Allison's Book Bag

Before I started to blog, if you had asked me to name jobs that pets do, I could have named several … and all of them would have been related to dogs. Should I have even thought of cats, I might have pointed out their ability to catch rodent. Yet cats are much more clever and versatile that most of us give them credit. You just need to read Lisa Rogak’s Cats on the Job to discover not just one or ten but fifty ways that cats purr, mouse, and even sing for their supper. In her colorful and photo-rich book, Rogak shares well-written true tales of cats around the world who are happily earning their keep.

Through blogging, I had heard of a few famous cats. Granted most of them were known for their quirky looks or unique talents such as the ability to play a piano. But there were also cats who starred in movies and even those who had run for mayor. The more I kept my ears open, the more stories I heard. And so, I knew about cats in bookstores, hospitals, libraries, and train stations. I’d also glimpsed stories of the current trend of cat cafes. I highly enjoyed reading Rogak’s examples of cats performing these jobs, as well as multiple accounts of cats that catch rodents.

Rogak also wrote about a host of jobs that cats perform which are new to me. One is that of Acro-Cats, a group that is devoted to “promoting the mental and physical health benefits of cat training through clicker training…a positive reinforcement based training method”. Learning about them inspired me to renew my own efforts at clicker-training my cats, and seeing the circus act in-person is on my bucket list. Another story that piqued my curiosity is that of rescued cats in Australia that create paintings. I’m sure at least one of my cats would be up to the challenge! I also found intriguing the idea of catflexing, a fitness routine that involves exercising with a cat. One of my cats has already shown interest in this! Another notable tale is of Carlow, a cat who works at a firehouse. Anyone remember Esther Averill’s story The Fire Cat from their childhood? Sometimes there’s truth in fiction!

Aside from the quality writing and design of Cats on the Job, what stands out most to me is the broad scope of jobs that cats can perform. To name a few in America: In Washington, a cat named Sable shows up like clockwork twice a day to serve as a school crossing guard; In Michigan, two lucky cats serve as furniture testers; and in New York, cats have a long history of acting as hotel concierge. Rogak didn’t just limit her tales to American cats either: In England, a toy company hired a cat to guard its warehouse of toys; In Great Britain, a cat named Jessi helps an autistic boy to express himself. In Japan, a cat named Iemon serves on the police force and helps fight crime. For some of these positions, it may seem obvious how the cat does its job. For example, cats who test furniture are cats who are encouraged to scratch, bite, and jump on furniture to test its durability. For other positions, such as that of how a cat that serves on the police force, you’ll have to check out Rogak’s book to learn how exactly cats can fight crime.

Now that I’ve read Rogak’s book, if anyone were to ask me to name jobs that pets do, most of them would be related to cats. Cats on the Job is an informative and fun read about an idea which is gaining popularity. Working cats are both a way to help the homeless cat population and to develop comradery with cats.

Through email, I asked Rogak how she found out about the cats she profiled. Her answer?

“I found the cats online, in older books–many of them were sadly long deceased–and by posting queries online. There were several that didn’t make it in because there wasn’t enough information or the photos weren’t great.

“The occupational hazard of writing books about cats is that several are not going to be around by the time the book comes out. The train stationmaster cat died a few months before publication date… but I’ve also discovered that having their stories immortalized in the pages of a book is a great way to honor their memory.”

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A small black ant fell on our living room carpet. From her resting spot on our recliner, Bootsie instantly perked up. Her ears twitched. Her eyes widened. This got the attention of our other two cats. They followed her gaze. Cinder’s shoulders hunched. Rainy crouched. Prey!

I stroked Bootsie’s ears and kept watch with the girls. The ant wandered along the edge of the television cabinet. Andy left the room and returned with toilet paper. He slid a thin sheet under the ant. It ran to the edge, but didn’t jump. Instead it scurried this way and that. Andy headed to the door and flicked the ant outside.

Bootsie straightened up. She jumped down and sniffed the carpet in front of the television. Our other two cats followed. Rainy pawed at the wooden cabinet and meowed. The other cats paced. Cinder even ran up to me and rubbed against me. Where’s the prey?

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Halfway through my Customer Service class!

Last spring, I successfully completed Principles of Marketing and anticipated taking marketing classes for the rest of the year. This goal got temporarily put aside when my husband and I bought a new house, I reached the last stretch in the citizenship process, and my family came to visit. Finally, the time was right again this October to take another class.

Customer Service is an online course with a three-month deadline. Students read two chapters per week, complete two or three assignments each week, and comment on at least one answer per week from another student. Unlike Principles of Marketing, we don’t have weekly quizzes or end-of-term papers, and so the pace is a little more relaxed.

The workload still keeps me busy! Even more important, I’m learning and being challenged. To date, I’ve read about best companies, nonverbal communication, telephone and internet service, customer turnoffs, and feedback. In response, I’ve changed my greeting at work, redesigned my office to make it friendlier, and am working on giving better feedback. As for assignments, I’ve accessed myself as a listener, reviewed websites, and acted as a mystery shopper. There is one major project, the first half due mid-term and the other half due end-term, and that is to report on customer service experiences. I expect after this course, I’ll be more analytical of my shopping trips.

That’s what’s new with me! What about you?

Cinder is our most reserved cat. But one evening that all changed. Or so I thought. While I reclined on our sofa, Cinder jumped next to me and laid on the recliner arm. Then she crawled closer to me and laid her head on my leg. I stopped watching television and waited. A few minutes later, my reclusive cat had curled up on my stomach, her body half buried under my robe. I smiled and felt loved.

That same week, when my husband was reading in bed, Cinder jumped next to him and laid at his feet. Then she crawled closer to him and laid her head on his arm. He closed his book and waited. A few minutes later, our reclusive cat had curled next to his side, her body half buried under the comforter. He smiled and felt loved. I cupped my hand in my chin and stared suspiciously at Cinder.

My suspicions were confirmed when I found her one morning hidden in a pile of dirty laundry. It’s not us that Cinder loves; it’s any place she can find warmth. Except that doesn’t explain why every time I let her down in the basement, she rubs her face against Andy’s sneakers. Or why she fancies my gloves. Neither of those provide her with warmth.

As I continued to observe our quirky cat, a pattern emerged. She liked our pillows. And our towels. She especially liked snuggling into our stuff, when we weren’t home. Maybe snuggling is more than a reserved cat can handle on a regular basis, but our scent is important to Cinder. We ARE loved!

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What do you get when a cat behaviorist and a cat-friendly environment designer team up to write a book? You get a colorful and informative guide to designing a happy and stylish home for your cat. Catification is written by Jackson Galaxy, the host of My Cat from Hell, and Kate Benjamin, the founder of the cat design website Hauspanther. Together they walk readers through a step-by-step process of designing an attractive home that is also an optimal environment for cats.

Catification is divided into two parts. Part one explains how cats are hard-wired with their senses honed as both predator and prey, overviews cat archetypes, breaks down what environments are most comfortable for cats based on their personalities, and introduces the concept of cat superhighways. Some content served as a review for me; the rest had me trying to define my cats and their needs. For example, based on the descriptions given of cat personalities, my one cat is a hostess, my second is a overthrower, and the third is a wallflower. When it comes to where they prefer to reside, my one is likely a beach dweller because she likes exploring and none are fridgers because they rarely hide in high places. The most important concept of Catification is that of cat superhighways or paths that allows cats to navigate rooms without touching the ground, and is the focus of the bulk of the book.

Part two provides real-life catification stories submitted from cat owners across the United States. Each example describes an original house layout, explains, why it wasn’t meeting the needs of the cats, and presents the various solutions found. Before and after photos are provided. Just as important, so are diagrams, lists of materials needed, and instructions. Finally, Jackson and Kate add their own critique, noting likes but also any concerns or suggestions of ways to extend the cat superhighway. One of my favorite stories is about a cat who guarded her window space so religiously that she attacked anyone who came near it including her owners. The owners called on Jackson and Kate for help. Simply by redesigning her space, so that it became an area of fun, they could break the cat of her pacing and help her become friendlier and more relaxed.

At first glance, Catification seemed impractical to me. I thought it would require my husband and I to alter our home to the point that it no longer functioned for us. Jackson and Kate stress that the design needs to work for the owners too. You’ll find that many redesigns build on structures already in place and are often artistic or practical. I thought the projects might cost too much or require handyman skills. Instead some projects came in under $25 and very few cost more than a couple hundred. In addition, while some of the fanciest projects were designed by those with craftsman skills, others were imagined by those with no previous Do-It-Yourself skills.

After a few peruses of Catification, I found myself eager to set aside time to try out some of the ideas in our home. For example, the barrier used to prevent the cats in one home from jumping onto a range hood might work for preventing our three from jumping into the upstairs banister. And maybe we could use glass to cover our Victrola top to protect it from scratches when the cats land on or leap off it. I love the idea of using large old flower pots for new hiding spaces and of using PVC pipes and fabric to create an activity gym. Catification is in my shopping cart; if you have cats in should be in yours too!

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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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