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Feb 3, 2024

Thou Shalt Not …

Standing between the kitchen sink and Sapphire’s feeding station is an island regularly used by a pet owner who loves to cook and a cat that appreciates its value as a social platform perfectly suited to her pint-size flair for brand placement.

Thou Shalt Not …

Of course, taking a walk on the countertop would be a mere trifle if all Sapphire exuded was charm. But somebody has to clean up the fur, litter, and pussytoe prints. Which is why Sapphire’s owner would prefer that she refrain from island hopping. But the combination of kitchen island + people is irresistible to this friendly cat.

Thus during every first visit to care for Sapphire, she will hop onto the island whenever I pass within reach. I shape new behavior by ignoring her, lavishing praise with chin scratches or a quick ear rub after she drops to the floor. Adjusting the timing rewards both of us. By the third visit Sapphire has been persuaded that island hopping will drive me away, though she has been known to spring the occasional pop quiz to test my resolve.


Last summer we were nearing the end of a week-long engagement: Sapphire had not been on the kitchen island in days, she knew our routine by heart, and as usual was close by. While I stood at the sink refilling her water bowl, Sapphire was surreptitiously chewing my sneaker laces. I knew she was there and let her know I was on to her with a slight foot movement. Sapphire stopped chewing. Only then did I turn toward her feeding station across the room, holding the water container with both hands. (A rectangular takeout container credited with resolving whisker unhappiness.)

Typically Sapphire moves with me though carrying water slows the procession. But on this day Sapphire wasn’t ready to abandon my shoe laces and moved toward my leading foot. In a few kinetic seconds I took the Lord’s name in vain while sidestepping awkwardly causing the plastic container to flex and spill half its contents straight toward Sapphire. She streaked around the opposite side of the island, spooked by my full-throated abuse of the 3rd Commandment. That’s what kept her dry.

The splash zone included two sides of the kitchen island, sink cupboards, and the fridge. On my hands and knees with paper towels, first I crawled to the end of the island and peered around to find Sapphire crouched under a chair. After a little happy talk to lure her into the open, I crawled back to soak up the puddle. Moments later the familiar crunch of kibble could be heard. Always a good sign. When the floor was almost dry I stood up and came eye to eye with Sapphire perched on the nearest corner of the kitchen island.

While ending her self-imposed exile from the island was a setback, Sapphire’s actions will be fondly remembered. She managed to stay close while keeping her tootsies dry.

Did you know?

Discouraging an insanely gifted athlete from popping up onto kitchen counters to say hi would seem a hopeless endeavor. Yet there are persistent, determined cat owners who have succeeded.

However if you live with a cat more persistent and determined than you are, but the idea of a cat on kitchen counters drives you crazy, perhaps the following will help:

• To a cat (or dog) the importance of scent cannot be overstated.

• Disgust the cat with a scented cleaning product. Generally speaking, if it smells good to us you’re on to something. Use it regularly to remove/neutralize scent.

• Be mindful of the objects you leave on a counter. I left an envelope on Sapphire’s kitchen island scented with my prints along with the prints of her owner and front desk personnel. The next morning I found the envelope plus a notepad, pen, and, thankfully, an unbreakable tabletop decoration on the floor. It was my fault. To Sapphire I left breaking news on the counter and walked away. Of course she investigated and, while there, decided to rearrange a few things.

• Objects left on kitchen counters should be things that are appreciated or utilized without much handling. That said, I’m pretty sure most cats don’t care for the smell of coffee. But curious cats will be drawn to unsupervised electronic devices or anything heavy with your scent.

• While it may be true your cat doesn’t want the sandwich left on the counter, for sure s/he will be drawn to your scent, which covers it.

While it’s fun and oh-so-easy for a cat to hop onto a counter, how we use counters and what we leave behind are the real attractions.

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