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December 6, 2019

Being Green is Good… but

This blog entry is not for the faint of heart… if you are sensitive to issues pertaining to cat excrement, you might want to not read this.

I support the green movement whenever possible. I’m glad to see people are concerned about what they are throwing away and how it impacts the environment. Having said that, sometimes the implications of being green has some disturbing consequences. Recently I’ve noticed a trend that is causing many cats to avoid using their litter boxes.

Most people understand the importance of scooping litter boxes on a daily basis. Cats do not like soiled litter boxes because the smell can theoretically attract predators and scare away potential prey. This means boxes need to be scooped daily. When cleaning cat boxes, the excrement is typically scooped into plastic bags and then thrown away. Before people started living green, the bags were removed immediately after each scooping. Times they are a-changing…

Some people, in their efforts to preserve the environment and not drown it in plastic bags are collecting the excrement in containers, dumping only after the containers have filled up. Typically, the containers are placed either next to the cat boxes, for convenience, or in the same room as the boxes. Some of the containers are open waste baskets lined with plastic bags—others are semi-closed boxes or bags. The containers are dumped when they are full—sometimes once a week, others once a month. One client was dumping every three months. The cat boxes are immaculately clean, but the rooms smell terrible.

From the cat’s perspective, there is no difference between a dirty cat box and a cleaned cat box that has an open container of excrement sitting next to it or nearby. They both smell and they both have the same consequences—cats choosing to not use their litter boxes.

And yes, there is a solution that will make both cats and people happy. There are environmentally friendly bags available from pet stores, specifically manufactured for this purpose. They can be thrown away every day. Litter lockers can also work, but only if they have good seals on them that prevent odors from escaping. So people, please think through what it means to be green. How is it impacting your cat?

Animals Repeat Behaviors…

There is a short video posted on my site of sweet, little Olivia, one of my Bengals, closing the door. This behavior has earned her a little publicity. Animal Planet’s Cats 101 filmed her shutting the door for the Bengal segment that aired for the first time last fall. People are curious about how I trained her to do this behavior. Although clicker training was used to capture and shape shutting the door, it originated as a natural behavior.

Years ago Olivia did a less refined version of the behavior before meal times. It started with a simple headbutt on the door of the bathroom where she and two of her siblings enjoy their meals. Her headbutt always moved the door a couple of inches. Because she always headbutted the door right before being fed, I consistently reinforced the behavior by feeding her immediately after. When I realized this was a step toward learning other fun behaviors, I decided to use clicker training to capture, shape and build this into a cued behavior.

It was easy. Olivia was already being reinforced for the abridged version of the behavior, and she was also fluent in “Clicker Speak”. I stocked my bathroom with her favorite dehydrated chicken treats and a couple of clickers. I was ready. With the aid of the clicker, I captured the natural headbutting movement and then gradually  changed it (called shaping in Clicker Speak)  to the desired behavior of standing on her back legs and pushing the door closed with her front paws. Every step was marked with a click and reinforced with a treat. After she performed the behavior correctly a number of times upon request, I added the verbal cue “door” as I gave her a visual cue.

Sessions were short as it had to be fun for Olivia. If it wasn’t fun for her; it wasn’t fun for me. She started adding her own special touches. One of my favorites is a chirp. She always chirps when she closes the door. Her chirps are always reinforced. I love her chirps; her chirps reinforce me.

As a Bengal, Olivia is highly motivated by attention. She is what I call in my book Naughty No More! an “Attention Seeker”. She will do just about anything for praise and attention. Since I take advantage of bragging rights, I show my cats and their neat behaviors off whenever the opportunity presents itself. My cats love an audience and will happily repeat behaviors for a little praise and attention. Olivia thrives on admiration. People come over to visit Olivia. They call me on the phone and ask if Olivia is in the mood for visitors. Then they come over just to see her close the bathroom door.

Olivia is trying out new variations of the behavior. She rushes into the bathroom when she sees anyone entering and closes the door behind them. Yesterday she followed me into the kitchen. When I opened the refrigerator, she stood on her back legs, chirped at me and closed the door. Of course Olivia is always reinforced for her new, creative approaches to her old standard door behavior.

My Cats Are Stars!

I was interviewed today by Ken Bastida, the news anchor for the 6:00 CBS news. He came to my house with his cameraman, intent on interviewing me about purring. He wanted me to answer the enigmatic questions: why do cats purr? And how do they purr? I prepared all week for this interview, both cleaning the house and in researching the mystery of the purr.This, by the way, is why I haven’t posted on my blog all week.

Ken and his cameraman were here for about 2 hours. It was fun, but I don’t know how the interview went. Ken adores cats and spent a good portion of the time admiring and enjoying my cats. I really enjoyed watching him interact and seeing the admiration and love he has for cats. I also enjoyed hearing about his wonderful elderly cat. My cats are great around cameras and strangers. They enjoy performing, and spent part of the interview licking the camera and giving Ken kisses on request. I also did a little demo with a couple of the cats sitting on their stools, shaking hands and finding my keys. They did film it, but that’s not what Ken had originally intended on interviewing and filming me about. I’m not sure if we got enough footage about cats purring…

They will edit this down into about a 1.5 minute segment. It will be shown in about two weeks on TV CBS news at 6:00 PM and 11:00 PM.

Me on TV

I am going to be on TV this Friday night on CBS Channel 5 at 7:20 PM on a show called Pets Around the Bay. After it aires, I’m told that it will be available on line . The filming took about 5 hours a couple of months ago. They filmed me talking about cats and cat behavior and showed me clicker training a shelter cat. I am curious to see what they used in the segment.