Please, let me introduce you to Apollo:
Apollo is the worst cat on planet earth. Seriously. Let me explain.
I adopted Apollo when he was eight weeks old. His mother was a feral cat who had given birth and then been killed. Someone found the kittens and nursed them back to health. I was nineteen, a sophomore in college and home on summer break. My cat Pepper died in June, and by August, I felt like I was ready to love again, so I went to the local SPCA and brought home a two-pound bundle of joy.
For the first two weeks, Apollo did everything with me. He rode in my car, he went to visit friends, he hung out with me at the barn, he slept in by bed, everything. Then, I, well, I went back to college – in North Carolina.
About two weeks after I went back to school, I got a disturbing phone call from my dad.
“I think your cat got into something. He’s got dirt all over his face, and I’m scrubbing and scrubbing, but it won’t come off.”
“Dad, seriously? His color is changing! His sun spots are coming in!” That’s what I like to call his black spots – get it? Apollo, god of the sun?
“Oh! Well, that explains why it isn’t coming off then! Thanks!”
“How is he doing? Does he miss me?”
“Uh…I don’t know, he’s a cat. Do cats miss people?”
That was the last positive conversation I can remember having about Apollo.
From there, things began to spiral downward. Apollo was a maniac. He jumped on every counter, knocked down every object he could find, climbed the curtains, ate the plants, tried to ride the dog, bit and scratched everyone, and he liked to play this fun game called “Feed the Puggle” where he would get onto the counters and into the cabinets and knock down everything that was edible and then sit on the counter and watch Kahlua (who has dietary restrictions due to his weight) eat it.
From what I understand, my dad and stepmom tried everything they could think of to call a “cease and desist” order on these behaviors. They tried squirt bottles, brooms, rolled up newspapers. I remember two particular instances that were over the top. My dad specially designed rat traps that would hurt but not break anything (he tested them on himself first) and placed them on every surface Apollo ever dared to travel (even going so far as to tie them into the plants he liked to chew). Another time, I came home on break and found a pellet gun propped up against the living room table.
“Dad, are you using that on the cat?”
He grinned and raised his hands, “What? I only pump it up once.”
I, for my part, did try some alternative methods. For example, I tried a specialty collar with some natural chemicals in it to calm him down. I tried treats loaded with tryptophan. I tried sedatives. I even tried overfeeding him, hoping the extra weight would calm him down.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, worked. The cat was absolutely fearless. He did not care about what pain he suffered going through the motions of being bad, he was just going to be keep being bad. I actually asked the vet it if was possible for him to have that disease that people get where you don’t feel pain. As it turns out, Apollo does not have this disease, nor had my vet ever heard of a cat having it.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my stepmom spent most of her day baking a cake for a friend. When she turned her back for an instant, up went Apollo and down went the cake.
I got a call at work, then a text, “You come get this cat. Tonight.”
So…Apollo came to live with us. Mostly, he stays in the basement, and he continues to wreak havoc. He and the dogs get along and even play, but Joe can’t stand him. He gets up on Joe’s work bench and knocks tools and cans and jars full of screws onto the floor. Once, he knocked a box of Joe’s childhood photos off the shelf and ripped them apart. I thought I was going to lose my family that day.
Recently, I feel like I’ve been talking a lot about clicker training my dogs, especially clicker training desired behavior in and undesired behavior out. I have also been saying that I wish I knew about clicker training when I was training horses, and that the great thing about clicker training is that it lends itself to every species of animal.
But I haven’t been practicing what I am preaching, because Apollo is still the worst cat in the world. So I made a resolution: By God, I am going to clicker train that damn cat.
Last night was lesson one. And you know what? He did all right. I had him standing on a box (his empty litter container actually) in less than 10 minutes. Okay, so he’s not exactly the best cat in the world yet, but I’d say he’s on his well to at least being tolerable.