Illustration by Colin Hayes

Our 13-year-old Tabby, Bert, is a big, fat, friendly boy, the kind who purringly accepts chin scratches and loves to knead into oblivion any lap available. Late in life, he’s developed another, much less adorable habit: thinking outside the (litter) box.

Empty suitcases, open closets, my desk, the television, the freaking kitchen counter — no place is safe from his puddles. We’ve invested in self-cleaning litterboxes, supposedly calming pheromone sprays, and gallons of Nature’s Miracle, all to no end. Yes, cats who engage in extracurricular peeing often have a hidden health issue going on. Not Bert. As our vet told us after checking him out, “The problem is between his ears.”

By now you may be wondering why this little jerk hasn’t been either rehomed or sent to that great cat tree in the sky. We just can’t. We love him too much. Which is why my husband and I recently sought the services of an “animal communicator” — a person who claims to telepathically talk to your pet. Woo-woo people we are not, but this seemed like our only chance of finding out what was going on in his furry head.


Based in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, “animal spirit talker” Lynn Schuster usually works over the phone, but once a month or so she offers in-person sessions at TLC First Animal Hospital in Norwood Park East. An artist and Reiki teacher, she discovered her animal communication abilities about 16 years ago and says she can teach anyone how to do it in just a few months. Since we were feeling desperate — our condo was getting damper by the day — she agreed to come by and chat with Bert herself.

Schuster typically works with nothing but a photo of the animal in question to spark communication. Even though she had the benefit of Bert’s presence (he dozed on my lap the whole time), she silently stared at his picture instead. (The animal communication process is not a showy one.) After about five minutes, Schuster reported that a clear message was coming through: Bert pees outside the box because he dislikes the feeling of litter on his paws. The one and only direct quote she gave me from him: “A guy shouldn’t have to put up with that.” Which, as even my extremely non-woo-woo husband admitted, definitely sounds like Bert.

The issue, as Bert supposedly elaborated, is that litter feels displeasingly artificial. So in the spirit of science, I decided to see how he’d react to a more natural solution: a disposable litterbox made from recycled paper and filled with nothing but cedar shavings.

It’s been a month now, and guess what? The little son of a bitch uses it.