Local Barnard cats Tilly and BB. (Pattie Webster Photo)
By Virginia Dean, Special To The Standard
Gato (Sp.), katze (Ger.), chat (Fr.), miu (Egyptian), chatool (Heb.), puccha (Sanskrit), kots (Russian), cath (Welsh) — no matter what they’re called in what part of the world, cats have had a long, symbiotic relationship with humans — 8,000 years, in fact, according to some historians.
Today, in the 21st century, Vermont leads this country in cat ownership with almost 50 percent of households owning at least one, according to recent research by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Dr. Lynn Martin, veterinarian at the Country Animal Hospital in Bethel. “When I’m at veterinary conferences, cats are taking over dogs as being the most numerous pets because people are more mobile, live in apartments and find that cats are easier to take care of. You can travel with them or leave them behind with someone like a neighbor coming in to take care of them.”
The 2012 statistics are based on the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook which recently revealed that Vermont also ranks first for pet ownership with 71 percent of households owning a pet. Seven years ago, the last time the AVMA published the Sourcebook, Vermont also ranked first with 75 percent of households owning a pet. (Click here to see photos of local cats.)
“America has discovered the cat,” said Martin who has two marmalade cats of her own. “They’re captivating Americans. Everybody at our vet conferences is remarking on this phenomenon.”
At Gillingham’s, for example, local patrons should not surprised to see a tiger feline sitting on the counter or wandering through the aisles as they are making their selections or checking out.
“We have two female tigers that were rescued from Hurricane Katrina,” said Cindy Sands, mail order manager and store buyer. “They were feral, brought to Vermont and fostered, and then we adopted them. They were small kittens when they came to us.”
“Ava is our brown tiger and entertains people,” Sands said.
Prior to the store’s current cats were siblings Henry and Frannie, Sands said. Henry was 16 when he died in October 1997. Frannie died in 2001. Their ashes are in a box and are still contained in the store, Sands said.
“The cats are here because we wanted to replace Henry and Frannie,” Sands said. “We had so many people coming in looking for them that we decided to get more.”
The current rate of cat adoption at the Lucy MacKenzie Human Society in Windsor leads Animal Care Technician Danielle Buffa to be unruffled with the recent statistics reflecting feline popularity in this state.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Buffa. “We’ve had a lot of adoptions here lately, especially older cats. Dogs are high maintenance and have a lot of energy whereas cats are quieter and more mellow. Their personalities are already set which is great particularly for elderly individuals. The current trend is awesome. I’m so happy to see them going to good homes.”
At the Upper Valley Humane Society in Enfield, N.H., Executive Director Deborah Turcott related that, with what she calls “the conscientious nature of Vermont residents.”
“Compared to dogs, cats are more independent both from a care and personality perspective,” Turcott said.
Turcott said that, similar to Lucy MacKenzie, the UVHS has scheduled more adoptions within the last couple of years.
“We see more and more people who, because of lifestyle and circumstances, will look for a cat,” Turcott said. “In fact, overall, we have seen an increase in 2011 from 397 to in 2012, 581 adoptions, with cats representing 65-75 percent in a given month.”
Aside from the ease with which cats can be cared for and their adaptability to small or even commercial living spaces, local Vermonters simply enjoy their independence and mystique.
“They’re personable yet aloof at the same time,” said Barnard resident Jean Robert Ashley who owns two Maine coon cats. “They talk to you, they have quick responses. Having them is easy and convenient, and they require low maintenance. They’re so loveable and precious.”
Meg Carlton, owner of Tiger Tail Lodge LLC in Enfield, N.H., agreed.
“They have their own sense of self,” said Carlton who has a clientele of more than 200 individuals who use her facility for boarding. “Dogs often are in constant need of attention and when people are gone all day, they feel guilty. You don’t experience that with cats. They can take care of themselves.”
Perhaps the quintessential example of this self-sufficiency is reflected in the barn cat, a hearty breed that by its very nature feeds off the structure’s inherent vermin and remains liberated from the conventional domestic and often indoor member of its own species.
“We have four of them,” said stable hand and veterinary technician Anne Marie at the Kedron Valley Stables in South Woodstock. “We have a huge hayloft that they climb up and down and sleep in. They definitely keep the rodent population down, maybe not 100 percent, but we don’t see the numbers of mice and rats that we would if they weren’t there.”
Cody Palmer of the Doton Farm in Barnard said their barn cats follow a daily routine as a result of her introducing her two female domestic short hairs to the barn when they were only a few weeks old.
“They’re good mousers and ratters,” Palmer said. “As soon as they hear the milk machines go off and we stop milking, they’ll come running.”
Palmer, similar to many others, grew up with cats and so has another young feline in her own house who tends to be on the impish and comical side.
“She’s strictly a house cat,” Palmer said. “She snuggles with me in my bed, waits at the door and is there when I get home from work. She follows me around and even plays with our dog. At times, she even acts like a dog. She’ll get up on the table — even though she’s not supposed to — and will even go into the shower to explore after I get out.”
Barnard Town Constable Wes Hennig also comes from a long heritage of living with the furry felines.
“I’ve always had a cat since I was a little kid,” said Hennig who has a shy, long-haired stub tail female cat. “They’re great creatures. They’re smart and a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes they do some crazy stuff. You don’t have to take care of them as you would a dog but you do worry about them as much.”
Brenda Garsh, also of Barnard, concurred.
“If we go somewhere, we just need someone to come in,” said Garsh who owns a 9-year-old cat that one day suddenly appeared around her house and eventually was taken in by Garsh and her family. “They’re extremely independent.”
Aside from being easy to look after, transport and contain, cats are also inexpensive to feed, according to Cathy Peters, veterinarian technician and co-owner of Runamuck LLC in Woodstock who owns four Siamese, the youngest being a year-and-a-half and the oldest, 12 years.
“I love them because they’re like dogs,” Peters laughed. “They talk a lot and at times can be kind of naughty. They stay like kittens longer, too. When I’m downstairs cooking or doing chores, I can hear them zooming back and forth upstairs having fun.”
Another reason cats might be so popular, Peters added, is because of their longevity.
“Indoor cats usually live a nice long life which I speculate is another reason why people love having them,” said Peters. “They’re friendly and don’t require a lot of maintenance.”
Part of the reason for their long life, aside from living indoors instead of outside, Martin explained, is due to their upsurge in popularity over the last couple of decades.
“As cats have risen in status, so have the research dollars,” Martin said. “There is more money available for vaccinations, medical issues, and treating diseases as well as basic nutrition. The whole industry that supports pet products is seeing that there is money to be made which, in turn, only benefits the cat.”