Thursday, August 17, 2017

Black Cat Appreciation Day

Every year on Black Cat Appreciation Day, people are faced with the erroneous "fact" that black cats are overlooked in shelters and that they are less likely to be adopted when they are in shelters. I accepted this 'fact' for years but yet never really saw it in practice in my local shelter. I would have whole bunches of black kittens that would be snatched right up on adoption day.

Then I stumbled upon an article that actually turned that myth on its ear. Dr. Emily Weiss did a study to find out if black cats really were not being adopted. She looked at the data from the ASPCA's A Comprehensive Animal Risk Database, which pulled numbers from 14 communities and nearly 300,000 dogs and cats. She wondered if it could be that there are simply more black dogs and cats entering the system, making it appear that they are more at risk? A quote from her blog post: "Let’s say 4 black dogs and 1 white dog enter the shelter, and the next day 1 white dog and 1 black dog are adopted—that leaves just 3 black dogs in kennels, shifting a perception of risk. However, the same number of black and white dogs were adopted!"

Her post has some wonderful charts looking at the actual data of intakes and adoptions and those figures appear to support her theory. You can read a few more stories on this phenomenon at, and

I recognize that a lot of people have superstitions about black cats that harken back to the dark ages, but people who subscribe to that generally aren't adopting cats anyway. Personally, I swore to never adopt another black cat after adopting Ollie because taking photos of him was so hard. Fortunately, my photography skills increased quite a deal since 2010, and I now look forward to the challenge of adopting black kitties.

I do not want to diminish the need to adopt black cats and I am all for any adoption promotions that make use of Black Cat Appreciation Day,  I just think we need to not fall prey to myth and misinformation when it comes to kitties.

I learned from A Tonk's Tail that black cats are genetically prone to be more friendly. She quoted what Dr. Temple Grandin wrote in her book "Animals Make Us Human": "black cats are friendlier than other cats, are better able to deal with crowding and urban life, and have greater aggregative tendencies" and "black cats are more social overall, whether it’s with other cats or with humans."

This may, or may not, be your experiences with black cats, but regardless of our personal feelings on coat colors, all cats deserve appreciation - but today is the day we stop to appreciate the black ones.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What I know - How to deal with mouthy kittens

One major issue people who foster kittens foster face after the kittens become healthy is the fact that they are often very mouthy. Kittens explore the world with their mouth and it is quite normal that they will inevitably try to nibble and chew on you, but there are some kittens that really enjoy biting you. A kitten that bites can turn into a cat who bites and that can be a serious problem. Learning how to communicate with kittens and letting them know this is not acceptable will help you nip this issue in the bud.

First off, I want to make it clear that they aren't biting you to hurt you, they are biting to play and explore and learn. If you ever watch two kittens playing together you will see it inevitably comes down to wrestling, which involves a lot of biting and 'bunny kicking' with their back legs. It looks like it hurts but they do it a lot so it is obviously quite pleasurable to them. If you spend a lot of time observing their play, you will notice that when one kitten goes too far, the kitten that is harmed will cry out and stop playing. The offending kitten will stop wrestling and gently lick their sibling in an almost "I'm sorry" conciliatory nature.

Extrapolating from this, I created what I ended up calling the "ow method" of communicating with kittens about what biting humans can mean. When I have a kitten that really enjoys chewing on my skin to the point where it hurts, I will say "ow" in a high pitched meow-like tone and I freeze. You know you have the tone right when the kitten stops biting and starts to lick you.

Saying "ow" and freezing mimics the two primary communication tools the kittens employ to keep themselves safe during play. When kittens understand that they have been too aggressive, they alter their play slightly to tone it down a bit the next time. This means instead of biting really hard, they bite mostly really hard. If they are 'told' they bit too hard again, they tone it down a bit more. Changes are subtle but they are there. They want to bite as hard as they can without hurting each other because that is how they learn and strengthen their jaw muscles so when they have to kill their prey they can.

This subtle change will happen to you as well. Once you have the right tone for the 'ow' you'll notice that the kitten might bite you in a different spot, or not bite you quite as hard. After a couple of ow's the kitten might think you are no fun and go off to find other playthings.

Since humans are generally such fun toys though, you will find that they will most likely come back and try again. It might be in a few minutes, or a few hours, or even the next day. Some kittens are obsessive about biting and you need to start the 'ow' method whenever the kitten comes too close to you and starts trying to bite you. Several times over the years I have had very mouthy kittens which end up looking at me as if to ask "just how delicate are you?" which made me feel a bit like a very useless kitten (which is actually okay since I'm not a kitten)

I know some foster homes who choose different vocalizations. Some say "no" and some say "gentle". What is key in all of these vocalizations is consistency. If you start telling the kitten to not bite you and then tell the kitten it is okay to bite you later, the kitten won't know if you just weren't feeling well that day, or if the kitten bit you in the wrong place the first time, and it will set back your training quite a bit.

Knowing how to communicate with your kittens is very important. It is why I let my foster kittens play with my hands and chew on them if it does not hurt or break my skin. I have found over the years that letting kittens know just how hard they can bite you without hurting you is incredibly important. Just avoiding the issue by not letting them play with your hands at all doesn't help the kitten understand that human skin is delicate when compared with a cat's that is covered in fur and you are at risk of a full blown cat bite when the kitty was just trying to give you a warning.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eli and his good side

Momma, are you putting my nose boogers on the internet? 

And my eye crusties? Do you have no shame woman?

 This is my good side.. put this side on the internet.. 

Eli still suffers from blocked tear ducts from a couple of bouts of Calicivirus when he was a kitten. He generally keeps his face clean, but sometimes I catch him with a lot of gunk on his face. Sometimes I clean it for him, sometimes I let him know that if he doesn't get someone to clean it for him I'll do it and the next time I see him his face is nice and clean 

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Street Cats by Dr. Raphaella Bilski (spon)

Speaking of delayed reviews, I have been sitting on this review since 2015. I have felt really bad about it but this was one of the hardest books I have ever read.

Dr. Raphaella Bilski wrote to me in March 2015 because she had published this book about caring for the community of street cats in Jerusalem. The email she sent to me is a good descriptor of the book and of Dr. Bilski herself:
For over 14 years I lived with a community of street cats that established itself in my garden in Jerusalem, feeding and caring for the cats to the best of my abilities. This was a time before spaying and neutering were widely available in Israel, which meant that I had the rare opportunity to observe several generations of cats in their interactions with each other and with me.

In one sense, then, this book is an ethnological study presented in narrative rather than scientific form, and therein lies its uniqueness. While street cats can be seen in many cities around the world, lurking around trash cans and in back alleys, their world remains largely unknown. The book provides a rare look into the lives of these cats not only as individuals, each with his or her distinctive personality but also as members of a community. As we read of the social life of street cats we encounter their hierarchies and the leaders among them, extraordinary displays of courage and friendship, different forms of motherhood, including joint motherhood, a compassionate attitude to the sick and the dying, cats teaching one another, and much more. No other book on cats offers such a long-term and in depth exploration of the lives of street cats in a communal context.

The book also examines the complex and problematic interplay between the world of the street cat and our own human world. People often see these cats as a nuisance, at best to be ignored. Through the years I have formed deep bonds with individual cats. In this book, I try to convey to the reader the special nature and depth of these relationships, showing that the street cat can be a warm and loyal friend if treated correctly. I hope that this intimate and emotional encounter with the street cat will transform it from an obscure animal, roaming around trash cans, into a familiar, interesting and sympathetic creature.

Finally, let me briefly introduce myself. I am a member of the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to my academic work, I was also an adviser to three Prime Ministers in Israel on social and welfare policies.

My love of animals I learned from my mother who taught me to take care of street cats even as a young girl. The community of street cats started in my garden in 1993, two months after the death of my last dog, and I have been caring for it ever since.

Following the publication of My Street Cats in Israel, I received many moving responses from readers, not all of them cat lovers. The book was also featured in the media (radio talk-shows and newspaper articles), raising public awareness of the lives and plight of the street cat. My goal in publishing the English edition of My Street Cats is to further raise public awareness of street cats worldwide and promote a more compassionate attitude towards these amazing animals. For that need your help.

Also, please note that all profits from the sale of the book go towards the continued care of street cats in Jerusalem and the implementation of a TNR program there. At present, there are an estimated 500,000 street cats in the Jerusalem area.
All wonderful ideals, which is why I was willing to promote this book. However, when it came to reading it, I found it very difficult.  As Dr. Bilski stated in her email, the events of this book happened mostly prior to the acceptance of acceptance of spay/neuter, and the reality of this became very clear once I started reading. She would introduce the reader to a cat and by the end of the chapter, she would be explaining how the cat died all too young. Other kittens she fell in love with that she "offered the opportunity to live inside" by bringing the cat inside and then leaving the door open. The cat "chose" the outdoor life. I found myself in tears a lot while reading this book, which is why I would end up putting it down and then not picking it back up for months, which is why this took so long.

My other problem with this book is the lack of continuity. Dr. Bilski introduces you to one kitty, then refers to other kitties that this cat interacted with but would end that storyline by saying she would refer to that later, and in some cases referring to cats she talked about in previous chapters but ending that just as abruptly. It was very hard to get a sense of any timeline and where any cat fell within that timeline until almost the end of the book. If you take a look at the cover of the book, you can get a sense of how the story progresses.

I do believe this book imparts a lot of really good information about community cats (formally called feral cats) and it is a very valuable account of one woman's experiences with cats over a number of years, but I won't sugar coat it. This is a very difficult book to get through. If you are interested in learning more about community cats and the lives they live on the outskirts of humanity, I would highly recommend this book.

A few other bloggers reviewed this book as well. You can read them over at  A Tonk's Tail, The Conscious Cat, Eureporter, Tapinfinity, and even Buzzfeed

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Cat Claws’ M.A.X. Butterfly Cat Scratcher (spon)

Back in April we were contacted and offered to review the Butterfly Scratcher from Cat Claws. They sent me a free scratcher in exchange for a review.

I will admit, there is a reason for the delay in the review. No one wanted to use it. It sat unattended for months. No one showed the least amount of interested in it and I was lamenting what I was going to do. Then one day it was picked up to clean the floor and it fell over upside down. Since no one cared one iota about the product, I didn't think to turn it over.. in fact my initial thought was I should probably donate it to the shelter and take photos of it with shelter kitties.

A while later I turned around and found that someone really likes it upside down.

He often spent time on it instead of the really comfy giraffe bed that Miss Julie from Cats Herd You sent him.

He also didn't care where it was, he sought it out to sit on it quite regularly.

My cats all seem to prefer scratching on the tall cat trees I have scattered around the house - well that and the carpeted cat stairs we made years ago - I know that not all cats have the same preference and providing different options and offering different methods that allow them to cater to their needs will protect their owners homes and sofas and other items.  Sometimes, just providing them a new thing to investigate or to sleep on is enough to add enrichment to their life and bring some interest to their day - which is always a good thing.

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