As a proud cat dad to two strays who have executed a bloodless coup and take over of my home, I eagerly started Abigail Tucker’s The Lion in the Living Room looking forward to a greater understanding and affection for these fuzzy little four-legged creatures. Surprisingly, and to my great disappointment, what I got instead was what mostly read like an anti-cat screed made all the more curious considering Tucker is herself a cat owner. I must admit, she sure has a funny way of showing her affection.
Most of The Lion reads as a polemic against cats generally and cat ownership specifically. We are given chapters that focus on a cat-specific parasite that has been tied to schizophrenia in humans, researchers who deem cats an invasive species responsible for wiping out prey within an ecosystem, and a description of cats as indifferent loners who essentially train humans (who they could take or leave) with behavioral modifications that suit their needs when we lock cats away in our homes, denying them their rightful place as predators in the outside world. Tucker is even dubious of the cats' long-held reputation for rodent eradication. She posits that in many cities, cats and mice have come to a détente because there are more than enough scraps and garbage for all to consume, while in and around the house, pesticides and exterminators have done the job we once relied on our four-legged friends to do.
It is all very dispiriting, from stories of the kill shelters that pile cat carcasses up to the skepticism of “trap, neuter, release” as an effective means of controlling the feline population. For someone who professes so much love for cats, Tucker finds little redeeming about them to write about. Her interviewees muse on how cat anxiety can be lowered by separating cats from humans and that cat owners are actually less likely to survive a year after a heart attack than dog owners (or members of the general public).
So much of the book reads like the equivalent of attending a wedding of two people you know are ill-suited for one another yet go through with the marriage anyway. Unlike dogs, that have adapted and evolved into companions for humans, Tucker indicates that cats have not gone through a similar metamorphosis and retain key characteristics that have resulted in a deserved reputation for aloofness.
Ultimately, Tucker’s conclusion is that notwithstanding all of these contra-indicators, cats and humans have gone through with this arrangement anyway, even though the relationship does not appear to benefit either party. I have to say my experience has been precisely the opposite of much of what Tucker writes about and observes. Not only do my two little ones show great affection, I do not particularly care if they modulate their meows to get some food or may have an ulterior motive tied to the crazy-eights they do around my legs. I love my cats whether or not their purrs are a life hack they know will get them a crunchy treat or they have subtly trained me to bring home overpriced toys.
Tucker would have us believe we are aiding in our cats’ unhappiness because we are denying them their genetic coding as apex predators. Maybe so, but when my sweet Pumpkin almost died earlier this year because of a bite wound that got infected, I was not worried about whether or not she would recover and be able to hunt down neighborhood birds, I spent thousands of dollars in medical bills because I love her and had she died, I would have been devastated. If Pumpkin’s now entirely-indoor lifestyle expands her life expectancy at the price of her not being able to fulfill her mission as a killer of squirrels and mice, I am more than okay with that.
Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy