Why are cats more popular today than at any time since the rule of the Pharaohs? Cat lover Phil Maggitti, writing in the recent issue of the Animals' Agenda magazine, has a clever way of explaining it.
"Unlike dogs, whose needs expand to fill all the available space in your life -- the way high-powered software commands all the available memory in your computer -- cats remain user-friendly on a modest amount of program space," he writes. "You don't have to walk your cat at 5 a.m in a nor'easter or turn down a sudden invitation to go sailing off the Keys because it isn't safe to leave the cat alone in the chateau overnight.
"Cats snugly fit our two-careers, deferred child-raising, one-person household times."
One thing for certain, the recent boom in cat popularity has shifted a lot of attention to the question of why cats behave the way they do. Now, no less an entity than the National Geographic Society has focused on the cat, with a new one-hour documentary to air on many Public Broadcasting Service stations.
Maryland Public Television will broadcast "Cats: Caressing the Tiger," on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. and will repeat the show on Monday, Jan. 14 at 11:30 a.m.
"Cats: Caressing the Tiger" not only offers accurate information for those who know little about cat behavior, but it also provides insights that challenge long-held assumptions of many knowledgeable cat lovers.
The most interesting of these involves the social behavior of cats. More than 10 years of study by Oxford University professor David MacDonald has shown that cats, like lions, are social, sharing kitten-rearing duties among related females.
"Cat society is based on a rather subtle, covert language," says Mr. MacDonald. "The sorts of signals that pass between cats . . . happen very quickly, happen very rarely, and if you're not tuned in to looking, you just don't see it.
"People have spent their whole lives living among cats," he says, "and formed an impression that hasn't taken into account the subtlety of the relationships that occur between cats themselves."
The documentary does not shy away from the predatory side of the cat's nature, with graphic footage of killing by both "barnyard lions" and real ones. But no cat lover will want to miss the opportunity to understand more about the companion animal the Animals' Agenda describes as "the tamest of the wild, and the wildest of the tame."
If a puppy was among your family's holiday surprises, chances are you're halfway through a remedial course on the problems of puppy-raising, including house-training, chewing and high-spiritedness.
Whatever you do, don't let your puppy's cuteness keep you from raising a well-mannered dog. After all, it's by far easier to mold good behaviors than to correct bad ones. Consistency is the key: If you don't want a grown dog jumping, chewing or digging, don't let your puppy get away with it now.
Be patient, be loving and be firm and you'll be paid back many times over in the years to come.
And don't wait until your pup is six months old (or more) to start a training class. In recent years, puppy classes have sprung up all over the country, providing pet lovers with the opportunity to socialize their young dogs (usually 12 weeks and up) and develop in them a positive attitude toward more formalized learning later. Such classes aren't "boot camps" -- they're
designed to be fun for both puppies and people.
Many communities have dog-training clubs that offer classes; other sources include veterinary hospitals, groomers, pet shops, boarding kennels and park districts.
Q: I have been caring for two cats that neighbors abandoned last summer (they moved out and left them behind). I have two cats of my own and an 18-month-old daughter, and, frankly, I just can't have four cats on a full-time basis. I have tried everything I can think of. I have paid for an ad; I have contacted friends and relatives. I called the shelter, which, when pressed, admitted only a 48-percent adoption rate. I have not taken care of these cats only to have them fat when they are put to sleep.
It seems to me that there is a real need for a farm or an area that people like me, who really care what happens to these animals and are not just looking to change the color scheme of their home, can take cats to live until someone does adopt them. Can you suggest anything?
A: Keep trying for as long as you can, and talk to everybody you know, even the ones who hate animals. The hardest stray I ever placed finally went to the sister of a man who loathes pets, but knew his sibling felt otherwise. Place fliers everywhere you can, and be creative in your "sales approach."
Whatever you do, be sure to screen any prospective adopter. Ask to see a driver's license, check the address, and insist on delivering the pet to their home (take a friend with you). People who collect pets to train fighting dogs or to sell to research sometimes pose as "good homes" often under an alias. Make sure they understand that you intend to follow up on the placement. And don't let an animal go to anyone who will not neuter them (better yet, make sure they're neutered before placement). Avoid the tendency to accept just any home.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278.