Monday, September 2, 2013

Title: The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do- and How to Get Them to Do What You Want
Author: Mieshelle Nagelschneider
Genre: non-fiction, animals, cats

We used to have a cat with "issues." Rusty would chew things; this was a habit he acquired as an adult cat. He would chew shoelaces, holes in clothes (new clothes, of course), and chomp on computer mice cords and speaker wires, yet, he somehow never shocked himself. Our vet never found anything physically wrong with Rusty and I would always joke that Rusty needed a shrink... Imagine my pleasant surprise when The Cat Whisperer  appeared at my local library.

I have had pet cats for my most of my life; after observing various felines for so long, you think you have a pretty good understanding of the feline universe, but I did learn a few things:
1. Your sweetest cat is usually the most anxious. All that cuddling and rubbing against you may actually be your cat's way of trying to self-soothe (29).
2. Spatio-temporal hierarchy (61). This is a mouthful that means "kitty timesharing." I have noticed this behavior among my four cats but I didn't know it had a name. Examples: Midnight and S'mores will follow me into the bathroom in the morning as I get ready for work. My other two cats, Oreo and Cocoa, will not be in the bathroom at the same time as Midnight and S'mores. At night, Oreo will snuggle by my feet or behind my knees. Cocoa will snuggle near my chest. Midnight will be hanging out in the room but not on the bed. S'mores will be hiding in the closet and will come out every now and then for some head rubs. Oreo will groom Cocoa but not the other cats; Midnight and S'mores will groom each other but not Cocoa or Oreo.
3. Flehmen response. Do you ever see your cat sniff a spot (or some stinky shoes) and make a weird face? This is the cat sniffing and tasting a scent, "A can take in the taste and scent of something simultaneously with this organ [Jacobson's organ], which is just behind the incisors in the roof of the mouth" (209).
4. The plague spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages after widespread persecution of cats.
5. There are 40 to 70 million homeless or feral cats in the United States but "relatively few homeless or stray dogs (21)." Why the feline to canine disparity? Cats are not highly valued as dogs (21).

So how did Mieshelle Nagelschneider become a cat behaviorist (and get paid for it)? As a little girl she would (try) to befriend the feral cats near her family's ranch. A combination of patience, experimental techniques, and having a special gift set on her on the track of helping cats and their humans resolve difficult cat psychological issues. Working as a vet tech and moonlighting as a pet sitter helped solidify her work with cats. When she starts feline behavior therapy, she first corrects the behavior of the human (usually the cause of the cat's behavior problem):

"Cats are more often killed for unwanted behavior than for any other reason. Imagine if the number one killer of human beings was not disease but behavioral problems. We'd view this as a mental health epidemic" (20).

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