Go ahead, laugh when Paul Kunkel says he can teach a cat to use the toilet. Snicker at the image of Fluffy banging on the bathroom door.
Just remember that when you're through sneering, you're going to have to clean the litter box -- and Mr. Kunkel isn't.
"Funny and weird as it sounds, a toilet-trained cat is healthier and happier, and if owners can be convinced to try it, they'll find it works and it makes sense," said Mr. Kunkel, who's making the rounds to talk about his hot new book, "How to Toilet-Train Your Cat" (Workman, $5.95).
Mr. Kunkel, a New York free-lance writer, has seen every reaction from incredulity to outright hooting when he tells people they can toilet-train almost any neutered, litter-trained cat in 21 days.
He knows it works because he has trained three of his own cats and about 20 of his friends' animals. He has met a few cats who have even trained themselves.
Although there are some "juvenile delinquent" cats who can never even be trained to use the litter box, Mr. Kunkel says, most cats can be trained to use the toilet. Teaching them to do so is not unnatural behavior, he says, because their stance is the same on the toilet seat as in the litter box.
As cats overtake dogs in Americans' affections, Mr. Kunkel points out that smelly litter boxes are becoming battlegrounds that make owners resentful and cats unhappy.
"This book dispels myths and misconceptions about what cats do and why, and it offers a solution to an age-old problem," he says.
It was more than 15 years ago that a combination of "inspiration and desperation" forced Mr. Kunkel to toilet-train his first cat while he was a student at the University of New Mexico, living in a big house with seven other people and six cats.
"The litter-box problem was immense," he recalls.
Mr. Kunkel's method for toilet-training cats is fully explained in his book, and the highlights offered here are not meant to replace his instructions in the book.
The training begins with placing the litter box next to the toilet until the cat is comfortable with using it there. Then, the box is very slowly raised (using books, magazines or newspapers) for 13 days until the bottom of the litter box is at the same level as the toilet seat.
On the 14th day, the litter box is moved an inch or two toward the toilet seat, so that one-quarter of the box is resting on the toilet itself. On the 15th day, the box is moved so that three-quarters of it rests on the toilet seat and on the 16th day, the litter box is placed directly over the toilet seat and secured with wide adhesive tape placed at strategic points where the box adjoins the porcelain underneath.
On the 17th day, you lift the toilet seat, take a sheet of plastic wrap and attach the plastic across the toilet's porcelain rim, leaving a slight depression in the plastic that is filled with litter. Then, lower the toilet seat while keeping the toilet seat cover up and allow the cat to use the toilet.
On the 18th day, the plastic is replaced and again stretched across the rim, this time with a 2-inch-diameter hole in the center, surrounded by some litter.
On the 19th day, the replaced plastic has a hole 3 inches across, with less litter used. By Day 20, the cat should be adjusted to using the toilet, allowing you to dispense with the plastic wrap and litter.