Not a Crappy Gift 

Infrared cat box maintenance in 10 minutes flat

Infrared cat box maintenance in 10 minutes flat

Wife Brenda is a practical woman. She doesn’t put up with any foolishness. God’s mercy on any department store clerk who might try to spray her with perfume, and God’s mercy on me if I tried to give her a frivolous gift. If I came home with a tennis bracelet, I’d be just asking for a good shin-kicking.

When I decide Brenda needs a surprise gift, I keep it simple—like taking flowers to her office. When I’m going to get her a big gift, I just come right out and ask her what she wants. Back in December, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she told me to get her an electric cat box. “Like the ones they sell on those late-night infomercials,” she said. “They’ve got ’em at Target, and they’re half the TV price.”

It sounded like a fine idea to me. Brenda and I have had an agreement since the day we met: If we have cats, she will clean the cat box. My sense of smell is just about as sharp as a bloodhound’s, my retch threshold is low, and I have been known to throw things. If I took on the job of cleaning the cat box, there’s a pretty fair chance that I’d have a tantrum one day, and fling the box out into the yard, Olympic hammer-throw style. Maybe even with a cat or two in it.

Brenda and I went to the Target store together. We strode purposefully to the pet-supply area, and I grabbed one Windmere Litter Maid Automatic Self-Cleaning Litter Box off the shelf. “Hey, it’s got a one-year warranty,” I said. “Even if it breaks down on day 366, that means we paid less than thirty cents a day for you to not scoop cat crap.”

“Such a deal,” Brenda said. “Let’s ring it up.”

On the way home, I tried to talk Brenda into deploying the cat box that day. “Nope,” she said. “It’s my Christmas present. I’m going to wrap it, put it under the tree and open it Christmas morning.”

“Two more weeks of poop-scooping,” I said, “with a perfectly good electric cat box sitting under the tree doing nothing.” She wouldn’t have it. When we got home, she put the cat box in a festive bag, tied a bow around it, and attached a label: To Brenda. From Santa Claus.

Of course, this brought into play Walter’s First Law of Disappointment, which says: “The higher the expectation of a good outcome, the greater the likelihood of a disappointment.” So, for two weeks, every time I looked at that bag, I imagined that Brenda would open her Santa Claus present on Christmas morning, and find that some critical part of the cat box was busted. In this scenario, I would be unable to fix the problem. By Christmas, I figured, Target would be all out of Litter Maids, and the Windmere factory would have burned down.

But no. On Christmas morning, I found the Litter Maid to be whole. I even found the instructions to be clear. “This is impressive,” I told Brenda. “This cat box has a battery backup. If the power goes out, the thing scoops poop by battery power.”

“How does it know when to clean the box?” daughter Jess asked.

“Invisible infrared beams,” I said. “It knows when a cat comes in the box, and it knows when it leaves. After the cat’s been gone for 10 minutes, the auto-scooper rakes up the clumps of pee and poop, and drops ’em into a plastic container.”

“Will it rake up the cats?” Jess wondered.

“Nope,” I assured her. “But the instructions say not to let any little kittens in the cat box. Apparently, they could get in under the beams, and get raked into the receptacle. The receptacle seals up pretty tight, so you might not even be able to hear their plaintive wails.”

“Eeew!” Jess protested.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “Our cats are young. You’ll go away to college before we need any kittens around here.”

In less than 10 minutes, I had the Litter Maid ready for action. I put it in the mudroom, as cats Ivory and Sassy looked on quizzically. In 10 minutes, cat Sassy took a whiz in the box.

Right on cue, the Litter Maid went into action. When we heard the motor kick in, all three Jowers humans and the two Jowers cats rushed to the mudroom and watched the thing work. Sure enough, the plastic rake started at the back of the box, combed through the litter, and dropped the little pee clump into the plastic container. The rake then returned to the ready position, leaving a perfectly clean cat box, raked up like a tidy little Zen garden.

The Jowers humans slapped five. Neat cat Sassy, I imagine, thought to herself, No more walking on cat turds. Cool.

Lazy cat Ivory, I’m sure, though, Not to mention all the paw and tail licking we won’t have to do anymore.

After three weeks of service, the Litter Maid continues to work perfectly. Last night, when a storm knocked our power out, the cat box kept going on battery power. Even now, the cats run to watch the cat box every time the motor kicks on. I just know they’re thinking, What will those people think of next?

Visit Walter’s Web site at, or you can e-mail him at


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