Natural Scratch was born of my personal need for an effective scratching post.
My wife and I acquired two kittens (Ursa Major and Star) in the early 1980s, and they immediately began tearing up the woodwork and furniture.
I didn't even try the carpeted posts available at pet stores because all the great cats of my youth (Mitsy, Mittens, Buttercup, and Buff) had turned their noses up at the carpeted posts we offered them. My mother loved cats and didn't believe in declawing so she just sacrificed a couch end to them. She was an unusual and, in many ways, lovely woman.
My wife had a completely different view, so I went to the library, did some research, and found a reference in a cat book--the title of which is long forgotten--that said cedar was a particularly good material for clawing.
At about that time, coincidentally, we were building a dock at a family cabin in northern Wisconsin, and my father-in-law, coincidentally, suggested we use northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis)which is grown in the area. White cedar is prized for its resistance to the elements and infestations and for its rough surfaces and the natural traction they provide in slippery locations.
After the dock was completed, I had some 4 x 4s left, so I built a post and presented it to Ursa and Star. I can't say they went for it immediately, but I took a lot of psychology courses in college and knew something about behavior modification.
If circus animal trainers could teach lions to leap through fiery hoops and elephants to dance, I could train my cats to scratch their new post.
I started luring them with treats and catnip, rewarding them lavishly whenever they made scratching motions. Pretty soon they were gouging the post deeply. Our clawing problem was solved, and I didn't think about it much after that.
Whenever I visited a pet store, however, I would look for posts made out of white cedar thinking someone would begin marketing them, but no one ever did. I constantly heard about all of the declawing that was going on and thought it was a shame that people had to resort to such a drastic and expensive procedure for lack of a decent scratching post.
Around 1990, in an experimental mood, I pounded together a couple of rough posts and gave them to cat-loving friends just to see whether their experiences would be similar to mine. These went over well, too, especially after I coached my friends on the simple behavior modification techniques I had used.
After seeing my posts succeed with other cats, I decided if no one else was going to make a white cedar post available to the public, I would. There was a crying need.
Being a free-lance writer for business and industry Schaar Communications didn't exactly set me up to become a product developer, but I decided to press on anyway, confident that a post made out of white cedar would save cats from a painful surgery and preserve their marvelous claws.
My writing business kept me busy, so I didn't have a lot of time to give this new venture; on the other hand, I didn't have to make a living off of it, so I had the luxury of proceeding slowly and deliberately.
I'm an admirer of Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright and searched for a name that came to mind naturally and described the product well: Natural Scratch.
Believe it or not, it took years to design the post and find a woodworking shop willing to produce it in small quantities. Finally, in 1994, I brought out a test batch of 100. The first Natural Scratch was basic; just a 24" white cedar post on a 14" x 14" matching fiberboard base. It came with two pages of instructions.
One day I was talking with a lady at a pet store who told me she liked Natural Scratch but said it would be even better if it were more interactive. A great suggestion.
I knew cats attacked nearly any kind of wiggling string and that they loved to poke their paws into holes so I added the Antenna--a simple length of bungee cord--and the Mouse Hole and developed a prototype. Our cats (Midnight and Twinkles) at the time went bonkers for this combination, a good sign.
I also changed the base to black-coated fiber board to better match the brand, developed a 12-step training method, expanded the instruction booklet to seven pages, and decided to include kitty treats and catnip.
I made scores of calls trying to get catnip and kitty treat suppliers to provide these items on a small-quantity basis. I never found a willing catnip supplier but did find Petrx and bought the company's Kitty Stars. I also bought 100 pounds of catnip in bulk from Trout Lake Farms. My daughter, Ann Marie, and I spent many hours repackaging it into 1/4 oz. bags. My son, Troy, helped bag the training booklet, catnip, and kitty treats.
About that same time, I decided to sell directly to consumer--just to see how it would go--and put up a Web page. It took quite a while for my site to catch on but pretty soon I was shipping Natural Scratch posts to just about every state in the US and to many other nations--something that would be all but impossible without the 'Net.
Another of the many wonderful things about the Internet is it allows a producer to stay in close contact with his or her customers. The feedback I have received from customers is invaluable.
After about ten years and with thousands of posts now in service, I am very confident that almost all cats can be trained to claw Natural Scratch exclusively. Some take to it with little or no prompting (a number of owners have even reported their cats began scratching while the post was being assembled!), others need dedicated training, but probably 80% fall between these two extremes and begin scratching relatively soon, given consistent owner involvement. Generally, once cats claw the post, they're hooked, so to speak.
Most customers have reported that the height of 24" was adequate for their cats but enough expressed an interest in a larger post to prompt me to develop the current 32" model. Once I brought out the 32" model, almost no one wanted the 24"-size so I stopped producing it.
I also decided to abandon the 14" square base, which I was never crazy about. The square base required a carton at least 14" wide, which meant shipping a lot of cardboard and packing material. Moreover, it was not suited to scratching. To replace it, I developed the X-style base made out of western red cedar (Thuja plicata) that we are currently offering, and Natural Scratch III came into existence. It is more natural and effective than ever; provides both vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces; and it ships in a much smaller carton.
We also found a new wood supplier--a one-man shop in northern Wisconsin--and are obtaining better white cedar than ever. The current white cedar is more colorful, grainy, and aesthetically pleasing than the previous stock we used.
Another improvement is the use of two screws instead of one to hold the base pieces to the post. I did this to overcome a problem caused by cracks that can open in white cedar and tend to run toward the core of the post. I had to replace some Natural Scratch II models because cracks ranged into the screw hole and affected the stability of the connection. Two screws located at the corners instead of the center eliminates this problem. The current generation of Natural Scratch takes me closer to my goal of producing a post that will work well for most cats and people. It's not perfect, but I think it has a combination of features and pricing that is hard to beat.
New products such as cork posts, sisal-clad posts and horizontal cat scratch products (cork slab, single- and double-wide 24" cedar planks, and 12" cedar plank) are now being offered. Cork because of a reference to it I found in a book about cats, sisal-clad because some cats have been trained to sisal, and horizontal devices in response to customers asking me to supply them.
I urge you to add to the story by sending suggestions on how these products might be improved and by offering feedback on your experiences with Natural Scratch.