Talk 2 Animals


From Chicken Soup for the Pet-Lovers Soul

The following story is about our very special cat, Jeeves (pictured above), who was instrumental in the development of my ability to communicate with animals:


It's inevitable whenever cat lovers get together that the topic of litterboxes comes up-the merits and drawbacks of various brands of kitty litter, the best locations for the boxes, the problems certain cats have using the litterbox and of course the debate over whether those new electronic self-cleaning models are really worth the price. It is an awkward moment for me, for I have nothing to say on this subject to my fellow feline fanciers, except to mention as humbly as I can, that my cat, Jeeves, is toilet trained.

This announcement always causes a stir. Some people laugh, while others scoff. After insisting that it's true, I explain that Jeeves uses-and flushes-the toilet like any other civilized apartment dweller. I ignore the head-shaking and envious mutterings for it is a privilege and a joy to live with this refined gentleman of a cat.

Though while Jeeves was being taught this marvelous feat, there were times when my husband, Tim, and I realized that training a cat is not as simple as it seems. One of those moments came when we were in the final stages of Jeeves' mastery of the toilet: learning to flush. We tied a string with a small empty film canister on the end of it to the toilet handle. The small canister was punctured all over and inside it we placed kitty treats. When the cat pulled on it, thereby flushing the toilet, he received a treat. This was straightforward enough and Jeeves was really getting the hang of it.

It was a Sunday morning. Tim and I were sleeping late, a luxury for us on our constantly busy schedule, when we were awakened by a noise. As we slowly surfaced from sleep and our brains began to register what we were hearing, we realized it was the sound of the toilet flushing…and flushing…and flushing. Over and over again, the toilet gurgled and whooshed. Tim staggered sleepily from bed and made his way to the bathroom to investigate what we assumed was faulty plumbing.

Instead, when he opened the door, he saw an imperious Jeeves, paws wrapped around the film canister, pulling the string again, looking for all the world like a monarch using the royal bell pull to summon a servant to his bedside.

“Ah, there you are,” he seemed to say. “Now, where's that treat of mine?”

My husband dutifully fetched a treat and the porcelain Niagara Falls was finally silenced.

Back in the bedroom, Tim recounted to me what had just happened. Up till this point, we had been feeling pleased with how successfully we were training our cat. It was then we sensed the hollowness of our victory.

The cat was doing what we wanted him to do, yet it was clear that somewhere along the way, we'd lost the upper hand. I began to wonder if we'd ever really had it.

To this day, it remains a mystery just who has been conditioned to do what, but one thing is certain: Cat training can be a very tricky business.

--Debbie Freeberg-Renwick

From The Iowa Source

The following article was printed in the August 2003 issue of The Iowa Source. A copy of this article goes home with every cat that is adopted from Noah's Ark, our local animal shelter.

Bringing a New Cat (or Kitten) Home
(Subtitle) Well Begun is Half Done!

Imagine you are moving into a new home with roommates you don't know, yet you will have to depend on them for your food and care. How would you feel? You might be excited, but probably pretty anxious too. Multiply these feelings several times and you will get a sense of how your new kitten or cat may feel coming into your home.

Just like us, cats appreciate having their own private space-a place to relax and feel safe. Make the first area of your home that your new cat experiences a clean, snug, safe and private retreat. Cats are very attuned to scents, so prepare a space-a separate room if you have it to spare-for the new cat alone. Include in this space a litter box, cat carrier, food bowls, toys and a scratching post.

1) Litter box: There are many thoughts on how to keep a litter box clean and odor-free. Aside from toilet training our cats (another story...), I have found that the most effective and easy method is to use about two and a half inches UNSCENTED clumping litter in a 14" by 20" covered litter box. Use a slotted spoon and lift out the solids daily-it takes just a minute. Then every four weeks or so, dump out all the litter and wash out the box with a small bit of bleach in water and rinse thoroughly. This process keeps the litter box smelling neutral, so your cat will be more inclined to use it. Also, if any elimination problems come up you will be aware of them more quickly and be better able to help your cat before a serious illness sets in.

2) Cat carrier, food bowls and toys: The cat's carrier should be small as cats feel safer in smaller, rather than larger, spaces. If the carrier is not new, wash it thoroughly for your new kitty. Food bowls should be washed every day, and water, especially in warm weather, needs to be fresh daily. A few toys such as rubber balls and toy mice can help your new kitty feel welcome also. (Avoid yarn, string, cellophane, and small items that can choke a cat.)

3) Scratching posts: When buying a scratching post, be sure that it is tall and stable enough for your cat to stretch upwards and scratch vigorously. Many a scratching post has been ignored because kitty took one look at some stumpy or tippy little scratching post and then looked at the tall, stable arm of your sofa or chairs. Really now, which one would you go for? Also, some cats prefer a horizontal surface to scratch on, so watch your new friend and take cues from his behavior to determine his preferences. If your new cat makes a mistake and goes for the sofa, don't start yelling. Quickly redirect them to the scratching post and then reward them for using it with lots of praise. People who live with cats will tell you that expressing anger is seldom a productive motivator with cats.

4) Food: To start, always give them the same food they were receiving in their previous home, even if it isn't the kind of food you would choose to feed them. If you want to change their diet, transition them slowly to avoid digestive upsets, mixing in a bit of new food with the food they are accustomed to. Increase the amount of the new food each day until they are only eating the new food. A brief word on food: The higher quality the food, the healthier the cat and the fewer vet bills you will have. Information about commercial vs. natural diets is available in many books and on the Internet.

Visit your new friend frequently in their space and speak softly. Let them explore being around you and your family at their own speed. As your new feline becomes curious about what lies beyond this area, slowly introduce them to the rest of your home. You will find them venturing out to explore and then running back to their established space for cover. This is normal. Let them lead.

If you already have a cat(s) or kitten(s) at home, just remember that with a little kindness, understanding and patience, it is entirely possible to successfully introduce a new animal into the household without starting a miniature civil war. To start, be sure that the new cat or kitten's first space is completely closed off from your other animals. They will still be able to smell each other and can start getting used to each other without seeing each other.

Before actually having the new cat and resident cat meet each other face to face, there are a couple of things you can do to help them become more familiar with each other's scent. Rub your new cat with a towel and then leave that towel with your other cat and vice versa. After your new cat has spent a couple of days in your home, have the cats switch spaces for a while.

Finally, when your cats are relaxed and seem curious about who is on the other side of the door, let them meet each other under supervision for a few minutes. Build up the time together until everyone seems happy and relaxed.

In the beginning, although it will be hard to resist fussing over the newcomer, keep your main focus with your original cat. In fact, imagine your original cat is the only cat present. Maintain this attitude, except for giving the new animal the necessary food and water, until your cat has completely accepted the new cat. This will keep the emotional slate free of jealousy so the cats can sort out their relationship as quickly as possible. Of course, once they seem like old buds, give both cats as much love as you'd like. By then, you'll be one big happy family!

--Debbie Freeberg-Renwick

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