You can take the cat out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the cat.
Author Sarah Brown makes that point in her new book, “The Cat, a Natural and Cultural History.” You would have to try hard to find a more interesting and definitive book on the world’s favorite pet.
I’ve written about cats before, discussing the problem birds — and birdlovers — have with cats. The problem lies elsewhere, though, another point Ms. Brown makes clear.
Cats always were and always will be hunters. They are hard-wired to react with snap speed when they detect motion. Hunger has nothing to do with it. Well-fed or starving, it is moves it’s a target. Cats evolved to be hunters, and we cannot change that.
The problem is with cat owners who refuse to keep the animal inside.
Enough of that.
We would love to have a cat in our house, (IN the active word here) a cuddly lapful of warm purr, a twist around our ankles. I however develop itchy eyes after a short time with a cat. Unfortunate. Cats are much easier than dogs as pets. Cats take care of themselves.
In the chapter “The Benefits of Cat Ownership” Ms. Brown addresses the alergy issue. My discomfort is not caused by cat hair (attention friends who vacuum before I visit). The problem is the proteins produced in the sebaceous glands of the cats skin, and its saliva. Certain members of the Siberian breed produce less of these allergens, and might be suitable as pets for people like me. Or, my mother should have acclimated me as an infant. Oh, well.
The author gives us detailed discussion of the many cat breeds, the who, what, where, when, and why of your cat choices. There are significant differences, one breed to another. Ms. Brown lists weight, genetic background, grooming requirements, activity levels, temperament, and health concerns. Buyer be aware.
There are about 22 foundation breeds, the author tells us, the races or natural breeds of cats that developed around the world as cats underwent “spontaneous genetic mutations.” They produced the differences in appearance and behavior we see today.
All cats descended from the North African wildcat, Felis lybica lybica. Domestication, the beginning of the housecat, the broad description which fits most cats in the world today, began in and around the eastern Mediterranean basin. Cats were important parts of Egyptian households as long as 3,500 years ago.
That wildcat, by the way, does not look much different than the ordinary neighborhood tabby. The foundation breeds, those evolutionary keystones, have since been mixed and matched countless times to produce the different appearances and behaviors that can be found in the cat family today. We created the tabby cat.
Ms. Brown gives us detail on 44 breeds. Available at the humane society? Doubtful. Most of the time a cat is a cat is a cat. But what striking differences there can be in appearance of these beautiful animals.
The book gives us history, evolution, behavior, play, health, human interaction with cats, and information on how you can best relate to your cat, how to make both you and the animal happy. (Not all cats like to have their tummies scratched. Stick to under and chin.)
Princeton University Press published this book, handsome, hardbound, with a glossary of medical terms, bibliography, and index, all in 224 pages, profusely illustrated, priced at $27.95, in bookstores a week ago, March 24.