The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Jan 16, 2013
By Thom Nickels
I’d like to give a New Year’s toast to my pet, Ziggy the Cat!
The toast in this case comes with good reason, because over the course of three months, Ziggy successfully completed a home potty training course. The course doesn’t come with a certificate or a blue ribbon, but it does come with a kitty-litter-free life. After years of buying and fussing with kitty litter—all that scooping and worrying about kitty litter smells when guests come knocking—I can finally ditch litter forever and watch Ziggy use the toilet like a human being. While things may not be perfect (Ziggy cannot flush), I can’t say that I miss carting huge bags of kitty litter into my house on shopping days.
When Ziggy feels a bathroom urge coming on, he meows, then jumps up on the toilet seat rim, positions himself like an ace sharp shooter, and wham!—no mess, no toilet paper, no clumping, no smells, just a clean bulls-eye after which he jumps off the rim and runs downstairs.
When I tell friends about Ziggy’s transformation they can’t believe it. Actually, they can’t quite conceive of it until they see it in person or watch the YouTube video a friend of mine made when Ziggy graduated from litter to the potty. That friend, incidentally, is the same guy who trained Ziggy to use the toilet.
I had a friend do it because he was willing to take the time. The enterprise took three months and a lot of patience. The first step was to order a special potty training toilet seat (price, $50) that comes in three parts. Stage One is basically kitty litter arranged inside a toilet bowl rim placed directly on the floor. This gets the cat used to the bowl shape and familiarizes the animal with navigating the rim. After two weeks of this, you can go to Stage Two, meaning that you take out the full litter base and replace it with another insert that allows for a small hole in the center with smaller amounts of litter along the circumference on a kind of rim or "shelf". This gets the cat used to the idea of pooping through a hole. This hole grows larger with progressive inserts (as the litter rim diminishes) until the hole is almost the size of a regular toilet bowl. Finally, the cat is able to use the toilet, and you can put the training inserts away, or save them for your next cat.
I should note that the hole at Stage One is very small, so most cats may ignore it for a while, choosing to "go" on the wide rim of litter. This seat-rim-litter contraption is placed on top of the regular toilet seat, and snaps on like a lid. For me this was the most important step because it means that the cat has to jump up on the toilet in order to go to the bathroom. This can be a slightly challenging stage for the pet owner because the training potty has to be unsnapped every time a human being goes to the bathroom.
This is what they mean when they say, "Nothing comes easy."
Ziggy was able to master each stage, so it was really fun to watch him navigate the last insert with the largest hole and a tiny circular track of litter as small as HO train tracks. The litter at this stage is purely symbolic and not even enough to paw or scoop out. My "cat whisperer" friend was very nervous about the final stage because this involved no litter at all. It was just the full human toilet seat. It was amazing to see Ziggy’s first full human poop, perched on the toilet rim in the comfortable style of a cat digging around in litter.
If you decide to do this, there are important things to keep in mind. You must remember to keep the toilet seat up, because when it’s down your cat will not be able to go. It’s also important to never close the bathroom door, something that I have trouble adjusting to (I think this comes from growing up with three sisters). Today, when Ziggy runs upstairs and races across my study and heads for the bathroom, sometimes I hear a loud complaint, a meow that says: "Open the bathroom door, now!"
Ziggy, by the way, likes a clean toilet. He’s not one of those creatures who likes to pile his stuff on top of somebody else’s, so flushing is important. Of course, changing centuries of natural instinct (digging into litter) can create odd behaviorisms. When you potty train your cat, you are almost going against Mother Nature. Ziggy will sometimes perch on the toilet rim and chant a series of meows, something I take to be the verbal replacement of digging in kitty litter. There’s nothing really wrong with him, because when I go in to see if he is okay, he’s just fine, but he needs a toilet ritual. We all need rituals.
When the first YouTube video of Ziggy using the toilet was placed online, people didn’t believe that it was my cat. They thought that I had found a video of a generic cat and just posted it because I found it fascinating. "That was your cat?" they said. "What?"
If you’re going to toilet train your cat, be prepared to be patient and never rush things. Let the cat proceed at his or her own pace, and of course always praise your cat when it successfully completes each stage. Lots of praise is always good. "Whisperer" Joe was really good at giving praise.
The rewards of having a fully toilet trained cat are tremendous. Kitty litter can stink and the smell can coat your house the way incense floods a church, only it’s not as nice as incense. Kitty litter aroma can be so powerful that people entering your house will know that you have cats. Ever hear anyone sniff the air and say, "Oh, em, I see you have a…cat"?
I have a bag of kitty litter in the basement for emergency purposes, but I don’t intend to use it anytime soon. Ziggy Stardust, you see, is just like a person. Here he comes now, running upstairs to the bathroom.
I tell you, this potty thing brings a whole new dimension to cat ownership.
Check out the Ziggy toilet video here: Good Ziggy at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gL6A4rkXs8.
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