Back when Clifford Brooks was in his twenties and living in a small, cramped flat, he made a big decision about his cat.
He decided to teach it to use the lavatory. “There just wasn’t room for a litter tray,” he said yesterday. And he was a big believer in the capabilities of cats. So many cat owners put up with all sorts of awkward behaviour from their felines. There had to be a better way.
Surely, he thought, after so many generations of domestication in which cats have learnt how to paw at pieces of string, sit on their owner’s heads in the middle of the night and sleep on the nicest seat in the house, a household pet might also learn to leap on to a porcelain seat and relieve itself into the bowl.
He was not alone. Mr Brooks, who has just published the book Toilet Train Your Cat, Plain and Simple, right, is part of a movement preoccupied with feline movements. The arrival of his manual coincides with the republication of a similar self-help book for cat owners called How To Toilet Train Your Cat and a scattering of self-help kits for sale online, offering to free owners from the tyranny of the litter tray.
Though there are competing schools of thought on the most effective technique, most of these training regimes follow the track laid down by the late jazz musician Charles Mingus, who may be counted as the grandfather of feline toilet training. Mr Mingus taught his cat, Nightlife, to use a cardboard litter box and then followed a series of steps in which he placed this tray on the lavatory, cut away the sides, cut a hole in the middle, placed it beneath the seat and then removed it entirely.
Mr Brooks advocates the use of a bowl, placed in the lavatory and filled with a steadily decreasing layer of kitty litter, and then with an ever-larger hole. He advises kitten owners not to start the process until their cat is six months old. “It takes time and patience but it pays off,” he said. Some believe it can be done in 21 days but “you want to make slow progress so that the cat makes the decision because they want to”, he said. “As soon as they think you are trying to make them do something they are like: ‘Don’t even go there’.”
Every one of the cats he has owned in the past 25 years had learnt to go like a grown-up, he said. Friends with children to whom he has passed on the technique say it is similar to toilet training a toddler, “except it’s faster for cats”.
The only downside, he said, was that once they were trained, “whenever they see you get up to go to the bathroom they jump up and run there before you”. Owners are then forced to wait while their cat relieves itself. Mr Brooks, 56, is still baffled by this behaviour. “I think they think it’s funny,” he said.