Monday, August 1, 2011

Taming cats with catnip

Jasper the cat drugged out on catnip
One of my catnip plants finally reached the harvest stage, and I dutifully cut the branch and gave it to Eamon, my resident catnip addict. Apparently, Eamon is a bit of a catnip connoisseur, and he doesn't like catnip unless it's been dried and broken into manageable pieces. He ran from my catnip branch, and Lucy completed the cycle by batting at the plant and hissing with all her might.

I was frustrated about this for a minute or two, especially when I thought about the other catnip plants I have been tending all spring, so I decided to take the branch outside to the outdoor cats. I thought maybe I'd play with them a bit, just to work on their socialization skills.

I think I hit on something.

Jasper the cat goes wild for catnip
As a true addict, he's lost all sense of modesty.

Apparently, we've been neglecting our serious catnip addict. Jasper went to work on the thing, chewing and rolling and thoroughly making a fool of himself. He even brought the branch to the front of the house, so he could eat it in the sunshine. When I brought more leaves outside, Beorn and even feral Franklin got into the act with their own displays of rolling and chewing.

I figured outdoor cats would find their own stands of catnip. I was wrong! And I am thankful, because I have plenty more catnip and I need an appreciative audience.

Also, if I am the giver of the good drugs, perhaps these skittish cats will learn to trust me a little more. If I continue to provide things that make them happy, perhaps they'll learn to associate people with good things, rather than with pain or fear.

In short, maybe I can tame them with catnip. This seems like a worthy cause, and it does make my months of work worthwhile.

Taming projects like this work best when the cat associates a person with the giving of something good. So if you're planning to give this a shot, you'll need to plan ahead. Here's a step-by-step action plan:
  1. Remove any wild catnip you might be growing in your yard. If they can get it without your help, you lose a key socialization opportunity.
  2. Save up your very best catnip pieces. You really want to use the good stuff. 
  3. Hand the catnip to the cats, while you keep a hold on one edge of the plant. They will need to eat it while you hold it. 
  4. Once the cats feel good about the nip, let go of the branch and let them have at it. 
  5. Repeat. 
I've been using this process with Jasper, since I had such good success the first time around. I gotta say: It's made a huge difference. Now, he looks for me and takes a step or two toward me when I come outside. Before, he ran away. It's working!

If you try it, I hope it works for you, too!