Teaching the Unteachable

The old adage You can’t teach an old dog new tricks most certainly should be modified to suit my two venerable senior cats. In a bizarre fit of creativity I did the unthinkably German thing and got my scissors and glue out and began to basteln, which you all know I detest. The link I just shared is something I have to laugh at now after four years of living in Germany. In it I stipulate that there are two things I refuse to do while living here, namely make jam and do arts and crafts. So what am I doing three days after making my first batch of strawberry jam? Ha! Yes, arts and crafts. So here I am eating humble pie on a Monday…

Let me say that although I am very good at arts and crafts, can handle tools for minor plumbing and carpentry, I don’t do any of it for pleasure – it remains strictly utilitarian. Well, in many cases out of love and affection for the recipient or end-user as well. In this case I thought I was doing Cherry and Lolita a favour.

Pinterest and Instagram are the most godawful time wasters but I have to admit they do dish out some pretty good ideas from time to time. That’s where I got the idea of a puzzle board for my cats to make them work a little harder for their treats. Keep in mind that these are two (and too) old rescue cats that have eluded the concept of playtime. They are just coming around to understanding cuddles and embracing the idea that it’s OK to ask for cuddle time, and be vocal about it. My heart breaks each time they look at me with hesitant and shy eyes, incredibly insecure about what they are asking, and terrified of being rejected.

You can buy a fancy schmansy puzzle board online that was probably designed by animal psychologists and marketing geniuses, spend a fortune on it and have the cat reject it. Or you can take assorted household items and transform them all in a kitty treat obstacle course that will still be rejected, but at least you don’t feel bad about spending the money.

I began with the two leftover strawberry crates from the jam last week. It’ was a good thing I hadn’t gotten around to disposing them yet, so they were put to good use. Then I cut up an empty roll of paper towels and an empty egg carton. Note, you can use the exact same items to create a seeding station, but I will do that next week… watch this space.

Then fill it up with dry food and kitty treats

Voila! The puzzle board is ready. Looked simple enough for the very uncomplicated minds of my old ladies. The question was whether it would be understood and accepted. They are both very greedy for treats and could live on them given the chance. Puzzles, however, seem to be from a dimension they have never ventured into.

I placed the board in the middle of the living room and waited for my first customer.

Cherry smelled the treats immediately and came around to inspect.


Then came Grandmother Loli, completely oblivious and caught up in her dementia… she looked right past it.

Box? What box?
Why is this here? I might trip over it
When’s dinner?

A few minutes later she returned, having forgotten the box’s existence. This time she used up all her grey matter to focus and concentrate – for a grand total of 45 seconds. She determined there were treats somewhere close by…

Ooooh, here’s something new
Cool, treats!
Uh, why are the bowls so weird?
How do I reach them with my tongue?

What am I doing here?
What planet am I on?
Oh, my pillow is over there
Nap time

About an hour later they ladies tried to confront the beast again, putting their heads together. It was a comedy of snorts and errors.

Crap, this is rocket science
What do we do now?
I can smell the treats
Me too but how do we get them?
No clue
I guess we tell Mom exactly how we feel.

It never occurred to either of them to use their paws. They completely ignored the board today and keep giving me a dirty look each time they pass it and smell the treats.

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