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


  1. I does sound like a really hard book to get through. I'm sure a lot of it would upset my human.

  2. Agreed - it was difficult, but educational.

  3. I will look for this book at the library (really, I go to three different public libraries!) and pick it up. Sounds like there are some good things to grasp from it, and thanks for the review.

  4. It sounds fascinating but far too hard to get through.

  5. I started to read it , but was too upset to finish it. I had it on my list of books not to read back in May 2016:

  6. Yikes, sounds like some good editing was in order, along with more encouraging information about how community cats can be successfully managed.


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