Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Domesticating a cat (insert laugh here)

Cats. We all know them and some of us love them. They are sweet and affectionate when they want to be and mischievous and sneaky and insatiably curious the rest of the time.  If you're a cat owner, you've probably learned over the years that the best way to coexist in the same space as your cat is to let them do whatever they want and just hope they don't do too much damage.  The Professor and I have certainly adopted this approach when we adopted Gadget.  For the most part, we've given her free reign of the house since she entered our lives.  We let her jump onto the dining room table and prowl around the kitchen counters (don't worry--we do clean these surfaces before we prepare or eat food on them), we let her into the bathroom with us (she enjoys sitting in the sink while you do your business) and we let her sleep at our feet or on our heads.

Needless to say, Gadget has grown quite accustomed to her freedom and unchallenged way of life.  So it's been quite an upheaval for her to have the rules changed on her since we moved into our new apartment. And the rules have changed quite a bit and for reasons that are mostly for her own good.   I've mentioned before our glorious living room and dining room windows.  These wonderful windows which let in so much natural light during the day, also open all the way and like most European windows, do not have screens.  Which means that while they do let in a great breeze from the street, they are also potential death traps for cats.  If you have a cat, you probably know that their favorite spot to hang out is near a window or on a windowsill.    They get as near to the window as they can by jumping from the floor straight up into the air to perch delicately on the thinnest of surfaces.  Except that we don't have windowsills.  If Gadget tried her usual jumping act, she'd be jumping to her death.  I'm not exaggerating here.  I sadly know a person whose cat died this way.  She had left her bedroom window open and the cat jumped after a bird or something and fell five stories.  It's a story that makes me cringe.  Gadget has already scared the hell out of us when a maintenance man came by and left the bathroom window open not knowing that Gadget would find the fresh air and adventure too irresistible to pass up.  We found her a few minutes later precariously perched on the narrowest of ledges just outside the window.  So as a safety precaution, we've been careful to lock Gadget in one of the bedrooms whenever we open a window.

We've also begun locking her in the bedroom with us at nighttime for a few reasons.  The first reason has to do with conserving heat.  Before we go to bed, the Professor and I run our tiny space heater on full-blast so we can sleep peacefully without freezing to death.  For the space heater to be effective, the door needs to remain closed or the heat escapes.  If you open the door even an inch, you can feel an icy blast coming from the hallway--I'm not kidding. The other reason we lock her up with us has to do with our furniture.  We recently bought a sofa that we're quite keen on and we're not willing to have the upholstery shredded to bits.  The first night we had the sofa, before it occurred to us to lock her up, Gadget managed to scratch at both arms of the couch and one of the sides.  We were rather irritated to find her handiwork the next morning.

So, in an effort to save her life, conserve heat, and preserve our furniture, the Professor and I have begun the painful experiment of trying to domesticate our cat.  The reason I say painful is because the brat will not go quietly into the dark night.  She meows and meows for hours and claws at the door. When she doesn't think she's being annoying enough, she throws her full eight pounds against the door like she's a detective on Law and Order busting up a drug ring.  There is no amount of petting her or pleading with her that will get her to shut up and go to sleep.  We've tried ignoring her (louder meowing) and yelling at her. I've even thrown pillows at her.  We've tried moving her food and litter box to the second bedroom and locking her in there. All that has accomplished is that now we hear her scratching at and throwing herself against the wall that connects our two rooms.  Clearly, no tactic will work with this headstrong and willful little cat.

And yet for some reason, despite a week of only intermittent sleep, we've managed to soldier on.  We are determined to do this undoable thing--to housebreak this cat.  To get her on OUR schedule instead of vice versa.  So why do I feel like she's really the one winning?

(Photo: Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman)


  1. Ohmygosh please let me know hot this turns out! I'm having similar issues with my cat....grrr! I'm trying to keep him inside at night (he previously went out lots and ended up getting an abscess on his face from a fight). Last night he meowed (howled?) for two hours trying to get out! I found one trick though. He *hates* the sound of a guitar so I've decided to keeping my guitar beside my bed and when he comes in to howl, I give it a good half asleep strum and it sends him flying to the other side of the apartment! Haha! After a few times, he leaves me alone! Evil...

  2. I highly recommend reading some posts from this blog for dealing with "difficult" cats:

  3. The contact sheet for this image is currently on view at the International Center of Photography, as part of the Magnum Contact Sheets exhibit. It shows just how difficult it was to get Dali, the cat & the water all in just the right place at the right moment. Great to see the chosen image enlarged!

  4. For info on the ICP exhibit (though it's a bit far from Barcelona;) -

  5. Looks like Gadget is rapidly reclaiming my former nickname for her ;) I can't imagine what that's like to hear a cat throwing their weight against the door like that! I mean my parents cats meow like crazy when we're not doing exactly what they want, but they have never thrown themselves against doors in protest to our ignorance or regulations. Good luck! Keep fighting the good fight! It's for her own good. =)

  6. It might be too late, but I guess your cat is just bored - could that be? What about a feline friend? Cats are rather social animals and love playing with each other. With a feline partner (after some time for familiarisation) Gadget won't be bored and you don't have to play for hours during the day to have a sleepy (and therefore nice) cat at night. If Gadget doesn't accept other cats, which is possible after years of living alone, playing a lot might still be a possibility. Do you have enough places where your cat is allowed to scratch? Like one or more tall and nice cat tree(s)? Or several scratching posts?

    I live with 2 cats in my apartment and have 4 cat trees and one scratching post, they play during the day with each other and in the evening there is playtime with their favourite human. ;) And I have special nets for all the windows I regularly open, so they won't fall to death - that's quite dangerous as you pointed out! But nothing is more interesting for a cat than lying safely in the sun near the window or on the window ledge and look what's going on out there or just smell the fresh air or "interesting" smells coming from below.

    All this works rather good for me to have undisturbed nights and happy cats.

    I hope you could solve your feline problem! :)