Bob Walker is the godfather of Catification — the idea that we can make home improvements to better the lives of your cats. In cahoots with Frances Mooney, he turned an old home in San Diego into an indoor paradise for cats featuring a labyrinth of vividly-colored walkways for their felines’s amusement and well being. A book about this legendary Cats’ House was published in 2009, and since then the idea of cat-friendly interior design and furniture has turned into a booming cottage industry.
After moving from the Cats’ House in 2013 — which, shockingly, was bought by a dog owner who wasted no time in stripping out the cat walks — Bob and Frances relocated to Virginia. As Bob told me over a phone conversation one spring afternoon, plans are already afoot to create a new catified arena.
What was the first thing you built in the old Cats’ House?
A scratching column room divider. We had a large living room and dining area, and we really wanted to break up the space, so we made a floor to ceiling scratching column and we wrapped almost 400 feet of sisal around it. We dyed it pink.
We had a beam going from it to the wall, and then we hung a leaded glass piece you could see through to create a break between the living and dining area.
Cats would race down our hall and over the top of couches to run and climb this thing — but it was a dead end. So one thing literally lead to the next. Once the cats were up there, they’d block the path like road hogs. They needed an exit so we ended up having three entry points and exits and 140 feet of cat trails that went through most of the rooms in the house.
Did you dye the sisal pink for the cats’ benefit or your own?
Oh, it was for us. Our background involves having a photography gallery and a folk art gallery, so we’ve always liked the color schemes from Mexico and South America.
I will say this: 400 feet of rope is a lot of rope, and you put it in your washing machine and then it dyes your washing machine on the inside. Then it turns out that when cats stand on the floor to scratch, they wear out the bottom part they reach up to. So the higher parts remain in perfect condition, but it wears out at the bottom, so then you have to replace 400 feet of rope because the bottom third is worn out!
So from then on we’d cut the sisal and attach it to the bottom part with staples, but then you can never get the rope to match because the dye is always different. It’s a lot easier to just keep it natural.
What inspired you to create the overhead cat walkways?
I remember when I was young, I visited an uncle in San Francisco and he had an overhead train system that went through walls, so I thought, “Why not put in a cat system that goes overhead too?”
By my thinking, we all go off to work every day and leave the house to the cats, so if possession is really nine-tenths of the law, it’s really their house. So the least we can do is make it totally wonderful for them.
Did any of the cats climb up the walkways and get stuck up there?
That’s why we had three entry and exit points, because sometimes you’d get cats at both sides and they’d have to wait it out. Or sometimes if you put furniture like a couch underneath, because they’re incredibly athletic, they can get down that way.
If someone has limited home improvement skills, how would you advise them to make their house better for their cats?
Just get a hammer and make giant holes in the walls! Just kidding. The first thing I’d do is to rearrange furniture and make it so that the cats can go to higher levels like bookcases and window ledges without knocking over things. Most cats are pretty good about stepping over your valuable heirlooms but sometimes there are accidents. In the past we’ve recommended things like bolting lamps to tables if they happen to be in the way of high cat activity.
That’s the first step, rearranging furniture. One of our goals with doing the cat walks and book was to provide inspiration for people to elevate their cats’ lives. Now there are hundreds of products and companies worldwide that are selling products along those lines. With Hauspanther, Kate Benjamin [who is a Catster columnist] has done a wonderful job of assembling the resources. That’s an excellent site for people who want to buy things that are better designed than the old fashioned cat scratchers.
Do you have plans to catify your new house?
Yes, we’ve been here two and a half years, and it takes longer than we realized. The short-term goal is to make a cat walk here but it’s going to be based on a seasonal theme. It’s going to be more like 3D cut-outs and shapes. Now someone will steal my idea, but we’ll have a tornado. It will involve light more, and the tornado shape will be a small circular part, we’ll have a hurricane of course, and flowers. It’s gonna be fun.
Will there be any pink sisal?
Of course! You’ve got to keep claws sharpened on that, hopefully, instead of the furniture.