Call of the Cats: What I learned about Life and Love from a Feral Colony by Andrew Bloomfield
(I need to preface this review with an admission: I am a cat lover. I admit it: I love cats. I have four former ferals of my own. Or more accurately, I am owned by four former ferals.)
I was completely hooked on this book from the very beginning. In a touching scene at the end of chapter one, Andrew Bloomfield finds a lifeless kitty on the lawn. He weeps as members of the feral colony look on from a distance. In that instant, he feels the cats are calling on him to help them. And help them, he does! This scene broke my heart and pulled me right into Bloomfield’s moving story. I knew this was not going to be just a touchy-feely book about caring for cute kittens. This was going to be an authentic telling of what it is truly like to fall in love, care for, and be responsible for the beings in your life.
I loved getting to know the cast of characters with their unique personalities and various quirks: bowlegged, fearful, seductive, care-taking, one-eyed, and so on. We learn about Tiny, Gumdrop, Snow White, Caliby, Crazy, Beige, and many others, through their adventures and mishaps over a twenty-year period. Cat people will nod in agreement and recognize themselves and their cats in these stories. You don’t have to be a cat person to enjoy this book. Although, by the end, don’t be surprised if you become one.
Woven into the narrative are interesting bits of spiritual, mythological, and religious lore, certainly gained from Bloomfield’s travels to India, Nepal and his study of various spiritual traditions. He discusses Eastern religions, Islam, Christianity, and Chinese mythology, and how cats played a part in these traditions. There are also significant amounts of information about cats within a historical context. I especially enjoyed the information he provides about changing attitudes toward cats throughout history. I learned about cats’ involvement in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, The Black Plague, and The Witch Hunts; Disneyland’s feral-cat population; and modern day Australia’s plan to exterminate cats due to extinction of many of their other species. Cats have a rich history of either being sacred and worshipped or hated, feared, and slaughtered.
In addition to the historical and cultural background information, Bloomfield gives us a lot of fascinating, fun bits of cat trivia. A few examples: *There are over 100 million domestic US cats–(looks like I’m not the only cat lover out there!). *A purring cat can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, help heal infection, swelling, and even soft tissue injuries. *Cat owners may also experience a 40 percent less risk of heart attack and stroke. *Dogs were domesticated thousands of years before cats, which explains why there are less recognized cat breeds (approximately 50) than there are dog breeds (400!). Who knew?
I also found substantial kernels of wisdom tucked within these pages. About the gifts that accompany crisis, Bloomfield writes, “There’s something about a crisis that can bring clarity. You see what’s important and what isn’t. And basically everything you thought was important turns out not to be.” When thinking about selflessness and giving without expectation of return, he remembers a spiritual teacher saying that the mantra of stupidity is “What about me?” Concerning finding purpose and meaning in your life: “I do believe one key in discerning one’s true purpose is by simply doing the thing right in front of one’s face. The thing closest at hand.”
This is a funny book and in some places I laughed out loud. OK, in many places I laughed out loud. I related wholeheartedly to figuring out payday in terms of getting veterinary care, kitty litter, or food for my cats. Bloomfield writes, “Everything got figured in terms of cats. How much did you make today? Enough for a vet visit? A generalist appointment or a specialist? Did you make enough for a few days in the animal ICU?” Bloomfield has a real talent for making the serious seem amusing. Or at least laughable, after-the-fact.
The antics involved in getting the colony neutered are humorous, and yet I know it was a great undertaking and probably anything but funny at the time. Bloomfield explains TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs and discusses briefly why some people oppose this method. He is never judgmental and states upfront that he is not an expert. Throughout the book he admits that he and the sisters who help him on this cat-caring journey learned completely from trial and error. For instance, to better understand the dynamics of the colony, he begins sitting outside among them day and night. He does what he thinks is best at the time and learns from experience to be better informed for the next crisis that rolls around. He never insists that “adopting” a feral colony is the right thing to do. However, to him, it felt like it was, and that’s why he did it.
There were some sad stories in the book, too. The recounting of Princess’ death was a profound moment for me. As anyone who has truly loved and lost a beloved pet knows, time often doesn’t heal those wounds. They are just too deep. The truth is, as Bloomfield wisely concludes, “That everything cherished and loved will be lost, everyone held dear will be taken, sometimes in the most violent, seemingly ruthless manner–there really is no other response than crying until there are no more tears.” How true I know this to be and how validating it is to have another human understand this. So often we are told that it is time to move on, get over it. Especially when it comes to our pets.
Bloomfield is a talented storyteller and I enjoyed the biographical tales he includes throughout the book. The stories from his early life, the short insights into his family, and his world travels all made me feel like I knew him as I was reading his words. I liked him. I trusted him. I thought he was real and refreshing. He shared his failures as well as his successes and when he talked about the Hollywood big-shots that he occasionally found himself around, to me, he remained Andrew, the cat-dad.
I did cringe when he wrote about kicking a hyperaggressive visiting male cat to break up a violent attack on a cat from the colony. What would I do in this situation? He first tried scaring them both, and that didn’t work. It bothered me some, but I understood. And besides he had indubitably proven his love and devotion to these cats, which is why he was protecting them in the first place. This admission, and the sharing of other vulnerable topics, is what makes him believable, authentic, and relatable. He’s not trying to be a saint; he’s a human being trying to do his best, just like me. Which means we can all do good things, just by trying to do our best.
“One cat just leads to another.”~Ernest Hemingway
At one point, Bloomfield states, “I feel that being with these cats was as close as I’ll ever get to the Source of life.” And that sentence may sum up my whole existence as a cat lover. Laugh if you will, but when I’m holding one or more of my cats, I definitely feel like a small slice of divinity is right here with me, sitting in my lap, purring. I consider it an honor, as well as a huge responsibility. As Bloomfield quotes The Little Prince saying:
“You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed.”
How I wish all pet owners would take this sentiment to heart.
Near the end of the book, Bloomfield writes, “Hope springs eternal.” And so it does. My hope is that you will read this book and love it as much as I do. And then do whatever you can to help these mysterious, wonderful, and often misunderstood animals. Contact cat advocacy organizations, such as Alley Cat Allies, to find out how you can help.
For more information and to read an excerpt from Call of the Cats visit New World Library’s website visit here.
Find Call of the Cats at your local library or bookstore. Or to order from Quail Ridge Books, visit here.
*I received a galley of this book from New World Library for review. I was not financially compensated for this post. The opinions expressed are completely my own.
*Photos are also mine, as well as the four beautiful feline models.