We Minnesotans tend to be humble; we’re so self-effacing, we’re practically Canadian. So it’s always a little startling to discover a native of the Land of 10,000 Lakes who accomplished Something Big. Today I found out that St. Paul native Ed Lowe invented kitty litter in 1947.
Okay, he invented it after he moved to Michigan, but still.
Apparently Mr. Lowe had his litter-al (see what I did there?) stroke of genius in the service of a neighbor, who had been using ashes for the purpose and ended up with sooty little pawprints all over the house. Back then, people used sand, sawdust, dirt and paper to attend to Mr. Kitty’s comfort. These substances, though, were messy and ineffective in reducing odors.
Katherine C. Grier, author of Pets in America: A History, says that similar materials were used in the 19th century, but people’s homes back then were already smelly and dirty, so they didn’t mind a little more stench. Ah, those were the good, old days.
For me, the most surprising part of all this is that pet cats had recourse to indoor facilities even as recently as 1947. Surely before the age of the cat-decimating automobile, both country AND city cats were indoor/outdoor. Frankly, if my own cats had access to the great outdoors, I’d damned sure expect them to take care of their business out there. Even the most ardent catlady must agree that providing the means for our furred friends to poop in a box, while convenient for Fluffy, is the least delightful part of cat ownership.
Recognizing this, and in no way influenced by the potential to make big money off gullible catladies, a robust industry in cat litters and cat litter accessories has developed. Being a gullible catlady, I have been conned into trying almost all of them. Here, for your benefit, is a brief overview.
Stone Age Simplicity
As noted above, there is the original clay-based litter first marketed by our pal Ed. It usually comes in a 40-lb. bag that you tear open and spill all over the linoleum, effectively making the entire room a catbox.
However, only members of primitive societies use such quaint and antiquated materials these days. It does have the benefit of being cheap. But in every other respect it’s a big, old fail. Doesn’t clump. Has no fresh, lemony scent. Doesn’t change color to help you monitor your cat’s urinary tract health. Seriously? This is the 21st century, people!
Poo Packaged for Your Convenience
Another option is clumpable litter. This is still clay, but a very special, space-agey type called bentonite. According to some site that purports to know such things, “approximately 987,000 tons of bentonite was mined in 2003” for this specific purpose. This raises the worrisome prospect that, like other vital natural resources such as fossil fuels, clean water and the ozone layer, earth’s store of super-litter may one day be depleted. The morning some cat lady scoops the last clump of Fresh Step into a plastic bag is the day civilization will fall.
(It’s equally possible that, before that happens the crust of the earth will collapse into its molten core under the accumulated weight of the non-biodegradable plastic buckets this litter comes in. Either way, when the end of the world comes, you know cats will be involved.)
Some experts have asserted that clay-based litters are unhealthy for cats, especially if ingested in large quantities. Seems to me, if your cat is eating its litter, it has bigger problems than what it’s pooping in.
The Circle of Life
If you’re some kind of hippie, “environmentally friendly” alternatives such as wood chips, shredded newspaper, wheat, even pebbled-up orange peels are available (Since orange oil is often the key ingredient in cat repellents, I’m not sure how this is supposed to be a congenial proposition for cats.). I recall a litter called Feline Pine that was being marketed heavily a few years ago with the added benefit of being “recyclable” as compost or a mulch around your ornamental plants in the garden.
Um … sure.
An Inconvenient Truth
There are new-fangled options that glitter like those sparkly vampires in the teenage angst movies. This is supposed to represent “extra odor-busting power” and “clump-and-seal technology.” I’m sure you’ve seen that classic commercial in which a catlady invites her friends over, then reveals she’s had a litterbox full of week-old excreta hidden under the coffee table all along. Her friends politely protest that they had no idea, suggesting the kitty litter involved here eliminates odors completely. But here is the painful truth, commercial catlady: Your friends didn’t notice anything different because your house always smells like cat doo. This is the reality of being a catlady, and it’s the reason your friends typically suggest you meet at THEIR homes for coffee.
It seems “lightweight litter” is the newest thing. “Lightweight” is advertising talk for “finely ground styrofoam that will kick up a toxic cloud of dust as you pour it.” It has an unusual texture that, in my experience, cats absolutely despise.
Doin’ What Comes Naturally
The painful reality is a cat is likely to turn up its nose at any type of litter (even if it’s sparkly!) if offered an appealing alternative: the potted ficus plant in the corner of your living room. Easy and economical! (And let’s be honest, it’s not like those coffee klatch ladies were ever coming over again anyway.)