If it's cold out, the cats are bunking indoors

Jan. 14, 1996
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

I admit that not everyone in the world likes cats. Why, I don't know. But I try to be sensitive to the fact that some people actually prefer dogs or fish. That's why I only write one column a year on cats, and this is it.

It occurs to me that I almost always write about cats and cat books during the cold winter months. The reason is obvious. During the summer, when it's so very, very hot, Shug, Gizmo and Fred rarely come inside the house. We see each other at breakfast and dinner and that's about it, unless I stumble upon one of their many cool outdoor hiding places in the yard. At night, they prefer to sleep outside under a bush, belly exposed and paws outstretched, taking full advantage of any Delta breeze that might whisper along.

But when the temperature dips below 60 degrees, I suddenly have three new best friends. They stake out special places in the house: Shug, the oldest, likes me to keep the lid down on the antique stove in the kitchen so he has an extra-warm place to sleep. Gizmo stretches out on top of the bureau, knocking books, newspapers and pens out of his way - and then looks mildly surprised when they clatter to the floor. But he never knocks over the plant that shares the same space, wisely figuring he'd lose one of his nine lives if he did. Fred, the youngest, is less predictable. He's still at the stage where he finds any small confined space attractive: a paper bag, a fruit bowl, a shoe box or a crowded desk drawer.

When it really gets cold at night, the cats join me in bed with the electric blanket, huddling together for warmth as if the Blizzard of '96 were suddenly going to strike Northern California. "Hypocrites!" I scold them. "You don't really love me! You just want to live as comfortably as possible!" They look at me and yawn.

Since I love cats, it follows that I enjoy reading books about cats. I am going to recommend cat books today knowing that several of them are out of print and will be difficult to find, but check your public library, local book sales or used-book stores.

The first is "A Snowflake in My Hand" by Samantha Mooney (1983, Delacorte Press). A friend dropped this book off at my house so I had no choice but to read it...and I'm glad I did. Mooney gives a first-person account of her work as a technician in the oncology unit of the Animal Medical Center in New York. She describes her friends, animal and human, and the ups and downs of her demanding job.

Since I have never owned a kitten, I was struck by this passage in which Mooney describes why she prefers older cats: "It is the older cat who intrigues me," she wrote, "the cat who has established his preferences, who growls when his routine is interrupted; the cat who walks up to his favorite chair and stares at the younger feline occupant until she moves. The cat who has been there through the years, who knows every one of his owner's moods. He who has earned his owner's respect and has become a valued friend and companion." Right.

"Amber: A Very Personal Cat" by Gladys Taber (1970, Curtis Books) also was given to me. Politically, it's definitely dated. In today's world, most cat people are worried about cat over-population and don't consider it necessary to own a pure-bred Abyssinian. Taber, a well-to-do woman living on the East Coast, also thought the government should give every family in the ghetto a cat to keep the rat population under control. Despite her patrician attitudes, I enjoyed reading her passages devoted to descriptions of Amber.

Other recommendations include "How to Massage Your Cat" by Alice M. Brock (1992, Chronicle Books), a hilarious book mainly due to her own illustrations. And James Herriott's "Cat Stories" is, as all cat-lovers must know by now, as good as they come and still widely available.

My other favorite, "Watchers by the Pool" by Margaret Reinhold (1993, Carroll and Graff), describes a year in the life of a woman and her many cats all of whom live together in the south of France. This book is out-of-print but, hurrah, it can be found at the library.

Picture of a distinguished and disinterested cat
Shug Sherwin is the oldest and wisest of the Sherwin family.
For more about Shug visit "Why Can't Anyone Write a Good Book About Cats,"
the January 11, 1998 Printed Matter Column.
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