The Best Thing I Bought My Cat
It had been a rough week and a half of Peach trying my patience—jumping on our counters and trying to climb the TV. While some let their cats on the counter, we don't; however, that's simply a matter of preference. Up to this point, Peach had respected that the counters were off limits and generally didn't try to get up there. This week had been different. It seemed that every time we weren't watching her, she was either in the kitchen sink or inspecting the orchid that we keep on the counter. Of course I know how difficult it must be to stay off of the counters for a cat—after all, they have food, interesting things, and they're off of the ground—but we simply don't want her up there and in our dirty dishes, licking peanut butter off of a knife.
I'm not sure why Peach started to go up on our counters this week, but each time she was up there, her actions were reinforced, either by the reward of licking the dirty dishes, or the enrichment of playing with the miscellaneous objects on our counters. As the week progressed, the counter surfing became more and more frequent. We'd been busy this week and didn't have much time for training, but at the first opportunity we had, we brainstormed what we could do to stop this. One thing kept coming to the top of my mind: a cat tree.
At this point, we didn't have a tall cat tree. We had one that was no taller than two and a half feet, though that hardly constituted a cat tree, let alone a cat shrub. Our shorter cat tree serves it's purpose as an areas to play, scratch, and lounge, but it was lacking in height. What height would give us (more specifically, give Peach), is a way to be closer to the action, a perch to look over the counters and table, and a safe spot high above everything else.
I did have one fear though. I was worried that if Peach could see on top of the counters, she would be more likely to get on them to get food and play things. But it couldn't get much worse than it already was, I told myself. After all, even if it didn't prevent her from going on the counters, it would be excellent enrichment and fulfill her primal needs for height.
I kept this in my mind, though admittedly not actively on the top of my mind. Tori and I were driving around town running errands for the day and finally came upon our local pet store, MadCat, to pick up litter and some Answers pet food. Tori had wandered off into the back, instinctively training one of the adoptable cats how to give high five, as I collected the litter and food. I walked by the forest of cat trees.
While we've wanted a cat tree for a while, we've always passed on them, given their expense. That day, however—likely because of the fact that I had to shoo Peach off of the counter about 10 times already—I toyed with the idea of getting one.
As I reconvened with Tori, I surprised her with "let's get a cat tree". This led to a thirty minute discussion and analysis of each tree's pros and cons, their features and shortcomings, until we finally settled on one. We'd always admired the one style of cat tree at MadCat: exposed wood branches with sisal rope wrapped around it in spots, with U-shaped carpeted levels. As we had looked at just about every cat tree, five feet or taller, we were drawn to one at the front of the store. It had four levels and would certainly allow Peach to look over the counters.
And thats the story of how we got a cat tree. Though that was only the beginning. Next, we had to get it home and decide where to put it.
As we wheeled it out to our SUV, we started folding seats down, hoping and praying that it would fit. (Now of course the pet store offered free delivery, but we were too excited to get it home). I suppose I had underestimated the size of the car, but it fit just fine. We closed the trunk and made our way home with our cat tree.
Back at home, we unloaded it and carried it inside. I will admit that it was much heavier to carry than it had looked, especially since the staff at MadCat maneuvered it with such ease—in my defense, they had a hand truck and I didn't. We managed to get it inside and then we're tasked with the challenge of finding where to put it.
We knew that it had to go somewhere that it would be effective: near the counters, near the table, where she had been scratching, and where she would actually want to use it. After some discussion, we made a decision. We pushed it to its final location, right in front of a window, reminiscent of the lamp scene from the 1983 classic, A Christmas Story.
Proudly it sat in our road-facing window for all to see. But it wasn't solely to show off our new amazing cat tree, no. Instead, this was a careful decision to place it in a spot to get the most out of it. Being by the window, Peach could watch birds and people walking by, she could sun herself, and she could see over the table and counter. We decided that it was time to let her out of the bedroom where you was kept as we loaded it in.
As the bedroom door opened, Peach walked casually out of the room as any other time... Until she saw the towering fixture of carpet, sisal, and wood. She stopped in her tracks and stared at it. As soon as she noticed it, she rushed towards it and immediately knew what to do. She jumped up to the second level and started to scratch at the sisal rope tied around the wood. Having read stories of cat parents who bought a cat tree only to have their cat never even look at it, this was a minor relief.
We watched her climb up and down and scratch the tree like a monster. If there was one word to describe the scene, it would be "euphoric". She went crazy on it and wouldn't leave it as she discovered all of it's features. She finally settled down and sat facing the window, admiring the elevated view of the outdoors.
The first few days of the cat tree it was dubbed "Over Stimulation Station," because she would get so intense with her play on it that she would become overstimulated and lose her inhibitions. This phenomenon decreased over time though.
As the cat tree became part of the environment, we evaluated whether or not it worked against the counter surfing and bad behavior. The verdict? 100% yes! We saw a major reduction in going on the counters as she could still be involved in the action. It also seemed like peach was happier and more fulfilled. Now, she eats her meals from one “branch” of the tree, naps on another, and gets great exercise running and pulling herself up and down the tree. That's why the best thing that I ever bought for my cat was a cat tree.