Monday, July 31, 2017


“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. And that’s living.” — Ursula Andress, Swiss film and television actress and former model

WE HAVE four cats . . . or is more likely the case, they have us.

There's Shye, aptly named because she is.

Next came Shiva, also aptly christened. Shiva is the name of one of the principal deities in Hinduism — the "destroyer and the transformer." The only incongruity is that our Shiva is a she-god, not a he-god, but otherwise the name fits.

There's Sherman, better known as Boy Boy, who's gigantic, built like a tank, and consequently he too is aptly named.

Lastly, there's Shadow who is . . . you guessed it . . . also aptly named. He follows us and the other three around like a shadow, the loving-est cat there ever was.

We acquired the first two on purpose, adopted from the Animal Rescue League. We saved the last two ourselves, rescuing them from lives of disease and starvation — they were both feral. 

We live-trapped Sherman T. Boy Boy. Shadow on the other hand was eventually amenable to being lured inside. After months of feeding him outdoors, over time gradually moving the food dish closer to the back porch, one night I coaxed him onto it. I opened the backdoor into the house to see what would happen, and he walked in. 

I thought, "Now what the heck do I do?!" I closed the door, and that's how Shadow joined us.

I said all that to say this: there's a lot of peeing, pooping and scooping going on at our house. With four litter boxes, we were going through mountains of cat litter — lots of work, hard to stay on top of it, but of greater concern to me was the damage all that kitty liter was doing to the planet.

In 1984 Thomas Nelson, a Baylor University biochemist and cat lover, discovered that bentonite clay formed clumps in the presence of moisture. Since then clumping litter has become the most popular litter on the market, accounting for more than 75% of all sales.

Although bentonite is a natural occurring substance (Wyoming contains 70% of the world's supply), the problem is that producers are strip-mining to get it. Over two million tons are gouged out of the earth every year.

According to Greenpeace, strip mining — also known as surface mining — is as bad as it sounds. Everything at surface level is bulldozed, then the topsoil (or mountain top, depending on the location) is removed down to the clay, destroying the local environment, displacing wildlife and contaminating the water table. In addition, there are enormous energy costs in mining the clay, baking it dry and crushing it into a marketable texture.

Then it all has to be disposed of after it's used. Some sources cite amounts as high as eight billion tons a year. Two cats can generate more than 300 pounds on non-biogradable cat litter in a year, and we have four! I didn't like the wasteful, destructiveness the six of us were responsible for. Bentonite clay cat litter is also known to contain silica dust, which is classified as a carcinogen.

For all these reasons, I lobbied Paul to purchase a CatGenie, a flushable toilet for cats. He was skeptical, but it's been a success.

Here's how CatGenie describes its product: 

"It acts like a cat box, cleans like an appliance and flushes like a toilet. It's an automatic cat box that uses litter-like, permanent, washable granules that never need changing and are 100% dust free, biodegradable and septic safe." 

It scoops itself, washes and dries the granules, then pipes the effluent into the toilet. It can be set to clean every four hours or after every use. 

Naturally we were unsure whether our cats would take to it, but we figured that if even one or two of them used it some of the time, it would reduce our environmental footprint. My guess was that Shiva would figure it out pretty quickly, and she did. Shye was next. Sherman T. Boy Boy is just plain too big to fit in it, and we haven't quite determined whether Shadow has mastered it. Even so, we're going through a heck of a lot less cat litter, and spending way less time scooping and sweeping. 

A word of advice if you're considering purchasing one: I went to the CatGenie website and thought, "Yeah well, I can probably find one cheaper somewhere else." 

Paul, however, was diligent in his research, read various blogs and comments and learned that if you buy one from somewhere else online, you might not be getting the genuine article; you might be getting a knock-off that turns out to be a non-returnable, inferior product. 

One of the raps against the CatGenie that we read online was that its furry users would track the plastic granules around the house. They do track a little, but here's my take on it: the granules don't track very far — much less than ordinary litter which used to get basically all over the house, the granules are big enough for me to easily see and pick up, which takes maybe a minute . . . so the CatGenie still wins by a mile. Meow.

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