From Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover's Soul

The Education of Jeeves

Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.


It’s inevitable whenever cat lovers get together that the topic of litter boxes comes up—the merits and drawbacks of various brands of kitty litter, the best locations for the boxes, the problems certain cats have using the litter box and of course the debate over whether those new electronic self-cleaning models are really worth the price. It is an awkward moment for me, for I have nothing to say to my fellow feline fanciers on this subject, except to mention as humbly as I can, that my cat, Jeeves, is toilet-trained.

This announcement always causes a stir. Some people laugh, while others scoff. After insisting that it’s true, I explain that Jeeves uses—and flushes—the toilet like any other civilized apartment dweller. I ignore the head-shaking and envious mutterings, for it is a privilege and a joy to live with this refined gentleman of a cat.

I must admit, though, there were times while Jeeves was being taught this marvelous feat, when my husband Tim and I realized that training a cat is not as simple as it seems.

One of those moments came in the final stages of Jeeves’s mastery of the toilet. It had been a long, involved process. We’d started by setting the litterbox on top of the toilet, and then in various stages, we’d graduated to putting a spare toilet seat over the litterbox. It was a simple matter to eventually remove the litterbox completely— the cat recognized the toilet seat and voila!

Now we were attempting to introduce the ultimate nicety: learning to flush. We tied a string with a small empty film canister on the end of it to the toilet handle. The small canister was punctured all over and inside it we placed kitty treats. When the cat pulled on it, thereby flushing the toilet, he received a treat. This was straightforward enough, and Jeeves was really getting the hang of it.

It was a Sunday morning. Tim and I were sleeping late, a luxury for us on our constantly busy schedule, when we were awakened by a noise. As we slowly surfaced from sleep and our brains began to register what we were hearing, we realized it was the sound of the toilet flushing— and flushing—and flushing. Over and over again, the toilet gurgled and whooshed. Tim staggered sleepily from bed and made his way to the bathroom to investigate what we assumed was faulty plumbing.

Instead, when he opened the door, he saw an imperious Jeeves, paws wrapped around the film canister, pulling the string again, looking for all the world like a monarch using the royal bell pull to summon a servant to his bedside.

“Ah, there you are, my good man,” he seemed to say. “Now, where’s that treat of mine?”

My husband dutifully fetched a treat and the porcelain Niagara Falls was finally silenced.

Back in the bedroom, Tim recounted to me what had just happened. Up till this point, we had been feeling pleased with how successfully we were training our cat. It was then we sensed the hollowness of our victory.

The cat was doing what we wanted him to do, yet it was clear that somewhere along the way, we’d lost the upper hand. I began to wonder if we’d ever really had it.

To this day, it remains a mystery just who has been conditioned to do what, but one thing is certain: Cat training can be a very tricky business.

Debbie Freeberg-Renwick

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