MY FATHER, who loves animals almost more than he loves his work (the only reason he didn't become a verterinarian was because they made you learn Latin in those days), particularly dislikes cats. They smell, he says, So do cigarettes. He's never had cats and he's never smoked.
And sometimes he tells of his father trying to run down cats on the road.Or is it chickens? Anyway, his father died of heart attack. I have nothing against cats.
But to the point of cats smelling.
Cat lovers, and there are many millions of them for sure, should not take offense at all this. There are some perfectly great cats who never cause a fuss, such as a gray one I know named Mrs. Peale who likes the boys. But I also know for a fact that cats cann smell.
Not long ago, when I was in what has become a frequent state of looking for shelter, a friend offered me a room on the second floor of his new house in Arlington. And a fine room it was, too, with a handy nook for my mattress and a wonderful view of the maple saplings sprouting gaily in the gutters.
One problem with this room, my friend explained. Friday, the cat, a handsome black cat who is a little touched in the head and spiteful now and then, but friendly nonetheless, had done something a few times on the carpet up there.
"I'm sorry about the smell," said my friend.
No matter. Friday found happier watering grounds in the basement. I survived.
But it can be a problem.
Suppose you have bunches of cats -- or even dogs, for that matter -- and not all of them are completely civilized. You may have a problem not only with your rugs, but with the wood floors underneath them. If it gets to the point that you can look up at the underside of the floor from the basement and see that this is so, you might despair of cats altogether. Or you might despair of ever settling the house you bought from a nice old lady who had 50 cats with varying ideas on sanitation.
Over the years, cat lovers have devised a couple of remedies for feline improprieties. One of these is vinegar. You mix it with water and apply it in whatever amount is necessary. To the floor, not the cat.
Louis St. John, who runs the Animal Inn in Rockville, explained another. "It's really a house secret. But, well, we use, uh . . . you know . . ." What he tried to say was that at Animal Inn they sometimes dispel odors produced by cats and dogs with an application of a feminine deodorant solution.
"We use it on the dogs, too, when they come in with skunk on them."
St. John wasn't very optimistic about getting it out of carpets and floors. He said, in fact, "If it's in the carpeting, you've got one hell of a problem. It's almost impossible to get rid of it and no carpet cleaner will guarantee he can take it out."
But they don't know everything at Animal Inn.
A few years ago Raymond D. Smith, the publisher of "Cats" magazine, bought a 140-year-old house in Washington, Pa. Smith's wife breeds cats and they kept four of them, along with two dogs, in the house. You can guess what happened.
"It was some time before we learned our dogs weren't behaving," Smith recalls.
Smith said he tried a number of things to get rid of the smell. Then he experimented with a new product from a company in California.
"It's the only thing we've found that works," Smith said.
The name of the product -- brace yourself -- is "Urine-Erase."
About three years ago, James Mageean, an independent chemist living in Palos Verdes, Calif., went shopping for something to relieve the house of certain odors left by his children's dogs and cats.
"I go to the market to find something" Mageean recollects, "and I find there's nothing but garbage on the market."
Mageean was working with enzymes at the time and thought this might lead to a breakthrough on the cat front. Sure enough, he said.
"There are two chemicals installed in carpets [by wayward cats]. One of them, urea, leaves food for bacteria. When bacteria feed on it, they produce an ammonia smell.
"Urea is a very stable compound," Mageean said. "Acids will break it down. Vinegar is an acid. But vinegar is slow and you have to use so much of it that some people can't stand the smell. Acid also weakens the carpet fibers."
Mageean's solution is an enzyme, which he calls "urinase" (the proper name for this particular enzyme remains a trade secret). An application of the enzyme solution breaks down the urea. A second-step mixture in "Urine-Erase" dissolves the residue.
A simple equation in today's world is that every chemical problem has a chemical solution. Urine stains, explained Mageean, are caused by oxidized urobilirubin, a chemical similar to hemoglobin. It turns brown when it oxidizes.
"Urine-Erase" attacks the urobilirubin and causes it to vanish into thin air. You don't have to pull the carpets up and you don't have to scrub it out. Poof! So he says.
Will it treat all surfaces? "It will go whereever urine will go." But remember, he cautions, you'll probably have to put as much down as the cat did.
Mageean says it won't rot the carpet padding or the wood work.
A couple of other things. Not everything that appears to be a stain is a stain. If a green or blue carpet has yellowish spots, says Mageean, then the urine has probably bleached the color out of the fibers. No amount of "Urine-Erase" will repair it. Also, the reason cat smells become worse in damp weather is bacteria feed more when they have water.
And never use ammonia where cats have trod. Says Smith: "That only attracts them back."
"Urine-Erase" is available for about $10 a pint, $20 a half-gallon, by writing Ark Distributing Co., Inc., 2231-E Galaxy Court, Concord, Calif. 94520. Include $1.75 per order for handling.
On the other hand, you might consider switching to birds.