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Cats and Their People

The September 16, 2019 issue of the New Yorker has an amusing cover. A woman has presumably just opened her apartment door to a man holding a bouquet of roses in one hand, a dog on a leash in the other. He wears a shirt, trousers and wide blue tie printed with little Scottie dogs. The woman is wearing a cat print dress and a round cat face pocketbook over her shoulder. Her living room is decorated in what I’d describe as extreme cat motif, pictures of cats and a cat clock on the wall, cat knick-knacks on shelves, a lampshade with pink cat faces, cat toys and a book entitled “Cat Lovers” on the floor. She has two cats; one sits on a leopard print armchair, the other is curled up on a rug decorated with cat footprints. The woman is eyeing the dog with obvious dismay, and the man has a wary expression on his face. The cover’s title is “First Date”. One can only imagine how that went.

It is a commonly accepted fact that there are cat people and dog people, and a lot has been written about whether dogs or cats make better pets, opinions on the personality characteristics of dog people vs cat people e.g., dog people are more extroverted than cat people. As to the numbers, are there more cat owners or dog owners?

There are numerous statistical charts with percentages of pet owners, dog owners, cat owners, even bird and fish owners in the U.S. and various other countries. Personally, I found them confusing. A Washington Post article from 2019 discusses these “fuzzy statistics”. Surveys on which they are based use different methodologies and end up with conflicting results.

The website dailydogstuff.com has a link to an article on U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics which points out how the statistics differ between the major pet reporting organizations. For instance, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that there are 77 million pet dogs and 58 million pet cats in the U.S., whereas the American Pet Products Association (APPA) claims the U.S. has 90 million dogs and 94 million cats.

There are some generalities, though. In the U.S. the numbers of dogs vs cats vary from state to state. Dogs are favored in the South and Southwest, and although Montana has the most dogs, it is closely followed by Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Indiana and Oklahoma. In the Northeast, cats are more popular. Vermont and Maine have the most cat owners in the U.S. But there is some disagreement as to whether Americans prefer dogs or cats as pets.

As for the number of cats globally, World Atlas names these countries as the top ten. The U.S. is first with an estimated 76.5 million pet cats.

The origins of cats go back about 20 million years when a cat-like creature, Pseudaelurus, appeared. Pseudaelurus is believed to be the ancestor of modern-day felines and some extinct cats. Interestingly, all domestic cats, regardless of their breed, are descended from Felis silvestris lybica - the African wildcat - which still exists today. About 12,000 years ago, the domestication of cats began in ancient Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, at a time during which humans were leaving nomadic life for villages and farming. It is most likely that cats were initially attracted to villages as a source of food scraps. Since humans had begun storing surplus food, such as grains, rodents, bugs and snakes would infest silos and damage crops. Cats killed these pests, which made them indispensable to farmers. It was the ancient Egyptians who probably played the biggest role in making cats the popular pets they are today. They revered and worshipped cats, and numerous Egyptian gods were in the form of felines. They brought cats into their homes and treated them as part of the family. When they died, cats were often mummified and buried in tombs. Killing a cat was punishable by death.

An historical example of the Egyptians’ high regard for cats, occurred during the invasion of Egypt by the army of Cambyses ll, the ruler of Persia. Knowing that the Egyptians would not kill cats, at the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE, Cambyses is said to have ordered his troops to carry live cats in front of them. Other accounts say that he had the image of Bastet, the Egyptian goddess with the head of a cat, painted on his soldiers’ shields. This psychological warfare tactic paid off for Cambyses, the Egyptians ran away rather than shoot their arrows at cats or a cat goddess. This resulted in a huge victory for Cambyses and the beginning of Persian rule over Egypt.

My first experience with cats, or rather a cat, was my early years in Norman, Oklahoma. The cat was Sugarfoot, he had a white paw, and he belonged to the landlord of the apartment we lived in. All the other cats I’ve known have also belonged to other people since my family never owned a cat.

When my brother Joel was nine, he “adopted” a stray cat who he called Goosey. He played with and fed food scraps to Goosey, but wasn’t allowed to bring the cat home. It was only when he married his wife Helen, who had three cats; Harry, K-Kat and Scout, that he finally became a cat owner or cat parent, according to the popular terminology. The five of them were living in an apartment in L.A. when one day K-Kat went missing.

Helen and my brother searched the neighborhood and posted flyers with K-Kat’s photo. A week later, K-Kat still hadn’t come back and they were worried. When Helen told an aunt about this, it turned out her aunt knew an animal psychic who she told Helen to call.

Helen called and was asked by the psychic if the missing cat had reddish orange fur. No, he was brown and white, Helen told her. “Well, what I’m seeing is a large, predominately red cat,” the psychic replied. Nevertheless, she assured Helen that K-Kat would be home very soon. After the call, Helen expressed her disappointment with the psychic who had been completely wrong about the color, and probably didn’t know what she was talking about.

That was when my brother noticed Harry, who was a very large reddish orangey cat, sitting on the bed behind them, and who no doubt had been there the entire time. “It was Harry! She was seeing Harry!” he told Helen. And two days later, K-Kat returned.

Speaking of animal psychics, a longtime friend of mine is one. Since she does a lot of other stuff in the psychic realm, she uses the term intuitive consultant. She can communicate with animals to find out the reasons behind behavioral issues and/or diagnose medical conditions for which she often prescribes natural remedies. She does this for people too. She lives in Duchess County New York with her sixteen rescued cats, some are strays and others were abandoned along the roadside by their owners.

Because she can communicate with the spirits of dead people as well as see them, she has worked with psychic researchers investigating haunted sites. She has also assisted the police, the DEA and other law enforcement agencies in solving crimes. In one instance, she was consulted during the investigation leading to the prosecution and life imprisonment of John Gotti, the mobster and head of the Gambino crime family.

When I attempted to ask her more about this, her response was very much along the lines of “if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you”, and I can take a hint. But it’s hard to imagine her ever hurting any living thing, with a few exceptions. Like rats. She hates them. Living in an old house in the country, where rats are all too common, she has by necessity developed expertise in setting various types of rat and mouse traps (she never use glue traps) and/or poisoning them with various substances, including the blood thinner Warfarin. The Warfarin causes them to bleed to death internally, but it’s painless.

When I had discussed my perhaps getting a cat/kitten, she advised me to get two females. Female cats are more protective and with two of them they could keep each other company. Two different cats, both females, had attacked two different intruders who entered the house while the door was accidently left unlocked. In both cases, the cat leaped into the air and landed on the intruder’s back, all the time screeching loudly. Needless to say, both times the intruders ran away, really fast.

My friend Kurt used to have a large black cat named Joe. He adored Joe. Joe was the center of his life, at least until Kurt got married. I once ran into Kurt at the Princeton Shopping Center on his way to the pet store to get Joe’s special chicken dinner. He told me it was the most expensive brand, but he bought it because it was Joe’s favorite. When Joe died after a reasonably long life, Kurt was very despondent and decided he didn’t ever want another cat. His mom had two other cats, but they just weren’t Joe. A few months later, Kurt’s wife Sally went to the pet shop to get crickets for her lizard. At the shop was a woman giving away kittens from her cat’s litter. Sally was tempted to take one, but as she started to move away, the woman placed an adorable black kitten in her hands.

It didn’t move, just remained still in Sally’s hands and that decided it. The kitten was coming home. When she walked in the door holding it, Kurt’s mother told her that she didn’t want any more cats in the house and Sally had to find it another home. Sally took it upstairs to a room she used as her study where Kurt’s mother didn’t usually go, planning to keep it there until a home for it was found. But the kitten had other ideas. It took an immediate liking to Kurt, and began to follow him around. Everywhere Kurt went in the house, the kitten was right behind. Kurt was annoyed at first, but things quickly changed. By the time Kurt’s mom told Sally that the kitten had to go, Sally could say to her mother-in-law that the kitten loved Kurt. And she could tell that Kurt loved the kitten, who he had named George. “Well, that’s different”, said his mother, “if Kurt loves it, it can stay.” When I told my friend, the intuitive consultant, this story, she said these things are NEVER coincidences. (Her emphasis.) George was there to insist that Kurt’s heart come back, as she put it. And Joe definitely had something to do that.

Good Books about Cats

Susan M. Ewing, 77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat

Jackson Galaxy, Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life With Your Cat

Vickie Halls, The Secret Life of Your Cat: Unlock the Mysteries of Your Pet’s Behavior

Sam Kalda, Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statesmen

Hannah Shaw, Tiny but Mighty: Kitten Lady’s Guide to Saving the Most Vulnerable Felines

Abigail Tucker, The Lion in the Living Room










- by Elka R. Frankel, West Windsor Branch

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