We're Having A Kitten!: From the Big Decision Through the Crucial First Year

We're Having A Kitten!: From the Big Decision Through the Crucial First Year

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466878198
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/12/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Eric Swanson is the author of the novel Greenhouse Effect. He lives in New York City with his three cats.

Read an Excerpt

We're Having a Kitten

From the Big Decision Through the Crucial First Year

By Eric Swanson, Bob Dombrowski

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1997 Eric Swanson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7819-8


Should We Have a Cat?

Chances are, if you're reading this, the question of whether or not to have a cat has crossed your mind more than once. This is quite natural. In the sphere of human activity, contemplation of a thing very often precedes doing it. A bit plodding and obtuse perhaps, but it's the way most jobs get done. If you decide to have a cat, you'll learn that the human way of doing things is not always the most efficient. Some people find this more difficult to accept than others, but cats are endlessly patient. Unlike other sorts of teachers, they never give up.

Perhaps you already have a cat, who is now perched on the back of the sofa watching you read this, wondering why on earth you're sitting so quietly when you could be doing something worthwhile, like licking your hindquarters or chasing a fly. You could try explaining that you need time to find out a few things before you're ready to launch into the serious business of playing, grooming, or napping. You could claim that it's like learning a new language — grammar and vocabulary come first, then conversation.

These attempts at being reasonable will fail, of course. Probably the best thing to do is to tear a piece from one of the blank pages in this book, crinkle it, and hurl across the room. Your cat will very likely leap from his or her perch and bat it around for a while, then settle in a nice patch of sunlight, content that you've mastered one of the first propositions of cat logic: Life without amusement is no life at all.

Of course, you might be thinking of getting this book for someone else who's considering a cat. In that case, you can probably skim through the text, which is not half as interesting as the pictures.


If you find yourself wondering whether having a cat will truly enrich your life, you're not alone. People have been asking the same question for more than five thousand years. Obviously, each age and culture has phrased it somewhat differently. Ancient Egyptians probably asked something like, "O Great and Munificent Ra, you have taught us to store grains so that we will not perish in times of famine! Praise and Glory! We worship your great wisdom! Now, what are we to do about the mice and rats, who may also worship your wisdom, but are nevertheless devouring a goodly portion of our stored grain and soiling the rest with their droppings?"

Ra, known for his economical solutions, quickly dispatched Felis libyca — a small, brownish sort of wildcat — into the granaries of Egypt. The mice and rats may not have applauded this emanation of Ra's wisdom, but the Egyptians were certainly pleased. They held cats sacred, and built temples to a cat-headed goddess named Bastet. Harming a cat was punishable by death, as was any attempt to smuggle cats out of Egypt. It took all the skill of Phoenician traders to spirit cats across the border, and soon enough cats found their way into homes and granaries on all sides of the Mediterranean.

Over the next two thousand years, cats enjoyed a more or less honored place in civilized societies. Not every culture built them temples and special cemeteries, but most recognized their unique contributions to agriculture and housekeeping. As they adapted to more comfortable domestic environments, cats underwent certain physiological and psychological changes. They grew smaller and weaker, and developed distinct similarities to human infants — such as high, plaintive voices; round, limpid eyes; and warm, cuddly bodies. Whether this was a conscious ploy to manipulate human emotions will probably never be determined. Still, it is wise never to underestimate the intelligence of the feline species.

Unfortunately, this very intelligence became a dangerous commodity during the Middle Ages, when a kind of collective amnesia settled over Europe, and just about everything worth knowing was forgotten. During this period, we can perhaps see most clearly the distinction between feline and human evolution. Whereas feline development proceeds along extremely practical lines, human progress seems driven by laziness and envy: Whoever is wiser than his neighbor is weeded out. For hundreds of years, people hid their intelligence behind a false tolerance of bias and superstition. Cats, however, have traditionally refused to debase themselves this way.

In time, cats became associated with people who, because they could not or would not conceal their wisdom, were branded as witches or wizards. Merely to be seen speaking with a cat was enough to incriminate someone. Consequently, people living in the Middle Ages generally didn't ask, "Should we have a cat?" but rather, "Should we let our houses and barns be overrun by rats, or should we be burned alive at the stake?" Most people, understandably, found it more agreeable to lie down with rats.

They paid the price for convenience, though. As thousands of cats perished in the same cruel manner as their human familiars, the rodent population flourished; rats, in particular, carried the plague into hundreds of towns and cities. Naturally, the Black Death was possibly considered in some feline quarters as no less than a well-deserved comeuppance. The first outbreak wiped out nearly a third of Europe's population, and subsequent epidemics were no less devastating. Nearly two hundred years would pass before people realized that cats could take care of the problem, just as they'd effectively resolved the invasions of ancient Egypt's granaries. Though never quite rehabilitated to their former divine status, cats were once again welcomed into the human community.

Having learned from their misfortunes, modern cats are no longer as likely as they once were to flaunt their intelligence. Still, most of them remain mysterious, independent, and unpredictable creatures. Although in our more enlightened age people tend to find these qualities attractive, old superstitions persist. Very often the question "Should we have a cat?" masks deeper concerns about — for lack of a better phrase — the nature of the beast.


Cats defy intellectual analysis. This is probably why they've fascinated imaginative types for centuries. Egyptian artists celebrated the cat's divine origin in tomb paintings and sculpture. The Greeks stamped images of cats on their coins; the Romans depicted cats in mosaics and paintings, as well as on their pottery, coins, and shields. The most lavishly illustrated of all medieval gospels, Ireland's Book of Kells, contains several very nice portraits of cats and kittens in social situations; while Renaissance artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer, captured the lofty, spiritual aspect of the feline species for the edification of future generations.

Writers through the ages have also paid tribute to cats. Although the Old Testament doesn't mention them, the Babylonian Talmud describes their many useful qualities, such as cleanliness and hunting prowess. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll deftly caught the playful nature of feline wisdom in the character of the Cheshire Cat; Rudyard Kipling's short story The Cat That Walked by Himself examined feline self-reliance; and T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is a poetic salute to feline bravery, playfulness, gravity, and creativity.

It would be hard indeed to list all the fascinating qualities attributed to cats over the ages — especially since every cat seems to have a unique temperament. Nevertheless, most cats share a few common characteristics, which may be described as follows:

• Dignity

• Complexity

• Empathy

• Grace

• Presence

• Cleanliness

• Charm

A brief review of each characteristic will serve to deepen our understanding of these extraordinary creatures.

An Independent Dependent

Cats have received a lot of bad press about their supposed aloofness. Perhaps a more apt way to characterize this often-maligned trait is dignity. Cats have a very refined sense of boundaries. They may not always correspond to human expectations (standing on the dinner table, for example, is generally not considered uncouth in feline circles), but they are fairly well defined. Cats will not automatically assume that your life revolves around them. Just because you get up from the couch doesn't mean you want to play, or go for a walk, or give them a treat. They understand that people sometimes have other things on their minds.

They need to be fed, though, and longhairs especially need daily grooming. Cats also require a fair amount of mental stimulation. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to provide your cat with another cat to play with; a nice variety of toys will keep Lovey amused for a while. Even a paper bag or cardboard box can provide hours of enjoyment, as anyone who has ever made a fort out of an empty refrigerator box can attest.

Most importantly, even the shiest cat craves her owner's affection. While you're busy typing away at your latest manuscript or engrossed in a video, she may just crawl out from her hiding place under the bed and touch her nose to your bare foot, or rub her whiskers against your shin — just to make sure you're there. She might sit on your printer or your desk and watch you work. As far as she's concerned, you are Mommy, Daddy, God, Best Friend, and Sibling all rolled into one; and if she sometimes seems annoyed with you, just remember how long you spent in therapy trying to deal with your feelings about important figures in your life. Of course, if you prefer a more self-sufficient companion, you don't have to pick her up, or stroke her fur, or croon sweet nothings in her ear. She'll get the point. Just don't expect her to come running the next time you need a friend.

A Complex Companion

Cats have very sophisticated emotional lives and enormous willpower. When they want something, they're capable of devising all sorts of subtle or direct strategies to get your attention, which can range from simply staring at the back of your head until you turn around, to sitting on top of the book or newspaper you're reading. Sometimes all they want is some special sign of affection. For instance, Pumpkin's dish may be full, you may have scratched her behind the ears until your hand is ready to fall off, but she keeps right on giving you a round, insistent stare or meowing her fool head off. Finally, it hits you: She wants popcorn. She wants to watch The Lady and the Tramp. She wants you to run around the living room trailing a piece of string. After a few minutes of gratification, she'll probably walk away contented. You've done her bidding.

Jealousy and possessiveness are not uncommon, either. Cats are profoundly territorial. They mark both their living spaces and their loved ones with scent glands located in their paws and around their whiskers; nonneutered adult males, especially, will often mark their territories with urine, which is probably one of the best reasons to have them neutered in adolescence. Since their human companions have an annoying tendency to wash telltale scents with soap and water, or cover them up with colognes or air fresheners, a cat will spend a good part of his day reasserting his claim on furniture, walls, and people. While it may look like he's demonstrating affection, he's actually establishing ownership.

A cat will often attach himself to one person in particular, and ignore or merely tolerate other people in the house. Should you introduce a new person, an infant, or — heaven forfend — another cat into your home, he may react aggressively. This is usually caused by a fear of being displaced by the newcomer. A little extra cuddling and sweet-talking, and a generous portion of treats, will help mollify his feelings. Don't expect a cat to welcome a newcomer with open paws, though. He doesn't like to share.

At times, your cat may act like an spoiled brat, yowling around the house, or toppling the ceramic vase from your Aunt Gilda (which you never liked anyway) just because he's bored. At other times, he'll like nothing better than lying by your side on the couch for hours on end — until a fly swoops by, and then you might as well not exist. One loud noise can terrify him for hours, but he will fearlessly defend his territory against invasion by another pet, a visitor, or even you. And as he grows older, he'll exhibit many of the same characteristics as an aging person: insomnia, crankiness, an increased need for attention, and even a tendency to ramble just to hear himself talk.

Though adaptable to just about any situation, cats like routine. They like to be fed at the same time every day, to sleep in the same spot at night, and to hang out in a few select areas of the house or apartment. Change of any sort can produce stress, anxiety, and even surliness. They especially despise packing up and moving, which means going through the trouble of marking their new territory. Most cats make themselves scarce whenever the cat carrier comes out, since it usually signals some dreadful change in routine, which probably involves a lot of poking and prodding by the veterinarian.

Once your cat has accepted a change in her circumstances — whether it's a new home, a new sofa, or a new person in the house — her normal personality will usually reassert itself. Some cats are delicate or timid by nature, however, and any change is apt to be seen as betrayal. They'll want to forgive you, but they just can't get past their anxiety and resentment. Nervous cats need a great deal more tenderness to recover from the shock to their systems. This may tax your patience, but the result of pampering and coaxing is infinitely preferable to living with an angry ghost.

A Friend in Need

At times, cats seem like hairy little people. They may look at you with total understanding when you're confused. In times of sickness or sorrow, they may wrap your head in their paws, nuzzle your neck, or lick your cheek. They'll even act silly if the situation demands, chasing their own tails or rolling around on their backs. This doesn't necessarily mean cats are psychic or especially empathetic; they don't recite the St. Francis prayer before breakfast. They are, however, quite sensitive to changes in their environment, and a calm atmosphere is deeply linked with survival. If you are upset or ill, your cat will do whatever it takes to soothe you, so that his home becomes safe and secure once more.

Poetry in Motion

Grace, like dignity, is a defining feline trait. In fact, it's commonly believed in some circles that cats are actually aristocrats who were very naughty in their former lives. The feline walk is supremely regal: tail erect and whiskers forward. They can wrap their sinewy bodies around the most unlikely objects without tying themselves in knots or tipping over. They almost always land on their feet when they leap or fall, and even hefty cats can launch themselves from floor to counter with surprising alacrity. When stalking, they can make their bodies amazingly compact; yet they're never so intent on their prey that they can't occasionally stop and sniff the air, listen to a far-off sound, or pose for a spontaneous photograph.

Prolonged spells of clumsiness are usually a sign that all is not well, and the services of a veterinarian should be promptly sought. Incidental clumsiness, however, may simply reflect your cat's attempt to amuse you or himself. And occasionally, even the most adept feline will forget himself when he hears the electric can opener, and tumble awkwardly off the couch in a mad dash for the kitchen. If he sees you watching, he'll likely stop, lick his paws, and give you a look that says, in effect, "I did that on purpose." When this happens, it's best to play along.

A Presence in the House

It's nice to come home sometimes and be greeted by someone who cares enough to say hello, but doesn't necessarily hang on your slightest word. A pat on the head, a lump of food, a casual question or two — that's enough for most cats. You both have things to do; the important thing is that you're both aware of each other's being. Still, some cats prefer a bit more attention, and will follow you around until you pick them up and cuddle for a few minutes. This type of behavior is usually encouraged by people who prefer a bit more attention themselves. Cats are also nice to have around at night, especially if you've been reading a murder mystery or watching a vampire movie on television. Cats are extremely sensitive to the sounds and scents that are beyond the normal range of human perception. The next time you find yourself shivering under your sheets, take a peek at your cat. If he's sleeping contentedly, there's not a vampire for a hundred miles.

The Easiest Toilet Training in the World

You don't have to paper the floor. You don't have to buy diapers or worry about cats telling their psychiatrists about your frustration and cruelty. You don't have to go for walks in rain, sleet, or dark of night. All you have to do is buy a plastic dishpan, a bag of litter, and a scoop. Show the cat where the litter box is, and maybe gently lift her inside. End of toilet training.


Excerpted from We're Having a Kitten by Eric Swanson, Bob Dombrowski. Copyright © 1997 Eric Swanson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Chapter 1: Should We Have a Cat?,
Chapter 2: Yes, We Should Have a Cat!,
Chapter 3: Variations on a Cat,
Chapter 4: "Your" Home Is "Our" Home,
Chapter 5: The Arrival,
Chapter 6: The Next Eleven Months,
Chapter 7: Last Words,
Appendix A: Registries and Publications,
Appendix B: Pet Insurance,
Appendix C: Toxic Substances,

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