High-tech litter box is a must

September 16, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's Note: Tim Rowland is on vacation this week. In his absence, The Morning Herald is publishing previous columns. This column first ran on Nov. 20, 1996.

You won't hear my normal sermon this autumn about Christmas decorations going up too early. That's because I already know what I want, thanks to the entirely bizarre Hammacher Schlemmer (home of the $169.95 golf ball) mail order catalog.

It's on page 58 and is advertised as the world's "only self-cleaning litter box," listing at $199.95.

I'll quote straight from the text:

"A built-in microprocessor-controlled system makes this the only litter box that cleans up after your cat. Sensing when your cat has left the litter box, its electronic eye signals the sifting comb which moves through the length of the box, scooping up waste and depositing it into a PVC plastic holding cartridge."

As Bart Simpson would say, "cooool."

A cat box that has more RAM than my computer.


The little synopsis says that the cartridge's airtight container "eliminates lingering odors." I'll be honest, it's not the "lingering odor" that gets me down. It's more the "first offense," as it were. Compared to that, anything that lingers is tantamount to violets.

The serious downside to this machine is that the throw-away waste-storage canisters are two for $10. So every time you toss out the cat litter you're tossing out a fin along with it - but what else would you expect from a company whose audience is willing to pay $2,500 for an F-16 flight simulator?

So I believe I'll stick with my current kitty septic system.

And really, it's not the way Bubba (the world's most dysfunctional cat) uses his litter box that bothers me so much, it's more his attitude toward it.

While most cats consider litter to be an article of sanitation, he considers it an article of artistic expression. To begin with, he head-butts it around the house to different locations as if it were a potted plant, then sits back with a critical eye to get a perspective. If he's dissatisfied with the look, he bulls it off somewhere else.

Which is all well and good if only he'd put it back. But I tell you, there's no worse way to start your day than to swing your feet over the bed in the morning and have them land square in the cat box.

But it's only after he's settled on a location that things really start to get weird. That's when he rolls up his sleeves, symbolically speaking of course, and begins to shape the litter in thoughtful crests and dells sort of like he were trying to artfully frost a cake.

Then he goes into the landscapes, the still lifes, the impressionism and the post-modern. No cat ever agonized so over where to arrange every last scoopful of clay. He'll spend half the day in the cat box and never use it for its intended purpose once.

I'll come home at night and catch him sitting there darkly brooding over some perceived artistic flaw in the topography - as eluded by the one cant or indentation which might make the mediocre into a masterpiece suitable for the Hirshhorn.

I'll wake up in the middle of the night and I'll hear him scratching, patting, pushing, fussing, arranging.

Perhaps for Christmas he doesn't need a new cat box, he needs a potter's wheel.

But then he's never hit upon a design he's found suitable for saving. And actually this entire ritual may be less art than it is pregame ceremony.

For when he does use the box as it is to be used, it's Katie bar the door - he destroys his long-pained architecture like a wave destroys a sand castle, kicking up his hind paws with a fury that sends litter from here to Williamsport.

Temperament of an artist, I suppose.

It's like Charlie Brown always says about Snoopy. I wonder what it would be like just to have a plain-old-cat cat.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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