Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

If you’re looking for new ways to enrich your cat’s life, start with these six books on training cats.

Cat Training in 10 Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau is the first book I encountered on training cats. The majority of the chapters are dedicated to teaching obedience, start with an overview and then include clear steps for the lesson to be taught. For example, in talking about sit, Babineau explains that sit is a base behavior for many more complicated behaviors. Because cats also have an inherent inclination to rest on their haunches, sit is also a quick command to teach. Second, a reason the guide engaged my cats and I is that Babineau also provides a numerous variations for each obedience procedure. For example, in talking about jump, Babineau suggests one teach to jump onto various surfaces and those of varying heights. Following the multiple chapters on obedience, there is a hodge-podge of chapters that includes information on tricks, misbehavior, and other ways to work with one’s cat such as therapy and shows. The most life-changing chapters for me were those on obedience and trick.s Using the step-by-step procedures, I’ve successfully taught my cats sit, jump, twirl, stay, down, and kiss. We’re still working on come and fetch. Miriam Fields-Babineau has been a professional animal trainer since 1983 and has taught pet owners how to work with and understand pets of all species. In Cat Training in Ten Minutes, she draws on all this expertise to show how anyone can find the time to enrich the lives of their cats.

The Clever Cat Trick Book by Steve Duno is an easy-to-read book that covers a lot of tricks. Cat owners will learn how to teach their cat to chase, sit, spin, shake, kiss, come, beg, down, fetch, and over. For many of the tricks such as sit and spin, cat owners simply have to reward their cat for doing what comes naturally to cats for the tricks to become part of their cat’s repertoire. Other tricks such as shake and kiss might depend on the cat having an outgoing personality, as the cat will need to accept being touched. Some of the tricks will prove more difficult but Duno offers ideas for simplifying them. For example, he recognizes that teaching the trick down will require a cat to take a submissive position, and so suggests teaching it on a table where cats will feel less threatened. In addition, he notes that teaching a cat the first part of fetch is relatively easy, but the retrieve part will require a cat to know how to come when called. Duno is a veteran pet behaviorist and his knowledge shines not just when he’s teaching readers how to do tricks, but also when he’s explaining why cats need the stimulation of tricks and how to account for individual needs based on breed, age, health, gender, and background. Novices to training will love this book.

In the book The Trainable Cat, authors John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis discuss not only how cats should be trained but why cats need to be trained. I applaud the book’s structure. The authors first present key skills. Then as new training skills are introduced, they refer back to those key skills. In this way, the content builds on itself, and complex training tasks can be understood as edible chunks.
Thanks to The Trainable Cat, I’ve started to develop a whole new training mindset. I’m beginning to generalize my training efforts to include behaviors that my cats need. For example, when Andy and I bring home new purchases, I place them where our cats might discover them but I also allow them the freedom to discover these purchases on their own cognizance. If our cats indicate a dislike or fear of something, such as small spaces or loud noises, I help them gradually bring up their confidence. Or if our cats act in a displeasing way, such as growling over and stealing food, I teach them to wait. At three-hundred pages, with minimal illustrations, The Trainable Cat can feel overwhelming if one is starting out. Even so, I highly recommend that all cat owners take the time to read, study, and apply The Trainable Cat ideas. It’ll positively change your relationship with your feline companions.

Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor is a classic by the founder of the clicker training system. In the first chapter, Pryor overviews the reasons for training a cat, what clicker training is, and how to do it. She also provides alternatives to using a clicker and/or treats. The subsequent two chapters are divided into useful and fun behaviors cat owners can teach their cat with a clicker. One useful behavior that we’re working in our household is an alternative to begging during food preparation. So far, I’ve taught our youngest cat to sit on a stool to wait for her meal. Next, I need to work on having her wait on the stool while I work in the kitchen. One fun behavior we’re working on is building a repertoire of tricks to perform in succession, instead of repeating the same trick over and over. In the fourth and last chapter, Pryor address problem behaviors, for which a program of positive reinforcement can make a difference. She covers litterbox issues, aggression, biting, ambushing, scratching, yowling, fighting, getting stuck in trees, to name a few. The one we’re working on is counter-surfing, and it remains a work-in-progress. Although I’ve read Pryor’s book more than once, I’m still learning new skills from it.

What do elephants, killer whales, and the family pet have in common? Training with zoomility! Or so says Grey Stafford, who contends that training animals is as much about having fun as it is about helping them succeed in our world. Zoomility is divided into two parts. The first part is intended for anyone who is starting to train a new or young animal or “clean slate” animals that haven’t yet learned undesirable behaviors. Stafford spends forty pages covering his philosophy of positive reinforcement, and then another forty applying it to common behaviors. Some of those behaviors fall under obedience training such as sit, stay, come; other behaviors are practical such as crate training, leash training, and visits to the vet; and some are just for fun such as jump, balance, and fetch. The second part is intended for anyone who works with animals and has already made mistakes with them or for anyone who is starting to train an animal with an unknown or unpleasant history. Stafford focuses mostly on those animals with aggressive and destructive behaviors and so, while you might find ideas on how to work with bullies, you’ll need other resources for working with the shyer animals. Stafford adds lightness by beginning each chapter with a personal tale of his experience as a zookeeper, but his writing style relies heavily on training language, and so this book is most-suited for those immersed in the training world.

Naughty No More by Marilyn Kreiger is my newest purchase. In the first chapter, Kreiger defines clicker-training, explains how to use it, and shares its benefits. In doing so, she explains two terms relatively new to me: Shaping is act of breaking down a complex behavior into tiny steps and then rewarding the cat for each correct movement that gets the cat closer to the goal behavior; Luring is the act of tempting a cat to perform an action by offering some form of reward. The next seven chapters address problem behaviors: counter surfing, door darting, scratching, matchmaking, aggression, vet visits, and litter box issues. Some of these behaviors I’ve encountered prior to purchasing this book, such as how to deal with counter surfers and so have already read about. Kreiger overviews ineffective aversive methods, potential persuasive methods, and the effective positive reinforcement methods. The chapter is readable but also thorough, in that she explains the various reasons cats might surf and how to individually train cats to meet their unique needs. Some behaviors I’m just now encountering as a foster parent such as door darting and so need all the ideas I can find. Providing toys, puzzle feeders, and scheduled interaction time were a few options Kreiger suggested, in addition to using a clicker to train dashers to sit. The final chapter covers tricks, all of which could use a chapter in themselves, and so serve simply as an introduction. Kreiger’s book is colorful, uses an abundance of side bars, and includes several case histories. I recommend it for cat owners of all levels.

 

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I believe no one should be labeled as ‘crazy’ for loving a pet.—David Williams, MIC

Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship is a fun collection of photos and stories by David Williams that breaks the stereotype that only crazy ladies care for cats. Williams himself is a freelance photographer who lives in New York with his wife and their two cats. Men With Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship was recognized as a New York Times Best seller shortly after its release in 2016.

Each two-page spread of this 140-page delightful photo book consists of a professional photo, identification of the male cat owner and his cat companion(s), and a quote that highlights the feline friendship. How each met differs: A mother cat followed Louis home; A burned cat slated for euthanasia was rescued by Al; Cats abandoned at an auto shop catch Alex’s attention. How the bond developed is unique: Brent loves how his cat jumps on his chest, kneads his paws in his beard, and licks his face; Reuben appreciates how relaxed his cat is and tries to emulate that lifestyle; Dennis admires the array of sounds his cat will use to communicate, with his favorite being a chirrup that acknowledges his presence. The way the men describe the friendship devotion varies: Benn refers to his relationship with his cat at being like an old married couple; Brian jokes that his cat is a dog except evil instead; Dustin shares that when he and his cat make eye contact there is a deep inner connection.

Photo books are not my typical fare. I’m more of an information sort of reader. One of my favorite parts of Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship is the section labeled “What is the hardest part of cat ownership?” I wanted to see several other spreads like this. But I must admit that a couple rereads of Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship revealed more than I expected about living with cats.

Williams started this photography project back in 2009 not only to shuns stereotypes, but also to celebrate feline friendship. In his preface, he expressed the hope that his book would inspire readers to rescue and adopt pets or donate time and resources to animal welfare groups. Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship certainly increased my appreciation for the quirky and intense bonds that can exist between men and their cats.

A good owner is just anyone that shows love and compassion towards their pet — whether it be a cat, dog, or rabbit.—David Williams, Refinery 29

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.”

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!

In The Tent of Abraham, three leaders from different faiths find a common ground in the Biblical story of Abraham. By listening to one another’s interpretation of a shared tradition, they model how to create unity amid diversity. In addition, they offer a way to use stories to remind us of God’s call for peace and reconciliation.

The Tent of Abraham is divided into three parts. The first part presents the classic version of Abraham’s journey as presented in the Torah which became foundation for the story in Judaism and Christianity, and the story as presented in the Quran which is the central religious text of Islam. The second part offers three sections of essays that interpret the story from the perspective of those in three different faiths: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The last section includes resources created by a small group of scholars from these three faiths who met to pray, study, and together.

One thing I appreciate about The Tent of Abraham is the opportunity to hear how those of other faiths recount the Biblical story of Abraham. We share some common ground. All three leaders recognize that Abraham lies about his relationship with his wife Sarah to keep an Egyptian pharaoh from taking her. They all recognize that Sarah becomes jealous after her handmaiden, Hagar, bears a son to Abraham. And each tells of God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son. There are also ways in which the leaders varied greatly in their interpretations. But none of them attempted to condemn or even convert. They simply shared their viewpoints, as people might tell stories around a campfire. And so, I discover new ways to see old stories: I learned how essential wells were, how important safety was to travelers, and how often struggle, anger, withdrawal, and reconciliation happen within families in Biblical stories. There are numerous situations today where people are at odds with each other, not just over religion, and choose to react with hate. What if instead we took time to listen and learn? We still might agree to disagree. But we might also better understand each other’s viewpoints, and thereby become a more compassionate people.

Another thing I appreciate about The Tent of Abraham is the opportunity to learn how the Israli-Palestinian conflict is viewed by those who live it. Is the struggle about the blending of opposites or about uniting Abraham’s offspring, which includes Isaac and Ishmael? And if it’s about uniting two factions, how can this even happen when each thinks the other is in the wrong? Is the loss of children on both side worth the conflict? Each leader varied in the stories they shared. But each also shared the desire for peace and reconciliation. For without these, violence would continue, and bloodshed and destruction would remain the norm. There are no easy answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor are there any easy answers to America’s strife. Can we find unity in the fact we’re all part of humanity? Can we listen to the cries of people who say that we are victimizing them when we feel that they are victimizing us? Can we find a way past our differences to build a bridge of love?

It’s not often that I step out of my comfort zone to read books that I know upfront will not mesh with my own beliefs. And I’m not encouraging anyone to read this book with the idea that it might change their faith. The Tent of Abraham reminded me of the importance of listening, talking, and sharing. Three things that we all should do more of, to make the world a better place.


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2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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