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Cricket's next challenge? Learning how to light a match. Photo by Michelle Johnson

How I Taught My Cat to Use a Toilet During the Pandemic

This isn't some Meet the Parents gag. You can actually train your cat to do their business in a human toilet. All you need is a cat, a training device, and a global pandemic.

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In this series, called “The Pandemic Made Me Do It,” we ask our staffers, our freelance writers, and everyday Coloradans to tell us how—during what can sometimes feel like an inspiration-sucking global meltdown—they found the motivation and the tools to try something new, brush up on an old skill, or begin laying the groundwork for a long-term project. Have a pitch for a future story? Email submissions to spencer@5280.com

Procrastinator Profile
Name: Michelle Johnson
Age: 30
Day job: Editor, 5280 Home
Says she wants to: Train her cat to use the toilet

The Backstory

In March, when the avalanche of closures and stay-at-home orders began to rip through Colorado, one of my first thoughts—after addressing the initial bouts of anxiety, germaphobia, and contempt for toilet-paper hoarders—was, “I guess it’s finally time to adopt a kitten.” Apparently, I wasn’t alone: Pet adoptions skyrocketed in Denver and throughout the U.S. this spring and summer. Being cooped up for the foreseeable future would be exponentially better with a cute, furry creature by my side, and, more important, my partner Patrick and I would finally have the time and bandwidth to introduce the new family member to our curmudgeonly, albeit loveable, dog, Boone.

So on an unusually warm day in late March, I drove to Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue with hand sanitizer in tow. I was there for all of five minutes before I noticed a bleary-eyed, three-month-old tabby in a crate labeled “Yoko Houston.” I picked Yoko up, she purred, and the deal was done. In the weeks after bringing her home, her name fluctuated between Grandpa, Mac, and Spooky before we finally settled on Cricket; and we slowly and successfully acquainted her with Boone.

Looking back on it now, those were halcyon days.

Quarantine Made Me Do It

After a few disagreements about the best spot in the house for Cricket’s litter box, Patrick proposed an idea: “What if we trained her to use the toilet?” In normal times, this concept would’ve seemed ridiculous, but alas, these are not normal times. And, after all, how nice would it be to never have to clean a litter box? With the naivety of two young adults who’ve never had to potty train a child before, we started googling the best ways to tackle this endeavor and stumbled upon the CitiKitty—an “As Seen On Shark Tank” training device that promises “Your days of cleaning the litter box are numbered!”

Thirty dollars and a couple weeks later, our house was transformed. The main bathroom’s toilet was now host to the CitiKitty, which meant every time a human needed to use it, we’d have to first take the plastic, litter-filled insert out of the toilet bowl, or just accept defeat and use the basement bathroom. Bottles of shampoo and body wash lined the side of the bathtub to dissuade Cricket from doing her business in there. Packing tape covered plant pots for the same reason. Rugs were washed and washed again before I removed them entirely—their squishy, soft texture underfoot was too tempting for our feline friend. A baby gate blocked off the one carpeted area in our home.

The training began to work, but not without dramatics: Since we gave Cricket a treat every time she had a successful, um, event, she developed a habit of sitting outside the bathroom and scream-meowing at us until someone showed up to escort her to the toilet, witness her good deed, and promptly reward her.

Now, after three months of try, try again, we’ve made it through the five-step CitiKitty training process, and came out with a (mostly) potty-trained cat on the other side. Next step: Accept the awkward reality of waiting in line—behind a cat—to use the bathroom every morning.

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