It can be cute, funny, or just plain gross, but I have at least three friends with adult cats who suckle. One is a 10-year-old, 15-pound tuxedo cat who still sucks on his mama’s fingers. Another is a gorgeous polydactyl Ragdoll who loves to go to town on his new mom’s face. And then there’s the feisty tortie who sucks on her mom’s blankets and sweaters, often leaving a large, wet drool stain in her wake.
Cheryl Edwards also has a cat who suckles. Her blankets "would always smell like cat food, and they’d be crusty, and I was always washing them," she says. Then one day she noticed her cat was searching for something hard to suck on in the midst of the soft fabric on her couch, and the idea for the Catsifier was born. (The Catsifier is also on Facebook.) Described as "a pacifier for cats that suckle," the Catsifier is a solution, in the spirit of the scratching post, that prevents suckling cats from ruining blankets and clothes … or hair, eyebrows, earlobes, and armpits, as the case may be.
Edwards works as a freelance graphic designer in Bennington, Vermont. She lacked startup funds to get Catsifier off the ground, so in 2006, she partnered with a client, who helped her get the patent pending and produce 1,600 Catsifiers. The finished product resembled a throw pillow with four latex "nipples" attached. Word spread online and in shelters, and before long Catsifiers were selling quickly, and Edwards was looking at international deals with well-known pet product manufacturers. Most importantly, cats loved it.
"One lady said her cat carries it everywhere," Edwards says. "He drags it from room to room and uses it all the time. We donated some to humane societies when we were trying to get it up and running, and the majority of them said they would open the box, and the cats would just have at it."
Then 2008 happened, and the economy tanked. Potential deals fell through, and Edwards’ business partnership eroded amidst financial concerns. With her inventory empty, suddenly she was back at square one, sitting on a great idea with no way to produce it.
"It was a good experience, and now I know that they do sell, and they’re definitely needed," Edwards says. "But I don’t have any at this time, and I don’t have the money to go further."
Edwards constantly receives calls, emails, and Facebook messages from people asking when the Catsifier will be available again. It frustrates her that she’s unable to provide an answer or even give a timeframe, especially because many of the inquiries are from desperate people in real need.
"If the cats are in a humane society situation or a cat rescue, there are a lot of kittens there, and they will suckle on each other," Edwards says. "I’ve heard of cases where they’ve had to put the kittens to sleep because they do so much damage. Sometimes [suckling is] cute; sometimes it’s life threatening."
About a year ago, Marcia Martin, who runs an online Bengal cat forum called Bengal Chatter, contacted Edwards after several people in her forum complained about their suckling cats. One cat sucked a mole on her owner’s neck; another frequently gave "kitty hickies"; another sucked on the family dog. Yet another, strangely, suckled herself, which can cause injury. Martin thought the Catsifier seemed like a great way to help.
"Babies have binkies, but cats have people getting annoyed at these behaviors when it is completely natural, and until the Catsifier, there has been no solution," Martin says. "I was disappointed to learn that the Catsifier did not seem to be in production. I wanted to direct people to it."
After talking with Edwards and learning about her lack of funds, Martin offered to help get the business rolling again. "We have been talking and trying to come up with a strategy to be able to get inventory," Martin says. Their strategies have included applying for grants and trying to find new investors, partners, or licensing agreements. Martin is Edwards’ No. 1 supporter, and she is willing to put "everything she’s got into launching this."
Amidst all of the uncertainty, Edwards remains committed to providing Catsifiers to the cats who need them and to communicating that "a large percentage" of cats suckle, which is a message she’s had trouble delivering in the past. For example, one company that turned her down claimed that the Catsifier would not be a good investment because "only long-haired Angoras and Persians suckle" ÔÇô- a statement known to be untrue. She would also like to expand her product line for use in shelter environments.
"There are all these different ideas, but until I can get the first one going, I can’t get the second one going," Edwards says. "But I’m not giving up. Too many cats need them."