Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Cat, the Stoner

For a variety of reasons, I planted a lot of catnip this spring.  It's a useful and mild medicinal, reportedly good at repelling flea beetles from garden crops, and most famously attractive to cats.  I took some pains to protect the tiny live plants I ordered from Richters.  I asked for a dozen of the smallest, cheapest plants, figuring that if I had many of them there was a better chance that at least some of them would survive.  After planting about ten of them near each other, I laid the chicken greens feeder over them to keep the cats from either eating them whole, ripping them out of the ground, or simply rolling them to death.  They had a few inches of protected headspace, but any part of the plant that grew taller than that was subject to feline depredations.

It worked.  At least seven of those ten plants survived, and it didn't take too long before I was able to remove the protection of the greens feeder.  Being a hardy mint family member, the catnip can now stand up to whatever abuse the neighborhood cats can dish out.

I find our cat Mojo lying between the fence and the catnip quite often.  It's one of his favorite hangout spots, for good reasons: it's sunny, he can hide himself behind the herb and still have a commanding view of the whole yard, and if startled can slip under the fence to the neighbor's property.  Mojo is one of the most resolutely cheerful cats I've ever known.  Unless made nervous by strangers or a strange situation, he's always in a good mood, a regular Mr. Bliss.  So he hardly seems the type to need routine self-medication.  Or maybe I have it all wrong and he's so happy because he has such easy access to kitty dope.  Maybe he'll get cranky and go into withdrawal when the plant dies down for the winter.

The thing I've noticed though about catnip is that its effect on cats seems inherently self-limiting.  No matter how drugged out cats get by smelling or ingesting catnip, it only seems to last about 15-20 minutes.  Repeated exposure after that has little effect. Yet Mo' will hang out in that spot for hours on a nice day.  Maybe he just has wholly positive associations with that place.  Or maybe he doesn't want to share with other cats, so he guards his supply.

I'm not much for recreational drugs myself, but my stoner kitty does make me ponder several questions.  Is there any sense in making a plant - a natural living thing - illegal?  Do cats have more self restraint than humans when it comes to psychoactive herbs?  Do the ills of human society lead to addictions where a more balanced existence would allow us to use natural drugs recreationally without such complications?  Or is it the added complexity of the human brain as compared with a cat's brain?  Or is our tendency to synthesize natural substances into more potent drugs the real problem?   I can't see that my cat comes to any harm, or creates any harm, by indulging in a profound high fairly frequently.  Granted, he's not pregnant, and I have no idea how catnip would affect feline fetuses.  Also, he doesn't smoke catnip, or take synthesized tabs of 'nip at a kitty rave.  And perhaps if he did, the drug would affect him differently.  All he can do is eat it or roll in it.  Either seems to work for him.  I think animals have their own wisdom sometimes, and I'm still puzzling out the lessons of cats and catnip.

Anyhow, it's nice to know I've got a homegrown supply of kitty happy leaf and that my cat can get stoned frugally.  Next year I'll have enough catnip to derive some benefit from it myself.  And yes, if you were wondering, this post is at least partly just an excuse to display pictures of the cat.


Brad K. said...

"All he can do is eat it or roll in it. Either seems to work for him.".

Sorry -- I get this Woodstock kin of image, all these young and old people stripping down and rolling in the catnip and marijuana for that "contact" experience.

I am just jealous. I haven't managed to get much of anything from my garden. Three pods of peas, two tomatoes, and about 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes (I planted three pounds). It wasn't the drought, I watered enough. The bermuda, johnson, and prairie grasses are doing quite well -- and where I kept the grasses down, the grasshoppers stripped and stripped. I have two large plants growing where I think I planted a short row of parsnips, and I hope they aren't weeds -- I haven't seen plants like these before, it is my first try at Parsnips. The watermelon starts did fair, I got one about 1 1/4 inches across, when the grasshoppers hacked off the vine leading to it. Not as sweet as I like, and not much there.

And my barn cats all left.

Mimi said...

Here is a NPR story about a dog who gets high....and his family that helps him get his fix....really funny!

Dave @ HappyAcres said...

If your catnip self seeds like ours does, you should have happy cats for some time to come!

meemsnyc said...

Oh Man, kitty must have been in heaven.

Holly House said...

My cats get a little dried catnip from the farmer's market every now and again. Atticus will literally claw the bag out of my hand, and once it's on the floor he'll gather it into a pile and lay on it. I can only imagine what'll happen when I plant catnip in our garden next year. See, your cat can handle himself, our is a total lightweight.

Paula said...

I used to give my cats 'nip' when they wouldn't leave me alone, and they'd nuts for about 15 minutes racing around the apartment, and then they'd sleep for hours. I'd have probably made an unfit mother, too.

The other catnip story I have is one night I came to the top of the stairs at my mother's house, and my sister's normally very dignified and quite lovely Siamese was rolling around shamelessly and purring at the top of the stairs. I stopped to pet her and check her out, and her chin and neck were drenched in drool. I looked around and there it was: the bag of nip my sister's purchased for Christmas presents for the cats, punctured all over with itty bitty bites. Christmas was early for Claudia that year.

Do you know of anything you could grow that would actually repel cats? I have few neighborhood cats fighting over my house by peeing on it- sometimes when I walk into the bedroom, all I can smell is cat pee. Through the walls.

Tamar's Cat said...

Dear Kate,

Reading your post brought back fond memories of the one little catnip plant my owners planted for me the the year before last. Alas, there hasn't been catnip since. Their gardening skills are clearly not in the same league as yours.

I would like to associate myself with a household that takes feline needs more seriously, and has the competence to address them properly. Can you please send directions to your house?

Tamar's Cat

Anonymous said...

I can see how one might plant catnip some distance from the house as a "trap crop" if cats spraying around the porch to mark territory is a problem.

I used to have a black cat that would lay in the catnip, then suddenly perk up and take off running, jumping the fence that led to the alley. After his run, he'd come back and sleep for hours. And yes, he opened up his own catnip-laced present under the Christmas tree early one year. The kids were really upset!

Since him, I've had a Siamese and a Maine Coon cat and neither has taken much notice of the catnip. Some do, some don't.

I tend to think that if we let folks who want to do MJ to themselves, they'd just be happily growing their little "medicinal gardens" and wouldn't need to commit crimes or bother anyone to get their fix. Seems like quite a peaceful solution to me. Or we could legalize it and tax the crap out of it and then our deficit could get paid.... (Heh.)

Patricialynn said...

I'm almost afraid to plant catnip around my house. This neighborhood is less than a block from a small forest, and the wooded area is teeming with feral cats. They come in the backyard and go through the garbage cans - they cause more damage than the raccoon family that is living under my shed (Mother Raccoon is a polite soul). Last thing I want is to attract a huge bunch of feral cats - especially since my female cat Ayla hasn't been fixed yet.

Second reason - I foster cats, and the foster kitties aren't supposed to go outside. I don't want them smelling the nippy and attempting to escape on a regular basis.

Mitzi G Burger said...

Awww...very sweet.

Kate said...

Brad, vivid imagery there. Some gardening years are tough, and even in the good years I've always had at least one serious crop failure. Parsnips are a favorite of mine. I've found that if I scatter seed around a prepared bed in late fall, the seeds come up well in the spring, when they're good and ready. I've seen better results this way than by trying to get the timing right in spring. Parsnips are finnicky germinators.

Mimi, that story was awesome! Three part hysterical, two parts heartwarming and one part gross. Thanks for sharing.

Villager, good to know. I planned to cut it extensively next year, knowing it's a mint. Didn't really figure the reseeding in there, but the cats should help with control.

meemsnyc, yes, he still is in fact, on a regular basis.

Holly house, my cats in the past have only ever had dried catnip, dispensed at my whim. The live plant is available at his whim and he certainly indulges regularly.

Paula, I have the same suspicions about myself as a mother, which is why I'm not one. I've seen other cats drool outrageously when nipping. I'm glad mine haven't done that. You might check Richters and see if they still sell the piss off plant. Can't remember all the animals that are supposed to not like it, but worth looking into. Also, google Sepp Holzer and bone sauce. His preparation would take some work, but is supposed to have wondrous repellant properties for larger animals. Might work for cats as well, and all natural.

Tamar's kitty, out of my great affection for cats, I must remonstrate with you now, and tell you that your feline sense of entitlement is showing; not to your advantage. I have every confidence that your needs are more than adequately addressed at home. I recommend you show an ounce of humility and gratitude towards your owners and forebear to destroy the next catnip plant they see fit to grow for you.

Ilene, that's a good point about using catnip as a distraction from other plants. I would certainly grow MJ if it were legal to do so. I have glaucoma and I'd much rather secure my own medicine than count on having health insurance to pay for synthetic drugs. I agree that MJ could be an excellent money maker via taxes, just like booze. Certainly makes more sense than the money we spend on interdiction and incarceration.

Patricialynn, yeah, in your case I don't think I'd plant catnip. I might give the indoor foster kitties a good time inside though.

Mitzi, he is, isn't he?

Anonymous said...

Regarding illegality of plants...

Yes. There's a good reason to make a plant illegal if it's an invasive non-native species. Sadly, it seems people are less up in arms about that than they are about recreational drug-producing plants :/ I wish it was the other way around.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

Despite trying for a few years now, I've not really managed to go a convincing cat nip plant - a few little stalks but that's about it. Thankfully our friend's cat is a puritan and doesn't indulge so our furries get all his fresh supply instead.

We accidentally tried our cats on the really hard stuff once: dried valerian root. We'd bought some for us to try - I can't remember why - but the cats ripped open the bag it was in and ran off with it. It was like catnip-plus - lots of super-excited clawing, rubbing and drooling, but after a few minutes instead of the "...and now I'm done" of catnip, they got frighteningly calm (they hadn't ingested anything, it was just the smell). They snapped out of it again after a few minutes but now stick to the recreational 'nip these days :)

OCDance said...

My car is so into 'Nip.....She gets crazy just like your cat!