October 27, 2002

"I Really Dig Kitty Litter"

"I Really Dig Kitty Litter" c. Ryan Rhodes, April 11, 2002

I experienced a groundbreaking revelation last week as I read the online news at MSNBC.com. According to one of their news reports, a county in Nevada is disputing the mining rights to a local rich deposit of kitty litter clay. Kitty litter is mined? I did not know this.

Now, I've never owned a cat, and aside from occasionally finding lumps of cat droppings in my sandbox as a child, I never really gave that much thought to kitty litter. Well, that's not entirely true. I remember laughing uncontrollably when I went to the neighbor's to play and their cat would go through the ritual of raking its cat box with its paws and then settling in with a "Do you mind?" expression on its face.

Little did I realize, however, that the dust free pebbles that absorb moisture and mask odors are, in fact, the result of extensive mining efforts of tireless men working in dangerous conditions at the bottom of massive kitty litter pit-mines. Intrigued, I decided to learn all I could about kitty litter mining.

My quest began on the Internet, where I logged onto Yahoo! and did a search on "kitty litter mining." The results were astounding.

Apparently, kitty litter was invented in 1947 by a man named Ed Lowe who suggested his neighbor try using clay instead of sand to fill her cat box. Mr. Lowe was a St. Paul, Minn., native, which begs the question why our license plates don't read "Birthplace of Kitty Litter" instead of "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Although I was pleased to know that Lowe was the founder of Tidy Cat, my thirst for kitty litter mining information remained unquenched. Back to the Web.

Although I was able to find all sorts of information about kitty litter -- did you know the name of a common kitty litter clay is Fullers Earth? -- I simply couldn't find out what type of techniques are used to unearth the precious poo clumping rock.

I don't know. I guess I always had a romantic notion of mining: rugged individualists fighting the odds, and nature, to locate a rich ore vein guaranteed to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Myself, I would have a tough time admitting that I'm a kitty litter miner. Now, gold mining, that's different: the rugged look of a bedraggled gold miner hidden behind a thick beard, his eyes worn by countless dashed hopes; that's mining. Somehow, wielding a pick ax in the name of feline freshness just lacks something. Eureka, I have found a rich vein of Fresh Step!!

HANK: Hey, Jim, I'm a' going up into the mountains again. Probably be gone a few months. I have a good feeling this time.

JIM: Aw, what are you doing, Hank? Yer not chasing after that kitty litter dream of yours again, are ya? When you gonna give that up?

HANK: You watch your tongue, Jim, fore I go an' slice it outta yore mouth!

JIM: Look at yerself, Hank. Just look at yerself. Yer flat broke. Ya lost four fingers the last time ya went up there. Yer covered in cat hair. And, I gotta be honest, Hank, yer not smelling all that good lately.

HANK (faraway look in his eyes): Ya just don't get it Jim. Ya just don't know what I know.

JIM: And what do ya know Hank? Just what do ya know?

HANK: Thar's litter in them hills.

I would be most remiss if I didn't also present a dark side to the kitty litter industry. Apparently, environmentalists take umbrage with kitty litter, maintaining the mining is an affront to the landscape and that kitty litter dust itself is a health hazard.

So, the next time you refill Fluffy's cat box, take a moment to fully appreciate the magical rock into which your favorite feline relieves itself. Let the clay pebbles fall through your fingers; marvel at the super-absorbent nature of the clay. And remember the rallying cry of bygone miners who labored to bring you the precious substance.

Thar's litter in them hills.

Posted by Ryan at October 27, 2002 11:11 PM
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