Last season, I made a guest appearance on Jackson Galaxy’s show My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet (season 3, episode 1, available on iTunes). Here’s a little behind-the-scenes peek at what Jackson and I did to “Catify” Mike and Emilie’s house to help with the issues between their cats, Olive and Pepper. This was a particularly tricky environmental design challenge, since Olive, Pepper, Mike and Emilie all live in a small New York City apartment. The apartment landscape includes a couple of deadly areas where Olive was cornering poor Pepper and viciously attacking her. Pepper had nowhere to go and she had completely lost her self confidence. Jackson brought me in to assess the situation and see what we could do to fix it. Here’s what we came up with.
First, we tackled the kitchen. As you can see on the show, this is where Olive and Pepper had an ugly standoff in front of the camera. We watched as Olive hunkered down and stalked Pepper, who cowered in the corner of the small kitchen with nowhere to go. Once she wedged herself in behind the rolled up carpet in the corner, she was trapped.
Jackson wanted to create what he calls a “revolving door.” Instead of getting trapped, Pepper needed to be able to move up and out of harm’s way. Mike and Emily had already given up the corner to the carpet, so I asked if we could replace it with something that Pepper could actually climb. They agreed, but since Mike and Emilie rent their apartment, they wanted to avoid drilling into the walls, so wall-mounted shelves were out. I’ve always loved the freestanding pole systems and thought this was the perfect place for one, but all the existing shelf designs were too big for such a tiny space. I contacted the folks at ContempoCat and they made a special set of shelves to fit the space perfectly. There’s even room for the refrigerator door to open!
Now, if Pepper is chased into the kitchen, she has a couple of options. First, she can go up the tree and across the top of a tall, shallow bookshelf we added, then onto the counter and out into the living room. A clean escape! We cleared everything off the counter and added sisal mats with non-slip backing to the top of the bookshelf and the counter, giving Pepper a stable place to land. I like to encourage cat guardians to find existing surfaces that can be designated as “cat only” areas. You don’t always have to add something new, look around at what you already have. And in the photos above, you can see that Pepper is taking advantage of her newly designated areas.
To create an alternate escape route in the kitchen, we added another sisal mat to the top of the refrigerator, which is an easy jump from the upper shelves on the tree. Pepper can now escape to a cozy bed on top of the kitchen cabinets, or she can jump down onto the counter (landing on another sisal mat), and head out the other way.
Emilie and I worked all day assembling and installing the components for the new cat environment, while Olive supervised.
Olive likes to take breaks to play with toys and packing materials!
The second challenge was in the hallway, where there was another dead end. This configuration encouraged Olive to stalk and corner Pepper, so we needed another revolving door here. Ever since they moved in, Mike and Emilie had wanted to do something in this space just for the cats, but again they had the issue of drilling into the walls. We saw the potential here for a wonderful vertical environment where Pepper could climb and hang out. Since Mike and Emily had identified that Pepper is a climber, but Olive is not, this was the perfect way to give Pepper a place of her own, while diffusing a potentially threatening situation.
In came two more cat trees from ContempoCat, this time using their standard step component, paired with two custom cross pieces that allow pepper to traverse the space from one tree to the other.
To complete the revolving door in the hallway, we added a small table across the hall with another sisal mat on top. On the show, there is a great shot of Pepper jumping from the tree to the top of the table, which allows her to head back down the hall, instead of being trapped in the alcove.
As we saw on the show, it seems that our environmental enhancement — along with Jackson’s other behavior suggestions — really made a difference for Mike, Emilie, Olive and Pepper. I’m happy to report that Mike and Emilie were able to go on their honeymoon without worrying about the cats!