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In catbird seat no more

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Teddy Bear makes his way along the stairway after crossing the catwalk that Spence, who uses only one name, and Martha Spence, built at their Edgemont Ranch second-floor apartment. The catwalk, which leads to a pine tree from a cat door in a bathroom window, is verboten, according to the sub-association is chartered by the Edgemont Property Owners’ Association

By Robert Galin Herald staff writer

When “Spence” and Martha Spence rented a unit in the Farmhouse East section of Edgemont Ranch, they didn’t know they’d stir up trouble. But the catwalk they built between their second-story bathroom and a nearby tree has become the object of admiration from some and disapproval from the homeowners sub-association.

The Spences have until April 30 to remove it or face charges for removal as well as daily fines, possibly $100 a day.

The sub-association is chartered by the Edgemont Property Owners Association, though an association staff member said the association was unaware of the issue.

The 13-foot catwalk allows the Spences’ two cats, Teddy (full name, Teddy Bear) and Gus, to go outside even during winter months, the couple explained while sitting in their apartment. Teddy, 15, was adopted with a broken foot which is essentially healed. Gus, less than 2 years old, joined the clan from the La Plata County Humane Society when they visited to get a companion for Teddy.

Cold weather spurred the Spences to develop the elaborate catwalk, which includes a circular staircase around the tree.

The Spences had been letting the cats out through the front door, but colder fall temperatures meant keeping the door closed, they said. Martha Spence looked up cat ladders online, and the couple decided to create something along those lines for their cats.

Spence – who uses only his last name, much as pop singer Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson), who was known mostly by his first name, or Cher – took a 16-foot emergency-fire escape ladder and strung it between the building and the tree. He was careful not to put any screws or nails into the building, which is against the covenants, conditions and restrictions.

Spence said those who created the homeowners association and sub-associations “created a new layer of government that is out of control by the standards of the American tradition.”

But the cats weren’t going for it, he said, so he added wooden slats and made the ladder firmer. But the critters were having a difficult time getting down the tree. Spence decided to add “stairs” on the tree, held in place with angled bookshelf brackets.

The cats now look forward to their morning escape out the temporary cat door in the bathroom window to the tree, Spence said. The cat door is blocked at night, Martha Spence said.

Originally, Spence said, “We heard from a third party that one of the board members liked it, one didn’t,” but also heard the third member voted for it. “So we could keep it.”

However, there was still that one board member who didn’t like it. That person stayed on the board when the two others left, and when two new members took office, the board voted to order the catwalk’s removal, Spence said.

“Once they had approved it, even if it’s not in writing, (the approval) should stay in effect,” Martha Spence said.

What the Spences did not have is advance approval, even though that is required in the covenant rules. They received a copy of the rules along with their lease when they moved into the unit July 3, 2012.

Spence said, “We would like a hearing (from the sub-association board),” but, “in the worst-case scenario, we’d remove the ladder.”

The actual property owner received a notice from the sub-association that she would be charged the costs of removing the ladder. She then notified the Spences. Of course, the costs would be passed on to the couple.

Spence’s father was a missionary in Honduras, where he spent much of his childhood. He then lived for many years in Arizona, where the couple met. He is a portrait photographer for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in the summer, and, last year, he also drove a city bus. He plans to work for the D&SNG again during the 2013 tourist season.

Martha Spence is a temporary office worker and is looking for a full-time office job.

While the couple waits for a reprieve, they can take some pride in their project getting international attention as part of the “Cat Ladder Hall of Fame” on the Cat Ladders Blog Spot.

Perhaps with a bit of resignation, Spence said, he had hoped that if the couple moved from the Edgemont unit that the next tenant could enjoy the catwalk, which now may not be the case.


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