Caturday felids trifecta: Famous cats; how to make your cat love you; NYRB reviews several cat books

June 17, 2023 • 9:45 am

I am running low on cat-related items for future Caturday felids. If you come across an interesting cat-related piece, please send it my way.

Did you know that Wikipedia has a list of famous and notable cats? Yes it does, with lots of them! Click below to go down the rabbit hole, for many of the cats have their own entries.

Here’s just an excerpt (click on links to see cats). Oscar the hospice cat is the one that freaks me out the most.  He would lie down beside terminally ill patients right before they were out to die. In fact, as the article says,

Joan Teno, a physician at Steere House, clarified that “it’s not that the cat is consistently there first. But the cat always does manage to make an appearance, and it always seems to be in the last two hours.”[9]

After Oscar accurately predicted 25 deaths, staff started calling family members of residents as soon as they discovered him sleeping next to a patient in order to notify them and give them an opportunity to say goodbye before the impending death.  

He accurately predicted 100 out of 100 deaths, and nobody knows how he did it!  (Some say it was confirmation bias, but read this article in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you can’t get it, ask me.) This is one case in which I’ll suspend skepticism. Here’s Oscar, the Cat of Death.

  • Beerbohm, a cat that resided at the Gielgud Theatre in London.
  • Blackie the Talking Cat, a “talking” cat who was exhibited (for donations) by an unemployed couple on the streets of Augusta, Georgia. Blackie became the subject of a court case, Miles v. City Council of Augusta.
  • Blue, a Siamese cat taken “hostage” in Gresham, Oregon in a grocery store in the United States in 1994.
  • Browser, a Texas library cat.
  • CC (Copy Cat, or Carbon Cat), the first cloned cat.
  • Chase No Face, a cat who lost her face in an accident, was a therapy cat for people with disfigurements.[55]
  • Crimean Tom, a cat that helped British Army troops find food after the Siege of Sevastopol
  • Dusty the Klepto Kitty (US), notorious for being an expert night cat burglar.[56]
  • Emily, an American cat who, after being lost, was found to have gone to France.[57]
  • Faith, a London cat that took up residence in St Faith & St Augustine’s church (by St Paul’s Cathedral) in wartime, and received a PDSA Silver Medal for her bravery in caring for her kitten when the church was bombed.[58]
  • Fred the Undercover Kitty, a cat famous for assisting the NYPD and Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in 2006.
  • Jack, a cat who was lost by American Airlines baggage handlers at John F Kennedy airport before Hurricane Irene.[59] He was found later but was severely dehydrated and malnourished after his 61-day ordeal[60] and was euthanized.[61]
  • Lewis, a cat who became infamous after being placed under house arrest.
  • Little Nicky, the first animal cloned for commercial reasons.
  • Marzipan (c.1992–2013), a calico cat who lived in the lobby of Astor Theatre in Melbourne, Australia. She was the theatre’s unofficial mascot and was often seen sitting on the couches, waiting for the patrons to pat her as they left the cinema. She was also known to stroll in the cinema and watch the movies, or simply wander down the aisle and sit on patrons’ laps.[62] She had her own Facebook fan page.[63]
  • Mike (1908 – January 1929), a cat who guarded the entrance to the British Museum.
  • Mittens (~2009–present), a ginger Turkish Angora who wanders Wellington, New Zealand, and has a Facebook-based fanbase who regularly posts photos of him climbing into rental cars, entering businesses, and napping in unusual places.
  • Nora, a gray tabby cat who plays the piano alongside her owner.
  • Oscar, a cat fitted with bionic hind legs following an accident in 2009.
  • Oscar the hospice cat, written up in the New England Journal of Medicine for his uncanny ability to predict which patients will die by curling up to sleep with them hours before their death. To date he has been right 100+ times.[64][65]


You probably already know what you’re supposed to do to communicate with your cat. Guess first!

From ScienceAlert; click on screenshot:

An excerpt:

Never fear – research from 2020 has shown that it’s not so difficult. You just need to smile at them more. Not the human way, by baring your teeth, but the cat way, by narrowing your eyes and blinking slowly.

By observing cat-human interactions, scientists confirmed that this expression makes cats – both familiar and strange – approach and be more receptive to humans.

“As someone who has both studied animal behavior and is a cat owner, it’s great to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate in this way,” Karen McComb, a University of Sussex psychologist, said in a 2020 statement.

“It’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it.”

Here’s a demonstration:


Anecdotal evidence from cat owners has hinted that humans can copy this expression to communicate to cats that we are friendly and open to interaction. So, a team of psychologists designed two experiments to determine whether cats behaved differently towards slow–blinking humans.

In the first experiment, owners slow-blinked at 21 cats from 14 different households. Once the cat was settled and comfy in one spot in their home environment, the owners were instructed to sit about 1 meter away and slow-blink when the cat was looking at them. Cameras recorded both the owner’s and the cat’s faces, and the results were compared to how cats blink with no human interaction.

The results showed that cats are more likely to slow-blink at their humans after their humans have slow–blinked at them, compared to the no–interaction condition.

The second experiment included 24 cats from eight different households. This time, it wasn’t the owners doing the blinking but the researchers, who’d had no prior contact with the cat. For a control, the cats were recorded responding to a no–blink condition, in which humans stared at the cats without blinking their eyes.

The researchers performed the same slow–blink process as the first experiment, adding an extended hand toward the cat. And they found that not only were the cats more likely to blink back, but they were also more likely to approach the human’s hand after the human blinked.

“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat-human communication,” McComb said.


The New York Review of Books has a cat issue with a review of five books on cats by Gregory Hays, an associate professor of classics at the University of Virginia.  If you click on the second screenshot, you can read his article for free!

I’ve put the five books below with their Amazon links.

John Gray’s book has gotten good reviews in other places, too. Here’s from Hays’s bit about it:

Cats aren’t preoccupied with being good, only with being cats. They are incapable of empathy, altruism, pity, or kindness, and likewise incapable of cruelty or sadism. They are beyond good and evil. Cats don’t know that they will die, though they may sense the approach of death when it comes. They do not search for meaning in their lives.

Cats refute continuously the claim that the unexamined life is not worth living, by living it. They are both Stoics and Epicureans: they live in accordance with nature and they seek to maximize pleasure. But they do this without reading treatises or attending lectures. Nor do they share the defensive outlook and rejection of the world common to both schools. That cats have no use for philosophy is an indictment, for Gray, not of cats, but of philosophy: “Posing as a cure, philosophy is a symptom of the disorder it pretends to remedy.”

If cats have the answer—that there is no answer, for there is no question—it follows that the best philosophers will be the most catlike. A cautionary example here is Pascal, who lived an anxious life trying to overcome his dread of death through faith and reason. Not a cat person, Pascal. Gray’s sympathies lie rather with Montaigne and Samuel Johnson, who recognize the futility of human striving and urge us to take life as it comes. Not surprisingly, both were cat owners.

Soden’s book is a fictional biography of Jeoffrey, the cat celebrated by Christopher Smart as his companion in the lunatic asylum. Smart’s poem (a fragment of Jubilate Agno) is my favorite bit of literature about cats, and you can read it here.  All cat lovers need to know this relatively short fragment of poetry that, to me, best sums up how humans see cat-ness.

Hays says this:

Unsurprisingly, the years with Smart are the heart of the book. The asylum period is an imprisonment for Jeoffry too. Used to the sounds and smells of London, he is now confined by a wire-topped wall to Smart’s room and tiny garden. We watch with him as Smart is force-fed his “medicine” and herded out naked into the rain with other patients, in lieu of bathing. Soden movingly imagines Smart’s mental illness as experienced by Jeoffry:

To Jeoffry, the man smelled of fear…. Around Smart stretched something that was not there, but which Jeoffry could see all the same: an absence of light, like a silk blanket that was not black but blank, that was not dark but vacuous, empty of meaning, devoid of sense…. On some days the blanket and its jabs sent Smart mad, and on other days it sent him still, and sometimes Jeoffry could see that it wasn’t there at all. Jeoffry knew it for what it was, but what it was he could not say.

Whether this catches a cat’s experience, who can know? But at least it takes seriously the gulf between cats and ourselves.


h/t: cesar

6 thoughts on “Caturday felids trifecta: Famous cats; how to make your cat love you; NYRB reviews several cat books

  1. On the cat that predicts death, yes noticing that the cat was around when staff discovers a death would be confirmation bias. But there could be another factor that any cat owner would know: Maybe people close to death don’t move much, and the cat likes to sleep next to people who don’t move and disturb the cat’s sleep.

    Re the blinking communication, the the control was “not blinking”? Oops. Not blinking could be staring, ie perceived by the cat as a predation activity prior to an attack! So it could be that all the scientists measured was that not staring was better than staring, ie nothing at all to do with slow blinking. The control should have been the just normal blinking rate of people looking at the cat.

  2. I used to slow blink at our two cats. It seemed to elicit slow blinks from them, but I wasn’t sure. I had no way of knowing if they would have slow blinked at me even without my slow blinking at them.

  3. It seems a shame Oscar is tagged as the “Cat of Death”. Hopefully, he’s lying with people to keep them company (not to be first in line to eat them when they actually die). I agree with Gray’s general conclusion about living with cats, but I disagree about their capacity for empathy, I suspect cats (like humans) fall on a continuum in their capacity for empathy (even if the scale for cats is considerably narrower). Quite a few people with cat companions can tell you about them coming to join you when you are sad or sick.

  4. I remember John Gray mainly from his attacks on Richard Dawkins, his promotion of Karen Armstrong and his book ‘Straw Dogs’ that I bought and really disliked. I don’t like his apocalyptic outlook and his urge to end “the Enlightenment”. He sees the glass always half empty; would surprise me if a ‘pessimistic passive nihilist’ like him would find any ‘ultimate meaning’ let alone find it by looking at cats.

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