Street cats, usually referred to as community cats or feral cats in this country, are very much a part of most communities, even though many people may not even notice them. These cats tend to live in alleys, hide in shrubbery or storm drains, and generally shy away from human contact. The number of community cats nationwide is estimated to be about 60 million. Considering that the estimated number of pet cats in the US is between 75 and 90 million, I find that number shockingly high.
Thankfully, there are caring individuals who do what they can to feed and provide basic health care for these cats. Whether it’s a group of neighbors who band together to get a neighborhood feral spayed and keep a collective eye on her well-being, or whether it’s the elderly woman who barely has enough money to feed herself, but always manages to scrape together enough for her “outside cats,” feral cats who have these advocates in their corner are the fortunate ones. Too many others are persecuted as a menace, and an increasing number of municipalities are passing ordinances to ban these helpless creatures.
Raphaella Bilski, a member of the department of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, who specializes in modern political philosophy, welfare, social policy, and the subject of happiness, has been caring for street cats for fourteen years. In My Street Cats: Their Personalities and Social Behavior, Bilski captured the world of these cats. The book focuses on one community over about fourteen years of observation.
The author describes the cats’ social life, the hierarchy that exists in their community, their leaders, and various social behaviors. She also shares stories of heroic feline acts, the wonderful friendships that exist between these cats, their very special patterns of motherhood, and more.
I found this book fascinating on several different levels. The author began caring for her community of street cats long before Trap Neuter Return was an accepted practice in Israel, and reading her accounts of how quickly the colony grew prior to that time makes you realize just how important, and effective, TNR really is. I was delighted to read that Israel’s Supreme Court issued a “Cats Ruling” in 2004, which decrees that street cats have the right to live in the streets and that people are allowed to feed them. The US can only dream of such a ruling.
I found it interesting that the author was not a cat person. She never owned a pet cat herself, but shared her life with several dogs. However, her mother instilled a love of all animals in her, and the two would take care of street cats together when they lived in Tel Aviv. “The compassion she [her mother] had for street cats must have been passed down to me through genes and education,” writes Bilski. The author did not start caring for her own colony of street cats until she lost a beloved dog in 1993.
But what really makes this book shine are the individual stories. There’s the story of Colomina, the cat that inspired Bilski to write about these cats. She was a member of the founding generation of Bilski’s colony and a part of the neighborhood for over ten years. There was Fluffy, the courageous fur ball, and Sophie, the cat with seven souls.
This book shows us that street cats are more than just anonymous shadows lurking in the dark. It stresses that each cat, no matter what her circumstances may be, is an individual with a soul. And most of all, this book is a love story. “This book was not written just to improve society’s attitude toward street cats,” writes Bilski. “It was first and foremost written with all my heart and mind as a book of love and appreciation.”
The street cats of the world will be better off because of this book.