Perplexing Pet Products: CatGenie 120

Dwelling as we do in the impossibly glamorous environs of a three-cat household, we don't find the concept of the CatGenie 120 perplexing. We find it awesome, actually, the kind of Jetsons-y applied-science advance in pet maintenance we've dreamed of. After all, we spend a lot of time on litter – scooping, airing out, changing, raving angrily at split trash bags, worrying that guests can smell cat tinkle – and the CatGenie isn't baffling. It's brilliant. Self-cleaning, self-washing, and self-recycling (among other things, the system features washable granules that get reused over and over), the CatGenie 120 would seem to solve all of a cat-owner's problems.

That's what gets us, though: it just seems too good to be true.

Here's how the CatGenie works, from what we can tell (we've never actually tried one). Your cat does his thing in the litter area, or the "bowl" part of the CG, which is shaped more or less like a "people toilet." After the cat exits the bowl, either the human can hit the "wash" button, or the CG can take care of the process while set to "cat activation," which means the CG senses the departure of the cat and begins the wash cycle. The automatic scoop sifts any solid waste, and sends it to a little breakdown chamber, where it's converted to a liquid and flushed out of the Genie. Then the washing and sanitizing cycle begins, during which the washable granules get cleaned, sanitized – and dried, using a small hot-air dryer in the unit. The process apparently takes less than half an hour. No more stench; no more clay-litter dust filling the downstairs bathroom and choking humans and felines; no more lugging a Hefty to the curb.

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The Genie's website has an extensive and reassuring FAQ about the dimensions and whether the Genie will accidentally clean your cat and whatnot, but it's in their interests to minimize possible problems given the high price point of the technology – problem number one, in my opinion. It's on sale right now at Petco, but the Genie still costs $270 even after the markdown, and if you have "proper" cats like ours, the model with the covered toileting area – the aptly named Tuxedo – could cost even more.

And if we spend that much money on the product, we don't want to have to worry that our cats will use it. The FAQ notes that cats "accept the cat-friendly shape and comfy litter Granules of the CatGenie," and we're sure some – maybe even most! – cats do. Our cats do not accept clumping litter; the little cedar upcycled litter bits; the crystals; a box with no roof on it; a box moved 8-10 inches to the left of where it was; a new pan that's blue; et cetera. They hate change, is what we're trying to say, and we would like nothing more than to believe the Genie site's assertion that "cats come to realize that the cleaning is a good thing. Our animal behaviorists have told us that cats learn to associate the cleaning with a benefit. For cats that's a clean, fresh cat area. They especially like the warmed Granules." It's great that the manufacturers have consulted experts, and we see the logic in felines liking a heated toilet seat – humans like those as well. We just don't think our felines will go for it.

We also wonder whether our cats would freak out at the sound of the cleaning cycle (which supposedly isn't very loud), or try to use the box during the cleaning cycle (which the Genie supposedly has a timer function and sensors to prevent), or just want nothing to do with it and pee next to the Genie, costing us $300 for a large paperweight ($310 if you add in the bottle of Nature's Miracle). But even if the cats accept it, we're not confident enough in our light-plumbing skills to know we can set it up properly. The infomercial makes it sound really cinchy: "Simply screw on the supplied T-adapter to the cold-water line from a sink or toilet." …"Simply"? And then apparently the output hose gets hooked over the rim of the toilet, or run into a laundry-room's waste drain – and in the case of the former, we can't see that staying put without Gorilla tape. Again, anyone who's handier than we are (i.e., anyone) can probably figure these things out, but not everyone lives in a house with a laundry room, or a bathroom with floor space to spare and outlets near the toilet (oh, yeah – it has to stay plugged in all the time). At our house, we just feel like it's going to turn into Puddle City.

Like we said, we love the idea of the CatGenie. We love that it was invented by a rocket scientist, and we want it to work. We just don't think our cats would let it – and it's too pricey to risk it. If you own or have tried a CatGenie 120, please let us know about your experiences in the comments!

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