I should have known it would happen. After several weeks with nothing on my desk but a laptop, huge monitor, and mouse, I returned to my home workspace to find my giant, snowy mountain of a cat, legs akimbo, stretched across my Ikea table.
With one paw clipping the “return” button on my Macbook Pro, he generated a seemingly-endless stream of clicks, transforming a document from two pages of text into two pages of text and 500-ish completely blank pages (and counting).
l foisted him up and dropped him on the floor. For a while, I continued working unimpeded. Skype calls were made and emails sent, but at some point I left for about five minutes. I'll admit it: I let my guard down. When I returned, I more than paid for it.
While my white cat shuffled across my keyboard, obliterating a long, important email, my other cat, a mackerel tabby, executed the coup de grâce: a Jackson Pollack-esque patch of scratches carved into the leather back of my not-cheap office chair. I screamed on the inside.
So, why didn't I just shut the door to keep the cats out, you ask? Because a) that never works, and b) the tedious, irregular scratching sound of claws on painted pine was more annoying than the trucks rumbling by my apartment.
Skip forward to the present and I've spent more than 10 years working from home with a spouse, two cats, and now a hyperactive puppy. I'm a professional cat wrangler of the highest order, a feline management specialist with scrapes, bites and ripped notepads to prove it. Here are my three best tips for telecommuting cat owners:
1. Use a strategically-placed lamp
Like a stray cat that climbs into the wheel well of a car, most felines love warmth. Buy a lamp that emits a small amount of heat, with a bulb or fixture that's far enough away that your cat can't stand up and burn their ears off. Put the lamp on a nearby table and turn it on when you must work without interruption - even in the middle of the day when the room is bright. Go energy efficient to save electricity and money, and if you're lucky, your cat will nest under your lamp and you'll be free to work productively.
2. Be militant about mission creep
I once read a study about a group of feral cats that were killing local songbirds. Scientists placed bells around the necks of the cats hoping to drop the execution count. Guess what? Not only did the bells not work, the cats killed MORE birds than before. Did it take the cats longer to launch sneak attacks? Yes. But out of necessity, they were quieter and more patient than ever before.
Something similar happens with cats in your workspace. When you remove your cat from your desk or table, they may stay away for a while, but 10 or 20 minutes later, they'll be back on your desk or lap or table and you won't even remember when they got there.
To combat cat mission creep, have a zero-tolerance attitude. When your cat breaches a set perimeter, remove them immediately. Don't slip up! Cats can't be trained like dogs, but they will learn, eventually, that entering your zone will get them bounced.
3. Invest in highly potent cat nip
It's true: not every cat reacts to catnip. After having roughly six pairs of cats throughout my life, I've never had two cats simultaneously react to catnip. However, if your cat does like the stuff, find the most potent, funky, odorous batch available. Skip the garden-variety, mass-produced catnip, go for organic herbs genetically engineered to drive cats absolutely insane. Drop some catnip when your cats are especially out of control, but don't over-use this powerful weapon because even cats can build up a tolerance.
If I had to take an estimate, there are dozens of ways to set up an invisible wall between you and your cats, without sacrificing your carefully-built, owner-pet relationship. Will the tips above work all the time? No, but if you stay focused and develop a routine, you'll have a 90 percent cat control success rate. And that, my fellow cat owners, is pretty darn good.