Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder, chats with Kate Benjamin, New York Times bestselling Author and Founder of Hauspanther, about some simple ways to make your home the perfect place for your new cat (or kitten or kittens!).
This video is part of the Pet Voices LIVE series. CLICK HERE to see the full schedule of videos.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:02
Are you bringing home a new cat or a new kitten? You’ve got your list. It’s in front of you. You’ve got food on it. You’ve got treats on it plus toys and litter. Have you thought about your home and how you’re actually going to set it up so that your cat feels welcomed and it’s a place where you both can thrive?
That’s what we’re talking about today on Pet Voices LIVE. I am your host Chloe DiVita, and I’m really excited about the guest we have because a few years ago, I was volunteering in Colorado at a local cat rescue center. It’s called Almost Home Cat Adoptions. And when I walked in, the facility was free-roaming and there were couches and tons of nicely designed cat trees and shelving all over the place. And I looked around and I just thought, “Oh my gosh, it looks like Kate Benjamin herself came in here and designed this place.” And when I told the woman that she was floored, she got red and she was like, “I love Kate Benjamin. She’s my idol. This is exactly what I was going for.” And it was like the best compliment I could have paid her.
So today I am welcoming Kate Benjamin, founder of the cat style brand Hauspanther and Kate’s been writing about cats and design since 2007. She’s the co-author of two New York Times bestselling books on residential design for living with cats, Catification and Catify to Satisfy. And she currently designed a line of high-end cat products in partnership with the pet product manufacturer Prime Time Pets. So let’s bring Kate Benjamin into the show here and talk a little bit about this.
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 1:43
Hello, how are you?
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 1:44
We are doing well here and I have to just call out. I mean, just look at where she is. She’s in her home right now. She’s got some feline friends with her. You might not see them all. It’s sort of one of those seek and find games. Can you see all the cats in the photo?
Let’s start at the beginning. This is something you’ve been doing for a long time and that you’ve been passionate about, but how did it start?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 2:11
Oh yes. Well, I have a background in design. All kinds of design – graphic design, interior design, product development. Both undergraduate and graduate work in those areas. And I always loved cats as a kid. I had a family cat, but I wasn’t really responsible for it. And then this sort of perfect storm happened in my thirties, I was in graduate school and I got a couple of cats. And then I started sort of seeking out cool stuff for cats because I didn’t want just sort of the run-of-the-mill beige carpet stuff. And then I started working at a children’s products company and this particular company, Boom Ink, made beautiful modern children’s products. So for parents who just because you have children doesn’t mean you have to lose your sense of style.
So I said, how come nobody’s doing that for cat parents? And at that time I started writing a book, which is when we first met. So that was back in 2007, sort of at the boom of mommy blogging. Everything was really exciting and new. And I just took a certain approach to it where I was looking for well-designed cat products to write about and more and more just kept showing up. And there was a huge audience. People were really looking for this sort of take on things. I got lots of media attention, but it basically just came out of my own sort of desire to find well-designed things.
And when I say well-designed, I don’t just mean aesthetically pleasing. That’s a big piece of it, but they also have to be very functional. They have to meet the needs of everybody who’s going to use it. And in the case of pet products, the pets use it. But so do the pet parents, right? We have to clean it and live with it. So I started looking at things from both perspectives. What do cats need and love, but I don’t mind having it in my home? So that’s where it all started. And then it just evolved from there.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 4:31
It has definitely evolved in many ways. And one of the things I love about your ideas and the products that you’re involved with specifically is you have both that eye on design and functionality, as you said, but you also think about costs. And it’s not that there’s nothing that’s a nice high-end costing product, but even your things that are lower end are still high end because they might be a little bit cheaper than one would think, but there’s no compromising on quality and design and function. You keep that kind of the forefront of everything you do.
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 5:07
Well, I think that’s easier these days because there has been such a huge boom in the pet product industry and specifically for cats, because we’re kind of a little bit further along in terms of cool stuff, hip stuff, innovative design for dogs. And cats have not really caught up.
And then when you look at dog products versus cat products, a lot of dog products are about sort of being active, on the go, outdoorsy, toys, leashes, and camping stuff. Whereas pretty much everything for cats is about the home and the interior and in that environment. So I have tried over the years, I’ve written about some very expensive, beautiful things. And early on, I was finding a lot of things from Europe, from Germany and the Netherlands, and I mean $5,000 cat trees that were just beautiful, completely friendly, and just absolutely fine furniture. And people of course would give me tons of comments when I write about something that caught that.
But my point was, “Hey, I’m not expecting everybody to be able to buy this $5,000 cat tree, but be inspired by it. What does it look like? What does it do? Think about that level of design and then do something that is more affordable either DIY or craft something. And then now there are more and more of these big tech product companies that are paying attention to that level of design and offering things that are more affordable. Just by the nature of the companies being bigger and having bigger distribution and manufacturing systems, they are able to produce things that are really well designed, but more affordable and more accessible.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:02
Yeah. I love that, especially Prime Time Pets who is one of them that you’ve partnered with so that you’re able to actually give your design ideas and eye to the products that they create.
What I would love to know, so if I’m getting a new kitten or cat, whether I’ve had cats before or not, but this is a new cat and I’m thinking, “Okay, I want to try to set my home up as best as I can.” I want to talk about this on a couple of different levels because I think there’s the first level of what maybe is just lying around people’s homes or some ideas they can do to just make quick changes so that they don’t have to go out and even spend any money? What are some ideas in that bucket?
HOW TO LET CATS THRIVE AT HOME
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 7:41
Yeah, definitely. So there’s some sort of big general areas that you want to hit on when you’re talking about Catification and setting up your home for your cats is to give them a truly enriched environment that meets their species-typical behavior, their needs, and really helps them thrive. Because one of the things that frustrate me the most is when people say, “Oh, I’m going to adopt a kitten because they don’t really need anything. They can take care of themselves.”
Well, yeah, they’ll survive like that, but we don’t want them to just survive. We want them to be cats. We want them to be happy and healthy, have no behavior problems, and be clearly engaged throughout the course of their life. And so, creating the environment that engages them is really one of the most important tips for new cat owners that I can give. So in that world, you want to think about climbing and perching, scratching, hiding, and lounging, soft spaces to sort of relax and get away, and then playing and toys, which really represents hunting. There’s also, as you said before, feeding and water and litter, those are all really important things too.
So I kind of talk about all of those, but that first group, which is sort of about the aesthetics. Climbing is such a big, huge thing. And you can purchase a premade cat tree or cat tower, or you can install cat shelves on a wall. Or you can install just any shelf,
Oh hello. Someone’s in there.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 9:22
I know! He went in!
CLIMBING AND PERCHING
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 9:24
Hold on! Wait a minute for your cue.
So the idea of climbing and perching is to get them anywhere up off the ground. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be way up very high, but just places that are raised. So you might already have that, like the top of this couch is a very popular lounging perching spot.
Oh, Sandy. This is his favorite spot actually. Do you see his ears?
So, just looking around your house… my cats can go from either this perch here or from this table, from the floor up to this table, up to the top of the sofa, along the top of the sofa, back over to this table, and then up to that shell.
So think about just rearranging the things you already have, maybe going from the top of a sofa up to a little shelf you hang, to the top of a bookshelf that you already have, clear off the top. So you just want to think like a cat, look around the room. If I’m here, where do I want to go? So that idea of climbing and perching is important for them because cats are both predators and prey. So they’re constantly observing, when they’re in an environment they’re on the lookout for what can I get for a snack, and what can get me for a snack. So being up high gives them that better sense of territory.
And so that’s just one really important thing. And you don’t have to go out and buy a lot of fancy things for your cat’s first day home. You can move around what you already have or purchase just like regular shelves at Home Depot or IKEA and put some carpet on top, I have some of those right over there. That’s sort of the next part of the superhighway you can see.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 11:11
I love that because I feel like if anybody can walk into their main living space and just look around and say, ”What do I have and how can I use it?” And that probably helps them answer. “Okay. So that means I only need to get one shelf.” A little bit of planning helps them see where the path can be for their cat to kind of take those steps.
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 11:33
And you may have to make some decisions and give over some surfaces for cat use. Take that vase down off the top of the shelf and just say, ”This is going to be a cat surface now. I live with cats, it’s their house too. I want them to be happy.” So, climbing and perching.
Hideaways are also a really important thing. There’s actually a lot of research on shelter cats that show that if they have a space that they can go into that’s visually hidden and they can’t see other cats or people or they can get away from the action, that it reduces their stress behaviors. And so they will actually, by reducing stress, will be healthier and happier and in a shelter situation can be adopted more easily. You want to make sure you’re bringing a kitten home to that same sense of security.
This little hideaway here, being demonstrated by Pico de Gato, is one of my favorites. It’s the Cat Ball.
And this is important because I’ve given him this cool little hiding space and it’s here on the sofa near where we sit when we watch TV, part of the family, as opposed to him hiding under the bed, in the back of the closet, cowering somewhere in fear, finding their own little crack or crevice that you don’t want them hiding in because you can’t reach them. It’s dusty under there. You want them to have a lovely place. They feel comfortable.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 13:08
What I love about that and what I’m hearing is the idea that we might think about hiding like we have to hide the hiding spot isn’t actually the goal. It’s having the spot for the cat to hide in, but incorporating it into a space that is inviting and that we know where they are. Because I’m sure Pico de Gato feels very, very much hidden at the moment, even though he’s sitting right next to you.
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 13:30
Yeah and he’s one of my shier cats actually. He doesn’t normally sit this close.
So we have little hiding spots all over the house in different areas. There are cat trees that you can buy that have hiding spots in them as well.
Hold on. I have to distract him before he knocks something over. Come here! Good job!
And so yeah, if you have multiple cats especially, you want different areas in different parts of the house, because they will rotate. Cats like to do that thing where different parts, different times of the day, different parts of the year. They have different favorite spots. So hideaways are very important.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 14:15
Love that. So you mentioned climbing and perching. We talked about that and hiding. You also talk about scratching and I know that this is a big one for people because it’s… I’m not going to get into the whole declawing thing because you should never do that. It’s a whole different discussion, but I know that scratching is important for them. So what are some tips there?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 14:33
So scratching is important because it’s a way for them to mark their territory because they’re leaving both the visual mark and a scent mark because they have glands between their toes. And so they’re really leaving their mark and they’re grooming their claws. They’re getting a good stretch when they scratch. So you want to have a number of different scratchers around your house so that they use those designated scratching surfaces instead of your furniture and things you don’t want them to scratch on.
And now an important thing to think about scratching too, is you want to put those near places where you spend a lot of time. So your office chair, the sofa where you watch TV, near the bed, because that’s where your scent is strongest and cats want to combine their scent with yours.
And so I talk about lots of different kinds of scratchers. First of all, different scratching materials. So this is one of my products called the Scratch Pole. It’s got a seagrass rope, but it also has carpet-y felt textures. So there are two different textures in one. This one is fun because it takes advantage of unused space. So it telescopes, so it kind of fits into place under a table. It uses tension, so it doesn’t need a big base. It holds in place under a standard desk or table. So like if you’ve got a little dead space under your desk, you could put the scratcher under there. You’re cats really going to enjoy going in that area, hanging out, scratching, playing with the toys. So this is an example of a vertical scratcher.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 16:15
That’s so cool. Wait, how much is that? How much does that go for?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 16:17
So this one is $24.99.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 16:20
That’s so reasonable. I was like, okay, is it going to be $50 or more?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 16:24
Nope. Again, this is a good example of things that the prices are coming down. So it’s not ridiculous, especially with scratchers because they will go through them. Some cats are very delicate and this will last forever, but some cats will scratch through it, and that’s what you want, you want them to use it. So you don’t want to spend a million dollars. The more expensive the scratcher is, the longer it should last.
So this one from the Refined Feline, which I think is beautiful, is made of really heavy-duty, outdoor Rattan, like outdoor furniture is made of. So the cats can really get their claws in there, but it doesn’t tread. It’s also pretty sturdy, so they can jump up on top of it. And you can also hose it down like you could with any outdoor furniture, which is really important with any cat furniture cleanability.
So you want to look for a vertical scratching, horizontal, incline. There are wall-mounted scratchers, if you don’t want things on your floor. So I’ve got some cardboard wall-mounted scratchers over here. And I like to sort of make a little scratching obstacle course, so as they go around the house everywhere, there’s like, “Oh, I can scratch here.” And so they can leave their scent in all of these different places. And it’s kind of interesting in their marking territory. Scratchers are a must when bringing home a new cat.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 17:51
Nice. Is the one behind you, a vertical scratcher?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 17:54
Yes. So this is actually one of my other products. This is meant to be a little bit further down on the ground so they can stand on the ground in front of it and scratch it. These guys sometimes can reach it from here, but it also is a perch. It also has toy storage inside. The top opens up and you can stash toys, and it has a little toy dangling from the bottom. So that’s my CATchall version. But that is a good example of a wall-mounted one, so you’d want those somewhere where they can easily access it.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 18:28
And I love that you called it an obstacle course. Cause I think that makes sense in people’s minds. “How can I set it up so it still looks nice?” It doesn’t look like some kind of ridiculous obstacle course, you let your five-year-old put it together, so he can get the ping pong ball into the hole. It looks nice. I mean, you obviously, around you right now have an obstacle course for your cats, but it looks so nice.
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 18:54
My coffee table, you can kind of see the top of it. This is just that standard white coffee table from IKEA, but I’ve covered both surfaces. There’s a lower surface and an upper surface, I glued on floor carpet tiles. So the whole table is a cat scratcher and the idea of a soft surface. So either a scratcher or a bed, those soft surfaces, again, they’re leaving their scent. So they’re having a sense of ownership. They feel more comfortable when they can kind of have what Jackson and I call scent soakers in Catification. So they’re leaving their scent and feeling comfortable, in this case, this is a horizontal scratcher.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 19:43
That’s great. I love the floor actually. We have floor carpets in our house because you can just take a piece off and go, “Oh I need a new piece.”
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 19:51
Or hose it down. I love it. Well, the reason I love the floor carpet tiles is that you can cut them up for a project like this and the ends don’t fray. When you cut regular carpet remnants, that edge frays. With carpet tiles, because they have that backing holding all of the fibers together, you can cut into any shape. And so I’m always gluing them on things and making stuff out of them. I love them.
TOYS AND PLAY
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 20:19
I love that. Okay. So one more thing before we kind of wrap up here, even though those of you watching live, stick around because we’re going to have an After the Show and talk more with Kate.
So we went over climbing and perching, scratching, hiding, and then you talked about playing, toys and stuff, playing hunting, having that instinct. For those bringing home a new cat or working on elevating the space for their current cat, what are some easy things to do in that realm?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 20:40
So you always want to have a number of different toys around, and you kind of want to think about them in terms of what prey they represent. So something like this is a wand toy that has a little sort of noisemaker on the end. So this is kind of more like…
Oh, everybody’s tired now. Look at him over there. That’s the Whisker Box. It’s a cute little square little bed. Oh my gosh. Everyone’s just lounging.
So this is like a bug or something on a string, like a bird. Is it like a mouse that’s going to skitter or like a spider or a lizard? You want to think about all of the types of prey that a cat would be chasing in the wild and simulate that with different toys. So like my Modkickers are meant for them to grab on with their front paws and kick with their back feet. So “Bunny Kicking” we call that, so kind of like larger prey.
And then the other thing that I love to use are treat-dispensing puzzle toys. So like the Exerciser and this is the Baleno. These are toys that you open up and fill with some treats and we have some treats here, guys. And then you can adjust the size of the opening. He’s like, I will demonstrate that.
So you can adjust the size of the opening. So then you give them the toy and they have to work to get their treat to fall out. So those keep them entertained. You can have slow feeders, so if your cat eats too quickly, if they eat raw dry food, this will slow them down, and they’ll eat small meals throughout the day. There are other types of puzzle toys like this is the Stimulo, which is more like a big stationary thing with different height compartments here that you can put treats and things in there. You can also stash little toys in there and then the cat has to use their paws to pull the toys out. So I like using different treat and puzzle toys to keep them active throughout the day.
Oh, I have a kitten here!
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 22:54
I know you have a kitten!
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 22:55
A kitten! Wait this is not the kitten.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 22:57
We talked about it beforehand, but share with everyone, how many cats you have?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 23:08
This is Mr. Gray. He’s a foster. And he will be available for adoption here in Phoenix through a local rescue for anyone interested in bringing home a new cat. There are currently 12 cats, plus Mr. Gray, living here in my condo in Central Phoenix, which is about 1100 square feet. It’s just a two-bedroom condo, but I do have a 250 square foot Catio, where all the litter boxes are. So a Catio is another fantastic Catification element.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 23:40
Love those. And then you have two in your office too, right?
Kate Benjamin, Founder of Hauspanther – 23:43
I have a design studio in downtown Phoenix, and there are two former ferals who lived in the colony outside the studio.
Oh! He threw it onto the floor.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 23:56
Perfect. Alright. Well, those of you watching live, stick around. We’re going to bring Kate back, but for the moment I want to say thank you for being here and sharing all of this amazingness.
And people can find you at hauspanther.com. And that’s how it’s like the German word, H A U S. Hauspanther.com. And I mean, Kate, your site is filled with everything from t-shirts to jewelry, to all of the Catification type home design things for people and their cats. It’s a wonderful place. And if you end up there and go down some rabbit hole, it’s not our fault.
Alright, love talking with Kate because it is really important. I think as we think about how we can create a space for cats, that means that they are not only living but thriving. And I think that that’s really important. Like Kate said, sure, a cat can survive on its own doing a lot of things with just some food and some minimal things, but that isn’t how they thrive. That isn’t how they’re happy.
And it’s really not the relationship we, most of us, who bring cats in want to have with them. And we want to be snuggling them and holding them and doing everything that we can. Assuming they like that at the moment that they like it, but offering them a space that makes them feel good. That makes them feel like they can do all these things from climbing and perching, to scratching and hiding, to playing and hunting. We’re bringing an animal into our space and I think we should be working towards making it their space too. And so hopefully some of these tips here allowed you to see ways that you can do that.
And if you’re bringing home a new cat or kitten and you need more recommendations, go to hauspanther.com and check out all of the amazing resources and products that Kate has there for you because she has got you covered. All right. That is this week’s show. And it was wonderful to have everybody here. Until next week, we’ll see you later.
For more information on Catification and Kate Benjamin at Hauspanther:
Website – www.hauspanther.com
Hauspanther Gear Guide – CLICK HERE
Facebook – Hauspanther
Instagram – @hauspanther
Twitter – @hauspanther
What are your cat’s favorite toys or scratch posts?