If you love cats as much as we love cats (and something tells us that you do), then you’ll want to hear all about Katrina Donovan Fleming’s take on the book The Cats on My Block by Valerie Sicignano, illustrated by Jane Sayre Denny. Long live the cat lady!
Review by Katrina Donovan Fleming
Some people attract stray cats. I don’t know if there’s any science to it, but cats seem to sense where those people live. My mother is one of those people. The local Humane Society knows her on a first name basis, and they routinely come to her house to trap, neuter, treat, release, and sometimes adopt out the homeless kitties that frequent her yard.
Perhaps you are one of these cat beacons yourself. Or perhaps a neighbor has mentioned seeing a homeless cat meandering your neighborhood. If either is true, or if you just have a love of all things feline, you will likely find Valerie Sicignano’s picture book, The Cats on my Block, a useful tool for learning the basics about abandoned and feral cats, and how to best care for them. The book is written for children, but I was surprised to learn as much as I did.
The Cats on My Block takes place in New York City. Luke is visiting his friend Willow, and he is excited to see a cat walking by her apartment. Luke presumes that he can pet the animal, but Willow cautions him that the cat is feral and explains what that means. She takes Luke down the block to a well-kempt alleyway, where Willow’s neighbor Keith is the caretaker of a community of feral cats. Luke and Willow find Keith feeding and cleaning up after the animals, and monitoring their health. Luke examines the straw-insulated shelters that Keith has built for the cats – shelters that keep the cats and kittens warm and dry in the rain and snow. (I have got to make one of those for my mother’s yard.) Luke learns what TNR means – trap, neuter, and release – and how people can tell if a cat has already been treated.
What I found especially poignant about this book was the emphasis on each cat’s unique personality. As anyone with an animal in their life knows, every individual has a story. Once we learn this story, the plight of all the animals as a whole comes into sharper focus and their well-being becomes an imperative.
The book is also very well designed. The artwork is a wonderful collage of photos and painting, with most of the focus on the charming cats themselves. This design creates a very warm, funky, neighborhood feeling. In the back of the book is a “Glossary of Feral Catology” that explains some of the terms that might otherwise confuse young readers (like caregiver, feral cat, litter, neuter, socialize, spay, and vaccinate).
In an interview with CBS New York, author Sicignano shared that in New York City alone, there are about 15,000 managed colonies of cats. 15,000! That amounts to about 2.5 million cats total. Amazingly, the Humane Society of New York has about 6,000 volunteers working on TNR in the five city boroughs. And their hard work is paying off – the numbers of cats in shelters is decreasing every year, as fewer kittens are being born to feral cats. If you buy this book, one hundred percent of the profits go the Humane Society of New York’s Feral Cats Spay/Neuter Program, which will help them continue the incredible progress they have made.
Here are some additional ways that you can make a difference in these cat communities:
- In addition to buying the book for yourself, buy it for the young ones in your life. Or donate copies to your community/school library or a child’s classroom.
- Donate to the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, and check out the video that Our Hen House made highlighting their work, entitled “Architects for Animals.”
- Become a TNR volunteer. If you live in the New York City area, you can attend a free TNR workshop.
- Volunteer to foster and/or socialize cats and kittens.
- Share TNR literature with your neighbors.
- If you live outside of the New York City area, contact your local Humane Society to find similar opportunities in your community.
As an elementary school teacher, I’m looking forward to sharing The Cats on my Block with my incoming fourth graders this September. Kids are natural animal-nurturers, and books like this model concrete steps for becoming better advocates for them.
Katrina Donovan Fleming is a writer, teacher, artist, gardener, and returned Peace Corps volunteer who became vegan almost four years ago at the tender age of 40. She lives just outside of Boston with her husband, dog and cat, and writes a blog called Suburban Snow White, where she muses on creating and enjoying an animal-friendly life. She has also previously contributed to Vegbooks. A professionally trained flutist, Katrina now dabbles in banjo, a development likely inspired by Kermit.