanted in, they could just break the glass," she said.
Still, police, retailers and pet owners say you can replace, renovate or reduce your doggy door to dissuade intruders -- human and animal:
• Replace it: Options can cost $10, $100 or over $1,000.
There are all-screen doors with magnets that slide back into place, electronic doors with locking mechanisms, wall entry doors, bulletproof doors, extreme weather doors, aluminum doors and panels for patio doors, said Jodi Liddle, merchandising and purchasing manager for Wisconsin-based Drs. Foster and Smith.
Honeywell Security Group's Total Connect app will monitor a pet door, sending an alert to a homeowner's phone or pad saying the door is being accessed, said Rob Puric, director of Honeywell's product management for residential systems. If you add a camera, you can watch who or what is coming or going, he said.
A SureFlap door allows a cat or dog to enter by reading a microchip implanted in the animal. "The product's inventor created SureFlap because his cat Flipper was continually being followed back into the kitchen. The strays would eat Flipper's food, fight with him and spray the kitchen," spokesman David Payne said.
The PetSafe SmartDoor reads radio frequencies from a key on your dog's collar, and Power Pet Doors by High Tech are activated by an ultrasonic collar worn by the pet.
• Guard it: Don't underestimate the value of your dog as a deterrent, said Col. Jerry Neufeld, public information officer for the Amarillo Police Department.
"A dog that barks, even if it's just a little dog that yaps, will draw attention, and no criminal wants that," said Nicole Aguon, a crime specialist with the Livermore, Calif., Police Department.
A "Beware of Dog" sign -- whether you have one or not -- might also deter a burglar because most are opportunists and will move on rather than risk it, Aguon added.
• Minimize the risk: Get the smallest door your dog or cat can reasonably get through, Neufeld said, and if you can unlock the door when you reach through, add another deadbolt higher on the door. If the house is going to be empty for a while, secure all windows and doors and put a barrier on the doggy door if there is no lock.
Dowels or bars can make doggy doors in sliding glass doors more solid, and if an old-fashioned door is bigger than a pet, attach a bar across it to downsize it, Landes said. "People are creative," she said.
• Think like a pest: Doggy door intruders aren't always human, and that might require some creativity, too.
If a raccoon gets in, make a path of marshmallows, cheese bits or fig bars toward a door, said John Hadidian, urban wildlife director of the Humane Society of the United States, in his book "Wild Neighbors." Get behind the raccoon, make noise and it should run away, Hadidian said.
If all else fails, call animal control.
That was Alexis Dunbar's first call in April 2011 when she encountered a 7-foot alligator in her bathroom after it came through a doggy door on the porch of her home in Palmetto, Fla.