Understanding cats as social animals
The Social World of a Cat Shelter
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Janet M. Alger and Steven F. Alger
Even people who live with cats and have good reason to know better insist that cats are aloof and uninterested in relating to humans. Janet and Steven Alger contend that the anti-social cat is a myth; cats form close bonds with humans and with each other. In the potentially chaotic environment of a shelter that houses dozens of uncaged cats, they reveal a sense of self and build a culturea shared set of rules, roles, and expectations that organizes their world and assimilates newcomers.
As volunteers in a local cat shelter for eleven years, the Algers came to realize that despite the frequency of new arrivals and adoptions, the social world of the shelter remained quite stable and pacific. They saw even feral cats adapt to interaction with humans and develop friendships with other cats. They saw established residents take roles as welcomers and rules enforcers. That is, they saw cats taking an active interest in maintaining a community in which they could live together and satisfy their individual needs. Cat Culture's intimate portrait of life in the shelter, its engaging stories, and its interpretations of behavior, will appeal to general readers as well as academics interested in human and animal interaction.
"Cat Culture is a marvelous book. As a sociologist, which I am, I found it to be an insightful, interesting, and sophisticated application of social psychology to the behavior of cats and of humans and cats. As a cat lover, which I also am, I found it to be amusing, instructive, and a very good read."
"Turn two feline-loving sociologists loose in an animal shelter and you get a book that's part ethnography, part plea for interspecies understanding. The Algers' longterm study of the Whiskers Shelter in Albany, N.Y., demonstrated the "extraordinary social capacity of domestic cats as revealed in their everyday activities and relationships with the shelter volunteers and with one another" and how the catsBandit, Mr. Kitty and colleaguesactively helped create 'the social world of the shelter.'"
"At first glance, this appears to be yet another feel-good book of stories about animals. It is, however, an academic study of the interactions between cats and their human caregivers at a no-kill shelter. The authors, both professors of sociology, based the book on four years of observations conducted while they volunteered at the shelter. They
watched the cats form relationships, surveyed the socialization of previously feral
cats, and both observed and interviewed the shelter volunteers. The Algers, animal rights
activists and owners of multiple cats themselves, follow a model of participant observation, which allows researchers to develop close relationships with their subjects. The result is an interesting mix of academic protocol and illustrative stories. Within a scholarly framework the Algers discuss such subjects as cat friendships, how the resident cats deal with new arrivals, or how the cats "train" the volunteers, fleshing out their points with excerpts from their field notes. Copious chapter notes and a lengthy bibliography offer further research for interested readers. This highly readable work will appeal to all cat owners."
"Janet and Steve Alger's book is quite useful, of benefit to academic as well as nonacademic audiences. I heartily recommend it."
"[P]rovides an insightful and entertaining account of the complex social world of a cat shelter....[it] is an important contribution to the field of human-animal interactions, but also to animal behavior."
"Cat Culture as a dual ethnographyboth of cats and of
volunteersoperates with a bifurcated epistemology. We can place
considerable trust in the depiction of the emotional register of volunteers,
while this is not the case of the claims of cats to happiness, security,
or community. The Algers read volunteers from the inside out and
cats from the outside in."
Preface: Why an Ethnography of a Shelter?
In the series
Animals, Culture, and Society, edited by Arnold Arluke and Clinton R. Sanders.
Animals, Culture, and Society, edited by Arnold Arluke and Clinton R. Sanders, is concerned with probing the complex and contradictory human-animal relationship through the publication of accessible books that consider the place of animals in our culture, our literature, our society, and our homes.