BOOKS: Cat Companions: A memoir of loving and learning
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2011:
Cat Companions: A memoir of loving and learning
by Susan M. Seidman
CreateSpace (distributed exclusively by <www.amazon.com>, 2011.
248 pages, paperback. $16.00.
Cat Companions describes the qualities we love about our cats: mysterious, aloof, cranky, yet loving and fun. Author and cat lover Susan M. Seidman dishes out tidbits about her extended feline family, including Supan with whom she shared an apartment in Paris, and Alex, one of her many cats who were discarded by someone else.
Most of her anecdotes recall the era, roughly coinciding with the childhood of Baby Boomers, when cats were just rising to popularity as domestic pets, and most Americans were just beginning to discover how to keep cats. Only circa 1980 did Americans keep as many pet cats as dogs, difficult as that might be to imagine now, when pet cats outnumber pet dogs in the U.S. by about 20 million.
Seidman became a cat person in childhood, after the death of Rusty, the family dog. Though Seidman’s mother scoffed at cats, a cat named Tiger then joined the household “during the early phases of World War II,” probably in 1942.
At the time, more than two-thirds of the cats in the U.S. were feral, and almost all pet cats were indoor/outdoor, according to exhaustive research done in 1947-1950 by the National Family Opinion Survey. That Tiger was allowed indoors surprised Seidman, but the inquisitive puss was banished to the basement at night. He was not allowed on the furniture. But neither was Rusty. Clay cat litter was still several years from being invented by then-garage mechanic Ed Lowe, who bagged his first batch in 1947, and was more than 15 years from being sold in supermarkets. Most cats were trained, like dogs, to go outdoors.
An exit flap, or what we now call a kitty door, allowed Tiger easy access outside. An coal bin, unused since the family had converted to oil heating, stood inside the basement. During frigid winters Tiger took care of business in the coal bin until the stench became unbearable. The Seidmans then provided Tiger with a makeshift litter box and emptied out the coal bin. The exit flap, though, allowed the cat to roam the neighborhood, contracting a number of illnesses. He also came home scratched and cut from neighborhood scuffles. A veterinarian neutered Tiger, a rare procedure in those days, and Tiger’s neighborhood ventures came to a halt, along with his ability to add to neighborhood overpopulation.
Over time, Seidman’s mom transformed into a cat lover, even adopting a kitten for herself.
After Tiger’s death, Seidman moved to Paris, where she continued to live with cats. Eventually relocating to the New York City suburbs, Seidman volunteered with a rescue organization and devoted herself to saving unwanted cats. She adopted two cats, Rosalie and Lucy, from the ASPCA in New York City. At that time, decades ago, cats and dogs were not sterilized before adoption. Only a spay/neuter deposit was required, refunded after showing proof of the procedure having been performed.
Some pet keepers are so grief stricken at the loss of a pet they can never keep another one. Not Seidman. She mourns each loss, but as soon as a cat dies, she adopts another. Lessons about free-roaming cats came at a cost when a beloved cat was run over. Distraught, Seidman planned to advertise in the local newspaper to track down the driver, but then realized she herself was as much at fault.
–Debra J. White