Feb 7, 2011

How to Talk to Your Cat

by Jean Craighead George

I initially picked up this book at a used sale because of the author; I still remember how thrilled I was as a kid to read her descriptions of wolves communicating via body language with a lost child in Julie of the Wolves. What can this author teach me about communicating with my cat? I thought. A few days ago when I actually picked up the book to read, I felt a little more dubious. It's pretty brief, and kinda old, so I wondered if I'd actually learn anything new. Glad to say that I did, and this one is worth holding onto.

How to Talk to Your Cat isn't just about feline body language, although there are detailed sections on what different postures, tail waves, whisker positions, vocal sounds etc. can mean. But it's also a lot about cat behavior, what your cat does and why, that lets you understand it better. I didn't know how far an outdoor cat could roam; according to George my Irwin could have a ranging territory of up to 2 square kilometers! (That's twice what I'd previously imagined). I also had assumed that cats claim a patch of land and defend it against all other cats, keeping them out, but she says they're not like dogs in that regard. They keep other cats out of their particular home turf- which in this case would be my house- but in the greater ranging territory don't mind other cats using their pathways and hunting grounds, as long as they don't encounter each other doing so. They just like to keep their distance. It gave me a very different picture of what my cat does when he walks outside by himself.

One section I particularly enjoyed reading was about how a mother cat communicates with and teaches her kittens; the author had a cat who raised several litters in their house, and wrote about her observations (most things in the book are described via little anecdotes about her cats or the cats of people she knows). I can't ever picture myself allowing one of my cats to reproduce, so it was charming to read about what that's like, watching kittens be born and raised in the house.

This little book is actually an abridged version of a longer text. The opening and closing chapters talk about all kinds of animals communicating with people, and I gather that the original book then had a section on dogs and maybe a few other domestic animals too; this volume just focuses on the cat. I also gather there's a much newer edition with lively illustrations, which seems more geared towards children than my older copy (and I wonder if the newer version edited out all the parts that describe in detail the cat's mating behavior).

Rating: 3/5 ....... 101 pages, 1985

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