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Cat Culture

The Social World Of A Cat Shelter

Janet Alger

Publication Year: 2003

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.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: Why an Ethnography of a Shelter?

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pp. ix-xiv

From the beginning of our marriage, our two cats moved with us through all the job changes associated with the early careers of academics. We are not sure how we advanced from our devotion to Georgy Girl and Alex to being animal activists, but in the 1970s we became conscious of the tremendous suffering of animals in our society. We began ...

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pp. xv-xvi

We thank, first, the staff at Whiskers for their support throughout our long study. They tolerated our numerous questions, unsolicited advice, and our getting underfoot while they tried to do their work. We also thank the resident cats for their enthusiastic greetings, plentiful hugs and kisses, and unfailing interest in our activities....

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1. The Myth of the Solitary Cat

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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:'1Here, Katharine Rogers captures the most common understanding of the domestic cat in our culture. As ...

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2. The World of Whiskers

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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....

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3. The Human-Cat Connection

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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...

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4. The Social Bonds among the Cats

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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....

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5. The Feral Cats and Shelter Solidarity

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pp. 139-154

In previous chapters 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 term feral cat is generally applied to domestic cats who are born and raised independently...

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6. Leaving the Shelter Community

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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 ...

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7. Culture and Self in the Domestic Cat

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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 ...

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8. Animals in the Future of Sociology

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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, subj ects of medical ...


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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-228


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pp. 229-234


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pp. 235-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781439907726
Print-ISBN-13: 9781566399982

Publication Year: 2003