Partying at the Cincinnati Comic Expo

This weekend is ComicCon!  The Cincinnati Comic Expo has grown every year since its inception, drawing celebrities and huge crowds.  I, along with several other Word Branch Publishing authors, have a booth this year, and today was a blast.

What could be better than an entire convention center full of sci-fi/fantasy fans?  We sold a lot of books and made a lot of new friends.  If you’re visiting the site because you got one of my awesome cool postcards, welcome!

Looking forward to another great day tomorrow.  I’ve got a model lined up to cosplay my main character Khalira, and I can’t wait to see her all painted up.

It’s a busy weekend full of good geeky fun.

What rocks about working with a small publisher

There are a lot of ways to publish a book nowadays.

The old-school traditional way is to get an agent, who will then try to get your book picked up by a big publisher.  “Big Publisher” includes the “Big 5” (at least I think it’s currently 5…things change quickly in that world which otherwise moves so slowly) and a lot of other larger presses.   What separates them from small presses?  Two things, besides sheer volume.  One is that they often offer advances to authors they’re publishing.  Small presses just can’t do that.  I’m not sure the big guys always do, but it’s what your agent is fighting for, among other things.  The second is print runs.  Large publishers do print runs, which is printing a certain number of books in hopes of selling them.  Small presses more often use “Print On Demand,” (or POD) for printing, wherein you order a copy, they print a copy, and send it to you.  That’s gotten really quick and efficient, and it keeps anyone from being stuck with a thousand printed copies of something that doesn’t sell well.

Those two things are why small presses exist…no advance (so their only financial outlays are editing, cover design, and all the legal stuff), and no print overhead.  If nobody buys a certain title, then it doesn’t get printed.  A lot of small publishers are e-book only, and don’t even do POD.  But there’s something about holding a copy of an actual physical book that has your name on the cover…even for me, who reads almost exclusively on Kindle these days.

The third option is self-publishing.  Anyone can do this with anything they’ve written of any length or quality.  Just push “publish” and it’s out there, for better or for worse.

So what’s cool about a small press?

A lot of things.  One is timing.  Large publishers are notoriously glacial in their dealings.  If my agent sells my book today (please, let her sell my book today), it won’t be printed until 2016 at the earliest.  Big publishers are currently looking at least a year ahead to fill their dockets.  They’re slow to read manuscripts, slow to reply, slow to offer a contract, slow to edit, and slow to publish.  It’s just the way it is.

Small publishers are nimble.  When you send your manuscript to a small publisher, it might be the owner herself who reads it.  There are no endless committee meetings where acquiring editors have to convince the money-folks to accept a manuscript they’ve fallen in love with.  Small pub reads it, likes it, accepts it.  I sent Flamewalker to Catherine at Word Branch in January 2015.  I had a signed contract within a month, and the book was published less than four months later.  It’s slower than self-pub, but way faster than large.

And small publishers do so much for you.  If you self-pub, everything is your responsibility.  You have to do your own edits, or pay someone else to do them (you should really do this…nobody can edit their own stuff properly.  Nobody.  You just can’t.  You’re too close to it. For the love of god, pay someone to edit your manuscript before you puke it into the world and subject innocent lives to your typos and horrible formatting).  You have to design your own cover, or pay someone else to do it (you should really do this…you might be really good at Photoshop, but self-pub covers often look like self-pub covers.  A stock photo with your book title in Comic Sans does not a good book cover make).  You have to format it yourself for whatever e-book or POD service you’re planning to use.  You have to get all the legal stuff (Library of Congress, ISBN number…a bunch of stuff I don’t know about because my publisher did it for me) done.

Small publishers do all that.  Within a few weeks of acceptance, I had an editor (the amazing John, who took my rambling mess and made a book out of it).  We worked together over Google Docs for weeks to get it right.  Then it went to proofreading.  Then back to me for a final proof.  Meanwhile Julian was painting the artwork for my cover (isn’t it gorgeous?).  The end result is a professionally edited and proofed book that looks amazing on the shelf.  And all that work was done for me (and with me, in the case of editing) by Word Branch.

So how will my next book be published?  I’m hoping my amazing agent will get me into a bigger publisher.  Because that’s what agents do.  But even if she doesn’t and I end up with another small pub, or staying with the great folks at Word Branch, I’ll be all right with that.  Small publishers are the best of both worlds…all the support of a big gun, with the speed and personal input of self-pubbing.

A word of advice:  don’t submit your manuscript to agents and small pubs at the same time.  Agents really hate it if they offer representation on your book, then find out that you’ve closed a lot of doors by getting the book rejected by a lot of publishers before the agent has a chance to work her magic.  They want something no publisher has seen before. But if you give up on finding an agent, or just don’t want one for whatever reason, then consider looking at the little guys.  They have a lot to offer.

Have you had an experience with a small publisher?  Share in the comments!

Less than two weeks ’till pub date!

In less than two weeks, I’ll officially be a published author.

Pretty cool.

Technically I’m already that because of some short stories and a poem, but this is the big one.  This is the first novel.

We’re through with editing and it’s been handed off to the proofreader.  She’s contacted me with a few questions (“So, Flamewalker.  Is that all one word?  Because I can’t find it in the dictionary.”  I reply, “It’s fantasy.  I get to make up words.”), and says she’s enjoying the read.  Hope she’s the first of many.

I learned a lot in editing.  Word Branch assigned me an amazing guy, to whom I’ll forever be grateful.  If you’ve never been professionally edited, it’s quite an interesting experience.  I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was the best set of eyes this manuscript has ever had on it.  My beta readers are great, but they’re looking for different things than editor John.

John’s a tough audience.  He doesn’t let me get away with anything.  His most common comment was, “you’ve already said that, like, 97 times.  Can we please cut this?” and “that’s a really long sentence.  Let’s break it into two.”  Those things didn’t surprise me.  When I wrote Flamewalker (which is the first novel I wrote, three years ago), I imagined it being read by people who might put it down for a week here or there.  It seemed prudent to remind them of stuff.  Every chapter.  The story has two main point of view characters and I though readers might forget what the protagonist was doing while they read the antagonist’s latest crime.  John assures me that this is not true.  So if you read this book and find yourself going, “wait, who is that again?  What just happened here?” blame him.

We cut a lot of repetition and a lot of needlessly wordy blather.

But we also added some stuff.  There were times he’d say, “Really?  This big moment, this important thing just happened and you’re going to summarize it?  NO NO NO!  Bad writer!  Write me a scene!”  So I’d write him the scene, because he was always totally right, every time he’d ask.

And that’s why having a professional edit is so important.  I’m grammatically fairly sound.  And we didn’t make any big changes to the story.  If I’d self-published it when I thought it was ready, it wouldn’t have been an embarrassment.  But nobody can truly edit their own work.  I’ve said that to a lot of people, and somehow didn’t realize until this experience that it applies to me, too.  A professional editor is trained to find the holes, to shore up the crumbling walls, and separate the stuff a writer thinks is important from the stuff that truly is important.  Flamewalker is leaner, stronger, and much tighter than it was two months ago.

So get ready, everyone.

April 24, 2015, Flamewalker releases into the world. It’s a feminist fantasy, and I’ll probably offend a lot of folks by starting with a Goddess instead of a God.  I’m cool with that.  It has magic and a little romance, a bad guy I hope you’ll love, and tattoos that mean a lot more than just art.

Hope to see you there.

Even Michelangelo practiced painting before he did that ceiling.

I am fortunate in my friends.

My writing group and my personal circle contain a number of writers both aspiring and accomplished, and each one has taught me something valuable.  And now I’ve been lucky enough to acquire an agent and have a small-pub novel coming out in less than a month.

So with those vast weeks of experience, I feel qualified to go all Obi-Wan and start delivering sage advice to anyone who asks, and also to anyone who doesn’t ask.

I’m beta reading for a couple of friends right now. For non-writers, beta readers are the first people besides you, the writer (the alpha reader, because you can’t help but read as you’re writing, and please, ye gods, do some editing before you inflict your first draft upon your kind and honest buddies) to read your work.  Some writers have betas read as they write, hoping to save themselves rewrites when a beta suggests that something in chapter 2 doesn’t work that affects the rest of the work, and so months of writing has to be scrapped.  That doesn’t usually happen, and I personally prefer to write the whole thing, do an editing pass for major ugliness, then see what a close friend or two thinks.  Either way is fine.

I digress.

One friend I’m reading for is really talented.  He’s been working for a couple of years on a book that promises to be amazing when it’s done, and he’s almost there.  It’s his first novel, and it’s very dear to his heart (as everyone’s first novel is).  When you’re writing the first one, it’s hard to think about anything else.  The idea that it might not get published, might not be successful, might not actually be the masterpiece you think it is just can’t cross your mind.  You’d go crazy. But the truth is that a lot of excellent published authors have early novels creeping around their hard drives that will never see the light of day. Although the authors didn’t realize it while they were writing, those novels were practice.  They taught the writer how to write.  How to craft a story.  How to develop characters.  They are flawed in some way and are probably best left unread, but they served a purpose and their echoes will reverberate through the rest of said writer’s career.

But my friend is stuck.  He’s been working so long and hard on this first novel that it’s begun to take on a life of its own. In his mind, this book is his Sistine Chapel; the work that will define his career.  This may be true.  It’s going to be a really good book.

But the Sistine Chapel was not the first time Michelangelo ever picked up a paintbrush.  Probably not the second time, either.

Painters practice painting.  They buy a canvas and some oils, and they paint something. And it’s usually pretty crappy.  So they paint over it (because canvas is expensive), and they paint something else.  Which is probably also fairly crappy.  So they paint over it.  And so on, and so on, until finally their paintings stop looking like they were painted by an epileptic chimpanzee on a trampoline and start looking like a bowl of fruit or a sunset or God and Adam bumping fingers.

THAT’S when it’s time to get out the scaffolding and start looking up at the ceiling.

But writers aren’t like that.  We think that because we’ve been reading books since the halcyon days of under-cover-flashlight-reading that we’re instantly going to be fully-formed bestselling authors with the first word we type.

A few writers are.  I hate them.

Most of us aren’t.  Most of us need some practice.  Most of us have to bang out a lot of words before any of them don’t suck.  And that’s okay.  We owe that practice to our readers.  Before we ask any friend or family member to devote precious hours of their time to reading our words, we owe them enough practice to make sure that what we’re giving them is not one of those initial hideous paintings that should never get further than stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet.

I suggested to my friend that he take a break from his Sistine Chapel and write something else for a while.  A short story.  A novella.  Another novel.  Something to clear his mind so that he can take a new look at his masterwork with fresh eyes, and something to take the pressure off this first novel to be “the one.”  He’s not going to do that, and that’s fine, because my advice might be complete and total crap.  I have no idea what works for anyone but me, and I’m not even sure about that.

But he’s a dear friend and someday I look forward to announcing his publication date here.  Meanwhile, back to the canvas.

It’s happened! I got the call!

Nobody who hasn’t tried to enter the world of publishing will understand how thrilling this sentence is:

Wendy Vogel is represented by Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency.

It’s such a simple sentence. And it makes it sound so easy.

Write a book.  Find an agent.  Enjoy success.

And in a way, it was pretty easy.  I got her attention with a murder mystery.  I hardly queried it at all…fewer than ten queries total.  I pitched it at a conference and got requests there, too.  Carly Watters found it unsolicited in her email slush and liked it.  She emailed me and asked for some revisions, which I made.  She asked for a few more, which I made.

She liked them.

She called me.

She offered representation, and I accepted.

Simple.  A slush pile success story.

And if this were the first novel I’d written, it would be miraculous.

It wasn’t.

Wasn’t the second, nor the third.

The novel that nabbed me the agent is my fourth.  The first is being edited at this moment for a small publisher release later this spring.  He’s doing an amazing job, and the book that comes out is going to be pretty cool. The second and third are gathering metaphorical dust on my hard drive.  They may never see the light of day, and that’s OK.  If they turn out to have been nothing more than writing exercises so I could learn how to write a decent book, then I’m all right with that.  Anything worth doing takes practice.

It’s funny.  If someone picks up a paintbrush for the first time and slaps some oil on a canvas, they don’t expect to be Rembrandt in one day.  They expect to spend years perfecting their skill and honing their talent until eventually their paintings are worth looking at.

But everyone who can read thinks they can write a novel.  And it’s true.  Anyone can.  A novel is just a whole lot of words typed all together.

A good novel is something more. It takes time and skill.  It takes practice.  How to plot?  How to convey?  How to interest and captivate?

It took me a while to figure it out.  I painted a lot of ugly paintings.

But I got better, and eventually it happened.  I finally wrote something good enough to land an agent.  And not just any agent.  Carly’s the real deal.  Check out the company website.  I got really lucky.

So for all of you out there in the query trenches, take heart.  Keep writing.  If you’re not getting the responses you want from your current manuscript, write another one.  And another one.  And another one.  Until you get it right.

Because when you do, when you finally get the call, every word you’ve ever typed will be worth it.

Our first anthology!

It’s out there.

Our first anthology.

Be afraid.

Two years ago just after I’d finished my first novel (recently acquired by WordBranch publishing), I joined a local writing group.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.  They’re an amazing group of writers ranging from sci-fi to screenplay, memoir to fantasy erotica (elf sex, apparently. It’s a thing.  Who knew?).  We have multi-published authors, international bestsellers (well, one international bestseller), and lots of enthusiastic hopefuls.  And when I found them they were working on a short story anthology.

Those interested submitted stories, and we spent the better part of a year helping each other get them right.  The results were formatted and prepared for publication by Catherine at WordBranch (starting to feel the theme here?), and today it’s available.  Only paperback so far, until I can figure out the whole Kindle Direct thing.  I was recently elected group leader (which sounds really impressive, and isn’t…less a case of me stepping forward and more a case of everyone else stepping back), so I’m now in charge of this thing.  All proceeds go to a literacy charity endorsed by Book Bums, the little bookstore where we meet.

It’s a fun little anthology.  Mostly dark stuff, with a few happy stories thrown in for relief.  I hope you like it.

And keep your eyes on this site.  There’s a very big enormous huge announcement coming next week.

It’s official…I have a book deal!

Well, it’s official.  The contract is signed.  After nearly three years of writing and four completed novels, I finally have a book deal.

Surprisingly, it’s for the first novel I wrote.  FLAMEWALKER is a coming-of-age character-driven feminist fantasy.  I’d shopped it around to a bunch of agents and got some requests (and subsequent helpful rejections), but ultimately had shelved it in favor of newer works.

But when Word Branch Publishing opened to queries in January, I took a chance.  OK, full disclosure: three members of my writing group Cincinnati Fiction Writers have been published by Word Branch.  They’re the publisher of anthologies containing two of my short stories.  So I wasn’t a complete unknown.  Catherine the owner already knew who I was and had an idea of how I write.

I’m not ashamed of that.  In publishing as in every business, it’s often who you know.  And if I got a leg up by having published writer friends, I’ll take it.  She still had to like my book.

And she did.

And she’s going to publish it.

Word Branch is a feisty little indie out of North Carolina.  They’ll handle everything from here: editing, formatting, cover design, copyright, and as much marketing support as any publisher offers these days.  What sets Word Branch apart from all the other indies is that they have an on-staff artist who hand paints a cover for each book they publish.  No stock images, no crappy half-assed graphic design.  Word Branch books stand out on the shelves because Julian creates something original for each one.  I can’t wait to see it.  You can check them out at

I have no idea how long all this takes.   Months, at least.

But soon there will be a novel.  You’ll be able to buy it as e-book or paperback.  I’ll be able to call myself a Published Author and not have to add “of a couple of short stories.”  Just Published Author.

Stay tuned.

Thoughts on Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavior issues I see in practice.  It can turn a pet into a shelter pet really quickly, and because it’s a true phobia, it’s hard to control.  It can be helped, but it takes weeks and months of work, and sometimes drugs.  Usual disclaimer:  I’m not your vet.  I can’t give you specific advice for your dog.  These are general thoughts.  Consult your vet as needed.

So what is it?  It’s a true phobia, no different from your terror of spiders or snakes or heights or whatever; no less real, and no more logical.  Always keep this in the front of your mind when dealing with a separation anxiety dog.  You can’t punish a phobia away, and you can’t logic a phobia away.  You can only attempt to retrain a brain that has made a bad association with being left alone.

Most separation anxiety (hereafter referred to as, “SA”) dogs are equally terrified in a crate or free in the house.  There are some crate-only phobics who are fine as long as they’re not crated, but the only way to tell is to chance it and risk coming home to no woodwork and no couch.  The ideal situation to retrain a SA dog is to not ever leave him (or her…but we’re going to just use “him” today) alone at all until he’s comfortable (which takes months).  If your family situation permits that, fantastic.  If not, then either consider doggie daycare (which is amazing for socialization and confidence-building), or know that the training will take longer because you simply have to crate him when you’re gone to work.

Make a distinct difference between training time and actual “I’m leaving for work” time by only using the crate when you’re actually leaving.  No crate for training.  You’re trying to develop a dog who can be free in your house while nobody’s home.

Here’s how to think about this.  I’ll use myself as your example.  I’m afraid of man-made heights, particularly elevators.  I could no more ride an elevator to the hundredth floor of a building than fly to the moon.  So what if I had to?  What if I had to give a speech (that I couldn’t weasel my way out of) on the hundredth floor of a skyscraper one year from today?  How would I do it?

I could drug myself into oblivion and snooze up the elevator, but then I couldn’t give my speech.  I could wait until the day of the speech and try to suck it up, but I’d be such a panicked mess I couldn’t possibly make any sense, plus my audience would be offended by my pooped-in pants.  Here’s what I’d do.

I’d start with a three story building.  I’d ride that elevator until I was comfortable at the third floor.  Depending on my phobia, that might take a day or a month (if I wasn’t ready for that, I might start by just looking at the elevator doors, walking in and walking right out with someone holding the door open so I couldn’t get trapped in it.  I’d also read about elevator safety precautions until I felt I could at least do three stories).  Then I’d find a taller building and go up to four.  Then five.  If I got to six and panicked, I’d go back down to four until I was OK, then try again.  Slowly, slowly, over months and months, I’d work my way up.  (If you’re interested, I’m good up to about 28 floors as I write this.  I once spent a whole night in a hotel on the 26th floor and I even slept.  I still don’t like it, but I can do it.)  In time, I’d have worked my way all the way up to a hundred, and I’d give my speech.

Maybe stay for a drink at the rooftop bar.

The point is, you’re not going to get me up to a hundred without a total bowel-draining freakout unless you spend the time it takes to slowly work me up there.  You might stuff me in an elevator and leave me there and hope I’ll eventually calm down, but I won’t.  I’ll freak into catatonia.  That approach is called “flooding” and it doesn’t work well.  Don’t do it to me, and don’t do it to your dog.

So what do we do with the dog?

We start by looking at the elevator doors.

On a day that you’re NOT LEAVING ANYTIME SOON start the training.  Turn on the TV in preparation.  Grab your car keys, grab your coat, whatever you’d normally do before you left the house.  Do NOT crate the dog.  Ignore the dog.  Grab your stuff, but instead of leaving, go sit on the couch.  Ignore the dog.  Don’t look at him, don’t talk to him, just sit there and stare (this is why you turned on the TV).  Dog will be freaking out thinking you’re leaving.  He’ll jump at you and try to get you to pet him.  Sit.  Ignore.  In some amount of time (minutes, I hope, but be ready), he’ll give up jumping at you and sit down, sigh, and look away from you.  When he does, tell him he’s a good boy (once…not a praise-fest), put your keys and coat away and go on with your day at home.  Do this again tomorrow.  And the next day.  During this time if you do have to leave him alone, crate him (or bathroom or basement or whatever it is you do when you actually leave).  It may take a week or a month, but at some point he’ll start to ignore the keys-and-coat routine.  He’ll have learned it’s a game, and you don’t actually go anywhere, and he gets a petting and a “good boy” when he sits calmly.  When he does, it’s time to close the elevator doors and start riding.

Now you’re going to grab your coat and keys and walk out the door (garage or front…whatever door you usually go out to leave the house).  Count to five, then walk back in and sit on the couch.  Ignore the freaking out dog (“You left me!  What the hell, you were supposed to just sit on the couch but you LEFT??”).  Wait.  When he calms down (on his own…you ignore and watch tube) and sighs and looks away, put keys and coat away and go on about your day.  Do this count-to-five routine until you can do it and come in and dog’s like, “Oh, no problem.  You went out and counted to five.  No biggie.”  Then make it ten.  Then a few minutes.  Slowly ride the elevator higher and higher.

At some point you’ll go too long and he’ll go back to freaky.  Cut your time back down to where he’s cool.  See why I told you this takes months?

Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can leave for a couple of hours and he barely notices you’re gone.  This is the goal.

Things to remember:  if you have a SA dog, your goings and comings are critical.  If you make a big deal of coming home (“Hey, there’s my boy!  I missed you so much!”), then he thinks you’re as worried about being away from him as he is.  When you do have to crate and leave him, don’t make a thing.  Out for potty, then right into crate.  No tearful goodbyes.  Close crate and leave.  When you get home, open crate and outside.  If possible, don’t look at him and don’t talk to him.  He’ll be freaking out to greet you which seems sweet, but if you reward that behavior (by petting, talking, paying attention), then it’s what you’ll continue to get, and any freaking out is NOT what we’re going for here.

The cardinal rule of dog training (for any issue) is: reward the dog you want.  If you have a dog that’s jumping and peeing and acting like an idiot, is that the dog you want to reward with attention?  Probably not.  Reward calmness.  Reward independence.  Do not reward attention-seeking (pushing your hand with a cold nose demanding to be petted).  It’s rude.  You’re the person, and you decide when you want to pet the dog.  It’s harsh, but you’re trying to change a whole mindset. These dogs are troubled and terrified and you can’t let anything slide.  If you’re with him, you’re training him even if you don’t realize it.

A word about drugs.  They can help.  They’re not a cure.  How much valium would it take to get me to the hundredth floor today?  Enough to knock me unconscious.  A little bit isn’t going to do the job.  But a little bit might allow me to go up from four to six.  And six to eight.  Maybe ten.  It can take the edge off, and allow me to focus without quite so much terror.  That’s what drugs are for.  We use Prozac and Xanax and a variety of other meds to take the edge off anxiety for dogs who need to calm their brains down so they can learn something.  Drugs don’t do the teaching, they allow the learning to happen.  If you think your dog needs meds, ask for them.  But there is no pill that will make a crate-phobic happy about being locked in a box all day, any more than there’s a pill that will get me to the hundredth floor without a pants change today.

Punishment doesn’t help.  You’ll just make him even more miserable and terrified.

Distraction doesn’t help.  You can give me a Nintendo DS in the elevator, but past a certain height, I’m not going to play with it no matter how cool the game is.  All I’ll see is the floor numbers flashing by.  A phobic dog locked in a crate could not give a crap about a Kong full of peanut butter.

Separation anxiety can be helped, and crate-phobic dogs can be made comfortable in the house.  It takes months of work, but your dog is worth it.

Consult your vet, and good luck.

Advice about housesoiling cats

Here’s my first blog post on pet care!

It’s totally cheating because I just copied a handout I wrote a couple of years ago for my office.   I give this to anyone who brings me a cat who pees on stuff, and I’m happy to share it with you.  Standard disclaimer:  I don’t know your cat.  I’m not your vet (unless I am).  The advice I give in this blog is general advice and should not be construed as specific treatment advice.  Only your own vet is your own vet and my advice is just the result of my experience with eighteen years of seeing really a lot of cats.  Use it as you will.

Here we go.

There are many challenges associated with cats who do not always urinate in the litterbox. The following is advice based on many years of dealing with these cats and the messes they make. Always begin with a thorough medical workup because there are a variety of medical issues which can cause poor litterbox habits, and all the behavioral options in the world will not stop a cat with bladder stones from seeking a comfortable place to urinate. This is a very common problem, and there are many steps you can take to help improve your cat’s chances of returning to the litterbox.

Litterbox possibilities

Many cats who do not use their litterbox avoid it because of either an acquired aversion to it (fear of the location, ambush by other cats, soiled and unattractive litter) or because of an acquired preference for other locations to urinate.   To help avoid aversions, make sure that there are plenty of litterbox choices in your home. Experts suggest that in a problem household, there should be a litterbox per cat, plus one (5 boxes for 4 cats) so that there is always a clean choice. The litterboxes should ideally not be placed all together, but in different locations in the home (at least 2 locations) so that if one area is occupied or unavailable (or simply less desirable), they have a choice. Sometimes cats are fearful of the litter area because of another cat’s bullying; this is a location where a bully will sometimes set up an “ambush” of another cat, which makes it a frightening place to be. Litterboxes should not be near feeding stations. They should not be near “scary” things such as furnaces or water heaters which might “kick on” at alarming times. They should not be in locations where the cat feels exposed to danger (for example, where the new puppy can come running up, or grabby toddlers might lurk). Consider your cat’s health and fitness: if the only litterbox is in the basement and your cat has become arthritic, he may simply be too sore to manage the stairs as often as he has to urinate. Offer plenty of chances to “do the right thing.”

Most cats prefer uncovered litterboxes. The hoods tend to hold in the dust and odor, which is preferable to a human, but makes the litter area unpleasant. If you have a hooded box and notice that your cat prefers to urinate in the open air (such as the corner of a carpeted room), or that he uses the box but always does so with his head sticking out the door of the box, then you might improve the situation by simply removing the cover from the box. If this causes you to have to scoop the box more often to avoid house odors, that’s also a good thing.

Most cats prefer very soft litters (as evidence, most healthy cats who housesoil do so on carpet, preferring that soft feel under their feet). The modern scoopable litters are excellent in softness. Choose unscented varieties, as cats frequently do not like perfumes and additives. Experiment with different depths of litter; some like it deep to dig, others like it more shallow. If you see your cat perching on the edge of the box to go and then digging around the wall rather than in the litter itself, this is a sign that he does not want to touch the litter because something about it does not please him. Try another brand. My own cats prefer Scoop Away and Arm and Hammer brands, and try to avoid others if I buy them.   If you are using the old-fashioned clay litters and fear the boxed scoop litters due to cost, know that in the long run the scoopable litters are actually much cheaper since you only need to regularly scoop out the clumps of urine and feces, and refill the box as needed. You only need to completely dump the box and rinse it out (no detergents or chemicals) once a month or less, depending on your cats. I have 5 cats in my home and I buy a 14 lb box of litter every other week or so. Most cats hate the alternative litters such as the pine pellets or crystals, though there are a few easygoing cats who find them acceptable.

Larger boxes tend to be preferred by cats over smaller ones. Cats like room to move and dig. If you have a cat who does not squat down all the way to urinate but rather just stands in the box and pees out the side, do not use a regular litterbox at all, but cut a “door” into an open storage box (such as Rubbermaid), found at most stores (Home Depot, Meijer). I like to keep a big plastic tray designed for washing machine drips under each of my boxes to help with any spills or tracking. Most cats hate those prickly mats they sell for the box entry to catch litter.

Scoop each box daily.   Remember that a box might be completely unacceptable to a cat if there is any mess in it at all (from himself or from another cat).   Many people are quite pleased with the automatic boxes which do this for you, though they have their own challenges and I encourage you to do research on them before you purchase one. Remember that scooping out feces daily is essential to help prevent the spread of feces-borne diseases like toxoplasmosis.

To make regular scooping easier (more convenient, and therefore more likely to happen) in my busy house, each of my litterboxes has its own scoop kept with a sealing-top garbage can right next to the box. Any time I walk by, it’s easy to just scoop out any mess into the can, close the top and walk away (and wash hands). When the trash bag in the can is full, I can just take it out then. There’s also a product called “Litter Genie” that works on the same principle and has its own bag refills. I find this to be a lot easier than finding a scoop and a grocery bag each time I see a mess, and having to take it to the outside trash can no matter the weather.

Another option to make scooping more convenient and thereby encourage you to do it more often is to use a flushable cat litter and keep a box right next to your most commonly-used toilet. I love the “Better Way” flushable litter which I buy from (I haven’t found it locally, I just have it shipped right to my house). Every time I go into the bathroom it is easy to scoop the box right into the toilet, then flush the whole mess and wash my hands as usual. My cats love the Better Way litter as it is very soft under their feet. Not all septic systems can handle even flushable litter, so check your system before using to make sure you don’t end up with a clog. I am on city sewers and have used it for 6 years with no trouble, but a plumber would know better if your system will handle it properly.

If you have a determined carpet-peeing cat, this is a difficult habit to break. One solution (after cleaning the soiled carpet, discussed later) is to simply accept that the cat feels the need to urinate wherever he has chosen to go. Until a permanent solution is found, it is sometimes easier to simply place a litterbox in that area (corner of the dining room, wherever). Many cats will happily use an uncovered scoopable box placed in their chosen area. This is unpleasant to have in a frequently used room, but many people find it preferable to have a cleanable box which they can remove when company comes over, rather than a dirty carpet that stinks no matter what you do.

Another solution which can be very helpful is to provide the soiler an acceptable soft place to pee. If he has told you clearly that he likes to pee on soft things (by continuing to urinate on carpet, laundry, etc.), then giving him an empty litterbox with an old towel in it (no litter, just the towel) provides him a way to pee on something soft while sparing your carpet and clothing. I keep a “towel box” in my litterbox room and my house-soiler is quite content as long as the towels are washed regularly. Again, this is not an ideal solution in that stinky towels are not loved in many homes, but I prefer a stinky towel I can wash rather than stinky carpet I am stuck with.  NOTE: I have recently transitioned his towel box to doggie pee-pads, and that works great. No more nasty towels to wash.

How to clean soiled carpeting

Begin with the knowledge that cleaning up cat urine on carpet is only a temporary measure. There is no way to clean peed-on carpet so that a cat can’t smell it; you are only trying to make it so that you can’t smell it. Cleaning is a stopgap measure to help you correct the problem cat’s behavior, but simply cleaning a mess will not change a determined cat’s activity.

Begin by locating all the urinated-on spots. Buy a blacklight, available at home repair stores and party stores. Cat urine fluoresces under blacklight which makes finding urine spots much easier. Dog urine, snot, and vomit fluoresce as well, but it is a slightly different intensity (you’ll get good at figuring out what’s what). Find each spot and note where they are. If you are fortunate, they will be along the walls, which allows you to pull the edge of the carpet up from the tackstrip so you can clean not only the top of the carpet, but the padding and subfloor as well. Pull up the edge and clean around the baseboard, wall, subfloor and tackstrip (be careful…sharp, rusty nails!) with a non-bleach cleanser. Remember that cat urine is primarily ammonia, and that bleach and ammonia mix together to form a very toxic gas. Bleach on cat urine is a very dangerous combination. I prefer either Pine-sol (many cats do not like the smell of pine) or a cleanser I found at Home Depot by Zep, a citrus-scented odor eliminator. Scrub the hard surfaces and use a sponge to soak and wash the carpet pad, which is just a big sponge itself. You may have to do this several times. The Zep cleanser can be used on the backing of the carpet itself as well; I have not tried this with Pine-sol. Prop the lifted edge of the carpet up and aim a fan on the area to make sure each layer is dry.   For the top of the carpet, many cleansers exist. I am fond of the Simple Green cleanser sold specifically for use in the Spot-Bot automatic carpet scrubber (a must for anyone with pets or children).   I also like products by Resolve. Experiment with different cleansers to find the one you like best. Make sure everything is dry before you lay it all back down and if possible, cover the area with something physically large so that the cat cannot get to the area again (furniture is best). Remember that all this cleaning work will NOT make it so that your cat can’t smell the urine anymore; you’re just trying to make it acceptable for humans. If your cat can get back there, he might use the area again. Covering with plastic or foil can help, but many cats will urinate right on the plastic or foil (which does conveniently give you a urine sample you can bring to your vet for testing).

The only way to truly make a soiled are completely undetectable to a cat is to remove and throw away all soiled carpeting and pad.   Do this yourself several days before the new carpet (or preferably hard surface flooring such as Pergo or hardwood) is installed. The scent of urine IS in your subfloor (wood or concrete), even if you can’t smell it. While the floor is bare, remove all soiled tackstrip. Scrub the baseboards and all soiled areas with Pine-sol again. After that is dry, you must seal the floor before anything else is laid down. Home repair stores sell products specifically for this purpose; they will be labeled as “vapor barrier” products and found in the paint section. Bullseye and Killz are two good brands. Paint the subfloor with a roller until opaque over every soiled area of subfloor using good ventilation. Allow to dry fully before installing any new flooring. Do NOT neglect this step when replacing carpet or you will not improve the problem at all and your cat will very likely return to the same spot on the new carpet. I am a huge fan of solid surface flooring; most cats will not elect to urinate on Pergo, and if they do, you can simply wipe it up and be done.

Please consult with your vet for further information on any of this advice, and do not give up. Remember that your cat is not being “bad” on purpose; this is a compulsion no different from a person with a compulsive disorder.

Cats have no concept of “bad” or “good” and they do not urinate on things out of anger or spite, only out of stress or anxiety.

Punishing a cat for soiling a carpet or personal items does NOT help and only makes the problem worse. Try to spend quality time with your cat doing things he likes to do (petting, playing with toys) knowing that reducing his stress level is key to reducing the frequency of house soiling. Try to reduce any known stressors (dogs that chase, children who grab) and make the home as happy as possible so that the cat knows he doesn’t have to worry about his safety, food supply, cleanliness, or comfort. A product called Feliway is a potent pheromone which can help some cats lower anxiety through scent. There are also medications which can help with stress and anxiety in cats who cannot be helped in other ways. Litterbox issues are the number one reason why cats are surrendered to shelters and euthanized, so please consider all these suggestions to try to help your cat stay in your home.

Good luck!