Monday, June 29, 2009

The Great Outdoor-to-Indoor Cat Conversion

I am in the process of converting our cat, Izzy, from being an indoor/outdoor cat to being an exclusively indoor cat.

Teaching old dogs new tricks has nothing on this.

I won’t go into the details of why this is necessary except to offer some “key” phrases: abscess on the butt for cat fight, nasty excretions for said abscess, a three-figured vet bill, and lurking neighborhood coyotes.

Got it?

It’s time for Iz to discover the greatness of the Great Indoors.

I’m finding that the conversion requires three tools. Two brightly colored squirt guns and a laser pointer. I will return to these in a paragraph or so. First a word about catnip.

After some considerable on-line research, I added a catnip-laden fabric mouse to the conversion kit. I soon abandoned it. Well, not really. Izzy abandoned it — after about three frenzied kick-boxing bouts with the mauled mouse-like sack.

I think that Izzy has a catnip resistant gene that kicks in just when he has scored the equivalent of a TKO on a fake mouse. Iz stops, stares at the inert mouse and comes to the realization that this is no mouse at all but a useless sack full of catnip.

At that he wanders over to the front door and pointedly yearns for all that is beyond it. REAL stuff, like trees, bugs, dirt, predators.

Time for the laser pointer.

I usually start by whisking the bright red laser dot in front of Iz’s paws. He locks on to it and swipes at its nothingness. Then I run the light in a large circle just ahead of the scuttling cat. Iz is good for about a 20-second pursuit. Sometimes running the dot up the wall is good for a pounce or two. But soon he stops and decides the ‘dot situation” calls for feline analysis. What exactly is this red, flickering light? And why do I give a damn?

Sometimes I aim the dot at the cloth mouse to see whether I can reawaken Izzy’s killer instinct. Impossible. I’ve discovered — academic journals take note — that the common domestic cat is more interested in laser lights than catnip-stuffed mice. I’m certain the Department of Defense can put this information to good use fighting terrorism and the infamous “suicide cats” of Kandahar.

The tactics discussed so far come under the heading of “distractions.”

Now we come to “behavior modification.” This is where the rubber hits the road and we reach for those two colorful squirt guns — one outside the front door (It happens to be a bright green), the other outside the backdoor (It happens to be yellow and, for no particular reason, larger than the green gun).

For the past five years, Izzy routinely bolted outdoors in the morning when I brought in the newspapers. No longer. After three mornings of being squirted, the mere appearance of the brightly colored guns, without a squirt being squeezed off, sends Iz into full retreat.

Classic behavior modification. Not unlike waterboarding but kinder and gentler.

Sure, Iz still has his occasional spells of yowling to go out, but some deft moves with the laser usually put an end to it. Follow that with an extended interval of chin scratching and praise and suddenly the Great Outdoors is a distant memory.

Behavior modified, it’s time for Iz to curl up for an eight-hour nap on the couch.

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