Preview of Coming Attractions

Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Nashville Cat Scene

The upper middle class folk of Middle Tennessee take their pets seriously.

With two stores just 20 minutes apart that are devoted to all things feline, one would think that Feline Affirmative Action has made great strides in this area. Both stores sell cat food, litter, toys, as well as a host of cat nick-nacks. (here is a photo of the Christmas tree we decorated with ornaments from both shops!)
Both stores offer shelter cats for adoption.

The Feline Fetish is the smaller and newer of the two, located in Franklin. The owner, Stephanie, boosts that they have adopted out 83 cats since they opened in April of 2006. She hosts three cats at a time. “I like to pick the ‘hard cases’ from Williamson County Animal Control. Cats that have been abused or have little chance of being adopted straight from the shelter. I rehabilitate them at the store until they are ready to go home with someone.” With great affection, she strokes ‘Tortie’, “Of course, she isn’t a true tortie because of the white on her chest and paws. But that’s her name. She was abused and just terrified of everything. But look at her now. Every time a big man walks in the store and she strolls up to him for a pat, I feel fantastic.”

While I was visiting, a woman entered the store. She seemed taken with Tortie, stroking her and asking questions about adopting. My daughter, Allegra, was playing with another cat, bouncing the laser point around the store, while a silver tabby, Gracey dashed after it. “That one looks fun.” I sized the lady up, thinking that Tortie would be a much better match for her. Gracey has a bit of petting aggression and definitely needs to be played with. I wasn’t sure that this woman was up for meeting Gracey’s needs. Tortie seemed a better match to me.

When I returned to the store for another visit, Stephanie said that the woman had returned and adopted Gracey. I hope it works out.

The Cat Shoppe in Nashville usually hosts about 15 cats amoung its merchandise. A couple of the more aggressive cats are in cat cages, many of the cats lounge in the windows, while others enjoy a cozy outdoor enclosure. This store has been around for a long time. I first learned about it in the dedication of one of Pam Johnson-Bennett’s books. (She is the cat behaviorist that I consider my guru—a Nashville resident.) I had been eager to visit for years, but the owner was preoccupied with customers and we didn’t have a chance to chat.

Nashville has its own free ‘pet magazine’, The Nashville Paw, edited by Heather Davis. She launched the magazine about a year ago and its reputation is so strong that Nissan asked her to do a special issue for its 5000 employees that were relocated to the Nashville Area. It is a very well done rag. I picked up a copy at the Feline Fetish and noted the invitation to their Christmas fundraiser. When I called to RSVP, Heather herself answered (I will never get over my inclination to expect that these people will have ‘people’ who answer their phones for them—and my astonishment at how accessible most people in the cat world really are—even the ‘celebrities’.)

The party was held at the crème de la crème of pet boarding facilities: The Farm at Natchez Trace. I brought my eight year old daughter, April, who shares my delight in the ‘Silent Auction’—she made sure that we weren’t out bid on any of the items we really wanted! We toured the facilities and I was pleased to see that the cats had the nicest accommodations that I had seen at any boarding facility (and they should at $38 a night!—though I maintain that the San Fransisco SPCA had even nicer quarters for most of their cats.) Each kitty had a five story apartment, an entire wall of which is glass looking out at the delightful wooded grounds. The litter boxes are on the bottom. Food and water on higher levels. Each apartment is probably about three feet wide and six feet high. So it isn’t expansive but the emphasis on height is a plus—what really makes them winners though, is the view. One wall of each apartment is wire mesh, allowing the cats to see and smell the common area. Each cat is allowed five 15 minute intervals to explore the common area and play with the attendants.

What particularly caught my eye was one apartment that was labeled ‘exclusively for I.C. Robinson. “Oh, that apartment is reserved just for Muriel Robinson’s cat.” The attendant informed me. “Who is Muriel Robinson?” “The Judge? Oh she’s a force majeure in these parts. She loves her cat.”

I have to meet this woman. She must be spending a small fortune to ensure that I.C. has his own private accommodations every time she leaves town. There must be a story there.

The cozy party gathered around the roaring fireplace in the Farm’s lobby. Musicians strummed and cooed and $3500 were raised to help local rescue groups. April was delighted with the modest bounty that we acquired at the auction. And Heather suggested that she might want me to write a column for the Nashville Paw.

Several days later, I had completed my moving and house buying duties for the day and had an extra hour and a half before picking up the girls from school. I decided to take a detour and ended up at the Williamson County Animal Control building. The scene was not what I had expected, four of the lovely ladies of WCAC greeted me from their gold tinsel bedecked counter. When I introduced myself as a cat behaviorist, new to area and interested in possibly being of service, they embraced me warmly. “We are all cat lovers. We all have cats at home.” We talked about the work at the shelter. It was pretty grim. Lots of euthanasia. “We have no trouble placing kittens, but no body wants the full grown cats. We had another lady here from California. She was sure that in California these beautiful, healthy cats would be adopted, she just couldn’t understand why no one here wants them, so she set up her own rescue.” (Another person for me to meet!) “People around here are okay about fixing their dogs, but no one thinks about the barn cats—just throw them some slop and water and leave em be.”

Their eyes watered with tears as they discussed their jobs. “I’ve loved animals all my life, I never thought that when I grew up I’d be killing them for a living.” One woman quipped bitterly. These kind women were shrouded in grief. “Do you have anyone you can talk to about your mourning for these animals?” I asked. “Not really, no one wants to hear about it, half the people hate us and the other half just don’ t want to know—or don’t care. Its hard, its really hard working here, but atleast we know we are able to help some of the animals.” One woman pointed to a cat displayed in the lobby. “I nursed him back to health, now I just hope someone will adopt him before…”

“But we do have good news! Williamson County is finally hiring a vet to work here. Its very exciting.” I was shocked, “You are animal control and you don’t have a vet on staff? Surely you have Vet Techs at least?” “Nope, nothing. Most of us here started as kennel attendants—we actually have an opening for a cat kennel attendant—if you are interested?” I thought about it for half a second—but I couldn’t. I’m not brave enough, I’m not tough enough. I have just spent the last three years on a journey to understand the soul of the cat. I couldn’t handle a job putting them to sleep simply because no one else values them.

So very soon, the wealthiest county in Tennessee will have a veterinarian on staff at its animal control. They will be able to offer spay/neuter clinics—and actually treat the medical needs of the animals that arrive at the shelter. “Until now, its mostly been guess work, just drawing on our experience, but I worry that we are putting animals to sleep because of minor infections—things that really don’t warrant euthanasia.”

I carried their grief with me. I thought of a woman who raised her hand at the Cat Writer’s Conference. She spoke about working at a shelter and the unbearable grief that filled her. How she learned to hate humans and their carelessness and the ongoing horror of one death after another of trusting pets that had been cast aside. “Someone needs to address the grief of shelter workers. Someone needs to help us.”

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