Thursday, May 14, 2015


Shocking, I know, but it seems to be a pretty good rule--based on research I've been doing. Katherine Houpt, retired professor at Cornell vet school, says, firmly, "If you have a cat, there are lots of things you can do to improve the quality of his life--but getting another cat is not one of them." If you want two cats, two littermates are the likeliest two cats to get along, but even they may end up fighting as adults. Of course I'm sure everybody reading this knows an exception. And there are plenty of people who have already added a cat and believe the new and the previous are getting along fine when in fact they're barely tolerating each other because they have no choice. The ASPCA adds that many adopters don't calculate the financial cost until they're paying it, which is usually a good thousand dollars a year. A lot of ill-informed adopters also think the new pair are going to play with each other and relieve them of that duty. In fact, if you understand that a cat needs mental and physical stimulation, you're going to have to double your effort. Stress, fighting, and the occasional aggressive chase (That's my litter box!) don't count.

The fact is that about half of all cat-owning households in this country have two or more. This is why there are so many books, TV shows, websites, and lore about solving cat problems. I haven't found the precise percentage yet, but I do know that a goodly number of cats brought home from shelters to be new companions to existing cats are soon back in the shelter.

Okay, okay, exceptions by the yard. But I'm going to be studying this question in much greater depth as I work my way toward my book, and I'll be happy to find my mind changed. Any of y'all want to start changing it, please have at it.

Just a quick few headlines from Googling "multi-cat household":
  • Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud! Keeping the Peace in a Multi-cat Household
  • Aggressive Cats in Multi-Cat Households
  • Litterbox Behavior Solutions - Multiple Cat Households
  • Solving Behavior Problems In Your Multi-Cat Household
  • Multi-Cat Household: Is It Right For You? Humane Society of the United States
  • Urine Marking in a Multi-cat Household....

Monday, April 13, 2015


Today I finished the timeline of Augusta's life for the book of which her life story forms the framework.  Coming to the end was not easy--I can't help reliving it.  This is the last picture we have of her, taken in Montana on July 29, 2010, a little longer than a month before she died.  Photographs of black cats usually don't have much to tell, but in this one--with Elizabeth's long late-afternoon shadow falling across her and the sunlight reflected from the bright white wall--you can see, if you look closely, that like many another black cat Augusta wasn't really quite black: Her tail was actually striped.  Like many another, she had secrets.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


To wit:

Dogs tend to align themselves either north or south along the earth's magnetic field when defecating. I'm still trying to find out if this is true of cats. My hypothesis is that it's not. But I appeal to all of you who have dogs to take a compass with you when walking your canine companion and to record your observations. Cat owners who are able to observe the moment of poopage in the litter box, please do the same. Let's make this a 30-day project. If you will report your findings to me, you will have advanced the cause of science, which these days needs all the help it can get.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A CAT'S LIFE is born

Back in the fall I finished a proposal for a book to be called A Cat's Life, and sold it to Hachette Books.  Structurally it is built on the life story of my dear Augusta, who died in the fall of 2010.  Augusta leads the reader into the mysteries of the biology, behavior, and cognition of her species, Felis silvestris catus.  There has been an amazing amount of research done in the last couple of decades on the domestic cat, and very little of it has yet come to the attention of the public.  Since there are ninety million owned cats in the United States alone, it seemed like a good idea to get this information out in language and form congenial to non-scientific readers, and that's what I'm working on now.

Only yesterday I learned, for example, that cats can hear higher-frequency sound than any other terrestrial mammal--as high as bats--a hundred thousand cycles per second--quite a bit higher even than dogs.  People max out at forty thousand, if they haven't been to too many rock concerts or ear-splitting bars, which eliminates, I'd guess, about half of all American grownups.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Elizabeth and I got back from Paris a week ago today.  While there we were deeply immersed in French history.  She was reading The Guns of August, about the years leading up to World War One, and to understand any of that we had to keep dialing backwards into the nineteenth century and the various paroxysms of French society in that time.  One day, walking through the old Jewish ghetto--only a few blocks from the office of Charlie Hebdo, though of course we didn't know it at the time--we came onto the Place de la République, which is where all the huge gatherings have been this past week and where the march yesterday began and ended.  It's vast, must be more than a quarter-mile across, and in the middle of it (prominent in all the photographs of the demonstrations) is an enormous, stunningly beautiful statue of Marianne, the symbol of French liberty.

The day we were there, there were very few people around.  Cars go around the outside, but the plaza itself doesn't have much in it other than some bare trees and that enormous statue.  We went to look at it up close, and found that around the bottom are a series of bronze bas-reliefs of crucial scenes of French history from the Revolution forward.  Some are bloody, and others represent culminations of horrible bloodshed.

Now another bloody possible turning point: the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Kasher market.  It's hard to know what to make of those and what's going on now and what may be to come--such complexity--but I find myself turning to one of the other main activities of our time there (besides eating), viz., looking at art, specifically the stuff that I always am most moved by, Italian Renaissance.

I can't say I have a favorite artist from the period, but certainly near the top is Giovanni Bellini, and one of the reasons, besides the sheer beauty of his work, is the particular way in which some of his Madonnas seem to be looking somewhere else, far away, a way I (over?)interpret as (fore)seeing the Crucifixion.  There's a Bellini in the Louvre of the Madonna and Child with Sts. Peter and Sebastian in which everybody, including the baby Jesus, seems to be doing it.  Even the little angels look pretty pessimistic.
All this brings me to why, over time, in fits and starts, I've gotten interested, even involved, in the Church in its more Roman forms, with saints and all the trimmings (well, okay, most of the trimmings), especially the old-time versions of Mary and baby and John the Baptist and St. Jerome, et al., and most of all the Crucifixion: (I conveniently exclude miracles, resurrection, and a great deal of inconveniently confusing hocus-pocus): the pure, clear expressions of the innocence and the hope and the evil that live in the heart of every human being.

There's another picture in the Louvre, by Antonello da Messina (who moved from his home in Sicily to Venice in 1475 and was influenced there by Bellini), of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns but not yet on the cross, in sheer agony and terror.
Is he looking up at the cross or at God, or both?  Is he, like Mary in the Bellini, gazing horrified into the future?  You could hang a "Je suis Charlie" sign on him and it would be perfectly appropriate.

Monday, November 3, 2014


An English acoustician, Jeremy Luscombe, published a terrific piece about his work to reduce restaurant noise, and he was kind enough to open it with a reference to a piece of mine that was published in Zester Daily some while ago.
Click here to see Luscombe's piece.
And here's mine:

And then in an email thanking Luscombe I wrote the following (I've still been thinking about this problem, which shows no sign of diminishing):

One thing you didn't mention, which I barely touched on in my piece but which I've been wondering about since, is the question of how noise raises levels of adrenaline, norepinhephrine, and (worst) cortisols, in effect creating the sensation of anxiety and even fear.  Those of course can be mollified by further intake of alcohol and food.  Up go sales.  And like the idiots who combine Red Bull and vodka, the victims of this (perhaps sometimes unconscious?) stratagem believe that the combined effects of simultaneous excitement and calming--at war with each other, as it were--are tantamount to "having a good time."  Loud laughter, the camaraderie of the whole group being in the altered state together (thus some moderation of the underlying sense of fear), and general disinhibition are exactly what you get in these goddam places, and exactly what increasing numbers of young people have learned to identify as markers of having a good time.  Good conversation is out the window.  And we adherents of conversation are out of the restaurant, not to return.