Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw

cat senseStepford Cats…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Bradshaw starts his story of the domesticated cat by taking us back to 10,000 or so years ago, explaining that probably the relationship between man and cat began when humans started to store food, thus requiring rodent control. He discusses the ongoing genetic links between domestic and wild cats and suggests what steps may have taken place over the history of the cat to lead to today’s level of domestication. He regularly informs us that his views are often no more than educated guesswork, since far less research has been done on the cat than the dog.

In the last few chapters, Bradshaw discusses the place of the domestic cat in today’s world, suggesting that the cat will have to change if it wishes to survive in an increasingly urbanised society where many people see cats as wildlife-murdering pests. He points out that most pet cats, especially males, are neutered before breeding (with the exception of pedigrees) and that this may have the unintended consequence of demand for kittens being met by rescued feral litters or by mating between wild males and domestic unneutered females. He proposes that in fact cats should be bred carefully for personality and trained to live happily, either as indoor cats or as non-hunting outdoor cats. He makes valid points about the lack of territory available to each cat in an overcrowded world and about the increased levels of anxiety this can cause.

Tuppence says: Go on, tickle my tummy! I dare you...
Tuppence says: Go on, tickle my tummy! I dare you…

While there is a lot of interesting stuff in here, there are a couple of things that prevent me wholeheartedly recommending the book. I found the presentation of the first section about the history of the cat quite dry and often repetitive – it may be of more interest to someone with a scientific interest in the subject, but for this casual cat-loving reader there was too much concentration on genetics, while there was little new in the tale of how the cat became a domestic pet.

The second section was more interesting to me, but here I found I disagreed fundamentally with the thrust of his argument – that we should be trying to breed cats to be more domesticated. He makes the point himself that cat owners love them because of their independence and relatively easy care, while suggesting that that independence should be bred out of them and that they should be subjected to intensive training. I would suggest that, in that case, might as well get a dog. As someone who’s not very keen on selective breeding of any (domestic) animal, I was also uneasy about messing with the breeding to produce something that would really end up looking like a cat but not behaving like one. If we as a race decide cats are not suited to our environment (and I don’t accept that) then surely better to stop keeping cats rather than to play god. When one considers some of the horrors that selective breeding has produced in both dogs and cats, can we really want to go further down that route?

Tommy says: Why would anyone want to change us? We're perfect...
Tommy says: Why would anyone want to change us? Don’t you love us just the way we are…?

So Bradshaw’s assumption that this is the way to go meant that instead of, as I had expected, giving us advice on how to make sure our existing cats are well cared for, in fact he seemed to be suggesting the demise of the cat as we know it to be replaced with designer Stepford Cats. A reasonably interesting read but, for me, more of a warning of why scientists should never be allowed out without a bell on their collar than a convincing argument for the future of the moggie. And Tommy & Tuppence agree with me…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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29 thoughts on “Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw

  1. FictionFan – You make a compelling point here. Humans often do much more harm than good by selective breeding and other strategies that we use to engineer different species. That’s to say nothing of the qualities that make cats appealing to their human companions in the first place. I might find some of the information about the history of the cat interesting, but I have to say that I, too, disagree with Bradshaw’s central argument. Tommy and Tuppence are right.

  2. 😆 I really loved this! Interestingly enough, it wasn’t too long ago that the professor so a mountain lion in his driveway. The vexing beast was making awful noise. I do think Bob will have to give up his territory if that continues.

    Anyway, Tommy and Tuppence look great, and the professor would dare to tickle Tuppence’s tummy!

    • A mountain lion! How wonderful! And yet, yes, vexing and worrying. We don’t get anything so exotic but we’re overrun with foxes and a huge part of me wishes the cats would stay indoors especially at night. But they love to prowl and it would make them really unhappy to be kept in.

      The Professor is extremely brave…

      • It was shocking. I think they’re coming back to the professor’s area. The professor should probably blog about it.

        Foxes? Now that’s really…cor…? Anyway, I’ve seen them once here, but I chased them away–which was foolish.

        So would a fox kill a cat, do you think?

        I recant. Tuppence’s face looks so sweetly evil!

        • Yes, do! Especially if you could manage to catch a pic of one!

          A fox would probably only kill a cat if it was really starving and if the cat was weak or slow. So I worry more in winter when the urban foxes can get desperate, and I worry more about Tommy, who has a damaged leg due to a horrific accident when he was younger – he’s fast, but not quite as fast as he should be. But to be honest, cars are more of a worry than foxes.

          She is very evil, when she’s not being very sweet…the problem is she’s unpredictable…the Professor is wise to recant, methinks!

  3. Hmm, interesting how this book is dividing people and we are all having slightly different ideas of what he is saying in that final section (perhaps a mark down for lack of writing clarity to Mr Bradshaw)

    My take on this (and i made quite a few criticisms of Mr B!) is that he was saying that the fact that most of us responsible owners have neutered our pets, means that the cats who go outside to play, frolic and forage (or find mates if they are NOT neutered) are more likely to be mating with feral cats – who, by definition – if sociability is genetically predisposed as WELL as down to becoming used to being handled kindly at quite an early stage) that we are more likely to find cats becoming MORE feral and unsocialised. I understood he was making more of a plea that we NOT neuter our friendly home moggies too early, so allowing them the option of meeting the kind socialised boy or girl next door – rather than saying WE should do the breeding for them – he seemed to be quite against pedigree breeding because that exactly breeds for what humans decide is desirable – often a look which is detrimental to health anyway, as many pedigree cats and dogs have particular weaknesses bred into the ‘whatever it is’ desirable trait – we didn’t intend this unfortunate genetics – eg king charles spaniels and chiari malformation/syringomyalgia, or persian cats and respiratory difficulties, but its just the way ‘the look’ and other factors link genetically.

    I thought he was saying – let your kind happy moggie queen and the kind happy neighbourhood toms keep their bits on for a little longer, and have a chance to choose a happy furry partner, then do the snips.

    • I thought he was saying that at first too, and wouldn’t disagree necessarily, but no, he went on to suggest breeding for temperament and intensively training them to basically not be cats. He made it clear that loads of ‘domestic’ cats aren’t really domesticated at all (big news!) and was suggesting that we should actively seek to breed from the most domesticated and not from feral or partially domesticated. I thought he was very mixed up about the whole thing – he couldn’t seem to decide whether feral meant domesticated living wild, or just wild. His whole idea about training them not to hunt was just plain looney-tunes – some cats hunt, some don’t and I never had any success in stopping my hunters, nor could I train Tommy to catch a mouse even if I wanted to. And nobody ever suggests that rodent control might be a ‘good thing’ just as much in an urban environment as around those grain silos he banged on about somewhat endlessly.

      I think it was you who said he’s really a dog man, and that was what I felt the underlying message was – dogs are better, so lets make cats look like cats but act like dogs. Hmm…I’d rather just have a dog in that case…

      • Pretty sure he is (Mr Dog) from an earlier book I have from him from years ago. Nor did i think his ‘experiments’ on the TV programme he did presumably partly to launch this book, necessarily proved what he said they did. E.g. it’s a pretty strange moggie who will happily be put into a cage and taken to a strange environment and then be lets out in a neutral room and go ‘oh cool!’ and behave ‘normal’

        If only ‘rodent control’ in an urban environment didn’t also mean evidence of the outside catch being neatly left for a bleary eyed person stumbling to the bathroom to step on a perfectly severed mouse head.

        I’m sure one of mine had a past life as a French Revolutionary Master of the Guillotine

        • Haha! Yes, I spent many, many years trying to explain to Soxy and Trix (my last owners) that they could kill as many rodents as they liked, but please not to bring them home. Worse, they used to bring them home alive and give them to me – I spent years hunting rodent gifts all over the house and returning them to the wild!

          At least, T&T don’t hunt or if they do, they selfishly (and thankfully) eat their own catch – outside!

  4. This conversation is hilarious – it reassures me to know that what REALLY gets people het up is a threat to the future of moggies. As you know, I live with the biggest cat anyone has ever seen outside a zoo, and when he was young, he hunted, but now, he lies and watches the birds (which I feed) and they take clumps of his fur (so do the hedgehogs) to line their nests with. Turnabout is fair play. And by the way, we have suddenly acquired another night visitor (not Furry Fred) who is eating us out of house and home. Am I the only person who worries about the world being overrun by birds if we stopped all the cats from hunting? I need a cat to scare off the seagulls and pigeons.

    • Moggie? 😆 I can’t help it. Sorry.

      Maybe your cat visited the professor. Maybe it wasn’t a mountain lion after all. I did think it was a bit too small for a mountain lion.

      No, I think it worried Alfred Hitchcock too.

      • Don’t Americans call them moggies? What strange people you are…it’s a wonder you can communicate at all… 😉

        Gingy is roughly the size of a mountain lion, I’d say. He’s bigger than T&T combined!

    • Well, is there anything in life more important than mogs? Ask Gingy…

      I completely agree about seagulls – they’re the bane of existence around here, especially at fledgling time. Vicious, huge and scary! They once attacked the window cleaner while he was at the top of his ladder because he got too near a nest.

  5. Yes, I have some nesting on the roof too, and they scream at me when I come home as if I shouldn’t invade THEIR territory. And the pigeons, the feral ones, not the wood-pigeons which I quite like, are just flying vermin. Lucky we have such strict gun laws.

  6. I think cats are more popular than dogs in urban environments. We would love love LOVE to have a cat, and our sone would LLLLLOOOOVVVVEEEE to have a cat—if we weren’t deathly allergic. Dogs are not allowed in our apartment building.

    The point you make about independence is a good one. No self-respecting cat is going to want to develop the habits of a dog. I know there are cats who “play ball,” but please, let’s leave it to those breeds or individual cats who enjoy that type of behavior and applaud the cats who sit on the windowsill and look out at the world as if they owned it.

    • Well, I’m not trying to tempt you here (well, OK…maybe just a little) but I’m a bit allergic to cats too, but find that if I get kittens I develop a resistance to their fur as they grow. That’s why I don’t ever have fluffy cats though. My mother’s cat was terrible – I loved her but two minutes of lap sitting and I was choked for days. And a previous cat of mine used to like to sleep right next to my face and I would wake up almost unable to breathe – I often wondered whether it was love or homicidal tendencies…

  7. Sadly, my daughter is beginning to believe I love my cat, Ammy, more than I love her. Which of course I don’t…or do I? No,no,no of course i don’t. Though I do find myself showing pictures of Ammy to anyone who shows an interest. However, cats do seem to divide opinion down strict demarcation lines unlike people’s opinions on dogs.

    • Haha! In my family, we’ve all long accepted that the animals take priority! In fact, it’s not unknown for our cats to send each other Christmas cards… 😉

      They do – maybe it’s because dogs don’t seem quite so judgemental…

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