Monday, October 16, 2017

The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World, by Abigail Tucker (author), Arden Hammersmith (narrator)

Simon & Schuster Audio, October 2016

Such a promising title.

And such a disappointment.

Tucker says she's a cat lover, and I think she probably is. Yet she conveys an impressively negative tone in this book, as if she feels guilty about liking our favorite little carnivores. She's very insistent that cats serve no real, practical use in human settlements, citing for instance studies that seem to show that cats are not very effective ratters. Nowhere does she mention that in fact cats are primarily thought of as mousers. For serious rat killing, yes, you mostly want the smaller terrier type dogs.

Yet mice are a significant threat to grain stores, and volunteer mouse control would have been welcome in early farming communities.

She much later in the book mentions that rats are apparently strongly repelled by cat urine, and avoid areas where it is present. At no point does she comment on how unlikely this is if cats have never been a threat to rats, or how useful this might be to farmers regardless of whether or not cats actually kill rats.

She also credulously recites tales of cats devastating nearly every other small animal except mice, including claims that they kill "billions" of birds annually in the US, without ever citing the sources for the reader to follow up on. It's a figure that initially came from the initial hypothesis that was the beginning of a study, not from the conclusions of the study. The conclusions are not nearly so popular with cat haters.

She mentions, in passing, but does not highlight, junk science from a Smithsonian researcher later convicted of animal cruelty after trying to wipe out an entire managed cat colony via poisoning.

Tucker's discussion of the essentially solitary nature (she says) of the cat doesn't mention the studies that show feral and semi-feral rural cats voluntarily form colonies, including females sharing kitten care and even nursing of young kittens, in areas where they could easily form exclusive territories if they wished. Shared kitten raising is a behavior limited to two members of the cat family: lions and house cats. As such, it's a pretty interesting behavior, and one you'd think would be worth mentioning.

In discussing control of feral cats, she trots out all arguments supporting the claim that Trap-Neuter-Release is of limited effectiveness. PETA is cited as an animal welfare organization to quote its anti-TNR position. PETA in fact favors killing all cats found outside a home, whether ferals, free-roaming pets, or indoor pets who have accidentally gotten out. Their goal is no domestic animals at all.

Eventually, after many paragraphs of similar nonsense, she gets around to mentioning, in passing, that trap & kill, as a method of controlling feral cat populations, is even less effective.

It really is an interesting book, but should be read, or listened to, with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I bought this audiobook.