Vicki Croke Cats Up Close

ISBN 13: 9780896600928

Cats Up Close

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9780896600928: Cats Up Close
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Cats Up Close brings the feline world into beautifully sharp focus. Arranged thematically, the book begins with a chapter that shows cats playing and exploring in winter, spring, summer, and fall; subsequent chapters features kittens and cats napping; cats in action; the well-traveled cat; and the social cat (the pedigreed kitty that is able to communicate with other animals). An engaging and entertaining introduction describes the amazing activities of these beloved pets. Celebrating cats that are cuddly and adventurous, lounging on fire escapes or leaping across streams, cavorting with cows or nuzzling up to other furry friends, this appealing compendium provides a fresh, surprising portrait of cats and kittens.

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About the Author:

Vicki Croke is the author of Tiny Folio editions of Cats Up Close and Dogs Up Close, as well as The Modern Ark: Zoos Past, Present and Future. She is also the Animal Beat columnist for The Boston Globe.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

What do we see when we look at cats up close?

Jeweled eyes. Slender, sleek, strong bodies. Affectionate, trusting souls. Independence. Sophistication. A spirit both wise and wiseacre.

Whether the cat by our side is a long hair, short hair, tabby, or tortoiseshell, we experience the same reaction: enchantment. Mysterious and elegant, playful and tender, cats are the most beguiling creatures our species has brought in from the cold.

But throughout history, cats have been a conundrum for societies. Secretive or sweet? Solitary or sociable? Spiritual or sinister? Physically, cats have not changed very much at all, but our perceptions of them have.

Unlike the dog (how unlike the dog!), one of the earliest domesticated animals, cats came to us relatively late. But they have more than made up for lost time, quickly taking up position not just in our homes, but in our hearts.

And we have marauding rodents to thank.

It was the advent of agriculture, and with it stores of grain, that brought us our sophisticated and predatory pals, probably more than three thousand years ago. It is believed that the African wild cat was employed in ancient Egypt to dispatch the mice and rodents of the Nile Valley who were siphoning off harvested grain stored in silos.

The ancient Egyptians did not stand a chance once they had lived with these dazzling creatures: they were spellbound. The cats adored by the ancient Egyptians were very much the cats we adore today. Art from this time depicts the cat just the way we see it in our living rooms, although then there was perhaps a bit more pomp surrounding the celebration of things feline.

The Egyptians worshipped a cat goddess named Bastet. She rode a chariot drawn by other cats (most of us can imagine our own cats choosing others from the neighborhood to be harnessed&mdash: that snooping little calico from Oak Street that big burl Tom from the backyard ”). Bastet was a powerful goddess closely related to the sun god Re. Cats roamed a stone temple built in her honor and devotees studied their behavior for signs and signals from the great goddess herself. (We can, again, identify with these ancient Egyptians when we study our own cat’s behavior for signal the salmon supreme or turkey giblet tonight? Give me a sign!”). In life, cats were loved; in death, they were mourned. If the household cat died, everyone in the Egyptian family would shave off their eyebrows.

But being worshipped is not always what it’s cracked up to be, particularly in the twentieth century. In the United States, fifty-five million pampered cats have homes, while millions of others, unwanted, are euthanized every year. In Egypt, though the cat was held sacred, thousands were sacrificed and mummified. In one great temple, about three hundred thousand of these cat mummies, accompanied by a sort of bag lunch mummified mice were discovered just before the turn of the century.

Over several centuries, Bastet became more popular and powerful, drawing hundreds of thousands of promiscuous pilgrims to festivals celebrated with drinking, feasting, and wild sexual orgies. This history, along with nocturnal wanderings, reflective retinas that cause their eyes to glow” in the dark, and the cat’s natural pride (read as haughtiness), may have led to a shift in public opinion. Cats experienced dark times in medieval Europe, where they were linked to sorcery and witchcraft, and persecuted for hundreds of years because of this association. Though anti-cat hysteria began as early as the tenth century, the last cat known to be executed for sorcery in England died in 1712. And though we now understand what great companionship and solace cats can bring to the elderly, this precious relationship was misunderstood and destroyed during the Middle Ages, when an old, solitary woman who communed with cats was always suspected of sorcery.

Black cats were especially singled out during witch hunts, and the superstition surrounding them still exists. In the United States, a black cat crossing one’s path is supposed to mean bad luck, but in England it portends the opposite trouble passed by without touching you and is good luck.

Throughout even the darkest times writers remained cats’ allies, as both shared a love of solitude and quiet. For example, Trecento Italian poet Petrarch (who inscribed on his cat’s grave marker, I was the greatest passion, second only to Laura”) and sixteenth-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne ( When I was playing with my cat, who knows whether she has more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her?”) remained loyal. And this relationship has continued through countless generations. Cats have gracefully made the transition from quill to laptop computer. Keats, Tennyson, Hardy, Twain, Kipling, and Colette loved cats and wrote fondly about them. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed the breathtaking athleticism of common cats that ultra-macho writer Ernest Hemingway was a true cat lover.

And he is hardly alone. It is that sleek masculinity that attracts so many of us. Despite domestication, cats have changed relatively little. We do not see in them the marked physical differences between the wild and domesticated varieties that we do in other beasts of burden” (just try applying that term to your cat).

More than any other domesticated species, our little Muffy and Lulu can survive on their own. The ball of fluff purring on your warm lap knows very well how to snag a meal from the great outdoors whether in a meadow or the mean streets of Manhattan.

In those deep, gorgeous eyes of azure blue or emerald green or warm amber we can glimpse the wild. With acute night vision, hearing tuned in to high-pitched sound, and a sense of smell thirty times better than our own, cats are built for predation. Whether country- or city-bound, cats who are allowed outdoors establish territories. They use scent to mark boundaries and employ brawn to enforce them (though threats usually do the trick).

Even the tiniest kittens are born with hunting instructions included. They have natural predatory instincts and hone their skills through play with their littermate. If you’ve seen them bat and bite, you know they are practicing for scrumptious, live mice. By watching a parent, they learn patience, pouncing technique, and how to deliver the predatory bite to the neck. The hunting instinct is strong; lacking a mouse, toes under a blanket, slippers slapping the floor, or a trailing shoelace will do.

Some domesticated cats hear the call of the wild. They revert to nature and are able to feed themselves with captured birds and rodents. They often reproduce prolifically, but tend to live to only half the age of a pampered house cat. In many cities, welfare groups work to sterilize and immunize stable feral cat populations.

And there is great controversy about whether cats should be allowed outdoors at all. Most animal protection groups say that cats should be kept indoors at all times, citing statistics that show how drastically life expectancy is reduced the moment a cat pads outdoors.

The age-old question for the owner is, What makes my cat happy?” We know they are sensitive to touch, and they react with their entire bodies to our caresses. they shiver with delight and pass their heads and backs and rumps under our palms. Many cats find ecstasy in catnip rolling and rubbing in it with wild abandon.

Their pleasures seem to come from simple things. A sun-drenched pocket of the room. A paper bag. The feel of their claws in upholstery. Marathon naps. Respect all right, worship from others.

Cats are curious and complex. Loving but independent. Domesticated but wild. Aloof and attentive. Felines are so many things that the only way to really catalog their stories is through pictures. No matter what type of cat is shown or where the photo is taken, you will recognize your own cat its universal feline essence in each shot.

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