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 http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . 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.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Feline Aggression

During the past week, I have been inundated with Cat behavior consults. What is most interesting to me is the number of multiple cat households that are experiencing problems with aggression. Aggression cases fascinate me. They are usually a complex puzzle and I believe that behaviorists are severely limited in our ability to treat this issues beyond suggesting environmental changes, distraction tactics, positive reinforcement of good behavior. All of these can be effective, especially in a smaller household. But in a larger cat community, the dynamics can be much more complex.

Two sociologists, Steve and Janet Alger conducted a five year study of the Whiskers Cat Shelter in Albany, New York (I am planning to visit the shelter in July 2007.) They concluded that feline social interactions are not formed as strict hierarchies (the term often used is ‘subtle hierarchy’),but rather that cats adopt social roles. For instance, some cats act as socializers. They welcome new cats into the shelter community, comforting them and sleeping with them (Lara Germony described a similar cat during my visit to Basha’s Fund, describing one of her cats as the ambassador, because he shows foster cats the locations of the litter box and food, then sleeps with them their first night.) Other cats act as the police, intervening and preventing conflict when tensions arise between shelter residents. Some cats seemed to be a friend to all, curling up with the cats that had trouble bonding with a specific friend. While other cats sought out the company of just one or two other cats for companionship.

They found that the ‘un-adoptable’ feral cats helped to create and preserve the culture of this cage-free shelter. Feral cats tend to have better feline to feline social skills then cats coming from single cat homes. Many of the single cats needed to be guided in adjusting to the culture of the shelter. Some did better than others.

What interests me is understanding the recurring social roles that are common from one cat community to another—and examining the significance of those roles to the cats.

Clearly, part of the adjustment problem when cats are newly introduced is an issue of adjusting social roles—less a hierarchical conflict and more one of insecurity, reluctance and often resentment about not wanting to change or share roles. I suspect that it may be important to differentiate roles from ‘status’.

The ASPCA has developed a program called Feline-ality to assist in successful adoptions from shelters. The program uses criterion to asses the personality type of the cat in an effort to match the right cat to the right person. Perhaps it would be helpful to develop a similar system of assessment to categorize cat personalities in relationship to other cats—to help determine how the cats will interact together, and to assist in the transition of roles in households where the cats must find a way to co-habitate peacefully.

(Over the next several months, I will be observing a wide variety of cat communities looking for indications of consistent social roles and how each cat culture is organized around those roles. I realize it probably sounds a lot like ‘cat nerd’ talk—but I am really excited about this—because I believe that—without over complicating things—we need more tools to rehabilitate cat communities that are dealing with aggression problems.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cats and Matriarchy


Occasionally, I will read two seemingly unrelated books that synthesize as profoundly connected. Last year, my favorite read of the year was Leaving Mother Lake a biographical portrait of a woman who grew up in the truly Matriarchal culture of the Moso women. Moso lake is a small region in China near the Tibetan border. Isolated by a rugged, mountainous terrain, their culture is entirely different from any other that I have encountered except for that of the cat as I read about them in Roger Tabor’s The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat, which explains the biologist’s extensive research on feral cat colonies and cultures.

In traditional Moso culture, there is no acknowledgement of fathers. There isn’t even a word for father. The family is organized around the matrilineal line (the line of the mothers). The home is usually the grandmother’s, her daughters and their children all living under one roof. Each grown woman has her own flower room; basically her bedroom where she can receive her lovers privately. When the sons and brothers mature, they move out of the main house into their own dwelling. They often travel far away in their work as herdsmen and traders. The women tend the agriculture and the home.

Uncles and brothers perform all the traditional support roles of a man in the family, except for sex. Incest is highly taboo. Men and women are free to engage in non-monogamous relationships based on mutual desire with a great deal of freedom, only not within the family. Thus the family bond is based on blood rather than romantic love or forced marriage. The Moso believe that love comes and goes like the seasons and find the idea of basing the stability of the family on such a sensation very precarious indeed.

Sisters share childrearing duties, including nursing. The arrangements are very egalitarian from house grouping to house grouping. Amongst themselves, the Moso are not very territorial but they are known to distinguish one family as the social pariah of the community and they are not always welcoming to people from other cultures.

I am by no means an expert on Moso culture, but reading Leaving Mother Lake not only excited my imagination about the variety of ways that humans can organize themselves. It also excited me because so many of the social structures where identical to that of the cat, leading me to the exciting conclusion that the domesticated cat is a matriarchal creature in its social organization.

Why do I think this? First of all, let me be clear about one thing. The domestic cat is NOT a solitary animal. The domestic cat is also NOT a dog. Cats are neither the aloof individualists they are misrepresented as, nor are they pack animals. The ancestors of the domestic cat are solitary animals, but the domestic cat has evolved into a social animal. They still hunt alone, (unlike dogs who hunt in packs, and thus organize their entire hierarchy around this survival practice) cats congregate for social reasons. For companionship, mating and security, and around a common food source.

In his book, The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat, Roger Tabor suggests that the considerable research on patterns of dominance and submission in cats may tell us more about the species conducting the research than about the cats (ostensibly) being studied. He finds patterns of affection and cooperation far more prevalent among cat colonies (feral and domestic). Aggression is usually focused on unfamiliar intruders or towards Toms when Queens are protecting their kittens. In fact, this defensive aggression is a cooperative action amongst Queens who will kitten-sit each other’s offspring;both nursing and providing protection. Any evidence of hierarchy is usually associated with limited food supply or conditions of confinement combined with high population density (such as the cages in which research cats are often confined while their behavior is being studied under controlled conditions.)

It is clear that cats confined in cages are not operating with their normal instincts, because the normally fastidious species will urinate in its water dish and sleep in its litter box. In essence, the cat’s hardwiring runs amok when the environment works against its instincts. Through the examination of studies of feral cat colonies, barn cats and other house cats, particularly those that are not-neutered, it is clear that female cats are the nest builders. They tend to stay closer to home, whether home is a back alley, a barn or a comfortable suburban house. The male cats will roam much farther for hunting and mating. In most documented feline social groups, cats do not recognize the father of their kittens. And in fact, several kittens within a litter may have different fathers.

Interestingly, although there is considerable biting and grasping during cat mating, there is no rape according to field researchers. The female cat selects her mates. When she goes into heat, her trilling and her physical postures and pheromones may attract many Toms who may fight each other, but she is not somehow obliged to mate with the winner. She may wait for another Tom more to her liking or a she may mate with several Toms. Cat sexuality seems to know no taboos other than female consent. This is much like the Moso women. A Moso woman may invite a man into her flower room, but this does not guarantee him admission at another time. She may welcome him back as long as she likes, but if she wants to break it off with him, she simply leaves any of his things on a hook outside her bedroom door. She may have multiple children from several fathers and there is no stigma associated with this. The fathers simply aren’t involved. Sex is strictly consensual.

All of this has led me on a search to learn more about Cat social structures. Cats have been so broadly misunderstood over the ages that new research and observations are just coming to the fore. Most of the evidence and a research is anecdotal, though it may be carefully quantified. Over the next months, I will be conducting several field studies on the social roles of shelter cats, feral cats and barn cats. As well as looking at the various maternal cultures of the cat looking at the highly domesticated pedigreed cat, and the maternal practices of shelter queens, feral queens and others.

As always, if you have made interesting observations about the social roles of the cats you interact with—or have anecdotal insights into the relationship between the mother cat, her young and other cats, please don’t hesitate to share them. You can contact me via my website at www.TheCatBehaviorist.com .

Monday, February 19, 2007

Battle Beseiged Cats

Whenever I hear news of human wars around the world, I wonder about the plight of the local cats.

In Kosovo, a veterinarian with the US Army Veterinary Corp (who’s primary duty is attending to bomb sniffing and mine sweeping dogs) volunteers at a modest animal clinic that was founded by two British veterinarians. The British vets work in England, saving their money and time to come to Kosovo periodically to conduct spay/neuter clinics. None of the locals have any formal training, but the Army Corp vet is teaching one local man how to perform spay/neuter operations. Army corps vets are also known to help out soldiers who adopt local cats. It is illegal for soldiers to adopt ‘mascots’ (as the army refers to them), however the practice is not uncommon.

When Halliburton established the Green Zone in Baghdad, they exterminated all the cats in the area (apparently this is the regular protocol of oil companies and other big industry when establishing a base.)

There is very little public information about Iraqi cats. But in my search, I stumbled upon a cat-centric blog by a young Iraqi girl. Here is her story, gathered from my interviews with her:

In Baghdad, the sound of bombs and catfights mangle the night. One young Iraqi girl shuts them out, focusing entirely on the blind, mewling lives that have just emerged in her garage. To fight the winter chill, she has nestled a blanket around the queen and her kittens. Over layers of clothes, the girl wears a pink T-shirt featuring three fluffy kittens with angel’s wings.

Raghda Zaid loves cats.

Isolated in her home by the ever-present dangers of Baghdad, Raghda’s eight cats become her best friends. She has enjoyed cats ever since she was nine years old, but the war has brought them into the center of her life. The kittens chase her through the house as she pulls crumpled paper tied to string. She spends hours observing as they bound through the garden, exploring creatures real and imaginary. When she is scared or lonely, she pulls her favorite tabby, a swaggering tom named Tubby, close to her, comforted by his silky purrs.

Raghda Zaid may be the Anne Frank of the Iraq war. At thirteen years old, this dedicated cat lover reached out to the world through her blog, Baghdad Girl, which features cute cat pictures interspersed with striking updates about a schoolgirl’s experience of life in war-torn Baghdad.

Over the past two years, the world has responded. Raghda has been featured by the BBC, with mentions on National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian newspapers, as well as countless websites. Hundreds of blog fans have written to her from all over the world, mostly from the United States, the U.K., Canada, Germany, France and Morocco.

She has now left Iraq, leaving her cats behind with her grandmother and her best friend. But her blog persists at http://Baghdadgirl.blogspot.com.

If you have heard any stories or insights into the situation of cats in Iraq, please post them in the comments section of this blog.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cat Retirement: The Bluebell Foundation

Like an air-born tsunami, the wind ploughed waves of rain over the island of Hong Kong. Tim and Nanci Willard braced their skeletal umbrellas against the wet ferocity of the typhoon as they ran from their car to the entrance of their apartment building. Through the crashing volume of the storm, Nanci heard a high note, the barely distinguishable sound of a kitten. Then she spotted the shivering handful of white and orange lodged in an opening in the masonry. Without thinking, she scooped it up, her umbrella turning inside out just before entering the foyer.

This is how Miss Kitty came into their lives.

Unfortunately, it only took a few days for the Willards to discover that Nanci had a terrible allergy to cats. After much consideration, Miss Kitty was sent to live with Tim’s mother in California, where she resided in comfort for three years until Tim’s mother passed away.

Perhaps it was the Chinese proverb that states: “when you save a life, you are responsible for that life” that inspired the Willards, because they have certainly taken that responsibility seriously. Unable to find Miss Kitty another suitable home, the Willards decided to spend $5,000 to ‘retire’ her with the Bluebell Foundation, where she would live out her days in ideal surroundings that cater specifically to the needs of cats. They still visit her several times a year, lavishing her with treats and attention, but they know that by choosing a reputable cat retirement facility, Miss Kitty is well cared for.
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Last night, icy roads forced me to contemplate the consequences of my own mortality. My husband and I slid, just a few feet in his four wheel drive, but it was enough. I never worry as much when Aaron and I are apart, but if we died together, we would leave behind quit a menagerie. Aaron’s step-mother loves my children, and as their guardian, we are confident that she would look after their best interests. I’ve appointed my mother to be the guardian of the animals. She won’t want to take any of them, I’m sure. But each dog and each cat comes with a $10,000 trust for their care. Friends and family will be invited to adopt the animal of their choosing (though my dearest wish would be for the children and animals to stay together as a unit.) For any cat that can’t be placed with our loved ones, they will go to the Bluebell Foundation.

Why such morbid contemplations? Because from the minute you have children, the magazines and people around you insist that you plan. But we rarely do this with our pets.

I visited two cat retirement homes in California. The Bluebell Foundation and The National Cat Protection Society. The Bluebell Foundation is strictly a not-for-profit cat retirement facility. A mere $5,000 donation secures your kitty for a lifetime of tranquil retirement, top of the line cat food and all medical care. NatCat offers the same service in addition to their cat rescue work. Both are clean and peaceful, but the Bluebell Foundation is the place that I would love to retire. Close to Laguna Beach, the valley funnels fresh ocean breezes through the Bluebell grounds, the trees whisper while their leaves dance cool shade across the lawn, while the enclosed patios soak up sunshine for the solar worshipping cats.
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There are two cat houses; the lower house has some private living quarters for cats with special needs who don’t mix well with the general population. But their living quarters are generous and each has its own private enclosed patio. The rest of the population enjoys a communal patio, myriad cat trees and shelving to climb, 24 hour cat videos featuring birds, mice and fish, as well as volunteers and paid staff that keep the place immaculate (every piece of fabric in the place is washed every day.) And give the kitties lots of love and affection.


A visit to the ‘Upper House’ is almost comical. When I entered the main living room a motley assortment of geriatric cats gathered to greet me. Some were missing a limb or an eye, most were creaky with arthritis, all were retired housecats, dearly loved by their deceased owners and used to heaping doses of love and affection. With great effort and aplomb, they wobbled their way onto the couch were I happily doled out caresses and praise. Other than their occasional vocalizations, the place was quiet and serene, cats slumbering on window seats, exploring the water features on the patio. Like a luxurious monastery, all the residents seemed dedicated to meditation and the contemplation of divinity. As is suitable for the final stages of life.

I could have rested there for an eternity and been happy. If it ever comes to that, I hope my own kitties will feel the same way. Though I certainly intend to out-live all of them and watch my children grow into old age, as well.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Rock Star of Cat Behaviorists: Pam Johnson-Bennett


Three years ago, I purchased my first cat behavior book—and completely transformed my life. After reading Pam Johnson-Bennett’s Think Like A Cat, I gobbled up her other books. Her insights opened me to this journey—moving beyond just loving cats to really understanding them. Pam Johnson-Bennett has a reputation for knowing more about cats than anyone else on the planet—and it may be true.

I finally got to meet her in person. She was gracious and supportive. But most of all she was brilliant. She spoke about the cat as a predator and how that defines everything about them. A cat’s body functions as the perfect hunting machine. Everything about them is attenuated to the hunt. Their facial whiskers, their carpal whiskers on their paws, their eyes, even the very tips of their fur all collude to create this master of hunters.

Catnapping gives them down time between the intense spurts of energy and brain power that define the cat’s predatory style. And yet, we bring these creatures indoors and delude ourselves that if they are fed and have a comfortable place to sleep—that they will be happy, when everything about them craves the hunt.

Play. (It’s the Pam Johnson-Bennett mantra.) Play with your cat., which really means creating a hunting opportunity for your cat—using pole toys, not your hands (never your hands). A pole toy allows you to animate the ‘prey’ swooshing and jittering it around the room. Bird feeders let the cat enjoy the visual aspects of the hunt—but then you also must engage the cat in play.

Most moving of all, she said, “When people really start to understand their cat’s needs—and respond to them, I see a blossoming of the relationship. It deepens and transforms. The cat and the human achieve a much deeper bond.”

After the group discussion, she spoke with my privately. She suggested some very interesting books (which I promise to review once I have a chance to read them) and offered some insights from her development as a Cat Behaviorist.

For some people, meeting a movie star or a famous musician is a heart-fluttering pinnacle moment. Living in Los Angeles, I met a lot of stars, from Jodie Foster to Chris Isaacs—but no one thrilled me quite like Pam Johnson-Bennett (after all, she is the rock star of Cat Behaviorists.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tails Up! : Basha’s Fund

Three years ago, my husband traveled to China to adopt our daughter, Allegra. He was able to visit one orphanage. My husband is not a tearful man, but the visit devastated him. Bombarded by the stench of unwashed babies and toddlers who were strapped to highchairs, the orphanage was cold in the winter, but all the windows were open otherwise it would have been a challenge to breath, the smell was so bad. Most heartwrenching of all was those expressionless babies. Blank faces and vacant eyes. Never nurtured or held, these children were thoroughly institutionalized, given food, tiny beds and a high chair to sit up in, but not much more. Each of the children in our adoption group gradually awakened from this state. My husband referred to it as “de-glazing” the babies.

When Lara Germony, founder of Basha’s Fund Cat Rescue, showed me the picture of Lucy at the local animal control, the parallel to the orphan girls of China immediately came to my mind. “Sometimes shelter cats give up, all the life goes out of their eyes.” Lara has made it her mission to rescue those cats, the depressed cats and sick cats, the cats that need a substantial dose of love, care and often medical attention. “Lucy was one of those cats. She had been found as a street stray. She was withdrawn to begin with, and a black cat. It’s as if she knew that there was little hope of her ever leaving the confines of her little cage—except for euthanasia. She stopped eating or grooming and spent her days staring dully at the outside world.” Lara took Lucy home and found her an excellent placement where she transformed into a beautiful and loving cat.

“I keep Lucy’s picture on my desk. There are days when I get home from a long work day and I just don’t feel like I have the energy to take on the needs of other people’s abandoned cats. But then I think of Lucy and it helps me get through all the litter box cleaning, phone calling, fundraising, vet visits, the sub-cutaneous fluids, special feeding. All of it.”

For Lara, this work has a spiritual element. “When a cat reaches the end of its life, I want it to die knowing that its soul was recognized.” She struggles against tears. “I feel like this is my purpose in life, to help cats. Some people become missionaries or teachers, I’m a cat rescuer. That is why I was put on this earth.”

Lara and her husband, Greg, share their home with eight permanent cats. Their home is something of a ‘Tuxedo Junction’ as six of the cats are black& whites. At dinner time, Lara calls out joyfully, “Tails Up!”, dangling a spoon as she walks to their dishes. Instantly a stampede of kitties tumbles down the hall, all with their tails straight up in the air, just a slight happy curve near the tip, reminding me of a note Earnest Hemingway wrote in 1943 while living in Cuba with his third wife and eleven cats:
"One cat just leads to another. . . . The place is so damned big it doesn’t really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time. . . . “

Lara tries to limit her fostering to one cat at a time. “Over the course of a year, I have rescued 100 cats from the shelters. But taking in one cat at a time keeps it manageable.” She points out an older orange tabby. “That is Baxter, we call him our ambassador. Whenever we bring a new cat into the house, he kind of shows them the around—where the food dish is, where the litter box is. And he usually spends the first night sleeping with them.” Lara practices Trap-Neuter-Return on the neighborhood ferals. “There are a lot of cats around here. Every spring, there are kittens. Some of the mamas are very hard to trap.”

One year, Baxter and his littermates came around for nightly feedings. Lara has tamed many ferals by just sitting in the dark with them while they eat, speaking to them in a steady stream of soothing love-talk. Gradually, she builds trust with them, until some will allow her to touch them and eventually even bring them indoors. “I had to rush the process with Baxter though. One day, when he was just a little kitten, he came around the corner covered in motor oil. I hadn’t been able to get close to him during the nightly feedings, but when I saw him in that state, I spoke firmly, ‘Baxter, come here, right now. I have to help you.’ I held out two pieces of kibble in my hand. And he came right up to me, sniffed the kibble and let me pick him up.”

As we chat, her cats come one by one to inquire about my presence. Each takes a turn snuggling with Lara and basking in her affection. There is so much joy here. “Aren’t they wonderful?” She smiles.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Court House Cat: Judge Muriel Robinson & I.C.


“If I grant you visitation, are you prepared to pay cat support?” Judge Muriel Robinson has been known to ask divorcing couples feuding over custody of their cat. “It’s a legitimate question, there are expenses associated with caring for a cat. I love cats, I always have. And I always look after the interests of cats that come through my courtroom.” The quintessence of a genteel southern lady, Judge Robinson comes from a well-established Tennessee family. Her father was a long-time Sheriff of Davidson County. Her current husband is the retired newspaper mogul, Irby Simpkins (of The Nashville Banner.)

Six years ago, a tiny ginger tabby crawled up a long driveway and clung to the brick fa├žade of a Tennessee home in the midst of a torrential rain storm. His faint mews were just audible enough to facilitate his rescue. Little did this stray kitten know that he had chosen the home of Judge Muriel Robinson’s sister, a decision that would catapult him into Tennessee High Society. Irby and Muriel adopted the adorable orange waif and named him after Irby’s father, affectionately referring to him as I.C.

During his first two years, I.C. accompanied the Judge to the Nashville Court House regularly. He set up camp in her chambers and spent his days micromanaging the file clerks and protecting important documents (by sleeping on them.) Unfortunately, his legal career ended when he crossed paths with an unsuspecting (and rather biased) Jury that somehow confused his lithe beauty with an over-sized rat. The verdict was in—and I.C. was out…

As ever, this cat landed nimbly on his toes (according to the Judge, who has adorned her apartment with expensive crystal and antiques, “He weaves his way around the crystal, you see how lightly he walks? He doesn’t breaks anything. The maid and I have broken more things than he has. He is really a very good cat.”) I.C. has retired to a life of cosseting and travel between the exclusive domain of his luxury Penthouse apartment in Belle Meade, his rambling country estate modestly referred to as ‘The Farm’ where he enjoys the company of the local barn cats (I.C. is far too refined for snobbery), and the occasional jaunt to his mountain hunting lodge in North Carolina. On those occasions when his doting mother and father travel further a field, I.C. vacations in his private cat quarters (reserved exclusively for his use) at the Farm at Natchez Trace, perhaps Tennessee’s finest feline boarding facility.

“Of course, he’s too macho to purr much,” the Judge confides. “But at night, he likes to curl up on my chest for his ear rub. Then he forgets all that and he purrs. Yes, he purrs for his ear rubs. Mostly, he just takes me for granted. But he loves his Irby. I don’t know what it is between those two. Of course, I’m the one who cleans up after him, men just don’t do that sort of thing—and I.C. likes a pristine litter box.”

In a world where so many stray cats meet with unkind fates, I loved learning about one ginger darling who became a Society Cat.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pet Cemetary

Freckled with plastic flowers and granite headstones, Nashville’s only pet cemetery rambles up a green hillside, the metal chimneys of the ramshackle crematory barely visible from the road. Two cement dogs stand guard at the entrance of the trailer/funeral parlor. The undertaker is a young man in a trim red beard and knitted cap with mud on his pants. He introduces himself as “The Pet Grave Digger”, his gentle humor immediately evident because his whole manner proves a stark contrast to Hamlet’s grave digger and the craggy grave-diggers of Hollywood horror movies.

We tour the grounds and the new crematory. He is candid and kind. “People bring their pets here to honor the love they shared, to give the pet a dignified burial.” He shares an industry secret, “When your vet offers to dispose of the pets body, unless you specify that you want a return of the cremated remains, or you request that the body by part of a mass cremation, more likely than not, the body will be dumped in a mass grave at a local landfill.” Every Tuesday, he travels a southern route, picking up euthanized pets, some for individual cremation, some for mass cremation, others head to the landfill. “I don’t like doing that, but when I bought the business a year ago, that was part of the package, but I don’t offer that service to my new accounts—only mass cremations or individual cremation or burial.”

The burial services aren’t cheap, starting at $750 which doesn’t include the casket or the headstone. But the pet cemetery maintains a trust that guarantees that the grounds will be maintained in perpetuity (or something close to it anyway.)

The undertaker’s father is a Baptist preacher, but defines his Christianity much more loosely. “God knew what he was doing when he created pets—he offered them to people as an experience of unconditional love. I don’t think humans can truly love each other unconditionally, we all bring too much baggage to our relationships, even with our own children. But a pet can love you unconditionally, and that gives you just a taste of what it feels like to be loved by Christ.”

A large poster of The Rainbow Bridge Poem seems a startling display for a devout Christian. “Oh the bible says there are animals in heaven—and that poem touches so many people, it’s just another way of approaching it.” But, of course, not everyone agrees with this interpretation of the Bible. Sitting in the funeral parlor, surrounded by urns and cutesy animal illustrations yellowed with age, he continues, “One family that owns several plots, just buried two cats, only weeks apart. Mr.B--- , who is Southern Baptist, always says a prayer at the graveside and concludes with an assurance that one day he will join the cats in heaven. One of his brethren is offended by this—and they have had several rounds of arguments at their church. But Mr.B--- says that until he knows for sure, he will certainly hope to see his beloved pets again in the afterlife.”

Of course, the irony in all this is that the undertaker’s only pet is a hermit crab.