Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet" by John Bradshaw

My husband and I love our two cats. Our phones and Ipad are filled with nothing but adorable cat photos. We proudly whip out the photos to brag to family and friends. So I thought Cat Sense would be perfect: a way to better understand my furry friends in order to make their lives (and my life) even better.

And there are some great and fascinating parts of Cat Sense. One of the most interesting was Bradshaw's discussion of the future of the house cat. Our well-intentioned programs aimed at neutering as many cats as possible has a dangerous downside: the only cats who are reproducing are those most shy or aggressive around humans, those least socialized and least likely to be caught. We're thus "naturally selecting" cats for those traits least desirable to humans, making future generations of cats likely to be worse--not better--pets. Unlike dogs, which have been bred for centuries to develop certain human-appropriate skills or personalities, we've made no such efforts with cats. And because cats already naturally have traits that are "undesirable" (liking to roam; the prey instinct; no natural affinity for socializing with other animals), the very future of the cat may be in danger.

Take my two cats. Both are somewhat unusual in that each is very friendly, even to strangers; they actively greet people at the door. The older of the two is a "momma's girl"--though she's amiable to everyone, she's particularly attached to me, and if I'm in the room, I get all the attention. She can easily switch from wanting love to wanting to playfight (with claws), and though the coming change is easily apparent to me, strangers can be surprised. And she is terrified of young, rowdy children. So she's a good cat (well, I think she's perfect), but perhaps not ideal for everyone.

The second our cats is probably the "ideal" type cat. He's friendly to everyone, even small children (he'll let the neighbor girls pick him up in a rather undignified manner without any fuss). He gives love and attention freely and will sit in the lap of anyone who's available. He doesn't run or hide; is docile when picked up; and never bites or scratches. But, of course, he had been neutered before we adopted him (and even if he hadn't, we would have done it immediately). And if he hadn't been neutered, it's possible his laid back behavior would have been masked behind raging male hormones. So we're left with a cat who would make an ideal pet for most families being taken out of the gene pool--but it doesn't seem like there's much of a better option.

Bradshaw also includes some interesting tidbits about cat behavior. For example, I always assumed my two cats, which were both adopted as adults from shelters, had been strays. But Bradshaw points out that cats not socialized with humans at a young age will never be comfortable with human company, so my cats' high amiability and friendliness would suggest they did have such positive exposure. Or, he points out that cats' "meow" is largely a reaction to human company--feral cats rarely vocalize. Instead, cats have learned to direct their meows as a way to get human attention (something one of my cats uses to her advantage at an annoyingly high rate!).

Unfortunately, though there's some great information, Bradshaw doesn't know how to keep an audience's attention. Far, far too much time is spent hypothesizing on the evolutionary origins of the domestic cat and the banalities of cat anatomy. These sections feel like a textbook and are endlessly repetitive. I had hoped for more insight into cat behavior (why one of my cats goes outside then wants right back in, then wants out again; or why the other cat will, out of nowhere, dash across the house like she's being attacked) and more insight into how I could be a better "parent," but there was little to that effect. Long sections were incredibly dull, which is why I took several months to actually finish the book.

Thought there's some great tidbits hidden in the tedious, a long essay would probably be more enjoyable to read than the entire book.

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