On Strike!

Image: Small Black Cat

This is Pyewacket, looking cute.

(Warning – this story deals with the bodily functions of a cat.)

AS A PET OWNER, I feel a natural impulse to care for my pets. The well being of my animal friends is uppermost in my mind. I take pains to buy them good food; to provide them with a safe place to live. I even go so far as to buy treats and toys for their benefit.

However, one must balance the base desires of the pets against their best interests. The dog, Dojo, would be very happy to eat an entire jar of peanut butter, lid included. I do not permit this. The cat, Pyewacket, would love it if I would rub his back continuously when he ate his evening meal. What started as a pleasant moment or two proved to be tiresome at 5+ minutes, so I ceased. Pye then refused to eat for some time in protest. I knew he would resume eating eventually, since his fussiness was purely driven by his peevish nature. In this I was proven correct, after only two days of the hunger strike. In general, I am able to balance my chattels’ needs and wants well.

Some time ago I undertook the complicated task of converting a small bedroom in my home into a laundry room. This took many months, and was an inconvenience to both the pets and myself. Pye was particularly affected, since I keep his litter box in the room I was converting. I had modified the door to this room with a cat flap, so he might have a bit of privacy while using the facilities, and also to prevent the ingress of the dog, who was eager to inspect the cat box for anything he considered edible. Here again I invoke the peanut butter rule; the dog does not always get what he wants.

Pye seemed to enjoy the privacy afforded him. He would use his little retreat at his leisure, often staging sneak attacks on Dojo from this refuge. My efforts at moving the washer and dryer from my kitchen into an area more appropriate to laundry were met with disdain. He was quite vocal about his unhappiness, and did not hesitate to inform me.

These were generally one-sided conversations:

Myself (to myself): “Mmf, dang, this drywall is …heavy! Erf!”

Pye: “Mreeew.”

Myself: “Yes Pye, I’m very sorry, but I need to get the drywall up today.”

Pye: “MwOOOw!”

Myself: “Look, get outta here while I’m working on this – you’re in the way.”

Pye: “Wwoowwrr.”

Myself: “Pshht!”

At this, he left, deeply offended that I would eject him from his own room (by his reckoning).

Some petting and reassurance was later required to extract him from under my bed, and all was well again, at least until the next weekend’s home-improvement debacle was in progress.

After several months of effort, I succeeded in dividing my smallest bedroom into two, with a functional laundry room on one side, and a master bath on the other. Since the laundry room is little used during the week, I felt that leaving the cat box in that room was a sound idea. However, now that I was using the room for laundry, I found one of Pye’s habits needed adjustment. He tended to scatter litter across the floor.

When using a cat box, most cats will scratch about in the pan, defecate, and then cover the waste with litter. Some cats find this habit hypnotic, and tend to scratch and scrape for a long time. Pye was one of these, spending up to a minute flinging litter hither and yon. He treated it as though it were an Olympic event. I had experimented with different types of litter to try and alleviate this problem, but to no avail. The design of the litter box was important; a larger box, with a higher entryway, would have good effect. Still, much litter was strewn about the laundry room every Sunday. I decided to redouble my efforts at litter containment.

Soon after, and to my delight, I discovered a new design of cat box at my local pet store. This was extra tall, and had the entry on the top! It looked like a little Rubbermaid(tm) bin with a custom lid. In addition, there were grooves on the top to help knock litter off kitty’s paws as he was exiting. It seemed to me to be just the thing. I soon found that Pye would have different ideas.

Upon returning home and filling it with fresh litter, Pye inspected this new toilet. He seemed slightly puzzled. I gently lifted him to the top and showed him the entryway.

He looked in with some evident confusion.


Myself: “Yup, that’s where you go!”


I left him alone to experiment with his new commode.

Some days later I noticed that the litter box was being used, and thought the matter resolved. However, the cat began to evidence some odd behavior. He began looking a tad uncomfortable. He also started making an odd noise, a sort of a cross between a meow and a grunt. There was a particular emphasis on the last syllable: “Mrew-ungh!”

Naturally I was concerned. I inspected the feline for any telling symptoms, but none were apparent. Soon however, it would become obvious: he was constipated. I say that it was obvious, because the next evening, a particularly loud “Mrew-ungh!” was followed by the unmistakable sound of a cat taking a massive dump on my kitchen floor.

I was not amused.

Within two days of this unfortunate occurrence, he began to exhibit similar behavior. Upon seeing this, I escorted the cat to the restroom (his restroom), and placed him bodily in the new litter box. The effect on his countenance was remarkable. He glowered at me, and promptly left the litter box. Suddenly it became clear to me – he was on strike! I inspected the cat pan and sure enough, no cat dookie was to be found. He would use the new facilities for pee, but not poo.

I began to upbraid the reticent feline: “You stubborn little… Why don’t you… You just…”

“Mrew-ungh!” Was his only reply.

Clearly something needed to be done about this. I could not tolerate a perpetually plugged-up puss making noises of discomfort at odd hours of the night, and losing control of his bowels at unexpected times and places. But – what to do? Clearly this was a test of wills, much like the finicky food incident referred to previously.

I began watching my cat obsessively – any sign of discomfort and I would immediately snatch him up and deposit him in the litter box. This was only moderately successful. He continued to defy me. Inspiration came in a flash. I would have to make willful constipation more difficult. I adjusted his feeding schedule so that he was forced to eat all of his normal supply of food at one time, rather than the nibbling he was accustomed to. In addition, I purchased sardines in oil, and make it a habit for several nights to share the oil with the cat. I also began a nightly program of ‘chase the cat for exercise’. In this, the dog was helpful.

After a week of this madness, Pye relented, and a blessed regularity was quickly restored to the household. I have often seen new parents express joy at they first poo from a child. Regrettably, I now understand this feeling. Never before had I gazed into a litter box with such joy, and God willing, I never will again.

[Chapter 15 of The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)]

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