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 cat scratching 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 grows 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.
If circus animal trainers could teach porpoises to leap out the water and elephants to dance, I could train my cats to scratch their new post.
I started luring them with treats and catnip, praising them lavishly and giving them occasional treats when 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, though, 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.
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 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 (now trademarked). I acquired a branding iron and burned the name into early posts.
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 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. Daughter Ann Marie and I spent many hours repackaging it into 1/4 oz. bags. 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 webpage. 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 more than 20 years and with thousands of posts now in service, I am 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.
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 cedar, and Natural Scratch III came into existence. It is more natural and effective than ever, provides both vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces, and ships in a much smaller carton.
We also found a new wood supplier—a small mill in northern Wisconsin—and are obtaining better white cedar than ever.
Because of the hassles associated with including catnip and kitty treats, I dropped them for now but might bring out my own lines in the future.
One additional improvement I made 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.
I urge you to add to the Natural Scratch story by sending suggestions on how it might be improved and by offering feedback on your experiences with it.
for cat lovers
The Perfect Gifts
Phone: Ted at 414 795-6117
(Sadly, because I get so many junk calls, I need to ask that you leave a voice mail—you will receive a prompt call-back during normal business hours.)
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