Friday, April 10, 2015

Household Hacks: DIY cat-safe vase

One big difference I've discovered between having two young, active cats and having one elderly, sedate cat is that our new kitties get into everything. A case in point: the vase of flowers we usually have on our kitchen table. We used to cut flowers from our garden throughout the year—roses, forsythia, phlox, whatever happened to be in bloom—and put them on the table in a nice glass goblet we'd picked up from a yard sale. This was one of my favorite cheap luxuries, and the fact that they came out of our own garden just added an extra little thrill. And since Amélie was a timid cat who never cared much to jump up on the kitchen table, the flowers were always perfectly safe.

When we brought home Winnie and Gwen, however, we quickly discovered that top-heavy vases and adventurous kitties do not make a good combination. There were no actual flowers in the goblet at the time; instead, I'd made a tasteful arrangement of bare twigs to tide us over the bleak period between Christmas greenery and the first blossoms of April. Unfortunately, these twigs apparently looked just like cat toys to the furballs, because we kept finding them—or pieces of them—scattered around the house. I thought perhaps it was just the twigs that were too tempting for them, so I removed them, leaving the empty goblet to fill with flowers as soon as there were any to pick—only to be awakened one morning by the "thunk" of the goblet itself toppling over.

At this point, I concluded that in order for flowers to coexist with cats, they'd have to be in a more bottom-heavy container that would be hard for them to knock over. So the next thing I tried was a few wildflowers in a simple mason jar. The jar itself stayed put, but the flowers didn't; we found them the next morning pulled halfway out of the jar, their petals scattered across the table. At this point, I began to suspect that any flowers put anywhere the cats could reach them were liable to be treated as kitty snacks.

This was a big problem, because when cats nosh on flowers, the flowers aren't necessarily the only victims. There's a whole long list of flowers that are toxic to cats, and it turns out that many of the perennial flowers in my new wildflower mix are on that list. So after I went to all the trouble of planting a flowerbed out front to supply us with cutting flowers all summer long, it looked like I wouldn't be able to actually bring any of the flowers inside—or any other flower, for that matter, without carefully checking it against the ASPCA's plant database first. And since there are wildflowers in our yard that I don't actually know the names of, that means that I'd probably have to give up on the idea of fresh flowers for the table altogether, except during the brief period when our roses (one of the few flowers known to be cat-safe) are in bloom.

Faced with the choice between possibly poisoning my cats or giving up on bringing nature into my home, I started searching frantically for a third option. A search for "cat safe flower vase" led to a thread on Apartment Therapy with several suggestions:
  1. Get a heavy-bottomed vase the cat can't tip over. (Good, but not good enough, since I also want to keep the cats from eating the flowers.)
  2. Train the cats to stay off the table by squirting them with a water pistol whenever they hop up there. (Since our cats routinely hop up onto the sink and stick their heads in under the running water, I suspect this wouldn't be much of a deterrent for them.)
  3. Get them some "cat grass" to munch on, so they'll leave other plants alone. (I don't know whether they'd like the cat grass or not, but I'm pretty sure they will never leave anything alone that's within their reach.)
  4. Buy only flowers that are nontoxic for cats. (That might be a reasonable idea if I were buying flowers, but I'd like to be able to harvest the ones I already have.)
For us, the most useful idea on the list seemed to be to keep the flowers in some sort of covered container, like a terrarium, so the cats couldn't reach them. However, the one specifically suggested on the site, this IKEA mini greenhouse, looked way too big for our kitchen table. So I started keeping my eyes open, while shopping and walking around town, for something else that might be more reasonable. The spring window display at our local Ten Thousand Villages had a very nice-looking "Secret Garden Terrarium" that was a reasonable size, but the $40 price tag was a little less reasonable. We attempted to cobble together a covered vase from a small canning jar with a larger one inverted over the top, but the patterns on the outside of the glass—together with the fog of condensation that formed on the inside—made it nearly impossible to see the flowers, which sort of defeated the purpose of having them on the table at all. What we really needed, I thought, was something like a hurricane lantern—a glass globe with a narrow chimney at the top, so it provides ventilation but isn't accessible to little prying paws. But where, I wondered, would we find something like that?

Well, as it turns out, at our local thrift shop. I popped in there today and, browsing among the racks of miscellaneous glassware, I discovered not one but two vaguely bell-shaped glass contraptions, open at the top and bottom. I assume them were originally part of some sort of candelabrum, since they both had drips of candle wax on them, but they looked big enough to fit over the top of a small drinking glass, which could hold a smallish bunch of flowers—so they'd be visible but protected beneath the glass shield. I thought we might have a glass at home that was small enough, but just in case, I checked the rest of the glassware rack and picked out one that would definitely fit under the dome. Two dollars for the pair, and I was off home to experiment.

As soon as I got home, I picked a small nosegay of wildflowers—some purple deadnettles and some little white critters that I don't know the name of—and popped them into the small glass with some water. Then I put the dome over the top and confirmed that it meets my requirements in one way, at least: it's actually possible to see the flowers under the glass. What's still unclear is just how well this set-up will protect the flowers from our inquisitive felines. Early signs are good: this afternoon, Winnie hopped right up on the table next to the improvised vase, and she neither knocked it over nor attempted to extract the flowers from under it. But the real test will come tonight, as we sleep, while the cats roam and explore at their will. If we get up tomorrow morning and find the whole apparatus intact, flowers and all, then I'm willing to declare my little makeshift cat-safe vase a success.
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