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My childhood cat died today. I haven’t lived with the little animal in over ten years, but I’m still predictably upset. We got her when I was nine, and she was really the only cat I’d had that was truly mine. Although she didn’t move out with me when I went to college, I still loved to see her when I came home to visit my parents. She kind of became my dad’s cat, over the years, and so it’s kind of a double blow that not only my pet, but the pet my dad loved so much before he died, is gone.

But, as always, I’m going to try to find something amusing about things. Here’s where the “other stories” but comes in. A little back story, if you please, before I jump in to the story of my cat and the Incredible Toilet Obsession.

She’d had little idiosyncrasies her whole life, like only eating her dried food if it had been placed on the floor next to her bowl, rather than in it, and a really unpleasant penchant for pissing on stray backpacks in the living room. She was also nearsighted, and always looked like she was glaring at you, even as a kitten. We also noticed, about when she turned eleven, that she was getting a wee bit demented in her old age – repetitive behaviors, obsessions, and ritual became a big fucking deal to her. Combine that with the fact that she was an out-and-out cranky bitch meant that she was crazy, blind, willing to bite and used to everything being exactly as she wanted it. This can be a bit dangerous in a cat at the best of times, but then we have to add my dad’s retirement to the picture. That’s when shit started getting ridiculous.

My dad was the kind of guy who really, really liked people and really, really needed to be busy. When I say he liked people, I don’t just mean he got along with people (which he did), I mean that he studied what people did and said and would constantly be trying to piece together their motivations and background from their habits and behaviors. (He was actually a pretty damned good armchair psychologist, now that I think about it.) He also needed – like, deeply, passionately needed – to have some mental problem to niggle away at, or he got borderline depressed from lack of stimulation. As both me and my brother have been out of the house for a long time and my mom is still a member of the working world, once he retired it meant he was cooped up all day in the house with the cat and nothing to do. So, naturally, he did what any bored, retired scientist with an interest in behavior would do: he began performing elaborate, long-running, and utterly ridiculous Pavlovian-style experiments on the cat.

It started out pretty small, just changing the way the cat was let in or out of the house. My parents had double sliding-glass doors onto their back porch, and he’d switch up which one he let her go through just to see how long it would take her to adjust. After he discovered it took about two weeks for her to adjust her behavior, he started getting weirder. He began varying her routine, giving her her medication at different times (before or after her food), filling up her food dish at different intervals, changing when he let her out or in during the day, and just generally seeing how she adapted to the new routine.

He’d really only gotten as far as moving the smaller furniture around the house and noticing that the cat would walk up to the misplaced furniture, sit, glare at it, then glare at him as if to say “excuse me, human, this is in my way,” when he hit on a new behavioral anomaly that completely blew the furniture placement observations out of his mind. The discovery was this: my cat loved to drink the pooled water that dripped onto the bottom of the shower, even though she had perfectly good, fresh water in a dish by her food. For some reason, this bugged the crap out of him.

He went nuts trying to get her to stop. He tried changing her water more often (multiple times per day instead of twice) and wiping up the bottom of the shower, but she wouldn’t stop. He started to close the bathroom door, but she’d just yowl in this terrible, part-siamese howl that was a) incredibly loud and b) sounded oddly like a low-pitched slide whistle, so he had to knock it off after a while or risk deafness. Then, one day, he called me, triumphant.

“Well, MJ, the cat’s stopped drinking out of the shower,” he said.
“Great, Dad,” I said, “how’d you get her to stop?”
“Easy!” He said, “I trained her to drink from the toilet!”

I’ll just pause for a moment and let this one sink in. In order to stop my cat from drinking the (perfectly clean) water from the bottom of the shower, he trained her to drink out of a ceramic bowl that you shit in. Yes, my mind boggled a bit as well. So naturally, I expressed my concern.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ve trained her to only drink from the toilet after I’ve flushed it.

Of course, he’d done no such thing, the cat had just figured out that if she waited until after a flush, the water was fresher. Thus began the Incredible Toilet Obsession. At first, the cat would just lie in waiting outside of the bathroom door whenever anyone was inside, so she could dart in and drink water from the toilet bowl immediately post-flush. After a little while, she gave up on waiting and would just start sitting by the toilet howling until someone would come and flush it for her. My dad thought this was hilarious; my mom was a little less than amused.

After my dad died, every time I visited the cat would enter the house, my mom would flush the toilet for her, and the cat would be satisfied for about an hour. Then, she’d park herself in the bathroom and yowl loudly while my mom alternated yelling “I’ve already flushed the toilet for you once! You get one flush!” and muttering about how the cat was going crazy and getting too demanding. The standoff would continue until my mom gave in, the cat decided food was more interesting, or, more often, my mom got fed up and put her outside until she calmed down. That was still the pattern every night until the poor thing died of old age. “I griped about her and the damn toilet,” my mom told me over the phone, “but I’ll miss her.” I think we all will.

Rest well, wee kitty. When I go home next, I’ll perform a Twenty-One Toilet Salute in your honor.