We once had a door with a cat flap that permitted our cats easy egress and ingress to the house without our having to perform doorman services ourselves. Despite the convenience, the system wasn’t purrfect. The door was in our bedroom, and it wasn’t unusual for raccoons to wander in. Although we had the type of flap for which the cat had to wear a chip to gain access, its purrformance was spotty (the cat had to approach at just the right angle to trigger it) and our cats’ ability to lose collars knew no bounds.
Dr. Nick Hill (above) had a similar problem. But instead of raccoons, stray cats would wander in through the flap and stage home invasions, eating his cat’s food, fighting with his cat, and spraying the furniture.
Hill is no rocket scientist, but he is a quantum physicist with a degree from Cambridge University, and he was pretty sure he could devise a better cat flap. Like us, he’d tried the flaps that only admitted cats with unique collar tags, but his cat Flipper refused to wear a collar.
But, like 50% of British cats, Flipper was implanted with a microchip. Hill reasoned that he should be able to create a cat flap programmed to admit only cats with pre-programmed microchips.
Hill quit his job, mortgaged his house for seed money and went to work. It took him two years to develop a prototype, with Flipper pitching in as the chief product tester.
The plastic door is activated by a sensor read from the cat’s microchip. To program it, you simply press a button and the sensor records the microchip as the cat passes through the door. It works with most existing microchips and only works with pre-programmed cats. It can recognize up to 32 cats.
By any measure, his invention, the SureFlap, is a success. He’s sold more than 100,000 units and his company grossed the equivalent of $3.1 million in 2010. He’s forecasting that sales will grow by 25-50% this year. And that’s without yet tapping into the U.S. market.
Hill generously credits Flipper (above) as his inspiration.
We asked Flipper what it felt like to be the prime mover in revolutionizing cat flaps. “Well, it all started with a big misunderstanding,” he said. “When Smart Man went to bed at night, I’d wait until he was asleep, and then invite all the neighborhood cats over. We had some major pawties, that I’ll admit, got a little out of
“Spike, a tabby from down the street always pees all over everything when he’s had too much nip, and Trevor, the tuxie who lives next door, tends to pick fights when he overdoes the toona joose. Bottom line is, Smart Man is a little too anal about his stuff, and we got into trouble more than a couple of times.
“He caught Spike mid-spray one night, and was gonna take him home and rat him out to his owner. When he me asked who Spike belonged to, I said, ‘I dunno. He doesn’t even have a microchip.’ I saw a light bulb go on over the Smart Man’s head and the rest is history.”
U.S. customers can purchase the SureFlap cat door on Amazon.