Dear Dr. Fox • I’ve had a compost pile for decades for natural disposal of leaves, grass clippings, eggshells, peelings and all kinds of rotten vegetables. Years ago while living on a farm, my mother also added chicken and rabbit manure to her compost (horse and cow manure, mixed with straw, had their own pile). This “black gold” made a huge difference in our gardening efforts.
Dumb Question of the Day: Is it safe to put cat feces and urine clumps in my compost pile? I use unscented, clumping kitty litter. — I.E.E., Danbury, Conn.
Dear I.E.E. • The compost pile, when we worked our kitchen gardens and grew some of our own food, was indeed a source of “black gold.” I would not put cat poop into a compost pile unless I knew that it generated sufficient heat to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria and other organisms in cat feces.
It is good that you are using a fragrance-free cat litter. We are all better off without synthetic chemical fragrances, from laundry products to toiletries, in our homes, and our gardens would be better without herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Such chemicals are likely to be present in a corn- or wheat-based clumping cat litter, and I would not use that kind of litter in my garden.
Dear Dr. Fox • When I whistle, my dog is able to quickly locate where the sound is coming from, and looks at me. When I whistle at my cats, they look all over and can’t seem to locate the sound . It’s like the Monty Python skit called “Confuse a Cat.”
Is there something different about the way cats and dogs locate sounds, or are my cats messing with me? — S.P., St. Louis, Mo.
Dear S.P. •
Cats aren’t stupid, nor are yours (necessarily) “messing with you.” Rather, in my opinion, they are having difficulty understanding why you are whistling. Could you be mimicking a bird outside or in another room, setting them off on a search for it? Or do they simply think that whistles do not come from people, so it must be from a bird somewhere else?
Dogs have spent thousands of years longer with humans than have cats, so they have evolved a greater ability to read our body language and signals with greater alacrity and accuracy. They know through early experience that a whistle is a signal to get their attention, or to come, or to execute some other particular behavior.