Warning: this is a pretty long post and not about house projects. If you choose to not continue reading, I will not be offended.
You've probably heard of Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer. You may or may not have heard of Jackson Galaxy, the cat whisperer. He has a show called "My Cat from Hell." Last year, they had an open casting call across the country, and I submitted our cats. Apparently, they were not bad enough, at least compared to other entries, to make in on the show. I think one of the main reasons is that most of the people who get on the show are saying that, if the cat doesn't get it's behavior problems resolved, they're going to re-home it or put it down. We could never do that; I couldn't even pretend we would do that to try to get on TV.
So why are our cats hellish? They don't always use the litter box. This has been going on for about three years. I don't talk about it much because it's embarrassing, and I feel that, at least some people will judge Zach and me and think that we should get rid of the cats, that we shouldn't put up with this. Because it's not normal. Zach never had pets before, and I often get the impression that he thinks this is just one of those things we have to put up with if we have cats, like having cat hair all over everything. I grew up with cats, and the only times they ever went outside the litter box was when they were sick, and if it went on for too long, my parents had them put down. Our cats are not sick. We've taken them to the vet. Dodger was sick for awhile, so I forgave his bad behavior then. Now he seems to be doing better. Oliver has never had an excuse. Using the amazing technology of a webcam built into my laptop, we've spied on the cats to see who is being bad, and it seems to go back and forth -- one will be bad for awhile, then the other will start. I'll spare you too many details. Recently, we put a litter box in the middle of the staircase landing, and Dodger has been better, but Oliver continues to misbehave.
Having the litter box on the staircase landing for probably the second or third time was probably the last straw for me. I feel like we can't have people over to the house when we have litter boxes all over the place, and you have to jump over them to get up the stairs. Also, I've been getting some overtime pay the last couple of weeks. I'd been planning to save up for a new laptop, but I decided to instead spend the money on a cat behaviorist, like Jackson Galaxy, but not on TV and not free. So I did some research, and found a certified pet behaviorist in our area, Mary at Helping Pets Behave. (Note: this is NOT a sponsored post (but if Mary happens to see this and decide to give me a discount on future behavior consultations, I would be OK with that)).
After talking a bit on the phone and scheduling a time for her to come out to the house, Mary sent me some forms to fill out, asking for all sorts of info from medical history of the cats to their favorite activities to the nitty-gritty details of their inappropriate behavior. As part of the details, I had to make a floor plan of our whole house, labeling all the litter boxes and their sizes, locations of inappropriate behavior, and places where the cats like to hang out. It all took a really long time to fill out. I also sent a video of Oliver peeing on the floor.
Then one afternoon, Mary came to the house. If you've ever seen "My Cat From Hell," it was pretty much just like that. I gave her a tour of the house, especially noting where each cat likes to hang out and where they each go to the bathroom. She also got to meet Oliver, who showed off his tiny-ness and walking swagger. Dodger hid as soon as the doorbell rang and would not be enticed out, even by the offer of treats. We talked for over an hour about the cats and their various behaviors, how they've changed over time, and all the things I have tried over the past three years to solve the litter box problems. In the end, Mary seemed to think that the primary issue is that neither cat really likes the litter. We've used a few different kinds over the years, primarily a corn-based litter called World's Best Cat Litter and a clay litter called Cat Attract. Mary suggested getting two new boxes, one filled with about an inch of potting soil and the other with nothing but a piece of the plastic carpet runner that currently covers the staircase landing where the cats like to go. She also recommended moving all litter boxes and food back into the "cat room," a bedroom we have always designated to house a cat tree, some litter boxes, toys, etc. Since all bed behavior was confined to the cat room before we moved food and litter boxes out of it, the goal is to revert back to that previous state with the addition of the new test litter boxes, which hopefully the cats will prefer to the floor.
UPDATE: So far, that has not happened 100%. The cats continued to go on the stair landing. I tried to clean it, but in the end, we decided to rip up the carpet and replace it with hardwood (more on that in a future post!). We have gone back to confining the cats to the cat room at night, which has helped since that's now several hours when they don't have access to the stairs. They have not used the box with the plastic mat, but they have started using the box with potting soil, after I rearranged the boxes a bit. However, after a bit of web-cam spying, I'm not sure that they like the dirt any better than the litter.