Pura Vida

Life in full circle

An Insane Devotion to Cats

A book review, and a serious recommendation about how to protect cats

 Dear Mr. Trachtenberg,

I saw a review of your book, Another Insane Devotion on the Love of Cats and Persons, in a review on December 28, 2012, in the New York Times. I ordered it immediately as an e-book, because I live in a little town in Costa Rica, many miles from a brick and mortar book store, and as such, I depend on Amazon.com.

I ordered your book, put a notice about it on Google Plus, notified everyone I love about it…and then procrastinated reading it because I was afraid of the ending. Endings with cats can be overwhelming and I was afraid to have my PCSD (Post Cat Stress Disorder) reactivated by your book. Eventually, I will admit – I peeked at the end. And then read it all through, cover to cover, and loved it. Thank you, Peter, for putting into words and poetry an experience that many otherwise sane and somewhat normal people may share. An insane devotion to cats, indeed.

 But Professor Trachtenberg, I write with a sense of urgency! There is another solution, between keeping a cat indoors, free of danger but bored and unsatisfied, and letting a cat go free outdoors,

Personal Cat
Young Lord Jaxom
 free to be killed by cars, coyotes, dogs, and lunatics. There is a middle ground – a cattery! Listen to my story, and then, please tell this to other people: it is possible to keep cats safe and also let them enjoy lizards and plants, ponds and frogs, sunlight and rain dripping off a roof, without the ultimate hazards of living in the wild.

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 I am a psychiatrist, and I love animals. Always have. A pet rat was my first, a female named Anne that my father rescued from the laboratory at the Chicago VA Hospital. After Anne, I had a series of cats through childhood, but my mother was always skeptical of them and they never lasted long. We lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when the sidewalks were still unpaved and there was only one stoplight downtown, at the corner of Franklin Street and Main. So the cats were indoor/outdoor, here today and gone tomorrow. In college, I had a Golden Retriever, no cats, and in medical school, only a stray that I kept secret in a dorm room at Yale. Finally, in my residency at the University of Washington, Seattle, I was lucky enough to marry David Barash, a professor of Animal Behavior, of all things! I thought life would be complete. I thought I was marrying Dr. Doolittle!

 Wrong! It turned out that David was an expert in rape in ducks, adultery in blue birds, and the family habits of marmots, but he had never really had a dog or cat and had not the faintest idea of how to deal with a pet. Over the next 36 years of our marriage that all changed – we had dogs, cats, horses, goats, donkeys, chickens, geese, lambs, a Goffin cockatoo, an African Gray Parrot, several snakes, a tortoise, many turtles, and at one point we almost turned our hen house into a place to raise giant hissing cockroaches.

 It was the cats that made me crazy. I have come to realize that there are two kinds of cats: cats one tends and loves, but who take it for granted. Boarders, really. And Personal Cats, who love with insane devotion in return. The Insane Love of a Person for a Personal Cat (who reciprocates) is beyond intense. Separation and loss of a Personal Cat causes grief that is on the order of the death of a family member. Least anyone challenge me on that, I can back it up. With specifics. But I would rather not. A Personal Cat is a deep relationship.

 At any rate, in the spring of 2007, my youngest daughter was preparing to go back to college and my Personal Cat, Jack, otherwise known as Young Lord Jaxom, was taken by surprise. He used to go from my house to her casita, visiting her and then coming home. The day she left, he went to visit her…and never came back. I went crazy. I could not stop crying. Me, a rationalist, a reductionist, an evolutionist, a Jewish atheist, consulted an animal medium who told me that Jack had been taken by a coyote and his death was quick. I wept for months.

 

Finally, someone took pity on me. She also had a Dread Fear of Losing Cats, and she had installed a product called “Cat Fence-In” all around her property. She made her home a cat safe zone. If you read this, dear person, thank you. You changed my life! David and I fairly quickly consulted an architect, and had an addition built onto our home that was not a small undertaking. It had wooden pylons driven 12” into the ground, and then horse fence attached, also into trenches going 12” under the ground. On top of each pylon, we installed the Cat Fence In, which is a web that overhangs thecattery, so that a cat cannot jump out. Here is the web site: 

http://www.catfencein.com/

 

We built a pond inside the cattery, and installed a gate with a strong spring that could only be unlatched by a careful human. The cat entrance was through a simple cat door in David’s study. We also put various cat furniture items, like barrels and rocks, stumps and a fountain. That was in 2007, and I can truly tell you that we have not had a cat escape since, except one time when snow built up in the cat fence-in and a cat was able to get to the top. But she just stayed there and never went AWOL.

Moreover, all of the cats stopped using litter boxes and just go outside. I should mention we have 5 cats, of which 3 have only 3 legs and one is asthmatic. My Personal Cat, Topper, has 3 legs and epilepsy. He wouldn’t last more than a day lost outside due to his seizures.

 Now I live part time in a small town in Costa Rica, where I have 3 cats. Cats here are even more iffy than in North America, due to the huge number of stray dogs, snakes, iguanas, and other predators. We have fenced off our yard here with cement walls 5 feet high, wrought iron metal work, and 2 layers of chicken fence attached to the iron. The cats can go out, they can climb palm trees, and stalk frogs and toads and lizards, but they cannot get lost, unless some dumb human being leaves a gate open.

If you have a Personal Cat, you can give him or her both indoor and outdoor experiences, without real risk. Unlike teenagers, there is a middle ground. Unlike lovers, you can fool them into thinking they are free.

 

ANOTHER INSANE DEVOTION

On the Love of Cats and Persons

By Peter Trachtenberg

Illustrated. 283 pp. Da Capo Press. $24.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judith Eve Lipton, M.D. is a psychiatrist and book author. She and her husband David Barash have written about sex, war, and human nature.

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