They say nothing is stronger than duct tape. To which I say, bullshit. I’ve got a cat that’s stronger than duct tape.
The Rapidly Diminishing Likko Family
By way of background, I am getting divorced. This is a very unhappy state of affairs for me, and I thank you in advance for your words of consolation. I also thank you in advance for understanding that I don’t wish to get into the personal details of the split here on these pages. As relevant here, suffice to say that for reasons of her own, Natasha doesn’t want the house, and for reasons of my own, I do want the house.
Upon comparing these respective desires, Natasha volunteered to move out to a place of her own, while I would stay in the house. Since she was likely to get an apartment rather than to buy a house of her own, we agreed that I would keep the dog and she would take the two cats, since even those apartments in this area that will take cats are unlikely to take dogs.
The one cat, I like just fine. She is affectionate, has attractive tortoise-colored fur, and is a clean animal.1 She came with Natasha when we began dating and I was always happy to have the cat along with the woman. I’m not fond of her jumping up onto the kitchen countertops, since as far as I’m concerned, any animal that walks in its own filth has no business thereafter walking around in the places where I prepare food. Still, she was the first cat I was ever not allergic to, and enjoys cuddling up with her humans. On those occasions when I sit down to watch TV, she likes to curl up on my lap and I enjoy that.
But after my now-soon-to-be-ex-wife moved out, this cat began crying, loudly, at night. She clearly missed her favorite human, and she made clear that the human under discussion here wasn’t me. After all, Natasha had this cat before she even met me. They’re deeply bonded. So while I miss this little critter now that she’s gone, she belongs with Natasha and I accept that.
Meet The Soccer Ball Kitty
The other cat is a different story. I never really wanted the second cat and, except on rare occasions, never really liked her all that much.
Many years ago, Natasha came home with a sad tale of co-workers who were divorcing and neither could keep their cat who was so, so cute. I was against adopting this cat since it seemed to me First Kitty was perfectly happy being Only Kitty. But Natasha argued that she thought that First Kitty was somehow “lonely” and it wasn’t fair that she didn’t have any cat friends; after all, our first dog got to have a second dog as a companion. The compromise we arrived at was me giving in, and so we adopted a second cat. And that cat has been no end of trouble ever since.
This animal has long white fur, with multiple black spots, and thus was nicknamed Soccer Ball Kitty by my late mother. Among her other bad habits, Soccer Ball Kitty is intrusive of cabinets and kitchen pantries. Once in them, she becomes destructive of things she finds therein because she has a voracious appetite: she is especially fond of eating dry spaghetti. As you can see, she is long-haired, but as you may not be able to see, she does not groom herself. Consequently, she constantly stinks of cat litter, her own urine, and sometimes chunks of feces dangle out from below her tail. Her hair is matted like a rastafarian’s; the mats grow and grow until they sluff off of her body on their own accord. Once I found an entire tribble left on the living room floor, made of her stinky, matted cat fur.
Worse, she resists being groomed with such ferocity that a professional groomer put a black mark on her permanent record and will not have her back as a client. From time to time, Natasha and I would grow so disgusted with her that we’d try bathing her in a bathtub or a kitchen sink, with me wearing knife-proof nylon mesh kitchen gloves underneath nitrile cleaning gloves to hold her, so as to protect my hands from Soccer Ball Kitty’s semi-feral claws and bites, while Natasha would reach in to the soggy, unhappy critter with scissors, to cut away the mats of crusty hair, and clumps of dried cat shit that would dangle precipitously below her furry cat ass for days after the cat’s hygiene had failed completely. During our marriage, we never figured out anything to do other than this. The next-best alternative was to have had her sedated by a veterinarian to be groomed, but this is an expensive and risky proposition for the nasty beast just so she can smell nice for a few days… before she would have inevitably fouled herself again.
Most critically for this story, Soccer Ball Kitty detests closed doors, particularly if she suspects that there is some sort of human activity going on behind the door. As we sometimes had house guests who are allergic to cats, Natasha and I segregated our own bedroom and a spare bedroom from feline entry. That way, we could offer guests, and keep for ourselves, zones of our house that were mostly free of cat dander. This annoyed Soccer Ball Kitty, who wanted access to any area that was closed off. Most often, this was our bedroom.
So if left at her liberty, she will sit in front of a closed door and explain her reasons for seeking ingress. A typical argument goes something like, “Mew. Mew. Mew. Mrrrow. Mewp. Mewp! Raaoowww. Me-ow. Mrrrrowlllll.” That approach has very rarely worked for her, and soon enough after her petition fails to yield an opened door, she gets frustrated and escalates her demands for entry up to the next level. She will extend her claws, stand on her hind legs, reach up as high on the door with her front legs as she can, and begin rapidly scratching at it at roughly the same speed as a hamster on an exercise wheel. Right paw! Left paw! Right paw! Left paw! One after the other, in rapid succession. On a hollow-core door such as is found for most interior doorways, this generates a noise approximately as loud as a turboprop aircraft engine or, more accurately, a snare drum. She will do this more or less continuously until stopped, like a robot stuck in a programming loop. While you’re trying to sleep. Once, we timed her and found that she sustained non-stop scratching continuously at the door for three hundred and seventeen seconds before she took a break to rest. I challenge you to listen to that sort of thing for five and a quarter minutes straight while you’re trying to sleep, and keep your sanity about it.
During our marriage, Natasha and I arrived upon an elaborate but effective solution to these and other animal-related problems. One of the “spare bedrooms” of our house was used for Natasha’s crafting and computer use. Here, we set out pet beds when Natasha wasn’t using the floor space, and put both dogs and both cats in the room at night so they could sleep. The dogs loved this. They enjoyed having a den, with other animals with whom they could share warmth while they slept. After we had to put the one dog to sleep, the surviving dog still enjoyed having the use of this room as her den for sleeping at night. First Kitty tolerated this arrangement, with a few vocal complaints now and again, quickly giving up and going to sleep. Soccer Ball Kitty, as is her wont, required further special handling even beyond this.
If you have dogs and cats, you know that dogs love to eat the cat litter. This is of course disgusting, so any dog-and-cat owner must somehow safeguard the litterbox to keep the dogs’ snouts out of there. The solution Natasha and I had devised was to put a litterbox in a hallway closet that backed up against a wall of the pet room. I cut a hole in the back of that cabinet, then I cut a hole in the drywall right next to it on the pet room side. Then, I set in about a one-foot-long segment of a PVC storm drain to connect the two holes, and lined the inside of that with a scrap from a remnant of carpet. This became the Cat Access Conduit. Finally, we put a baby-latch on the hall cabinet, which baffled the dogs from nosing the cabinet door opening and thus accessing the litterbox.2
Now, First Kitty quickly figured out how to open the door to the Critter Room from the inside, so we found that we had to bind the door shut with a bungee cord. Otherwise, First Kitty behaved herself at night so she could be left free within the pet room. Soccer Ball Kitty, however, found the fact that we closed the door at all to be obnoxious. She knew something was going on in the rest of the house outside that room, and she wanted out to keep tabs of it. After all, that something might have involved something that could become cat food. So the first night we put all the pets in the room together, she scratched at the door loud enough that we could no longer hear the television. Sleep was going to be out of the question.
The solution to this problem was to use a collapsable wire kennel that we had purchase for crating one of the dogs. We put a second litterbox in the kennel, along with a cushy cat bed and two small bowls for food and water. This kennel became Kitty Jail. Soccer Ball Kitty was lured into Kitty Jail with food every night, and then she couldn’t access the door to the pet room, and the other cat couldn’t open the door from within because of the bungee cord, so we could sleep at night. In the morning, one of my duties was to get Soccer Ball Kitty out of Kitty Jail on her work-release program, where “work” consisted of wandering about the rest of the house making it smell bad.
We cut a sheet of MDF and put it on top of Kitty Jail. It then became an extension of the holistic housecat habitat. First Kitty’s feeding bowl went up there along with another pet bed for her, and the mandatory shag carpeted kitty condo tower went there too, so the cats would have something they could climb and perch on.
Oh, come on. If you have cats of your own, you’ve almost certainly had to make accommodations like this too. Dogs have masters who care for them. Cats have staff.
Caring For The Soccer Ball
Let’s get back to my post-marital issues.
By and by, my by-then-soon-to-be-ex-wife found an apartment that would take cats, but found that the management demanded a high dollar figure for security deposits and extra rent for having a cat, and even higher ones for having two. So, now on her own, she could initially only afford a deposit for her own residency. I agreed to keep the cats in the house until she could raise the money for pet deposits. A month later, she paid the deposit for one cat first and is presently waiting until her next paycheck to pay the deposit for the second cat. This is, by itself, a reasonable enough course of action for her to take under the circumstances. Last weekend, she took First Kitty, the one I kind of like and more importantly, the one that doesn’t scratch like a neurotic at the doors all night long.
That left me with scratchy, smelly, nasty Soccer Ball Kitty. Two weeks from now, I trust and hope that Natasha will come to fetch this nasty beast as promised. In the meantime, I don’t wish to be cruel to the animal despite disliking her, so I feed her and grimace and pet her from time to time and clean out the disgusting, smelly contents of her litter box every few days.
Here’s the problem. Natasha also had to take a litter box for First Kitty to use. This meant that I’d have only one litter box for Soccer Ball Kitty to use. Seeing as I’m only going to be with the cat for another two weeks (if things go as agreed), it seems wasteful of my now-more-limited financial resources to purchase a new litter box. So I identified a few plans for using the resources currently at my disposal: I could a) leave the litterbox in Kitty Jail and leave the door to Kitty Jail open all the time, meaning the dog could and likely would get into the litter box if left unattended within the house for even a split second; or b) leave the litterbox in the cabinet reached through the Cat Access Conduit and thus deny Soccer Ball Kitty access to any litter box when she was confined to Kitty Jail at night; or c) leave the litterbox behind the Cat Access Conduit, and leave Soccer Ball Kitty at large in the pet room at night.
Option a) had the disadvantage of functionally ensuring that my surviving dog3 would spend as much time as caninely possible with her snout in the litterbox, snurfing up cat turds and eating the litter. This is simply not acceptable. Option b) would leave the cat with nowhere to do her business, and thus she would shit and piss upon herself and accelerate her olfactory intolerability by an order of magnitude. Also not acceptable, on its face.
I actually tried an option d) for a day: move the litterbox from Kitty Jail into the Cat Access Conduit cabinet and back again, depending on where I was locating the cat at that particular time. This turned out to be a massive pain in the ass, even though the risk of my tripping while in transit and thus spilling used kitty litter all over the floor didn’t manifest.
So I was left with option c) and that meant I had a problem. If left at large in the Critter Room, Soccer Ball Kitty will scratch at the door like a robot, and either prevent me from sleeping or wake me up at all hours of the night or early morning. So given that option c) was the only solution at hand, I knew I’d need to find some way to baffle the cat scratching at the hollow-core door. Bear in mind that I only needed to survive with the cat another fourteen days. No need, nor really a ton of money, to purchase elaborate solutions to this problem. The cat’s going to scratch at the door. How, then, do I handle the noise so I can sleep?
The Cat Scratch Baffle
Remember that duct tape I mentioned before? This is where the duct tape comes in to the picture.
The answer I hit upon was to attach a bath towel to the hollow-core door. I’m not going to have it up there forever, I figure, just the two weeks or so until my soon-to-be-ex-wife comes back to take Soccer Ball Kitty to her new Forever Home.4 I bought a roll of duct tape and found an old towel that I didn’t much care about.
I taped the towel up to the lower half of the door, as high up as I figured the cat could stretch. I cut a total of nine strips of duct tape and attached them vertically to the towel and the mid-piont of the door’s height, about as high as the doorknob, and five more strips to hold the bottom in place. “Nothing is stronger than duct tape,” I said to myself. “Certainly not a fourteen-pound house cat.”
Famous last words.
After using fourteen strands of duct tape to secure the towel to the door, I lured the cat into the room with kitty dinner, closed the door, took some melatonin, read a chapter or so of the novel I’m working on, and went to bed in blissful almost-quiet. The cat was singing the sad song of her people, but there were two doors and at least twenty feet separating me from her aria, so I reckoned my jury-rigged cat scratch baffle a success.
Until about 1:00 a.m., that is. That’s when I heard the noise of the cat’s claws moving at machine-gun speed on the hollow-core door. She was crying and mewling to be let out. With urgency. It sounded like she was scraping the paint off the door with her talons. I entered the Critter Room to see that she had done this to the simple, temporary solution I’d devised to facilitate my sleep:
Into Kitty Jail went Soccer Ball Kitty, and out came the duct tape for a late-night fix. I was quite irritated at the nasty little beast, and ready to send my soon-to-be-ex-wife a text advising her to save her money on the second pet deposit because I was about to adopt plan e): kick Soccer Ball Kitty out into the desert where she would hopefully soon become Coyote Chow. I thought better of this course of action rather quickly, and instead got back to work fixing my new invention, this time coming up with:
There. Try and tear that shit down, Soccer Ball Kitty! And for the rest of that night, she didn’t.
But the next night, she had apparently kept at it monomaniacally from kitty bedtime at 9:00 p.m., until about 4:00 a.m. I’ve taken to arising at 5:30 a.m. most mornings to go walk the dog. But ninety minutes before that, the cat achieved success, tearing down the taped-up towel, and I was again awoken to the sound of Soccer Ball Kitty furiously clawing at the door. Upon inspection, I saw that she had managed to do this:
Which was all she needed to do in order make the racket necessary to express her displeasure. “F[ish]ing cat,” I thought. “Should have fed her to the coyotes back when I had the nerve. But no-o-o-o.”
So I just made an early morning of it. To my morning routine, I added the exercise of repairing the cat scratch baffle towel mechanism, and put even more duct tape up than before. By the time I was done, I was ready to nominate myself for a mention on the Red Green Show. Behold my handiwork:
Looking at this, I realized I’d been drawn in to a Roadrunner-versus-Coyote arms race with fourteen pounds of stinky cat, and I wasn’t the Roadrunner. But by then it was too late. I was committed to see if I’d finally frustrated the feline.
Shortly after putting her in the room for the night, she clearly tested the new baffle. And immediately registered her displeasure by taking a shit right out there in the open floor. It’s not like she doesn’t know where the litterbox is located; she’s been using it there for six years. After cleaning that up, I left her be and went to the other room to write.5
And I heard scratching. Different, somewhat more subdued scratching, but scratching all the same. So I went back to the room and found the cat baffle still completely intact on the interior door. Soccer Ball Kitty was scratching on my just-painted walls.
So I added plan f) to the cat-quieting mix:
Here, you see Soccer Ball Kitty in her repositioned Kitty Jail. I’ve now moved it to the corner of the room, where the bedroom closet used to be, after Natasha and I converted it into her crafting area (which is why you see the pegboard on the wall; that was how she stored her crafting tools). I braced the Kitty Jail with what will become my writing desk, currently upended on a furniture dolly while the new paint dries, and a small wooden file cabinet. This on the theory that if she’s strong enough to pull down the glue on duct tape, she’s strong enough to move around an empty steel wire cage.
She has access to her litterbox through the Cat Access Conduit, which is conveniently placed right next to the doorway to Kitty Jail. That should help the little shitter remember where she’s supposed to go do her business.
And, if she figures out how to somehow move Kitty Jail around and get free, she still has to deal with the Cat Baffle before she can wake me up. So I go off to bed to see if the cat or my alarm shall awaken me.
Alas, it was the cat. round about 4:00 a.m., there was the scratching noise. Curses! I’ve been foiled again. But — the noise was muffled compared to how I remember it. Something has changed. Inspection yields the flaw: the cat figured out how to position the door to Kitty Jail just so that she could escape the trap I’d set for her:
And then she went back to the door to attack the towel again. Only this time, she couldn’t pull it down what with all that duct tape, so in time she found a different weak spot — on the bottom.
The scratching was muted, because she had to reach up under the towel and could not scratch nearly as hard or as fast as she was used to. So once again, the cat had defeated me, although by a substantially smaller margin than before. Clearly I had happened upon another step towards the ultimate solution.
Here, after musing through several rounds of failure analysis, was my plan for the next night.
First: Baffle the drywall around the Cat Access Conduit with towels and 1.2 metric shit-tons of of duct tape, surrounding the “courtyard” area shown in Plates 6 and 7, supra. This will protect the drywall from cat claws and suppress the sound of her monomaniacal scratching:
Second: Arrange the Kitty Jail as above, creating the “courtyard.” Important: leave the top of Kitty Jail exposed, so as to deny the cat a surface to walk upon by jumping on top of Kitty Jail.
Third: Position the door of Kitty Jail outside of the closet strut, and block it with a heavy object, to deny the cat the ability to move the door at all. Block the sides of Kitty Jail with heavy objects to prevent her from moving the cage.
Fourth: Manually insert Soccer Ball Kitty into this evolved feline containment system for her nightly feeding. Block the top of the movable cabinet to prevent escape attempts. Replenish the water bowl, turn out the light, and shut the door to muffle the cacophony of the obnoxious beast’s inevitable miaowing.
Fifth: Finally enjoy a good night’s sleep. Retrieve and release the cat in the morning from Kitty SuperMax for further feeding.
And I pronounce Kitty SuperMax a success: the cat could do no more than meow all night long. No scratching of any kind. The cat has access to her litterbox and water, a bed to sleep on, and diminished range of mobility. She rattled the cage a little bit, but that wasn’t a problem. Most importantly, the most noise she made all night long was her mewling pleas for freedom, which did not wake me up.
There: a week-long project and an entire roll of duct tape used up — but finally I have found the solution to control the cat’s willful and exceedingly loud misbehavior. For all of next week, I shall have no feline interruptions to my sleep, and thereafter the cat shall be extradited from my house completely.
Even when Natasha comes next week to take Soccer Ball Kitty away once and for all, and I can tear the towel and all the duct tape down off the wall, and the ammoniac scent of the animal’s stale urine has faded away, I know that the voice of Sir Anthony Hopkins shall haunt my nightmares:
You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the
screaming of the lambsscratching of the cat.
- Excepting when she eats too quickly and vomits up her food, or when she horks up a hairball. [↩]
- After the cats are gone, I’ll eventually patch up the drywall and replace the back of the cabinet, or just replace the cabinet itself, and it should be as good as new. [↩]
- Who I now discover is hearing-impaired; the other dog was serving as her “ears” before she had to be put to sleep. [↩]
- Which will be her fifth Forever Home in twelve years, but she can’t count, because she’s a cat. [↩]
- When she’s finally gone, what was once the pet room will become my writing room. For now, I prefer to write in a location away from the smell of the littlerbox. [↩]