Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.21.13
Stanstead, Quebec


If I sue, will it be in litter-gation?

We own four cats, which exceeds the number of cats a normal person should have by approximately four. The number of cats you should have should not equal or surpass the number of children you have. If the total weight of your household garbage is sixty percent cat litter, you have too many cats, plus you are placing an inordinate strain on your local landfill.

Who'd have thought, all those years ago, as we played in the sandbox, shoveling and sifting in search of rocks and busted Hot Wheels, that we were establishing a skill set for future litter-box emptying?

Thank goodness for clumping cat litter. What a great modern invention that was, better than the Shake Weight and Toaster Strudel combined. You still have to sift and sift and sift, but each easily gathered lump of litter is a urine-soaked silver lining on an otherwise dark and stinky cloud.

Pet-care scientists should have quit while they were ahead, though, because scented cat litter just makes a bad situation worse. The same goes for scented garbage bags -- you're not fooling anyone, you know!

I was thinking about science the other day while sifting through three -- count 'em: three! -- litter boxes, and I wondered to myself, "Forget asbestos, has anyone ever studied the health effects of breathing in litter dust?"

Back in ancient times (the eighties), if I had wanted an answer to that question, I would have had to go to the library, browse through periodical indexes in the basement in the hope that some magazine or newspaper had published a clarifying article on the dangers and/or foolhardiness of living with cats.

For freelance writers, ahhh!, those were the days. I remember them well. Back then, a writer could go to any editor and say, "I would like to do a story about X" and the editor would say, "We haven't done a story about X, even though other magazines or newspapers probably have, but our readers have no means of accessing those publications, so go ahead and write about X."

Let me put it this way: I once successfully pitched a story to The Gazette about ways to stay cool in the summer. My tips included, "Eat popsicles" and "Splash in public fountains." I believe -- no, I'm quite sure -- there was zero research involved.

Now, though, anyone can find information on just about anything simply by searching the Internet, another miraculous invention whose merits surpass even those of clumping cat litter. For example, our refrigerator's ice-maker (which we never use because it has no water hookup) started ticking last week. TIKKA-TIKKA-TIKKA-TIKKA... on and on, and no amount of whacking, poking or opening and closing the freezer would stop it.

Writing the brand of refrigerator and "ice maker ticking" into a search engine query would surely help me find a solution to my problem.

Probably. Instead, I just took a screwdriver and started removing parts until it stopped.

Because even though we can access a world of knowledge on the Internet doesn't mean we do. Who has time for research? I mean, honestly, if we had known Googling would become such a chore... and a verb...

So instead of actually researching the health risks of breathing in cat litter dust -- I mean, I was curious, but not that curious -- I did the next best thing: I posted the question on Facebook, the home of truth, integrity and a truly astounding number of pet lovers.

I learned from one friend that "cat litter dust is rich in diatomaceous earth, which is commonly used as a natural insecticide and fed to livestock to cure them of intestinal parasites." It was unclear to me, however, whether this information was meant to make me feel better or worse.

I learned from another friend that cat litter dust can harm a male cat's boy parts, resulting in FUS. "FUS?" I wrote back. "What's all the FUS about?" (Because puns are the other reason the Internet was invented.)

"Feline Urinary Syndrome," she wrote back, going on to offer preventive tips like "purchase low-dust litter" and "don't leave food out." Sadly, her preventive tips did not include the advice, "Don't own cats."

A third friend wrote that some litters contain quartz silica, which can cause respiratory problems in cats.

At this point, I was shocked. I was shocked that my Facebook friends had lost sight of the fact that I was concerned about my health, not my cats'.

That's the problem with the Internet: no focus! Thank heavens that never happens in newspapers...

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through He can be reached at