Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going Green in a...Cat's World

There are some casualties when a woman makes up her mind to change, whether it be last season's bag, that needling friend who couldn't keep her mouth shut, shampoo, donuts, or in my case, a cat. Yes, poor Buddy, who looks like he's Royalty in his portrait above, was victim to one of my "get green quick" schemes. I'll get to that, but first, a brief history in cats...

In the winter of 2005, I started to sneak Jake, the neighborhood stray, into our condo. Mark would sneeze and drip and swear, "I know that damn thing is in the house!" and I would scoot Jake out the back door, into the basement, so that I could honestly say, "No, hon, he's not in here..." Eventually, the allergies went away and Jake stayed in the condo for good. He brought us laughter (like the time he got into the catnip bag and we found him passed out in the bedroom), fleas, and many tears when he unexpectedly contracted a bladder infection and had to be put down immediately.

To get over his loss, our neighbor Ann, friend and protector of feral cats, offered us a "temp-to-perm" situation with a timid kitty that lived with two hostile, and arguably dangerous, Basset Hounds. Her public name was Precious, but we called her Moonu Minuski. We joked that she was a Polish Princess. Really, she was just a bag of bones with a bowel disease. After 16 months of intravenous fluids, steroids, explosive diarrhea on gym bags, rugs, walls, etc, her back legs eventually gave out, and we put her down. After Moonie, I swore I wouldn't get another cat. Then along came Buddy...

Sister Mollie's ex-boyfriend (to her, Casanova; to me, Cheeseball extraordinaire) bought her a cat to solidify their relationship. Instead, Mollie broke up with him, moved to Georgia for a year, and as happens with so many pets of similar roots, the cat was dumped on Mother. So Mollie's "Buddy" lived in our childhood home for a few peaceful years, barring an 8 month stint in Amherst. When Mark and I moved back home with Mom last year, we brought Moonie, and Buddy's spirits soared. He just wanted a friend. He was desperate for camaraderie; all he had ever known were dogs. But sadly, Moonie often hissed and swatted, and Buddy was no better than when we started. However, after Moonie's passing, Buddy earned a friend in an unlikely person - Mark. The two became inseparable, and Mark often remarked that Mollie was "neglecting" her cat, and he threatened to "call PETA", citing that Mollie "didn't know what was good for the cat." Unfortunately, I had to concur. Still, Buddy was Mollie's cat, and when we moved to Newton, we left a home with three animals, to live in a lonely little apartment, fur-free. I was ecstatic. No more vet bills, cat food purchases, litter dust, or lint brushes!

But after two weeks, Mark was languishing. He couldn't eat, or sleep, and he even called a baseball watching strike (which ironically coincided with my canceling cable). So we made a deal. If he agreed to clean the litter box every day ("Every single day?" "Yes, and twice if it smells..."), then I would agree to make room for Buddy in heart and home. I was skeptical, as Mark often has good intentions but sometimes exhibits poor follow through. Plus, he cleaned out Moonie's box twice in 16 months, and I think it was during the twelve hours that I was retching with the flu. As soon as that stopped, he handed the scooper to my feverish, delirious self without hesitation.

For the first few days, I watched in disbelief as Mark cleaned out the litter box, but I quickly realized that it was deleterious to my health. I'd get heart palpitations as I observed large amounts of clay being thrown into plastic bags (where did they come from?!) and then tied carelessly at the top, so that air and litter commingled, taking up a quarter of the kitchen trash can, which has since found a permanent home on the back porch. I decided to choose my battles, and I figured that Mark cleaning the litter box was a huge feat in and of itself, so perhaps introducing new ways of doing things at this point was a bit premature. But now, three months into Buddy's stay at Chez Massaro, I can't take it. I offered flushable litter. Mark is afraid we might clog the drain. I wondered aloud if the cat might like to play outside a bit, but was quickly reprimanded and reminded of the terrors that stalk innocent cats - like cars, coyotes, and fleas.

Then, I took matters into my own hands. I spent thirty minutes at Petco, weighing the litter options. Does it really matter if it's biodegradable if Mark is going to put it into a Shaw's bag? Maybe I could empty the bags when he's not home and sprinkle it on the garden. But no. I need low maintenance. So I eventually decided on a rolled, recycled paper pellet litter. It was $19 for the bag, so I wondered if there was any gold in there. Nineteen dollars?! For a bathroom that is going to take up space in a landfill?? I had flashes of inspiration, believing I could toilet train Buddy, but I guess I should wait until I'm home more. So, a 30 pound bag of paper pellets in tow, I trudged home, hoping to at least eliminate the clay in our home and in Buddy's lungs.

The Prince did not respond well to my experiment. He pooped in the tub after two days of trying to navigate a litter box that more closely resembled the ball pit at Chuckie Cheese. I saw it in the morning and laughed, thinking, what a smart cat! Mark removed the tootsie rolls promptly. A few days passed, and it seemed Buddy was getting used to the new product. I started feeling smug. But this morning, instead of bacon, my nose detected some fresh number two. I pushed open the shower curtain to find what seemed like a design in feces. Perhaps Buddy was trying to spell, "Help!" He's that smart, really. I laughed again, wrote Mark a honey-do list which included poop removal, and the art nouveau was gone this afternoon. I came home tonight after a killer cardio class at the gym, desperate for a shower. Picasso had left another masterpiece in the bathtub for me. Needless to say, I returned the litter and we're back to clay. I guess that's what I get for trying to green the cat...

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