At turns hilarious and poignant, Lost Cat by Caroline Paul is a treasure – a simple story that reveals multiple truths and makes you laugh out loud.
Caroline Paul was home recovering from a serious accident when her beloved cat Tibby disappeared. Already weepy and depressed from the prolonged recovery, she was devastated. She and her partner Wendy (who provides charming and very funny illustrations) canvassed the neighborhood, posted flyers and finally mourned him as lost when, five weeks later, in strolls Tibby, fat and happy. Caroline was overjoyed – and suspicious. Where had he been all this time? How had her shy, timid cat survived the wilds of the outdoors? Why wasn’t he eating his food, yet remaining fit and healthy? Most of all, did he love someone else more?
Fueled by painkillers and jealousy, Caroline set out to find where Tibby went on his wanderings, seeking answers through GPS, cat cams, animal communication, pet psychics and pet detectives. With self-deprecating humor – and surprisingly moving insights – Caroline tells the story of their quest and what they found along the way – that technology is great but people are better, that bonkers is in the eye of the beholder. That you can never know your cat (or anyone for that matter), but that’s ok, love is better.
Highly recommended to anyone who has loved a cat, or a pet or anyone.
Deceptively slim and compact, this short novel really packs a punch. Told from the viewpoint of a house cat, emotions run from poignant to laugh-out-loud funny to bittersweet and sad. Through it all, this little cat delivers some great truths about humans and life with an uncanny eye for the truth.
Foudini, the title character in The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat, starts life as a feral stray, born in a wall. When his mother fails to return one day, his cries alert a passing human who rescues him. Adopted by a young couple, he learns to trust the woman (who he calls “Warm”) and tolerate the man (“Pest”) He also becomes fast friends with the resident dog, Sam. Now the young and foolish kitten Grace has been added to the family and Foudini attempts to fill her in on the important issues of life. Through Foudini’s wise observations, we see the world from a cat’s perspective – fulfilling the basic needs of shelter and food to the more abstract necessities of attachment, friendship and love.
This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read – Foudini’s disgust at Warm trying to “talk cat” or Grace’s complete disregard of his lessons are hilarious – yet Foudini remains thoroughly cat-like in his thoughts and reactions. Foudini also faces tragedy and loss and must learn to cope and move on – keep the tissues handy for this section. Beautifully written, this lovely story will stay with you long after you put the book away.
If you’re very lucky, you might run across the audio version of this book. However, it’s only available on cassette, is out-of-print and difficult to find. If you do find it, grab it. It’s narrated by David Hyde Pierce (most famous for playing Niles on the tv show “Frasier”) and is a gem of fine storytelling.
If you’re looking for book that will just plain make you feel good, look no further. I’ve just discovered Joyce Stranger, a prolific English author who writes novels about animals. That may sound horribly middle-brow and non-literary, but The Go-Between is surprisingly engaging and unpredictable.
The book focusses on Flyer, a Siamese kitten who loves people. He begins life with one family and ends up with a completely different, though equally loving, owner. Through the force of his personality, determination and will to survive , he influences everyone he meets. He also acts as a catalyst – bringing together neighbors who create a new sense of community.
If you ever need a recommendation for someone who wants a good story, with a little romance, and is completely G-rated, here you go.
Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a closely observed tale of a tiny black kitten who lost his sight early in his life.
Beginning his life as a stray in South Beach, Homer’s eyes became so infected that his eyes had to be removed when he was eventually rescued and treated by a vet. The vet, after many failures, finds Gwen who instantly bonds to Homer, only a few weeks old.
His new owner has her own set of challenges, not only adapting her household physically (eliminating obstacles and clutter and padding sharp corners) but also integrating the kitten with the two already ensconced feline inhabitants.
The author clearly adores the newest member of the family, but also studies Homer with a scientist’s eye for detail, as she works to understand the needs of her new kitten. She describes how his sense of hearing and touch compensate for his lack of sight.
Parts of the story are heartbreaking but Homer is the very essence of resilience. The author is careful not to attribute human attributes to her cats but obviously admires Homer’s bravery and his will to survive and thrive.
The book, Cooper says, is written for “those who think that normal and ideal mean the same thing.” They will come away with an appreciation of the “slightly left of…normal.”
This is the subtitle of Competability by Amy Shojai. She notes that there has always been much less research about cats and even less about the relationships of cats and dogs living in the same household.
She traces the integration of dogs (first) then cats into human families and how far domestication has gone in each species. Their senses affect their behavior; a fascinating chapter details how the dog’s extreme sense of smell and a cat’s powerful hearing affect how they relate to each other.
She also explains how an action such as rolling over is interpreted completely different by a cat and a dog. (Cats roll over to fight and dogs roll over in submission). Or tail wagging: “The dog approaching with a friendly wag is interpreted by the cat to be ready to attack; and the dog seeing the waving feline tail thinks it’s an invitation to approach and can’t understand why Kitty breaks the rules and slaps his nose.”
This book helps to bridge the communication gap – the largest being between humans and the canine/feline world…
Do animals have souls? Jon Katz grapples with this question, which has intrigued philosophers through the ages, in his newest book Soul of a Dog. Katz studies the animals on his Bedlam Farm, especially the dogs but also the sheep and donkeys, Mother the cat, Elvis the Snickers-eating steer, hens and goats. Katz comes to see each of them as unique individuals, capable of great feeling and understanding.
Katz’s stories about animals are a joy to read – humourous, thoughtful, unsentimental. Each animals’ personality shines through without anthromorphization. They are complete as they are, they support their humans and allow them to live their fullest life. There is Rose, the single-minded work dog, Izzy, who visits the local hospice, bringing smiles and peace to troubled minds, Fly the rescue dog who nearly died, and Lenore who is all about love and affection. A keen observer, Katz notes how his animals interact with each other and with humans and finds self-awareness and admirable qualities again and again.
For anyone who has owned a pet or loved an animal, this book is a must-read.
Lounging in the back yard with your pup? Pick up Play Dead by David Rosenfelt to while away the afternoon. Lawyer Andy Carpenter is a smart aleck, with the redeeming quality of his love for dogs (he used a windfall to found the Tara Foundation – named for his golden retriever).
A trend in mysteries is the deployment of pets as an integral part of the plot. There’s long been a tradition of cat mysteries (Lilian Jackson Braun and Rita Mae Brown) and now man’s best friend is catching up. Try The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Carol Lea Benjamin or one of Susan Conant’s many (such as New Leash on Death ). After reading about their crime-solving skills, you may look at your dog with new respect.
“Creating the Best Life for Animals” is the subtitle to Animals Make Us Human. Temple Grandin, the author of Animals Make Us Human, is autistic and she feels it has given her a special gift in relating to animals.
She emphasizes the importance of play and seeking activities for all animals. To have a rich life, pets need to use their brains – and they do this by trying to satisfy their intense curiosity and by playing. Owners are responsible for ensuring that they get these opportunities. Especially fascinating is her description of the evolution of the domestic dog from the wolf.
Beware Cesar Millan fans; she has fundamental philosophical differences regarding owner dominance and pack behavior. (She doesn’t think the pack leader theory is useful in most households).
Grandin also cites evidence that cats can be trained - by using rewards, rather than negative reinforcement. (This is true with all pets, but especially cats). Cats are still more on the “wild” end of the continuum of wildness to domesticity. Wild animals just run when punished; they don’t learn anything from being punished, other than to fear the punisher.
Grandin’s theories resonant with all species (including our own).
They never snicker behind your back about that unfortunate outfit you wore, or comment on the couple of extra pounds you put on over the holidays; they’re always happy to see you, even if you’ve only been gone 20 minutes. The pets in our lives give so much and ask so little – why not make something special for them?
Pet Projects: the Animal Knits Bible by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne is packed with all kinds of ideas for special gifts for your pets. They run the gamat from practical (dog coats and collars) to fanciful (a tent for your turtle) Dogs get the most attention, but there are toys and pillows for cats, a blanket for your prized horse, even a tiny (adorable) knitted house for your hamster. Most patterns are for knitting or crocheting, but there is also some embroidery and a section on re-purposing old sweaters into dog coats. All of the projects have a touch of humor, for instance there is a rug for your cat except instead of a bearskin, it’s shaped like a mouse-skin as if your mighty hunter had slayed a giant rodent. Or take a look at the “Anti-Firework Dog Balaclava”, a snood-like hat with extra earmuff protection to muffle loud, scary noises.
It’s all charming, adorable and whimsical – much like your favorite four-legged friend.
Yet another way libraries can transform your life! What if you need to introduce a couple new dogs to a cat household? It’s critical to have some control over the dogs’ behavior (forget about controlling the cat).
Many will tell you, “Just throw them all together and it’ll work out.” Maybe, but probably not without a lot of needless stress.
The following books will fundamentally change the way you think about training; it’s amazing to witness the transformation in your pets and yourself:
Dog-Friendly Dog Training by Andrea Arden explains in clear language the philosophy of the Reward-Good-Behavior/Ignore-Bad-Behavior method of training.
Teach Yourself Visually Dog Training by Sarah Hodgson then shows you how to do it with well-chosen photographs and concise instructions.
Another wonderful service your library provides is interlibrary loan. Dvds in the PetsIncredible series are great reinforcement to the techniques you’ve read about. Just ask at the Reference staff for more information.