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The Inner Life of Cats Reveals Fascinating Feline Secrets

A new book shows these mysterious animals truly are loving and social beings.

The Inner Life of Cats is an outstanding review and myth buster

Cats are fascinating animals. I'm always looking for information on these mysterious and often hard-to-read beings, and was thrilled when I discovered Thomas McNamee's latest book called The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions. The book's description reads:

As it begins, The Inner Life of Cats follows the development of the young Augusta while simultaneously explaining the basics of a kitten's physiological and psychological development. As the narrative progresses, McNamee also charts cats' evolution, explores a feral cat colony in Rome, tells the story of Augusta's life and adventures, and consults with behavioral experts, animal activists, and researchers, who will help readers more fully understand cats.  

McNamee shows that with deeper knowledge of cats' developmental phases and individual idiosyncrasies, we can do a better job of guiding cats' maturation and improving the quality of their lives. Readers' relationships with their feline friends will be happier and more harmonious because of this book.

With permission of the publisher
Source: With permission of the publisher

The Inner Life of Cats has been very well-received. My endorsement reads as follows:

"Cats are fascinating beings who often get the short end of the stick when they're casually and wrongly dismissed as mysterious, solitary, and unemotional animals when compared, for example, to dogs, or when they're accused of being vicious predators on wildlife. In fact, cats, just like Mr. McNamee's beloved Augusta, are highly intelligent, emotional, and sentient animals who have rich and deep inner lives, as well documented in this seminal book in which heartwarming stories and scientific data are nicely woven together. Thomas McNamee's latest book is a much-needed corrective and myth-buster for which cat lovers and cats around the world will be most grateful."

After reading Mr. McNamee's latest book, I immediately asked him if he could answer a few questions about it and himself and I'm glad he agreed to do so. Our exchange went as follows. 

Why did you write The Inner Life of Cats?

Guilt. When my wife, Elizabeth, and I were living on a ranch in Montana in 1995, some unspeakable person abandoned a little black kitten at the head of our driveway in the snow, in December, and somehow she made it the quarter-mile to our barn. We didn’t know much if anything about raising a kitten, and we continued to make mistake after mistake for the next fifteen years. I mean, we did learn things, but usually retrospectively. Augusta turned into a great cat, but mostly because she was born a great cat, and because we didn’t do anything terribly wrong. When she died at the age of fifteen, I was distraught. Finally we got another kitten, who had been beautifully nurtured, and by then we had learned the basics of proper cat care.

I read Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, an excellent book, and I noticed that there was no equivalent book about cats. I thought, well, to expiate my guilt over Augusta, and maybe to help the many cat owners as lost as Elizabeth and I were, I’ll steal Alexandra’s idea.

How are your own interests in animals reflected in your book?

I’ve always been interested in reaching across wide divides between consciousnesses. In my first book, The Grizzly Bear, I had to address a good many topics—the complex biology of the species, its food habits, its habitat requirements, its need for vast and undisturbed landscape, and the often angry political controversy that held the Yellowstone grizzly’s fate in balance, all because that population was slipping toward extinction, and it was clear to me that only with understanding of the bear’s unforgiving nature could the public and the management agencies come together with sufficient force to save the bear—but underlying all that, for me, from the beginning, was an almost mystical notion of trying to feel what it was like to be a grizzly bear. That was the first title that came into my head: Being a Grizzly Bear. It never flew, of course.

Since then, the same kind of longing to inhabit another consciousness has been the motive force propelling almost all my work. In the novel, A Story of Deep Delight, I tried to imagine what it was like to be a young Chickasaw Indian in the time when that tribe was losing its ancestral ways and soon to be harried out of its homeland by Andrew Jackson, and then what it was like to be a black boy growing up on the plantation that occupied the same piece of ground in the years before, during, and after the Civil War.

You can see how the same attempt to combine accurate understanding and accurate imagination is at work in The Inner Life of Cats.

Why do you think there has been much less emphasis on the cognitive and emotional lives of cats when compared, for example, to dogs? 

Well, cats are not as easy to read as dogs. Dogs have been learning to communicate with us for thousands of years. We don’t really know how long cats have been truly domestic pets. We do know they’ve been hanging around farms for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they were lap cats. So let’s say two or three thousand years at most. Let’s say truly intimate relationship for maybe just a couple of hundred. Seriously. So they’re still learning about us and we’re still learning about them—and they are trying. You have to learn to watch for what they’re trying to say. They have a lot to say, in fact, subtle and sensitive and emotionally deep stuff, but they say it in their own way, which you have to learn to understand. They’re not going to change it to suit you. That’s perhaps where my book can help.

What do you hope to achieve in your analysis of the minds and hearts of cats?

My ambition for this book is large. There are somewhere between seventy-five and a hundred million owned cats in the United States—that is, pet cats, not counting feral cats—with an average of two cats per household. I don’t have any statistics on this, but my impression is that a considerable proportion of cat owners don’t quite get their cats. They think they’re “aloof.” They think they’re “independent.”  They think they don’t even have emotional lives. Well, I’m here to tell those folks different. 

What are your current projects?

I’m cleaning out my garage and rearranging my files.

What are some of your future projects?

I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I have a Montana cowboy novel, titled All of a Sudden, which I couldn’t sell, and I want to rewrite it from the bottom up. I’ve worked off and on for years on a food-ish comic memoir called Tom, No Eat Bone, but when I last let up on it it was becoming more serious, less gastronomical, more a history than a memoir, and if it’s going to reach the scope I’m seeing for it now, I’m going to have to live a long time. Then there’s A Story of Deep Delight. My publisher made me cut the first part to an extent that still pains me, and the third part has never, for me, lived up to the first two. Even though I think that novel is the best thing I’ve ever written, I want to go back and fix it.

In point of fact, the next thing I do is probably something I haven’t thought of yet.  Worrying about that has been keeping me up late.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers?

Most of them probably already know this, but for those who don’t, please recognize that every cat has a profound capacity for love, and equally a need for it. If you haven’t found it yet, don’t worry, it’s not that hard to find once you know how to look.

Thank you, Tom, for answering these questions. The Inner Life of Cats is a wonderful blend of science and stories and I learned a lot from reading it. I highly recommend it and I hope it receives a broad global audience. As I wrote above, cats often are misunderstood and your wonderful book is a much needed corrective and myth-buster for which cat lovers and cats around the world will be most grateful.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in April 2017 and Canine Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Lives For Dogs and Us will be published in early 2018. His homepage is marcbekoff.com

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