People have theories about cats (and about the people who love them).
Some think, for example, cats know their names.
As someone who’s had four cats, one at a time, over 50 years, I’ve come to realise that few generalisations about feline behaviour apply. If I went out looking for my cat Fred and called out “Elvis”, for instance, Fred would come, if so inclined. Cats are laws unto themselves.
Into this murky territory comes Thomas McNamee’s new book, The Inner Life Of Cats: The Science And Secrets Of Our Mysterious Feline Companions, which promises to unearth “the science and secrets of our mysterious feline companions”.
McNamee tells the tale of his cat, Augusta, and his attempts to understand this essentially unknowable (but lovable) animal.
The Inner Life of Cats is Augusta’s life story, interspersed with plentiful information about cats.
McNamee found Augusta on a snowy November morning in Montana. He welcomed the kitten into his house, concluding she had been dumped on a country road and had made her way to his ranch 400m away. He drove the black kitten to the nearest vet and, upon learning that she was about three months old, and thus born in August, “gave this gift from the god of chance the name Augusta”.
The book proffers passages on the history of domestic cats as well as insights on the behaviour of laboratory cats, feral cats and indoor cats.
“Some people say,” he writes, that cats are drawn to non-cat-lovers because they don’t look at the animal, “wanting no part of it”, whereas cat people look, “hoping for a response of some kind”. The gazed-upon cat “will have taken all that staring as potentially threatening,, and will perceive the person looking away as polite Hence the friendly approach to the wrong person.”
McNamee devotes a portion of the book to cat whisperers. Jackson Galaxy, the garish “king of cat whisperers”, makes house calls: he is frequently bitten and slashed. Galaxy has a TV show called My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet, a charitable foundation that contributes to shelters, and a retail empire.
“And yet Galaxy knows cats in ways and with an accuracy beyond what I’ve found anyone else to possess.”
As Augusta aged, she suffered degenerative joint disease; by the time she was 9, she limped upstairs, and could no longer jump on the bed. At 15, she grew weaker and showed pain, which cats tend to conceal until close to the end. She was euthanised.
The author adopted another kitten, Isabel. He vowed to be even kinder to Isabel than he had been to Augusta. He wouldn’t go on trips and leave her at home. “Their lives are shorter than ours. We can witness their lives from beginning to end, not just witness but be in them, from naming to knowing, from wonder to love. Every day of her life, the kitten and the cat she becomes will make the effort worth our while.”
Life would be less good without cats in it, and dogs, too.