Cat Culture

Cat Culture: The Social World Of A Cat Shelter

Janet M. Alger
Steven F. Alger
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Cat Culture
    Book Description:

    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 culture—a 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0772-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Why an Ethnography of a Shelter?
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. 1 The Myth of the Solitary Cat
    (pp. 1-26)

    “Cats … live in our homes without any attempt to conform to our standards; they pursue their own agenda, they cannot be relied upon to share our feelings, their minds are less open to us, and they seem quite immune to human or canine guilt.”¹ Here, Katharine Rogers captures the most common understanding of the domestic cat in our culture. As sociologists, we would call her statement a social construction; that is, humans in our culture view cats as having these characteristics quite apart from any knowledge of their innate capacities and regardless of contrary evidence and personal experience. The...

  6. 2 The World of Whiskers
    (pp. 27-49)

    Whiskers did not originate as a shelter. It began in 1982 when Jane Donne opened a storefront thrift shop to earn money to spay and neuter stray cats. It was not long, however, before people began leaving cats at her door. Jane took them in, of course, and tried to find homes for them. During this period, Megan, a fellow cat lover who lived in the neighborhood, visited the thrift shop and became very interested in Jane’s efforts to rescue stray cats. She began helping Jane in various ways and would soon play a central role in the evolution of...

  7. 3 The Human-Cat Connection
    (pp. 50-90)

    Here we focus on the volunteers at Whiskers referred to as cleaner/feeders, who had the primary responsibility of caring for the daily needs of the shelter cats. Each cleaner/feeder generally committed two to three hours one morning or evening a week to the job. We centered our analysis on several questions: How did these volunteers construct the world they shared with the Whiskers cats? Conversely, since the cats were active participants in the creation of their world, how did they construct the world they shared with the volunteers? How did the volunteers mediate between the demands of the board of...

  8. 4 The Social Bonds among the Cats
    (pp. 91-138)

    In this chapter we describe the social structure and culture that emerged among the cats themselves and their impact on the social self of the cats. The fact that we can talk about “animal culture” is the result of major changes in our thinking about animal behavior and societies. Those who held traditional views saw animal behavior and animal social systems as a product of genetics and evolution and thus fixed and immutable for an entire species.¹ Recent evidence refutes this view and reveals animals to be far more flexible, both in specific behavior patterns and social arrangements, than previously...

  9. 5 The Feral Cats and Shelter Solidarity
    (pp. 139-154)

    In previous chapter we referred to feral cats at the shelter. In this chapter we examine these cats in more detail to see what they can teach us about cat behavior and the shelter community. The termferal catis generally applied to domestic cats who are born and raised independently of humans. Those who have studied or observed such cats over an extended period¹ generally find that, contrary to the stereotype of cats as solitary, most feral cats live in colonies. The size of the colonies ranges from six to sixteen members,² and they usually congregate near a food...

  10. 6 Leaving the Shelter Community
    (pp. 155-183)

    The shelter community was a community in flux as both human volunteers and cats came and went. We talked about the “comings” earlier in our discussions of the ways in which new volunteers and new cats were integrated into the community. In this chapter we focus on the “goings” and the potential they had for disruption of the shelter community. By “goings” we mean volunteer attrition, cat adoptions, and cat deaths.

    Volunteer attrition was relatively high, but this did not disrupt the human-cat community because those leaving the community tended to be the newest members. Those who decided that they...

  11. 7 Culture and Self in the Domestic Cat
    (pp. 184-198)

    Marian Stamp Dawkins,¹ and most other biologically trained scientists, strongly believe in Occam’s Razor, also referred to as the principle of parsimony. This principle basically states, “We should always start with the simplest explanation and only when this has been shown to be quite inadequate should we move on to a more complex one.”² The problem is that many scientists do not move on, no matter what the evidence, leading to a strong reductionist preference in science. This has been especially true in the study of animals, where many scientists still cling to behaviorism in spite of almost 20 years...

  12. 8 Animals in the Future of Sociology
    (pp. 199-212)

    We locate our ethnographic study of the Whiskers Cat Shelter in the rapidly growing subfield of sociology, society and animals. Sociologists in this subfield recognize the many roles that animals play in all societies–as companions, sources of food and clothing, subjects of medical and behavioral research, participants in sports, entertainers, and wildlife. Animals influence virtually every aspect of our lives, which is reflected in the growing body of research in this area.

    We found a broad range of topics and approaches in the journal,Society and Animals, over the past several years. Researchers in several studies looked at factors...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 213-214)

    The physical shelter where we conducted our study no longer exists. Whiskers, however, continues to thrive and to rescue stray and abandoned cats. The shelter was moved to a two-story house, which allows for greater separation of the infirmary and the creation of several new special-purpose rooms, including a room for the elderly cats. Soon after the change in shelter location, Marquis was moved to this room when he could no longer fulfill his duties as shelter security officer because of old age. Some months later, he allowed himself to be adopted by one of the long-time volunteers, and he...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 215-228)
  15. References
    (pp. 229-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-239)