Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

A friend of mine and I like to collect cat books. What follows is a review of three picture books from her collection and one from mine. Two of the books are about homeless cats, a topic dear to my heart. The other two books are simply fun reads.

SenorCatSenior Cat’s Romance and Other Favorite Stories from Latin America is a collection of six popular Cuban stories retold by Lucia Gonzalez. Each story is followed by an explanation of its background and a short glossary. The sole cat story is the title one and written in poetic form. It tells of a cat who sat on a throne drinking spiced milk in his stockings of silk and golden shoes. One day he receives a note from a servant that informs him he’s about to be married. Upon being wed to his love, Sir Cat reacts in such excitement that he falls off the church roof and to his supposed death. Thank goodness cats have multiple lives! My friend used to sing this song in Spanish in grade school. The tale is also the one the author says she most enjoyed illustrating, and sand over and over as she painted the cats.

NobodysCatNobody’s Cat by Barbara Josse is based on a real-life experience by the author. In a straightforward and simple style, the author tells of a feral cat that didn’t belong to anyone but had babies she needed to care for. One crisp fall day, when her milk ran out, the feral cat ventured towards a nearby home of people. A boy came out. The feral cat wanted to run, but she stayed for the sake of her kittens. The family fed her a bowl of cream and this became milk for her babies. Then each new day, the feral cat deposited a kitten on the porch of this family until all her babies had found homes. I liked this story from start to finish, even if in real life, feral cats might take more time to adjust to humans. The parental love that the feral cat shows rings true to other experiences people have shared. If you enjoy this book, you’ll probably also enjoy Nobody’s Cats by Valerie Ingram.

BestFriendBest Friend by A.M. Monson tells of an unlikely friendship between a cat and a mouse. At the start, the two are playing checkers, and Cat is a clear champion. Mouse wants to play a different game, but Cat isn’t willing to compromise, and so the two separate. Cat is so determined to have his own way that he even puts out an advertisement in the community paper for a friend. Several residents answer Cat’s advertisement, but each has something wrong with them. One is too messy, another prefers sports, and a third is a daredevil. Whatever will Cat do? This story could’ve just as easily been about any two other animals, but my friend and I picked it due to a cat being one of the main characters. This is a sweet story about appreciating the friends you have.

ChristmasKittenPerfect for the holidays is The Christmas Kitten by Andrew Charman. The adventure starts out in an animal shelter, where cats of all sizes were enjoying themselves. They were happy to be inside and to have a regular source of food, even if the surviving the shelter meant dealing with a few fights. All the cats were content that is except Oliver. He wanted a family, and decided to escape to find his dream. If you’ve ever read Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman you’ll find the structure for the rest of the story familiar. First, Oliver encounters mice, next dogs, then bears, and finally the big zoo cats. Some of the animals are scared and others think themselves too good for Oliver. But even when he’s accepted, none of the animals feel like family. Then he meets another cat, who shows him where the real source of family is. Other than my disliking that shelter cats were portrayed as being pleased with their lot in life, which is nothing like reality, I adored this book.

This review is dedicated to Marlo, who regularly surprises with packages full of all things cat. There might be a toy, a movie, or a book. If you want to read more about her story, follow this link: Bonded Together by CKD.

bookofjoeFor dog lovers, The Book of Joe is quirky little book with lots of personality. It’s written by Vincent Price of Hollywood fame who starred as a villain in dozens of macabre horror films. Far from being scary, however, The Book of Joe is a light-hearted and humorous account of Price’s life with pets.

An orange-brown-black haired mutt who came into an empty moment in Price’s life is the star of this memoir. Price referred to him as “all dog”. At one moment, Joe could dutifully put up with hauling and yanking of a five-year-old boy (Price’s son), and in another moment Joe would eat shoes and fetch empty cans and cartons from the garbage. Joe also had a tremendous sense of responsibility to the humans he loved, while at the same time no lack of playboy when it came to the female dogs. Joe had other contradictory traits too. For example, Price tells about Joe’s stubborn refusal to use a dog door. “Four months of pushing, shoving, pulling … nothing worked. Then one day he bored of the silly game and used the dog door.” The Book of Joe will regularly put a smile on your face!

Not all is perfect about this unusual and touching book. For instance, it falls into the trope that a dog always dies in a dog book. Price gets the cliché out-of-the-way in the first chapter by putting it in the first chapter, but I’m not sure that it’s any better than having it at the end. Spoiler Alert…. At least the dog who dies isn’t our hero Joe! Then there’s the numerous digressions that Price makes, some which are about other pets, but some are simply about his personal life. I do admit though that these ramblings grew on me and added to the endearing flavor of the book. Finally, there’s some mature content in this otherwise family friendly story.

For older readers, The Book of Joe is a quick and entertaining read that they should appreciate. It’s enhanced by line-drawings and witty remarks. The memoir has been out-of-print for years, but now is being reissued with a portion of the proceeds going to the Fund for Animals, a network of animal sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers.

makingbiscuitsShow of hands please. Who thinks cats are aloof and lazy? If you answered yes, you’ve fallen for the stereotype that I held before a cat named Lucy came into my life. If you answered no, you’ve learned like me that cats are full of affection and fun. The latter is the idea behind Makin’ Biscuits, a collection of insights and anecdotes by Deborah Barnes about “weird cat habits and the even weirder habits of the humans who love them”.

My angel cat, Lucy, was very particular when it came to beverages. She liked milk, but there were rules. It couldn’t be straight from the jug—it could only be room temperature milk from a bowl with cereal in it. But she’d also only drink it after the cereal was completely gone!–My submission for the chapter, “Are You Going to Eat That?”

Makin’ Biscuits is a 36-chapter tribute to cats. Barnes starts each chapter with an overview wherein she chats about the theme and then hones in on a few personal experiences. For example, in the chapter entitled Cats in Toyland, Barnes admits that there probably isn’t a toy she hasn’t brought for her cats. One however is particularly unusual, that of a string bean. Her cat Jazmine likes to watch Barnes cut fresh ones and, if Barnes ever slows down, Jazmine will grab a stem and run off with it. Barnes dedicates the middle of each chapter to multiple anecdotes from cat owners from across the North America. Some of those cat owners are famous such as Vanna White, heavily involved in advocacy such as founders of various rescues, or simply average pet owners like me. Barnes wraps up each chapter with points to ponder. For example, in the chapter mentioned above, Barnes stresses how important toys and play are to the health and well-being of cats. She recommends cat owners schedule daily time to play with their cat(s), names a few popular toys, and warns against strings. With her book, Barnes wanted to explore the feline mindset, but also to make a difference in cat overpopulation by showing readers what great companions can be. It’d be hard to read this delightful book and still feel cats are aloof and lazy.

After my beloved cat, Lucy, died I made a vow not to leave my other cats, Cinder and Rainy, home alone if I didn’t have to. Loving them so much, I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. I know how fleeting time can be with our precious pets. So now when my husband Andy and I go to visit Andy’s parents every week (they live six blocks away), rather than keep Cinder and Rainy at home, we crate them up and bring them too! They’re put on flexi-leashes to give them unrestricted freedom, and they like being included in the excursions. Andy and I also bring them for special holiday visits and, if it’s Christmas, Cinder and Rainy will get gifts too!–My submission for the chapter, “Home for the Holidays”

Makin’ Biscuits is also a 250-page labor of love. Each chapter has a whimsical title and more than one illustrative photo. The commentary by Barnes is supported by over twenty-five sources of research. Then there’s the endless submissions that Barnes had to comb through. To obtain these submissions, Barnes put out an open call on her blog and on social media sites for cat lovers. In the end, received so many stories that to include all of them would have required her to write the next “War and Peace”. Add to all this the fact that Barnes, like many authors, had to juggle a work and family life to compile Making Biscuits. For her though, the labor of love will be worth it if it encourages more people to join help bring about the dream of ending cat overpopulation. Right now, there are over 40 million homeless cats in the United States alone. That’s why we need more and more cat owners to speak up and educate the world about how amazing cats are.

When I first heard that two of my stories had been accepted to Makin’ Biscuits, I immediately ordered five signed copies. Since reading my own personal copy, I’ve added more friends to my life who would enjoy Making Biscuits. My advice to you then is to simply plan on buying several copies to share.

After becoming a volunteer with Husker Cats in 2014, I started to follow online groups that also took care community cats. One day a post appeared about a picture book that had been published on the topic. Being a book reviewer, I naturally contacted the author and requested a copy of Nobody’s Cats. Since then, Valerie Ingram and I have exchanged emails about many topics including our former teaching careers and our passion for homeless cats. When she released a new book this past fall, Out in the Cold, she graciously sent me a copy. It’s an honor to know Valerie, who is an advocate for homeless animals, and to introduce her to you.

valerieingramValerie was born and raised in Burns Lake, a small and rural community of northern British Columbia. She grew up on a farm, and critters of all kinds were always a part of her life. After spending twelve years teaching in her home town, Valerie started the Lakes Animal Friendship Society with her husband in 2008. While humane education is her passion, she also runs Lakeside Legacy B&B, and offers free stays for anyone in animal welfare to help recharge their batteries and combat compassion fatigue. The Lakes Animal Friendship Society is personally funded for the most part, with donations and grants targeted at on-the-ground projects.

ALLISON: What was your favorite part of childhood?

VALERIE: My favorite part of childhood was growing up in a rural and Northern setting. There was so much room to explore, to play. We have four distinct seasons in northern BC, which I think can be so enriching on its own! Ice on the lake, swimming in the summer, snow for sledding and so on. I spent many hours simply observing nature, exploring my surroundings, which of course brought me to many hours of watching critters of all kinds. Everything from the fox living in the sandy bank close to our house to the crows talking to each other in the trees. Loved these moments and memories.

ALLISON: What animal would you most compare yourself to as a child? As an adolescence? Why?

VALERIE: Hmm, compare myself to an animal as a child. That would be a quiet and inquisitive mouse:) I explored, but quietly. I didn’t want to disturb what I was watching. I was often solitary too. Only one older brother and we did not live near any other children my age.

As an adolescent? A horse. I LOVED horses. Grew up on this acreage with a small farm so there were always animals around. I would see the horses so free in the back fields. So happy, so playful. I wished to be that free.

ALLISON: You were once a teacher. What attracted you to the field?

VALERIE: I always wanted to nurture. Nurture a sick kitten, nurture a dying plant, nurture the children I was a nanny for growing up. It seemed natural to work with children in schools. As I spent the last few years teaching formally, I found myself inadvertently rescuing dogs and cats, and I’d bring dogs to school to teach the children about their care. It seemed a rather natural transition to move from the classroom (which was consuming) to a volunteer basis of coming in to talk to the children about the care and compassion and responsible pet guardianship of our pets.

ALLISON: You now dedicate your time to animal welfare. What drew you to this line of work?

VALERIE: It began with small steps. We felt concern for the well-being of the critters (seeing frozen dogs at the end of their chains with no shelter), safety of our children (watching students on the playground have their food snatched from their hands by hungry packs of dogs), and the happiness and health of our families and community (the horror of “dog and cat shoots” as a solution to pet overpopulation, where the community comes to see such things as the norm).

I was fortunate enough to connect with Jean Atthowe, the founder of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force early in my education about the problems and solutions. She taught me how an entire community needs to be involved and educated, and programs must respect the traditions and uniqueness of the community. Providing and teaching humane solutions to pet overpopulation and neglect are the key to empowering the local people and bringing about long-term change. As Jean says, we are seeking a “change in attitude that will thus bring a change in behavior through respecting animals and then other living creatures including members of their family, school, and community”.

ALLISON: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

VALERIE: I’m most excited to see how the children have become empowered. To see how after six years of consistently delivering the same message on care, compassion, bite safety and responsibility, that attitudes and behavior CAN be changed. I tell the children that they have the ability to become a “superhero,” that they can save a life by adopting an animal in need.

I’ve seen the unhealthy cycle of pet overpopulation, abuse, and neglect being broken. The children help spread the message on what our pets need to thrive. It was only natural to take the children’s excitement and passion and further showcase their efforts through a newsletter. We started Critter Care News three years ago, showcasing all the remarkable achievements children have made in our community.

Again with the involvement of local children, we created a song called “Teach My Person How to Love Me” in a workshop led by musician Lowry Olafson. This fun and catchy song helps guardians of all ages understand what their pets need. I now use it in all my classroom visits.

ALLISON: What do you find the most challenging?

VALERIE: The most challenging aspect we have faced are the people who are “not dog or cat lovers” and do not “get” why we pour our hearts, souls and resources into what we do. We are firm in our conviction that healthy, happy animals are an important part of happy, healthy families and communities. It’s not just about being “a dog lover”. It is so much more!

Now we are at a point where we have to figure out how we can make our programs more sustainable. On the education front, looking beyond our community we need to find the resources to bring a consistent, high quality and repeated education program to all the schools along our corridor in northern British Columbia. Potential volunteers are few and far between, stretched thin and perhaps not able to make it back to schools on a regular basis. From our experience, persistence and consistency are critical.

ALLISON: Have you seen a difference between United States animal welfare issues and those you find in Canada?

VALERIE: At their root, a lot of the big issues are the same: like socioeconomic conditions, infrastructure, education, cultural differences. But of course the specific, local issues can vary greatly. One size does not fit all in terms of a workable approach! That’s why it is so important to have the grass-roots, community element to all programs. Areas of downtown Phoenix, Arizona and the rural First Nations community of Tachet in British Columbia may both have problems with companion animal overpopulation, but the causes are different meaning that education and other interventions will take different shapes. The sharing of information and materials contributes to the evolution of these programs as different areas try different approaches to deal with local circumstances. Education is the common thread no matter where you are.

ALLISON: Who keeps you going?

VALERIE:  Without my husband’s support, I would not succeed at a fraction of LAFS projects and goals. He is my tech support, grant writer, shoulder to lean on, and a very patient soul! He shares in this building of a community of care, one animal, one student, one family at a time! We share our house with Dusty and Lulu. Both dogs were in desperate need of rescue, and are both failed fosters. Dusty is now the school spokes dog that comes with me to all my classroom visits. He has patiently taught thousands of children how to read his body language and to greet him safely. And Lulu, well, she is a squirrely pooch that keeps my hubby company when he works in the forest to generate the funds to pay for our humane activities!

lakesanimalfriendshipAs noted in the interview, Valerie and her husband created Lakes Animal Friendship Society to help improve animal care and health. The organization focuses on educating the community in various ways.

  • Education Program: Valerie have completed close to 5,000 student visits in the classroom (Pre K to Gr. 12), and seen a tremendous increase in levels of awareness of how to be a responsible pet guardian and stay safe around dogs and cats. Their community education component has included presentation to local groups and dozens of articles in local media.
  • Dog House Program: The couple began small, building houses in their backyard, and then shifting to refurbishing donated older dog houses. Now the program has become a sustainable one through local schools, bringing our total to 200 dog/cat houses for needy critters. School groups volunteer to build and paint these houses. Extension activities include writing and poster contests to “earn” a doghouse.
  • Feeding Program: Thanks to donations from the wealthier southern region of British Columbia and a discounted shipping cost, the organization has been able to distribute four tonnes of food to critters in need, through its food bank and door to door deliveries where the needs are most.
  • Community Animal Care Events: By establishing a connection with Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT), the organization is able to have volunteer vets and techs from across Canada travel to rural areas where animals from lower-income families are in great need of veterinary services. They carry out spaying and neutering, health checks, vaccinations, and deworming on-site in facilities like community halls. They incorporate education into every phase of the clinics they conduct. The entire community is invited to participate or observe at every step.
  • Workshops: The organization host workshops to provide education kits complete with books, activities, and lesson aids for volunteers wanting to bring messages of animal welfare to their schools and community. The majority of the material has been put together as result of networking through individuals, authors, publishers, and other groups.

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. The Trainable Cat was the first selection of the online Companion Animal Psychology Book Club, newly-formed this fall by Zazie Todd. Besides discussing the book, members had the privilege of asking questions of author Sarah Ellis. I’m taking a different approach to my usual reviews, by sharing highlights of the discussion by some of the three-hundred members.

animal-book-club-tinyTo start the discussion of The Trainable Cat, Todd asked this question: “Right at the beginning of the book, the authors say, ‘we aim to show you how training can improve not just your relationship with your cat but also your beloved pet’s sense of well-being. That’s not to say that the training won’t be fun–it will, for both of you–but the distinction is that you will be producing a happy and well-disposed pet, not a circus star.’ What do you think of this approach to training?”

Of all the questions posed, this one elicited the most responses. Participants liked how the authors give readers an insight into how cats themselves view the world. The unique feline perspective is why training for cats must be different than that for dogs, although there may be some overlap in techniques. Respondents also appreciated the focus of the authors on training cats for the sake of the bond between cat and owner and the psychological health of the cat, as opposed to the teaching of tricks. People domesticated cats and so we have a duty to train cats to cope with the world we’ve placed them into. Cats should be taught how to handle touching, grooming, being crated, and visiting the vet without being unduly stressed. Moreover, because these days many of us rightfully keep them exclusively indoors, we should help cats live an enriched life that’s comparable to the one that they formerly led outdoors. A few participants debated over whether tricks were okay to teach too. Several felt that although training shouldn’t be about “bells and whistles,” the latter was still an acceptable way to enhance a cat’s life.

Next, Todd turned to questions about specific chapters. Chapter three has a set of nine key skills to practice training. About this chapter, Todd asked, “What did you think of these skills? Were there any you found particularly easy or particularly hard (to do or to understand)? If you’ve had chance to try some of them in practice, please share your experiences.”

The consensus was that we all applauded how the authors had structured The Trainable Cat. The authors first present key skills. Then as new training skills are introduced, the key skills are used as a reference. In this way, the content builds on itself, and complex training tasks can be understood as edible chunks.

The Trainable Cat not being my first book about teaching cats, I shared that I’d already been working on teaching my cats how to do obedience and agility. Since starting to read The Trainable Cat, however, I’ve also begun to try marking and maintaining a behavior. Basically, instead of rewarding my cats after each compliance, I’m using praise and the sound of a clicker to let them know when a behavior has been correctly performed. After they have been compliant for a random number of times, I treat my cats with food. Because they don’t know when I’ll reward them, I’ve been better able to teach the maintenance of a behavior.

Chapter four is entitled ‘How cats adapt to living with an alien species (us!)’. Todd posed the question, “What are the main points you’ve taken away from the book about how cats perceive us and our world?” While respondents referred to different examples, we all seemed to agree that this chapter made us think about how cats are socialized. Many pet owners are fully aware that puppies need socialization, but don’t always consider the fact that kittens do too. Case in point, the amount of exposure that kittens receive from men or from women might impact how well they accept either gender. Just as importantly, the amount of exposure that kittens receive from adults or from children could equally impact how they accept people of different ages. The authors dedicate several pages exclusively to how to prepare a cat for the arrival of a baby. For me, being well-aware of how many families will give up a cat because an adult or child in the household doesn’t get along with the cat, his chapter alone is worth the book’s purchase for anyone in the role of educating cat owners.

Chapters five to eleven build on the key skills described in chapter three. Topics covered include: introducing cats to other cats, introducing cats to pets, crating cats, grooming cats, examining cats, and keeping cats safe when outdoors. About these chapters, Todd asked the general question: “Which sections did you particularly enjoy and/or find particularly useful?”

Of all the questions posed, this one elicited the least responses, perhaps because everyone found it difficult to single out any one topic. Personally, there were sections from which I learned more from than others, but I also think the book works best when absorbed as a complete package. 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. Your cat(s) will thank you!

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Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs



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