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Book Review: Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John W.S. Bradshaw

Book Review:  Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John W.S. Bradshaw Summary:
John W.S. Bradshaw, PhD, has been studying the behavior of cats and dogs and their people for over 25 years.  In this book, he seeks to present the biology behind the modern domestic cat in the hopes of helping their humans understand them better.  He also presents theories about the possible future of cats and suggestions as to how to direct that the best way possible for better human/cat relationships.

Review:
I picked this book up because I wanted to understand my adorable talkative tortie fluffball, Ayla, better.  I certainly learned a few things about cats that I found useful in relating to my own, but I also learned a lot about the genetics of cats (not sure I really wanted to learn that), the history of human treatment of them, and theories on their future evolution.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, which could be casually grouped into the following general themes:

  • the genetic and biological history of the cat or just how did we end up with a domesticated tiger anyway
  • how the domestic cat thinks and feels or yes scientists are now proving that cats actually have feelings although maybe not quite to the extent that their most loving owners believe
  • how cats relate to each other or cats hate other cats except for random kittens that are dropped into their nest or possibly other females from their own family
  • how cats relate to people or cats think you are a giant mother cat who is possibly superior (possibly)
  • how cats relate to wildlife or no cats aren’t destroying your precious birds you overly upset cat-haters (um except for possibly the wildlife on small islands but the invasive rats are actually worse and cats hunt them so there)
  • the potential future of the cat or for the love of god stop spaying and neutering the bestest most loving kitties in the world and only allowing the anti-social ferals to breed.

Obviously this is a lot of ground, so I’m only going to touch on each one briefly.  First though, just let me mention that the author is both a renowned expert in this science (the science of cats), and his book also features extensive references.  This is thus a trustworthy source, however, potential readers should be aware that the author (just as every author) has biases, and Bradshaw’s are fairly clear in the book.  The man clearly adores cats, and thus sometimes may sway a bit to the side of positive representations of cats and optimistic beliefs about the extent of their feelings and internal lives.  Now, I love cats too, so that didn’t bother me in the least, but a reader just looking at the science should note this bias.  Additionally, some of the studies he cites for his findings were quite small (under 100 participants, in one case, only 8 cats were tested).  Studies this small show definite room for further research.  Additionally, all of the cat studies he himself has conducted were in Great Britain, so cultural biases and differences in how cats and people interact should be considered when thinking about how he analyzes cat/human interaction and behavior.

The section about the history of the domestication of the cat and the genetics of the cat is, honestly, a bit of a heavy place to start for the average person just looking to get along with their cat better.  There are sentences that go far more in-depth into the genetics of a cat than I really ever cared to know.  Given that this book is marketed toward the average cat owner, it may have been better to dial down the genetic information just a bit to make it easier and also speedier to read in the lead-in into the more modernly relevant information.  The most interesting things I learned in this section were that domestication of the cat happened in multiple different times and places, meaning multiple cultures saw the potential of the cat and domesticated them (loc 267).  There is Egyptian temple art of cats sitting in baskets (loc 634), something I found to be pretty adorable.  The genetics of just how we wind up with torties, which I admit to only being interested in because my own cat is a tortie:

If a cat carries one orange and one brown version of the gene, then both appear in the coat, in random patches: in one part of the skin, the chromosome with the orange version has been switched on, and in another it is it eh brown-black pattern that “wins,” producing a tortoiseshell-tabby (or “torbie”) cat. (loc 772)

If you found that quote a bit tedious to read, just bare in mind that that is the most interesting to me of the genetics information in this section.  The cat is a “hypercarnivore” (loc 1176), meaning that unlike the dog, it has lost the ability to live on plants.  Cats, unlike dogs, must eat meat.  I also finally learned why I shouldn’t worry too much if my cat doesn’t drink very much water:

Cats do have two notable nutritional advantages over humans. First, their kidneys are very efficient, as expected for an animal whose ancestors lived on the edge of deserts, and many cats drink little water, getting all the moisture they need from the meat they eat. Second, cats do not require vitamin C. Taken together, these make cats well suited to shipboard life: they don’t compete with sailors for precious drinking water, getting all they need from the mice they catch, and they are not afflicted by scurvy. (loc 1192)

The next four sections often blurred together, since how a cat thinks and feels directly relates to how cats relate to each other, humans, and wildlife.

Cats can develop a cat form of PTSD if they are abandoned by their mothers early in life:

Kittens that are abandoned by their mothers and are then hand-raised can become excessively attention seeking toward their first owners, though some subsequently seem to “grow out of” this. Based on what we know about other mammals in similar situations, we can assume that after the mother’s departure, the kittens’ brains endure high levels of stress hormones. These consistently high levels cause permanent changes in their developing brains and stress hormone systems, such that they may overreact to unsettling events later in life. (loc 1371)

I found this particularly interesting, since I know my cat was abandoned by her first owners in their apartment when they moved away, and it took weeks for anyone to find her.  I’ve often suspected my cat has some form of kitty PTSD, and I think this scientific information would support that, although the specific type of abandonment was different.

Cats can’t focus on anything closer than a foot from their nose.  Your cat is not being stupid when it can’t spot a piece of food on the floor, she really can’t see it.  It helps to move it around or tap the floor next to it, to get the cat to sniff that area. (loc 1644)

This section also addresses why cats are harder to train than dogs:

Cats are much more difficult to train than dogs are for at least three reasons. First, their behavior shows less intrinsic variety than that of dogs, so there is less raw material with which to work….Second, and perhaps most important, cats are less naturally attentive toward people than dogs are….Third, although dogs are powerfully rewarded by simple physical contact from their owner, few cats are. (loc 2086)

It goes on to explain how to do basic training with your cat, adapted to cats’ specific needs, primarily using a clicker (a device that makes a noise).

Feral cats have shown us that cat society is a matriarchy, with the females of the family sticking together and the toms getting booted out to go roam and make more kittens, although there are certain scenarios in which toms are tolerated living in close proximity, generally in a situation where the tom is valuable for protection of the kittens if the space is at a premium. (loc 2426)

In spite of the ability of feral cats to live in matriarchies, cats are not well-suited for a bunch of unrelated and gender-mixed cats living in one small space.  Cats generally don’t like most other cats, and Bradshaw talks some about how forcing cats to live with other cats they are not related to or don’t particularly like can put undue stress on the cats.

Cats appear to be incapable of sustaining a large number of friendly relationships, even when all their neighbors are close relatives. (loc 2438)

However, the bond the cat feels with its immediate family is strong, and scientists believe they extend that bond to their owners, who they perceive of as being a sort of mother cat. (loc 3080)  This section also offers potential reasons for why a cat may purr or lick their owner, but there is no definitive scientific answer yet.  It is also noted that cat personalities are the result of a mix of nature and nurture, and affectionate owners tend to have affectionate cats but whether they pick out affectionate cats or cats become affectionate in response to the owner is uncertain.

Bradshaw then addresses the concern some groups have that domestic cats are hurting native wildlife populations, particularly birds.  It’s clear that Bradshaw believes that this is mostly a bunch of hokum created by cat-haters as a way to get rid of cats.  This is potentially true, and Bradshaw does cite some good studies about the actual impact cats have on wildlife (very small, and in some cases, helpful since they eat the invasive predator of a native species).  However, it is difficult to believe everything he cites, since his bias in favor of cats is so clear, and I am saying this as a cat-lover myself.  I would find it more useful for his evidence to be presented in a more balanced fashion, as I would then feel more confident citing it to people who are concerned about cat impact on wildlife.

Finally, Bradshaw looks at the potential future of the cat.  He is clearly quite concerned that our current method of neutering pet cats will hurt future cats.

Because neutering inevitably targets those cats that are being best cared for, it must logically hand the reproductive advantage to those cats that are least attached to people, many of which are genetically predisposed to remain unsocialized. We must consider the long-term effects of neutering carefully: for example, it might be better for the cats of the future as a whole if neutering programs were targeted more at ferals, which are both the unfriendliest cats and also those most likely to damage wildlife populations. (loc 4039)

I found this argument to be quite moving and logical.  Bradshaw suggests both that owners might let their pet cats breed once before neutering/spaying them and also that breeders could begin to work at breeding pet cats with an eye on personality rather than looks.  He also suggests focusing spay/neuter programs on feral populations.  This is definitely food for thought, and I certainly will consider letting a future pet cat have a litter of kittens.

Bradshaw ends his book with this statement:

Cats need our understanding–both as individual animals that need our help to adjust to our ever-increasing demands, and also as a species that is still in transition between the wild and the truly domestic. If we can agree to support them in both these ways, cats will be assured a future in which they are not only popular and populous, but are also more relaxed, and affectionate, than they are today. (loc 4072)

A good summary of the overall themes of the book.

Overall, this book will definitely teach cat owners and lovers some new things both about the science of cats and cat behaviors.  Sometimes the science can veer a bit too in-depth for the audience of the book, and also sometimes the author’s love of cats can make him seem a bit biased in favor of them.  However, readers who are willing to skim over the science that they are not so into will still be able to gleam lots of information from this book that will be directly helpful to them with their pet cats.  Also, this audience probably won’t mind the love of cats bias in the science. 😉

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (Series, #1)

March 28, 2015 9 comments

Book Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (Series, #1)Summary:
October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — she’s half fae and half human.  Half Daoine Sidhe to be exact.  She has just enough fae features to not fit into the human world, but her magic is just weak enough to keep her from fitting into fae either. Toby was splitting the difference quite well, serving her fae liege as a private detective and living a semi-normal human life with her human husband.  But when a bad fae turns her into a fish on a mission for her liege, and it takes fourteen years to be turned back, everything changes.  Toby loses her family and her desires to have any ties to the fae world, but the fae world won’t let her be for long.  A high-ranking fae who was also her friend turns up dead, killed by iron, and a curse means that Toby must investigate.

Review:
Interestingly enough, one of the later books in this series was recommended to me by an automatic readalike generator (whose name I know forget) as a readalike for Fudoki (review) a book set in historic Japan about a cat turned into a woman warrior.  I was intrigued by the series, although I wasn’t certain of the connection to Fudoki, and so I put the first book on my wishlist.  My future mother-in-law was kind enough to gift it to me during the height of my cabin fever during Boston’s historic winter this year.  This book hits all the right tones for urban fantasy: a strong yet wounded heroine, a complex mystical world operating parallel to and sometimes overlapping with our own, a single book mystery for the heroine to figure out, and an overarching mystery that leaves the reader wanting to come back for more.

The book takes a little bit to get set up.  There’s a flashback to before Toby was a fish then the book pops quickly forward to the (near) present when Toby escapes being a fish.  It at first struck me as a bit of an odd beginning, but by the end of the book I was loving it.  The fact that Toby has a 14 year gap means that there are elements about her world she has to learn or relearn, meaning when key parts of information need to be told to the reader, it comes across as natural that Toby will need to learn about it or remember it.  She did have those 14 years away, after all.  It’s a plot-telling device, but it’s smart.  It also isn’t forgotten when it comes to Toby’s character.  The fact that she lost her family and all those years deeply impact her psyche, and that’s as it should be.  It helps automatically make her a more well-rounded character.

Halfings are common in urban fantasy, but the ones in this universe are particularly well-done, mostly because there’s just so many of them.  Toby isn’t an anomaly, halflings are a constant, persistent problem for the fae to have to deal with.  They don’t quite fit into fae, but they also can’t just banish them for the humans to deal with.  The humans don’t even know they exist, in fact, most humans who do mate with fae never even know that they did.  While some fae are open to and embrace the halflings, others are not.  Similarly, some halflings will give anything to just fit into fae or into the human world, while others are comfortable living partly in each.  The fact that there are so many halflings allows for a lot of diversity and keeps Toby from looking like a marked heroine.  She is just one of many, dealing as she can.  I appreciate the everywoman aspect this lends her.

Toby is also extremely likeable.  She’s down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about everything.  She has many quotes that sound like an average person talking but contain a kernel of wisdom.  She’s a humble smart woman who maybe doesn’t realize just how much savvy she does have.

That’s the true value in wards; not keeping things out, but telling you if something’s managed to get in. (loc 537)

It can’t all be dreams because a broken dream will kill you as surely as a nightmare will, and with a lot less mercy. At least the nightmares don’t smile while they take you down. (loc 2428)

The fae world is incredibly complex and yet makes a lot of sense.  There are many different types of fae, and they are smoothly introduced.  My personal favorite are the Caid Sidhe.  They are surely the reason this book was recommended due to my loving Fudoki.  The Caid Sidhe are fae who shapeshift into cats, and even in bipedal form have some cat-like features and abilities.  The king of the cats has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Toby that is fun to see.  But also, fae cats.  How is that not fun?  Realistically, though, I wouldn’t have loved seeing the Caid Sidhe so much if there hadn’t been such a variety of fae.  It’s a richly imagined world that is really fun to visit.

The mystery is good, with Toby investigating a murder.  There were plenty of plot-twists, although I did guess the responsible party far in advance of the ending, which was a bit of a bummer.  I also must say that I’m not really a fan of heroines getting wounded within an inch of their life only to be saved by magic repeatedly.  It removes some of the sense of danger for me.  I did appreciate that for once there was an urban fantasy heroine who was never threatened with rape.  That was a nice change of pace.  I’ll take forcibly changed into a fish over that any day.

Overall, this book sets up the incredibly complex fae world of the series, as well as establishes the heroine’s character and background quite well.  Readers will easily fall into the incredibly imaginative world that Toby partially lives in that runs parallel to and sometimes hand-in-hand with our own.  Some readers may find the mystery a bit predictable, but this is an excellent first entry in an urban fantasy series that will leave the reader eager to pick up the next and go back to this rich world as soon as possible.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: The Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

September 13, 2011 5 comments

Cat head in suit.Summary:
Gregor Samsa goes to bed and wakes up as an adorable snuggly kitten!  He has trouble making up his mind about anything, though, and is easily distracted by things like dust and canned fish.  Plus, his family clearly are not cat people.

Review:
This is the first Quirk Classic that I’ve read, mainly because all the others were based on classics I don’t like to start with (Jane Austen and Anna Karenina).  However, “The Metamorphosis” is one of my faaaavorite short stories.  Although, I will always insist that Gregor woke up as a grasshopper, not a cockroach.  (I was the only one in my AP English class who thought this.  Whatever).  In spite of its (epically awesome win) name, this actually also incorporates another Kafka story “The Trial,” which I have not read.  Anyway, when this came up as an EarlyReviewer I obviously needed to have a copy.

The main problem with reworking “The Metamorphosis” to be a cat is that, well, cats are adorable and playful and perfectly normal household cats whereas a giant insect is not.  A lot of the depression, ennui, and conflict in the original story comes from Gregor being an insect.  While Cook does a good job showing the internal workings of a cat brain to go with their adorably quirky behavior, the actions of the family are less understandable.  What is up with this family hating on their adorable son?  Why do they lock him away in a room?  What is up with that?  Of course this gets addressed later when Gregor grows to a disturbingly large size and can barely move around.  I couldn’t help but think of that obese cat that was on the news last year.  However, at that point he was sort of just becoming the monster they were treating him as.  Ok, I just read what I wrote, and quite possibly that is the point of the story.  However, while reading it, it certainly bogged me down.

I also have to say that I didn’t like the illustrations that went with the story.  Somehow, the illustrator actually managed to make pictures of cats that I didn’t squee over.  There’s something wrong with that picture.

Overall I’d say that I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading this, per se, but I also sort of wish I’d just re-read “The Metamorphosis” and hunted down a copy of “The Trial.”  As someone who can be a bit of an emo reader at times, nothing beats Kafka’s brand of ennui and depression.  Why brighten it up with a kitty?  Just…..why?

I’d recommend this book to that odd juxtaposition of reader who loves depressing European lit and doesn’t mind it being brightened up by an adorable kitty.  I think only you will know if that describes you.

3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Free copy from the publisher via LibraryThing’s EarlyReviewers in exchange for my honest review

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Bloggers’ Alliance of Non-fiction Devotees (BAND): August Discussion: How Did You Get Into Non-fiction?

August 10, 2011 15 comments

Hi guys!  It’s hard to believe a month has gone by already since our very first non-fiction discussion in July.  This month Amy is hosting, and she asks us how did we get into non-fiction?

I actually found myself baffled by this question.  Um, I don’t remember not reading non-fiction?  I was raised very religious, although I’m now agnostic, as most of you know.  Anyway, because my parents were religious, I was encouraged (strongly) to read my Bible every day.  That combined with the kid versions of the Bible were probably my earliest forays into what is technically considered non-fiction. *coughs, coughs*

My earliest memories of non-fiction reading that wasn’t connected to religion is a toss-up between cats, airplanes, and westward expansion.  I was fascinated with all three, although cats probably won.  I had an ongoing campaign from when I could speak until the age of seven to get a cat when my parents finally caved.  I used to wreak havoc in the non-fiction section of the library taking out every single book on whatever topic fascinated me at the moment.

My love of non-fiction definitely played into my first choice of major in undergrad–History with a focus on US History.  These classes consisted almost entirely of reading primary documents, and I loved it.  I was also finally surrounded by other people my age who felt the same excitement at reading non-fiction as I did.  So you see, I never really “got into” non-fiction.  I was born that way. Haha.

Check out the non-fiction books I’ve reviewed and discussed since the July discussion:

Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

December 13, 2010 6 comments

Person looking into river.Summary:
Ned Henry is a time-traveling historian at Oxford, who has unfortunately been assigned to Lady Shrapnell’s quest to recreate an historic church.  For the last…god knows how long, he’s been searching for the bishop’s bird stump in the 1940s.  He finds himself suffering from time-lag and is promised a vacation in Victorian England where Lady Shrapnell can’t find him.  Of course, the Oxford historians need him to take care of one teeny tiny little incongruity caused by fellow time-traveling historian, Verity, who just so happens to be as beautiful as a naiad.  Of course, that could just be the time-lag talking.

Review:
Wow.  Wow.  I literally hugged this book multiple times as I was reading it.  I love it that much.  You know that old Looney Tunes cartoon with the abominable snowman who finds Bugs Bunny and then scoops him up and rocks him saying, “I will hug him and love him and squeeze him and call him George” ?  If I was the abominable snowman, this book would be my Bugs Bunny.

It is incredibly witty in that highly intelligent manner that expects you to be educated to get the joke.  Multiple references to classic literature, historic events, and more tossed around as quips and comparisons to events characters are currently going through.  It also features the put-upon hero, Ned, who maintains a good sense of humor about the whole thing in that lovely self-deprecating way that makes me wish the character could pop out of the book and be my best friend.

Additionally, I love history as long-time readers of this blog know.  History was one of my two majors in university.  I was the 7 year old girl who sat around watching war movies and PBS documentaries.  I also love scifi.  Hence, the entire concept of time-travel is one of my all-time favorite things, and Willis handles it so intelligently and beautifully!  I love that time travel is something only the academics do since everyone else finds it dull once it’s discovered they can’t loot from the past.  It makes so much sense!  I love the implication that non-academics are quite happy with shopping malls while Ned and Verity go traipsing around through the past navigating a world distantly related to our own.  One of my favorite moments is when Ned discovers that Victorians actually used exclamations like “pshaw” that are found in Victorian novels.  It’s a historian’s dream come true!

Finally, a significant portion of the storyline revolves around cats.  Adding an extra layer of awesome to this is the fact that cats are extinct in the future, so Ned has never encountered one before.  He makes the initial mistake of thinking cats are like dogs.  Any cat lovers, I’m sure, can envision the hilarity that ensues from this little thought process.  Also, seriously, Willis clearly understands animals perfectly.  The mannerisms of the cats and the bull dog, Cyril, are written to a T.

Put together humor, time travel, history, and animals, and this is the perfect read.  If you enjoy any one of those things, but definitely if you enjoy more than one of them, you absolutely must give this book a chance.  I haven’t loved a book this much in years, and I just….I just want to spread the love.  I also want to go re-read it right now.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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