Behind the Scenes of My Cat From Hell: Creating “The Revolving Door” for Olive and Pepper

Tue, Jul 3, 2012

Climbing & Perching

Hopefully you caught the season three premiere of Jackson Galaxy’s show My Cat From Hell last Saturday on Animal Planet. If you missed it, you can watch the whole episode on the Animal Planet website. Yes, that was me, appearing ever so briefly, in the second segment with Olive and Pepper!

I wanted to give you a little behind-the-scenes peek at what we did to “Catify” Mike and Emilie’s house to help with the issues between Olive and Pepper. This was a¬†particularly tricky environmental design challenge, since Olive, Pepper, Mike and Emilie all live in a small New York City apartment. The apartment landscape includes a couple of deadly areas where Olive was cornering poor Pepper and viciously attacking her. Pepper had nowhere to go and she had completely lost her self confidence. Jackson brought me in to assess the situation and see what we could do to fix it. Here’s what we came up with.

The Kitchen

First, we tackled the kitchen. As you saw on the show, this is where Olive and Pepper had an ugly standoff in front of the camera. We watched as Olive hunkered down and stalked Pepper, who cowered in the corner of the small kitchen with nowhere to go. Once she wedged herself in behind the rolled up carpet in the corner, she was trapped.

Jackson wanted to create what he calls a “revolving door.” Instead of getting trapped, Pepper needed to be able to move up and out of harm’s way. Mike and Emily had already given up the corner to the carpet, so I asked if we could replace it with something that Pepper could actually climb. They agreed, but since Mike and Emilie rent their apartment, they wanted to avoid drilling into the walls, so wall-mounted shelves were out. I’ve always loved the freestanding pole systems and thought this was the perfect place for one, but all the existing shelf designs were too big for such a tiny space. I contacted the folks at Whisker Studio and they made a special set of shelves to fit the space perfectly. There’s even room for the refrigerator door to open!

Now, if Pepper is chased into the kitchen, she has a couple of options. First, she can go up the tree and across the top of a tall, shallow bookshelf we added, then onto the counter and out into the living room. A clean escape! We cleared everything off the counter and added sisal mats with non-slip backing to the top of the bookshelf and the counter, giving Pepper a stable place to land. I like to encourage cat guardians to find existing surfaces that can be designated as “cat only” areas. You don’t always have to add something new, look around at what you already have. And in the photos above, you can see that Pepper is taking advantage of her newly designated areas.

To create an alternate escape route in the kitchen, we added another sisal mat to the top of the refrigerator, which is an easy jump from the upper shelves on the tree. Pepper can now escape to a cozy bed on top of the kitchen cabinets, or she can jump down onto the counter (landing on another sisal mat), and head out the other way.

Emilie and I worked all day assembling and installing the components for the new cat environment, while Olive supervised.

Olive likes to take breaks to play with toys and packing materials!

The Hallway

The second challenge was in the hallway, where there was another dead end. This configuration encouraged Olive to stalk and corner Pepper, so we needed another revolving door here. Ever since they moved in, Mike and Emilie had wanted to do something in this space just for the cats, but again they had the issue of drilling into the walls. We saw the potential here for a wonderful vertical environment where Pepper could climb and hang out. Since Mike and Emily had identified that Pepper is a climber, but Olive is not, this was the perfect way to give Pepper a place of her own, while diffusing a potentially threatening situation.

In came two more cat trees from Whisker Studio, this time using their standard step component, paired with two custom cross pieces that allow pepper to traverse the space from one tree to the other.

To complete the revolving door in the hallway, we added a small table across the hall with another sisal mat on top. On the show, there is a great shot of Pepper jumping from the tree to the top of the table, which allows her to head back down the hall, instead of being trapped in the alcove.

Jackson wanted the shelves to be soft and comfy, in case Pepper decided to take a nap in the tree, so I designed some custom cushions for the standard Whisker Studio steps.

As we saw on the show, it seems that our environmental enhancement — along with Jackson’s other behavior suggestions — is really making a difference for Mike, Emilie, Olive and Pepper. Now Mike and Emilie can go on their honeymoon and not worry about the cats!

. . .

The new “Pepper Tree” will be available soon from Whisker Studio! It’s perfect for small spaces!

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31 Responses to “Behind the Scenes of My Cat From Hell: Creating “The Revolving Door” for Olive and Pepper”

  1. 1

    Miss Modern Cat–you did it again! Great job in the catification of Olive and Pepper’s home. There’s always a solution! Loved the episode–we want more catification!!!

  2. 2
    Pamela C

    luv this solution

  3. 3

    Bravo!! So hard to watch those 2 cats not getting along and the all of the ultimately fruitless steps that their owners took to separate them (i.e. the broom during feeding). Sharing this with my hubby as we have some “dead” spaces in our NYC apartment and would love to provide more surfaces for our cats. -Janna

  4. 4

    I am Mike’s mom…and I cannot thank you enough for the help you gave Em and Mike with these two hellion cars! It has made not only a world of difference in Olive and Pepper’s lives, but also for my son and my future daughter in law… It is amazing! Thanks again… (you are now invited to the wedding!!!)

  5. 5

    I meant hellion CATS…:)

  6. 6

    Thank you, Barbara! I’m glad I could help. It sounds like it’s going to be a spectacular wedding, I wish I could be there!

  7. 7

    I love the tension pole shelving idea. I’m renting also and have been looking for cat climbing stuff that I don’t need to screw into the wall and isn’t dreadfully ugly.

  8. 8

    LOVED seeing you on Cat Daddy’s show. My husband and I were like “OMG, there’s ModernCat Lady!!” : ) Yes, we are cat people! Our dog is a cat person too.

  9. 9

    I could not find the whole episode on the Animal Planet web site, only one small segment. Do you have a link so that I can share with a friend? Thanks!

  10. 10
    Texas, a cat in New York

    We watched the show with the humans and saw you! What a great job you did!
    Thanks for helping Pepper, Olive and their humans =^.^=

  11. 11
    Monique U

    So this is making me think twice about getting that second cat. We have a young gentleman who’s “too good to be true”… playful, affectionate and smart. I’m a little afraid he’ll turn into a “cat from hell” if we impose a companion!

  12. 12

    Absolutely great solution. peace came and not to soon. So distressing for humans and more so for cats.

  13. 13

    I LOVED this installment of “MYFH” so much! and it’s great to read about and see photos of the wonderful solution you provided poor Pepper! ;)

  14. 14

    Very cool!

  15. 15

    You did a wonderful job! I noticed the elongated perch joining the two poles–Whisker Studio should think about marketing that custom design for the rest of us!

  16. 16

    This was awesome! Great job making life so much happier for the 4 of them! Gave me some great ideas for my house!!

  17. 17
    Raminder Kumar

    Great solutions to a very common problem.

  18. 18

    Loved the episode and your solutions! I am looking into ideas like this for my two cats (who don’t fight like Olive and Pepper, but still have their dust-ups from time to time and need the exercise),

  19. 19
  20. 20

    Oh my! You are so cute, and the solutions that you found are so perfect.

  21. 21
    Ma B

    Thanks for helping our daughter and son-in-law with some “cat” and household organization. Your ideas are Perrrrrfectttt for all of them to live in harmony. (Like your headband, too!!)

  22. 22

    Great job, great episode! So good to see you on this one, and loved your solutions in that small nyc apt. (Plus, you looked just gorgeous!)

  23. 23

    Wonderful job! How do I find someone in my area that can help me catify my townhouse? I recently brought home a puppy and now have a need for some elevated routes and want some help finding the best solution. Is catification a category in the yellow pages?

  24. 24

    This is great. I need to do something like this for my cats, as they like to stalk each other. They don’t physically fight, but there can be lots of noise.

  25. 25
    Caren Gittleman

    my heart was breaking for poor Pepper until you came and SAVED THE DAY!!! The concept/execution was simply brilliant! I am sure that a large number of viewers benefited from this interior escape route idea!!

  26. 26
    Glogirly and Katie

    Loved the episode and Loved your cool design solution to bring peace and harmony to Olive and Pepper!
    : )

  27. 27

    Great guest appearance, Kate! Love the show. We don’t have tv or cable and was happy it was available online free to watch. I think all cat pawrents can learn from these shows. Plus I always love to see the cat products used to make their homes more cat friendly.

  28. 28

    I love these cat trees! My only hesitation is screwing the base plate into the floor and ceiling. Is there any other way to stabilize them? The steps on the ones in the photos – are they the birch or the mdf? Thanks!! I really want to do this for my babies but am trying to get it all figured out. :-)

  29. 29

    Lynne, the pole is held in place by tension. It’s not meant to be screwed into the floor at all, and it is optional to use screws in the ceiling. We didn’t use any screws at Mike & Emilie’s.

  30. 30

    Any idea where I can find some of those sisal mats with non-slip backing. I need a few of those around my place.


  1. [...] Kate provided a fascinating behind the scenes look at what went into this catification project on Moderncat. And don’t forget to tune in to Animal Planet tonight at 8pm for a new episode of My Cat From [...]

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