Friday, June 18, 2004

Rise of the Machines, Part Three

I am slightly obsessive-compulsive, but also very lazy. Add to this my affection for high-tech toys, and my tendency to be an early adopter of gadgets when the price isn't too high, and it should come as no surprise that soon after the arrival of Radish, I convinced Boy that we must have a LitterMaid.

For anyone who hasn't seen the very obnoxious commercial, the Litter Maid is a "self-cleaning" litter box. On the front end, there is a "waste receptacle" with a lid that hinges on the front of the box (so the open side is towards the litter). On the back end is a rake the width of the box, which runs, motorized, on tracks along the sides of the box. In the middle are two sensors, one on each side, not unlike the "electric eye" in an elevator door. So, the cat enters the box, triggers the sensors, and ten minutes later the rake drops down, slowly makes its way down the box, scooping up waste as it goes (you have to use clumping litter for this to really work properly). When it reaches the front end of the box, it raises and tilts back, lifting the clumps and also pushing open the lid of the receptacle. It continues up its track, then tilts downward again to dump its cargo, before reversing course and tucking itself away in the back again. If the cat re-enters the box, the ten-minute timer restarts, and if anything more significant than a litter clump touches either side of the rake, the motor shuts off, so it's completely safe for the kitten (or so they claim, and so I am forced to believe).

This is, of course, wicked cool, and aesthetically, it all pleases me very much. Well, the box itself is large and ugly -- Boy calls it the All-Terrain Kitten Transport -- but the litter is always impeccably raked, like a Zen garden. And, in theory, no stinky poo.

Yes, well, in theory. The negative online reviews I've read talk about the rake getting stuck or breaking, or somehow traumatizing the cat. We've had no such problems, but what no one bothered to point out (perhaps because it should be so obvious) is that if you're anywhere near the thing when the receptacle opens, you're in trouble. Because a week's worth of cat poop is now contained in one very small space. This is still preferable to a regular box getting smellier and smellier until you clean it -- the smell goes away quickly once the lid closes again, but it is powerful while it's there.

Problem number two is an unpredictable and odd one: Radish uses one side of the box almost exclusively. I'm so glad my kitten apparently has OCD as well. So all the clumps pile up in one half of the waste receptacle, and before long the lid won't close all the way. And then -- you guessed it -- stinky. It's easy enough to use the scooper to shove things to the other side, but isn't the point of the LitterMaid that I don't have to ever use the scooper?

When it comes time to change the poop bin (I wish they called it that in the manual instead of "waste receptacle"), it requires far more effort than simply changing the litter in a typical box with a liner. The trade-off, I suppose, is not having to scoop the box every day as well as change the whole thing over once a week. The receptacles are a little pricey too, but I imagine that will balance out over time with buying less litter, since you very rarely have to dump the whole thing when the clumps are so promptly removed (and when we had the plain box, I tended to overfill it, so that Radish could effectively bury stuff when he was done).

So...the jury's still out on the LitterMaid. It's undeniably neat (both as in "cool" and as in "tidy"), and I do love my gadgets. But I'm not sure, in the end, that it was worth the money. It doesn't seem like enough of a convenience for the pricetag. I think I may feel better about it in a few months when we start weaning Radish off of wet food, and his litter needs change. I'll let you know. (I'm sure those of you without cats of your own will be holding your breath for that post.) If not...anyone want a self-raking Zen garden?

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