I am delighted to welcome cat behaviourist, Anita Kelsey, as my guest to talk about her work and her new book – all about cats!
Let’s begin at the beginning! Can you tell me how and when your love of cats developed?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love cats. Mum likes to tell the story of me as a little girl being taken to primary school – how I used to insist on going the long way around, down a particular road where lots of cats lived.
When did you realise that books and information about cats were underrepresented?
You’re always going to get fewer books on a specialist subject than those in the mass market. Within the specific genre of cat care and behaviour there are actually some excellent books out there, so I never really had the realisation that books and information about cats were underrepresented. That wasn’t the reason I decided to write my current book. Let’s Talk About Cats grew organically from interviews I enjoyed writing for my online blog. I did a search on Amazon when thinking of a follow-up for my first book Claws and saw that no-one had written a book that included interviews with cat experts. I thought how exciting it would be to give people expert inside knowledge in the form of questions from a cat behaviourist to her peers and other inspiring cat folk. How interesting to open up conversations on different subjects such as cat grief, diet and how felines communicate. There’s always room for more cat books and I am hoping mine will get support and be enjoyed, because it’s presented very differently to anything that’s been written about cats so far. Also, it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about my favourite subject!
Do you think cats are generally misunderstood?
The general population may not understand cats as much as they should, but I’m always impressed by the care and patience of experienced cat guardians, people that foster, work in rescue centres or people who have spent a lifetime looking after different cats. What I do find though is that sometimes people expect too much of cats and credit them with human emotions. To really understand cats we must understand them away from the label of ‘pet’ and understand life from their viewpoint, not our own.
What are the most commonly held misconceptions about cats?
That cats love to be stroked as much as we like to stroke them, that all cats need or want other feline ‘friends’ to live with, that a new cat should be able to like the same things as a recently deceased cat, that cats can be bred as indoor only cats, that cats are aloof and do not need daily care and attention. I mention the latter as I still know people who go away for 2/3/4 days and leave dry food out for their cat(s) stating that they are fine being left alone as they are independent. There are just a few that come to mind.
What are the most frequently seen problems you have to deal with concerning the cats and/or their owners?
The most frequent issues I have to deal with are:
Multi-cat tensions, especially when a nice balance of cats and cat personalities has been reached only for the cat guardians to bring home another cat.
Spraying around the home either due to outside stressors or territorial stress due to tensions between other cats in the home.
Boredom/frustration usually with indoor only cats.
I’ve had plenty of unusual cases too, such as a cat who was obsessed with eating stones!
What considerations do you feel people who wish to buy a cat/kitten should make before committing to it?
First of all: what kind of lifestyle do you lead and have you the time to give to your cat or kitten, plus do you have the space in your home to meet all of their needs? Are you financially able to meet all of their needs in terms of food, cat litter trays, litter, cat furniture, flea treatments, cat toys, pet insurance, and vaccines – it all adds up. When thinking of buying/rescuing a kitten I would always recommend two, so that they have company during the time their carers are at work, as well as a playmate they can play with and learn from.
Another aspect to consider is the maintenance and grooming of longhaired breeds of cat. Many carers have no idea of the grooming needs of particular breeds, so this is a consideration that should be made before deciding to get breeds such as Persians, Maine Coons, British Long Hairs and all of the Forest cats/Norwegian/Siberian. Also, consider the life span of the cat. Buying a kitten is cute and fun but kittens grow into adult cats and can live well into their twenties. Do you just want a kitten for fun and cuteness or are you committed to the lifetime care of your cat?
You have a specialist grooming service for phobic and aggressive cats – other than ‘very carefully’ how do you approach this challenge?
LOL! Each cat is approached differently and what I decide very much depends on the past history of the grooming experience of the cat and how severe their reactions are to the process. My approach also very much depends on the coat condition of the cat. For example, an extremely matted cat that is fearful of grooming due to past negative experiences cannot be helped if I treat the groom like a normal one, because it wouldn’t be normal. I would be battling with a cat that is showing fear-based aggression while I’m trying to shave a matted coat. That just isn’t going to happen and would just re-affirm in the cat’s mind that grooming is something to be feared. In this situation I would advise that the cat be sedated at my local vet, where I regularly work, so the coat can be taken off safely and humanely. I would then teach the owner how to slowly reintroduce grooming using the correct tools, the correct technique and doing very short sessions at a time on various parts of the body.
Also using positive associations such as treats or a catnip mouse as part of the experience. Other cats can be handled more easily because they are using a learned behaviour to get the groom stopped. For example, a cat may hiss and growl as a warning when the carer has tried to groom them, leading to the carer stopping. In this way the cat has learned how to get the desired end-result. These kind of cats can usually be groomed quickly and safely by being confident and knowing that what I am doing is not hurting them, making them feel discomfort or making them feel threatened. Because my response is different to that of their carer, the outcome is different. With timid cats I always allow them movement on my table, plenty of breaks when they need them and I always request that the owners stay to help calm them. I use classical music on all grooms, tasty treats and toys. Not only should it be a nice experience for the cats, but for the humans too.
What breed(s) of cat, in particular, make good companions?
There’s no one breed of cat that makes a better companion over another. It’s very much down to the individual cat’s personality and the home territory they are being introduced to. I think the person wanting a cat needs to think about what they want from them and what their expectations are. Not every cat likes to be held or stroked to within an inch of his or her life, so getting the right personality is key. Also, think about the territory for your furry companion and their individual and evolutionary traits. Many cats do not thrive in indoor only situations. For example, keeping Bengals in a small urban flat with no outside space to roam is not ideal, as this breed particularly needs plenty of stimulation, things to climb and lots of attention and space.
I was intrigued to read about your Norwegian Forest Cats – they look beautiful, what attracted you to this specific breed?
I love the look of the big cats and I love their long manes and chunky feet and paws. The ‘weegies’, as they are known, have more delicate pointed faces than that of the Maine Coons, who have more square broad faces. I also love the fact they are a natural breed from the forests of Norway, hence the breed name. I fell in love with Kiki and Zaza after seeing a photo of them online as kittens. They were two tiny balls of fluff and they were stunning. The breeder wanted to keep Zaza as a show cat but I begged her to let me have her and she finally agreed that they could both come to live with me. At the end of the day I think all cats are beautiful, even the average street moggies. My next cats will all definitely be rescue ones and probably special needs ones, as they get overlooked more often than not. Recently a rescue in Cornwall advertised three blind brothers who had been rescued from abroad. I would have had them in a heartbeat if not for Kiki and Zaza.
What is next for Anita Kelsey?
Well, I’m in the process of trying to relocate to live by the sea, a long time dream of mine so that’s next on the cards on the personal front. Career-wise, who knows! I’m pretty much content doing what I’m doing and have little time to do much else besides grooming and behaviour work. I can’t help thinking a third book may follow when I’m relaxing by the sea with pen in hand (or maybe laptop)! I loved writing my first book Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer and many readers have been asking when Claws 2 will be out! So, perhaps that is what will be next for me! Watch this space….