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First cat show

Carl Kahler. My Wife's Lovers. 1891.

Carl Kahler. My Wife’s Lovers. 1891*

In Atlas Obscura, an article about England’s first cat show and how it changed the way people thought about cats (from their utilitarian work catching mice and rats to being doted-on household pets).

It was Harrison Weir who invented the cat show:

“Long ages of neglect, ill-treatment, and absolute cruelty, with little or no gentleness, kindness, or training, have made the Cat self-reliant.”

Harrison Weir's book on Click image to open the book.

Harrison Weir’s book on Click image to open the book.

Weir’s view of the cat as “an object of increasing interest, admiration, and cultured beauty” led him to develop a whole new form of competitive entertainment: the cat show. To give the whole thing an air of legitimacy and attract an upper-class crowd, Weir drafted a set of points and standards by which the cats, divided by breed and size, would be judged.

Here is the story:

*About that painting, from ArtNet News (2015):

Carl Kahler’s 1891 painting My Wife’s Lovers…sold on November 3 at Sotheby’s 19th Century European Art sale for $826,000, more than two times its estimated price of $300,000.

The massive painting is six feet tall, eight-and-a-half feet wide, weighs 227 pounds, and features 42 felines. If you think that’s a lot of cats (you’d be right), consider the fact that they’re just a small fraction of the 350 owned by San Franciscan millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson, who commissioned the painting.


Afraid? Lazy? Or both?

I’m writing about your CAT, not YOU. I just read two great articles by Maris and Signe, of Latvia. Maris is a cat behaviorist, Signe a veterinarian.


I have a cat who falls into both categories, fearful and lazy. She is, however, very, very comfortable snuggled atop a rumpled quilt we’re both sitting on as I write this.



There are several things a cat could be afraid of, Maris and Signe write in “How to Calm Down a Frightened Cat” (1):

Cats can be afraid of their owners, of children, and of strangers. Sometimes cats are afraid of a specific person. A common kind of fear is that of other animals, most commonly dogs and other cats. Fear of places, especially fear of veterinary clinics, as well as fear of different noises, including thunderstorms and fireworks, are common. Last, but not least, cats may also be afraid of separation, though it’s not as common as separation anxiety seen in dogs.

“It is not rare for a cat to appear afraid of more than one thing, and sometimes, yes, cats can seem afraid of almost everything…”

Click image for video compilation

Click image for video compilation

Tread softly. Speak in low, reassuring voice. Do the slow eye-blink when your fraidy cat is staring wide-eyed at you. Be still some of the time so she can get used to your presence after an absence (of five minutes!). Those are some of the ways I try to make Pumpkin relax.

Then there is the cat who doesn’t want to do anything. AT ALL. EVER. But is this laziness or just “cat-ness”?

One of Maris’s suggestions is to “try different toys and rotate them” but when I spun my cat around, clockwise and then unwinding her counter-clockwise, no matter which toy I tried, she scratched me and ran off under the bed.

PLAY SHORT, they recommend.

Cats are animals with a naturally short attention span. It’s not like that’s a bad thing—you just have to keep that in mind. Unlike dogs, cats don’t track their prey for hours and won’t chase it for miles. Apply that knowledge to playing and you’ll see that play sessions as short as five minutes are completely fine for cats. Play works best if repeated several times during the day. Initially, you can play for as long as you can hold your cat’s attention, which can be anything from going after the toy to simply taking a quick glance at it.

I try this, Pumpkin watches me play with the toy, loses interest (her, first, then me) and that’s playtime. My previous cats loved what we called “Mouse Puppet Theatre”: lower a blanket over the edge of a bed or sofa, so that it touches the floor. The cat goes backstage. Out front, you, the audience and director of the play, move a toy mouse or stick or string, whatever your cat likes, back and forth. Suddenly, a paw darts out from under the curtain to grab the toy. This can take some patience on your part.

Not so recommended is using your hand as the victim because the cat will associate FINGER with FUN.

So how do you combat fear or laziness (or both) in your cat(s)? Write MeinKat or add a comment below. 

1: FEAR —

2: LAZY —

Adieu petit

Another cat passes on, and we who have pets or have had pets know how the grieving is no less for a little being than it is for one of our own kind, and sometimes it is more intense. Mein Kat shares this letter from Françoise and Dirk, first in its original, and then in translation.



Bobette est partie

Chers tous,

Hier, en début d’après-midi, nous avons dû prendre la difficile et douloureuse décision de faire euthanasier notre petite Bobette. Elle avait deux grosses tumeurs sur les côtés de la langue, qui peu à peu l’empêchaient de se nourrir, et aussi des problèmes rénaux.

Comme elle est toujours restée distante, il était très difficile de voir si quelque chose ne tournait pas rond chez elle. Elle a toujours eu un comportement renfermé et solitaire, et c’est en la voyant maigrir que nous nous sommes alarmés. Après deux visites chez le vétérinaire, à un mois d’intervalle, nous l’avons amenée une troisième fois hier matin pour faire un examen plus approfondi, nécessitant une anesthésie générale. Vu les conclusions de cet examen, nous avons préféré ne pas la réveiller.

Elle avait environ une dizaine d’années, nous l’avions recueillie il y a deux ans et demi, affamée et tellement craintive qu’il était presque impossible de l’approcher, encore plus de la toucher. À force de soins et d’amour, nous avions réussi à gagner sa confiance, bien qu’elle restât toujours sur le qui-vive. Elle a passé hier sa dernière journée au soleil, très affaiblie mais heureuse.

Nous avons beaucoup de chagrin, mais nous voulions à tout prix éviter lui éviter la souffrance. Biniou, Athos et Misha nous consolent comme ils peuvent, mais pour le moment le vide causé par l’absence de Bobette prend toute la place.

« Il n’y a pas de mort, seulement des changements de monde », dit un proverbe indien. Sans doute, quelque part dans un autre monde, que l’on espère meilleur, Bobette nous remercie de l’avoir accueillie et aimée, et d’avoir mis un terme à ses souffrances.

Pardonnez-nous le caractère un peu impersonnel de ce message, mais c’est tellement dur d’en parler…

On vous embrasse,
Françoise et Dirk

Bobette is gone

Dear all,

Yesterday, in the early afternoon, we had to take the difficult and painful decision to have our little Bobette euthanized. She had two large tumors on both sides of her tongue, which progressively prevented her from eating, and also kidney problems.

As she’s always been rather stand-offish, it was very difficult to see when anything was wrong with her. She’s always had a withdrawn and solitary nature, and it’s only when we noticed she was losing weight that we became worried. After two visits in a month to the veterinary, we brought her there a third time yesterday morning to have her more thoroughly examined, under general anaesthetic. When we got the results of this examination, we decided not to wake her up.

She was about ten years old, we adopted her two and a half years ago, starving and so scared that it was almost impossible to approach her, even less touch her. By dint of care and love, we had succeeded in gaining her confidence, though she always remained on the alert. She spent her last day lying in the sun yesterday, very weakened but happy.

We are very sad, but in no way did we want her to suffer. Biniou, Athos and Misha console us as they can, but at the moment the emptiness caused by Bobette’s absence takes all the space.

“There’s no death, only changes of worlds”, says an Indian proverb. Maybe, somewhere in another world, hopefully better, Bobette thanks us to have rescued and loved her, and to have put an end to her sufferings.

Please forgive the rather impersonal style of this message, but it’s so hard to talk about it…

Françoise and Dirk

Cat Comforts Dying Elderly

Bees see ultraviolet light, which remains invisible to us. Eagles have ten times the visual acuity of human eyes. Dogs can detect certain kinds of cancers in humans.


Fish can predict an upcoming earthquake. Migrating birds use the earth’s magnetic field. And cats?


Well, according to Dr. David Dosa and his colleagues and the families of patients at Steere House nursing home in Rhode Island, at least one cat can detect when a person is about to die. The cat’s name is Oscar, and his story in Dosa’s “Making Rounds With Oscar” is charming and instructive about end-of-life care and how we deal with elderly people in their final months and hours.


David Dosa and Oscar

Mein Kat contributor and friend, Belgium-based Françoise, sent me the book recently: it is a fascinating look at behind the scenes hospice care and how animals have been integrated into the care philosophy at this and other nursing homes with great success. In fact Dr. Dosa argues that animals ought to be part of elderly care facilities because they offer not only companionship but a sense of the place being more like a home, even to those who did not have pets in their homes.

Steere House has several resident cats, birds and rabbits; at the time of writing his book in 2009 the cats included Billy, Munchie, and Oscar, who arrived as a young cat in 2005. Which would make him a geriatric cat today. But still on duty!

“Before the 1980’s there was no such thing as pet therapy,” Dosa writes. “Animals didn’t have a place in health care institutions. Why bring a “dirty animal” into a sterile environment? [One could take issue with calling any health care facility sterile!] Then some scientists began to espouse the human-animal bond theory: the belief that animals can have a beneficial effect on human health and psychology…Nursing home patients in particular [were found to be] less depressed and lonely with animal companions.” *

David Dosa first wrote about Oscar in the New England Journal of Medicine (


Making his way back up the hallway, Oscar arrives at Room 313. The door is open, and he proceeds inside. Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. She is surrounded by photographs of her grandchildren and one from her wedding day. Despite these keepsakes, she is alone. Oscar jumps onto her bed and again sniffs the air. He pauses to consider the situation, and then turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.
One hour passes. Oscar waits. A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar’s presence. Concerned, she hurriedly leaves the room and returns to her desk. She grabs Mrs. K.’s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.
Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. Chairs are brought into the room, where the relatives begin their vigil. The priest is called to deliver last rites. And still, Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K. A young grandson asks his mother, “What is the cat doing here?” The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, “He is here to help Grandma get to heaven.” Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices.


I wanted to interview Dr. Dosa but he’s a busy guy and no doubt gets lots of requests, so instead I direct you to the FAQ from the Steere House website for more on Oscar and Dr. Dosa’s thoughts about him, and about the care of people dying from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The book ends with five general comments for those dealing with end of life care:

  • Take care of yourself. This was brought home to us, literally, when we were with our dying mother, especially my sister whose vigil was 24 hours.
  • Be present. Your work is important, but someone can cover for you, and as Dosa says, “Animals like Oscar can teach us through their steadfastness, their patience, and their presence. They don’t have to be anywhere else except where they are. When Oscar visits his patients, he doesn’t care what time it is or whether there is somewhere else he would rather be. He is in the moment.”
  • Become an advocate for high-quality care.

I just got a call today from a friend whose mother had a massive stroke last week, while living in an extended care home; she’s now in the neurologic unit at a hospital and has been taken off IV drips, so as to allow her organs to gradually shut down over the course of a fortnight, which is currently the only legal way, in this province, at this writing, we can “help”a loved one pass on. Yet when our cats and dogs are nearing the end of their lives, and are in discomfort or pain, we can take them to our veterinarian and, in that euphemistic term, “put them to sleep.” New legislation soon to be introduced in Canada, which already exists in progressive U.S. states and European countries, allows for physician-assisted deaths for terminally ill patients.

  • Love and let go. This is the most important advice, yet letting go is also the hardest for many people. In the book Dosa describes how some families want “everything possible done” to keep a patient, who is dying, alive, when the most compassionate act would be to acknowledge their mother or father is dying, and let them go in peace.

* Dr. David Dosa, Making Rounds With Oscar: the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, Hyperion 2009. Large print edition Hachette 2010. ISBN 1401310435



What right do we have?

Not posting this as humour: it’s not particularly funny. I linked to this while semi-watching an MIT OpenCourseWare program on producing engaging science videos (see URL end of this post). The video uses a cat to demonstrate some principles of physics, conservation of energy and angular momentum among them. The cat is not unduly alarmed by being the subject of several upside-down drops, and the scientist presenting the video is using his cat, outside his home, so it’s a safe bet the cat was used to being man or kid-handled.

That the cat had little choice, other than to run away or bite the presenter (as I’m sure my cat would do to me), is of some concern, but only in terms of more injurious experimentation. To use a human subject in an academic or medical experiment or activity requires informed consent, signatures on multiple forms, and the examination of the proposed project by the ethics committee and/or supervisor(s). This latter justification is also true of most animals used as subjects, although obviously they cannot give their informed consent.

So: do we have the right to use non-human animals, to test theories, procedures and products? Is there a reason, with the ever-increasing artificial intelligences mimicking biological response, for animals to be used when software and hardware can replicate our response to stimuli? Of course, the software, robots, and algorithms can’t substitute for all biological responses.

I have great difficulty understanding how a scientist can cause an animal anguish, fear, pain, or how the researchers objectify a caged animal, whose life sentence is to be a biological object of curiousity, unloved and ultimately disposed of either by vivisection or when it is not longer useful to the research. I wouldn’t call these scientists heartless, but they definitely can turn off the empathic aspect of their humanity in order to do their work, whereas I cannot. Nor do I want to.

A dolphin jumps onto a boat while participating in a anti-terrorism training exercise Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in San Francisco. The specially trained Navy Marine Mammals, based in San Diego, stole the show in a day of anti-terrorism training exercises held at ports throughout California. (AP Photo/Lacy Atkins, Pool)

A dolphin jumps onto a boat while participating in a anti-terrorism training exercise Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in San Francisco. The specially trained Navy Marine Mammals, based in San Diego, stole the show in a day of anti-terrorism training exercises held at ports throughout California. (AP Photo/Lacy Atkins, Pool)

We make an arbitrary line, I wrote in my previous post, between those animals we think are worth saving in the wild (elephants), and cute or smart (dogs, dolphins, cats) and those we fear (spiders, snakes), or find a nuisance (silverfish), or eat (pigs), or use for work (horses) and train to do tricks for our amusement (circus animals and pets).

Where is your line? (Listen to the second link below for a radio documentary on Anita Krajnc).

Anita Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief when she pushed a water bottle into a truck-load of pigs on their way to slaughter. (CBC News)

Anita Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief when she pushed a water bottle into a truck-load of pigs on their way to slaughter. (CBC News)

MIT Open Course 20.219 (taught and recorded January 2015) Becoming the Next Bill Nye: Writing and Hosting the Educational Show

Anita Krajnc documentary on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition (March 20 2016)