10 September 2013

Cat Sense (John Bradshaw)

Whelp, that's 80% of my Christmas shopping done...because nearly everyone I know needs to read Cat Sense. (And my eARC is gonna expire, so I need to get a copy for myself too!)

It's no secret that I'm a cat lady. I mean, I love dogs too, and our rabbit Bernie is a hoppity cilantro-noshing jeans-nibbling ambassador for his entire species, but kitties are the beasts closest to my heart. And I love learning about them--I remember dissecting a cat my first semester in college and then coming home at Christmas to our own kitties, running my hands over them and whispering, "I know what you look like inside." (OK, now I've written that, I sound like a serial killer. It was very awestruck and appreciative, I promise!) I've often thought they are really far better animals than we are--their perfect adaptations to hunting, how their sleek musculature rolls under their skin, those enormous eyes. And, of course, I've had important relationships with several, especially my wee yell-y Siamese, Julie, with whom I lived for sixteen years; I will never receive her kind of devotion from another creature. She helped me become who I am.

All of which is to say, of course I wanted to read this book the moment I discovered it existed. I was richly rewarded: Bradshaw's account of the history, biology, and behavior of the domestic cat  is extensive and full of buttonhole-worthy tidbits--and his ultimate argument that, in order to preserve their future, we need to start thinking seriously about actually finishing the job of domestication by breeding cats for sociability, really opened up a new avenue in my thinking. (And made me happy to think that Benny, who wasn't neutered until he was around four, almost certainly has descendants out there, and they must be terrific cats!)

Here, have some kitty facts that I've been bugging my husband with while he plays Candy Crush Saga:
  • You know who was totally all about the orange tabbies? THE FREAKING VIKINGS, THAT'S WHO. Brains' new nickname is obviously "my little Viking cat."
  • 4000 years ago, the Egyptians developed the first word for "domestic cat," Miw; soon, it was also a name for girls. Same thing happened with the Romans, for whom "Felicula" (little kitten) was a common girls' name about two millennia ago.
  • We all saw that medieval manuscript the kitty walked across with ink on its paws, right? Bradshaw cites several examples of places and times (like first-century Britain) where we know cats were well integrated into society because they left footprints on clay tiles.
  • We all know cats can see better in dim light than we do...but it'd never occurred to me that they see worse than we do in full daylight. Obvious in retrospect.
  • Oh, also I read about the most arduous scientific experiment ever, testing how the amount of handling kittens get in their second month of life affects their relationship with humans. It involved picking up 29 eight-week-old kittens (who are at their MAXIMUM CUTENESS), to see what they'd do. Science is awesome.
There's more, of course, including some great tips on keeping indoor cats happy, and info about the structure of feral cat societies that explains (ruefully) why Brains and my parents' cat, Juju, keep scrapping even after living together for three months--they're angling for matriarchal dominance. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much I can do about that, besides try to keep their stress down individually with lots of pets. Another arduous process!

I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to say that this book is highly recommended for cat folk--but I'm gonna say it anyway. Also, meow.

(FTC disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Basic Books, in exchange for an honest review.)


  1. HEE. I see I'm not the only Candy Crush widow. (To be fair, I play it, too, but I'm capable of NOT playing it, whereas that cannot be said for other members of my household.)

  2. Yeah, I don't get it. If it dispensed real candy, maybe I'd pick up the habit?


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