Friday, July 23, 2010

You don't train cats...

..they train you.

Lilly, our cat (otherwise known as the art room assistant) is a cutie-face but she can't help being a cat. A dog, you can train them not to dig through the trash, or chew on your stuff, or pee on the rug. Dogs want to listen to what you tell them to do because they want to make you happy (usually). This is not the same for cats. This same cat doesn't give a care in the world about my houseplants until she is mad at me, and then she will wait until I'm in the room, stare at me, and then chew on my plants. Just because she's mad.

We have had to learn to outsmart / predict her moves. It requires a lot of patience, creativity, strategy, and psychological analysis.

Example 1:

Lilly is not de-clawed so she does what cats do, which is enjoy a good scratch now and then. These delightful exercises for her meant pretty severe damage to our old couches.

We got rid of the couches when we moved, so we bought a new one when we got to New York. We are desperately trying to keep her from destroying this one. We have tried spraying and making loud noises, etc, but when it comes down to it, you just can't train a cat. She's going to do what she wants when we're not around, so all we can hope for is to try to sabotage or redirect her habits and instincts.

In the past, we tried techniques that would hopefully make her avoid scratching the couch. We tried double-sided tape because we thought if it was sticky where she wanted to scratch, she wouldn't do it. Well, she's too smart, and would just find another spot on the couch. Plus, the tape left a disgusting residue that was impossible to get out of the couch after we took it off.

This time, we bought two narrow scratch boxes and put them in her favorite places to scratch on the couch as a way of following her lead. It's like how if a cat poos in a certain spot that isn't where the litter box is, you can try moving the litter box to that spot. This is a very person(animal)-centered approach (haha).

As you can see, she got the gist of it quickly... with the help of a little catnip spray (it wears off in about a minute but it gets her attention long enough to try out this weird new thing that she's not sure of). Will this replace the couch for her scratching post? Only time will tell.

Example 2:

Another bad habit/instinct is her desire to terrorize the guinea pig, Fiona. I have no doubt that she would not hurt the pig as I've seen them interact many times over the last five years, but she finds her to be utterly fascinating. One time I came home and found her sitting in the cage on top of the guinea pig's house. Fiona had moved her food bowl under the house so that she could spend her whole day in there, scared of this ridiculous animal that keeps invading her space. At least I know I've earned some respect from the kitty because when I shouted "Lilly! Get out of there!" she immediately leaped out of the cage and sat on the floor, blinking and looking quite ashamed.

In the past, I would use more of the wire grids that I use to build the cage and kind of create a very tall wall that is impossible for the kitty to scale. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, a tall wall would also make it impossible for me to access the cage for feeding and cleaning.

This is where an analysis of Lilly's personality comes into play. She is not a risk-taking type of cat; she will not jump somewhere unless she knows 100% that it is steady. She generally just doesn't jump. To get into the cage she would put her front paws onto the cage and then kind of leap-frog herself in there. My object, then, was to prevent her from putting her front paws on the cage, thus sabotaging her efforts.

I tied lots of plastic zip-ties to the edge to make a kind of barbed wire fence, then added a cut-up grass mat to increase the unpleasantness of putting her feet on the edge of the cage. We joke that it looks like Fiona is in a bunker in Vietnam.

After I did it, I sat and watched. She came over and surveyed it, tried putting her paws on it, found it unpleasant and backed away. She walked back and forth looking for a weak spot but eventually gave up.

How do I know it's working? I saw Fiona lounging in a nest of hay outside of her box this afternoon. She feels safe enough from the kitty not to hide all day.

It's perhaps to early to say this, and maybe I will jinx it, but...

Me: 2
Kitty: 0

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