Saturday 27 November 2010

Victorian Veterinarians - a Woeful Reputation!

I have two addictions – cats and reading and so ‘reading about cats’ is a natural consequence. I recently picked up a fascinating book by Charles Henry Ross. Written in 1868 ‘The Book of Cats – a Chit-chat Chronicle of Feline Facts and Fancies.’ Packed with observations on all things cattish, in one chapter the author touches on health care and veterinarians. 

Being a veterinarian myself, I read this sage advice with a wry smile:

‘In giving a cat the scrapings of dirty plates, it is as well, if you value the animal’s life, to the fish bones, should there be any among the leavings.’

Mr Ross goes on to describe the trauma to pet and owner of a fish bone getting stuck, something he had first hand experience of. Whilst staying with a lady friend, her cat suffered for three days from a stuck fish bone, refusing all food and not even able to lap. Eventually, at her wits end, the owner called on the help of a veterinarian.

‘At last someone suggested seeking the aid of a veterinary surgeon whose dignity seemed just a little bit ruffled by being called in for a Cat, and who, when he did come, did not bring his instruments with him. Nevertheless, he found out what was wrong and forcing open the Cat’s jaws, put in his finger to loosen what he called a fish bone.’

Alas, this woeful lack of regard for the feline species amongst 19th century veterinarians, seems to be the norm rather than the exception, as illustrated in this passage from Hugh Lofting’s famous novel, ‘The Story of Doctor Do-Little.’

‘It happened one day that the Doctor was sitting in his kitchen talking with the Cat’s Meat Man who had come to see him with a stomach ache.
“Why don’t you give up being a people’s doctor and be an animal doctor?” Asked the Cat’s Meat Man.
“But there are plenty of animal-doctors.” John Do-Little replied.
“But you see Doctor,” the Cat’s Meat Man went on, ‘you know all about animals much more than what these here vets do.”
“Yes, there are plenty,’ said Polynesia (the parrot) “but none of them any good at all.”

What a lamentable reputation the veterinary profession had then! But did you also notice the reference to the Cat’s Meat Man? Intriguing…and the subject of a post on another occasion….

Sunday 21 November 2010

Purr Power.

Purr Power.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Russian scientists undertook research into reducing the healing time of injured elite athletes. Researchers discovered that vibrations of certain frequencies did accelerate the repair of damaged muscle and decreased joint swelling and pain - by stimulating the body to produce endogenous non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds.

Is it a coincidence that the frequency of a cat’s purr falls within this critical range? Further research showed that vibrations in the region of 25 – 50 Hz can increase bond density, speed up fracture healing and increase measurable bone strength by up to 20%. Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, a researcher in bioacoustics, measured the purr frequency of various felid species from cheetahs to domestic cats. She found they ranged from 20 to 140 Hz with the average house cat clocking in at 25 – 50 Hz – which makes the good old moggie the perfect companion for people suffering from osteoporosis!

There are many legends associating cats with the ability to heal. The Japanese believed a black cat could relieve spasms if placed on the patient’s stomach, and could also cure epilepsy and melancholia.

Scottish folklore tells that fur and blood drawn from a cats, could treat all ailments. For example;
‘Blindness:  take the head of a black cat, burn it to ashes in an earthenware pot, then blow these ashes into the affected eye three times a day from a goose quill.’
 Cat skin was also a remedy for burns. The Dutch believed that wearing the pelt of a freshly skinned cat would cure inflammation of the skin, whilst draping a cat across the shoulders of the afflicted was a certain cure for arthritis.

Venturing further back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and the cat goddess ‘Bastet’ who possessed the ability to heal. Artefacts exist bearing the inscription ‘Bastet – the nurse’ showing an engraving of a cat. The Egyptians put such faith in Bastet’s healing power that households would have a small statue of this regal feline as a talisman to ward off the evil spirits that caused ill health. The equivalent much less elegant, old English tradition was to cut off a black cat’s tail and bury it beneath the doorstep – thus protecting the inhabitants from sickness.
However, it seems not all pets are beneficial for health. An NHS review into reasons for hospital admissions (2002) highlighted interesting statistics. Out of nearly one million people admitted, rat bites accounted for twenty-two whilst one enterprising individual (in England, don’t forget!) went to the trouble of being bitten by a crocodile!
Me? Cant go wrong with cats!


Sunday 14 November 2010

Feline Fables.

Feline Fables  

     Fables were commonly used in the middle Ages, to teach people with little access to education the rudiments of right and wrong. The storyteller used quirky tales that featured talking animals to hold the attention of his audience.
Credited to a 13th century English preacher, Odo of Cheriton, warns to: 
Expect nothing if a promise is obtained unfairly –
‘A cat came across a mouse that had fallen into a jug of beer. Unable to scramble up the smooth sides of the vessel, the mouse was in danger of drowning. After some bargaining the cat agreed to rescue the mouse from certain death. He set the condition that the mouse must come back to the him, when called. This  promise extracted,  the cat scooped up the mouse with a paw and set  her back on solid ground. The mouse scampered away to the safety of her nest.
  A while later the same cat called in this debt of honour. Fearing she would be eaten the mouse refused to join him. Her reason being:
‘A promise is worthless if gained under pressure - AND I was drunk at the time!’’

The story of ‘Belling the cat’ originates from Europe and warns:
‘It’s easier to have a good idea than to put it into action. 
‘Belling the Cat,’ goes like this –
A family of mice shared a rambling, old house with a cat. Sadly for the mice, the cat was a gifted hunter and frequently caught one of their numbers for his supper. Their colony dwindling in size, the mice decided to call a council of war and  work out how best to deal with their problem. After much argument, a young mouse stood up and announced he had the perfect solution. He suggested attaching a noisy bell to the cat, so that they would hear him approach and get time to run away.  All murmured approval except for one wise old mouse, who asked -
 ‘ But who is willing to attach the bell to the cat?’

      The various animals were carefully selected for their human characteristics, for example; a bull for strength, horse for pride, lion for boldness and a cat for cunning. Cats were a commonly accepted short hand to show cleverness or mischief, as shown by Caxton writing in 1484;

‘The devil plays with a sinner, like a cat does with a mouse.’

And finally: ‘ The Cat and the Cockerel.’
A cat caught a cockerel and pondered on a reasonable excuse for eating him.  He
accused the cockerel of being a nuisance, crowing every morning and disturbing
the farmer’s wife sleep. The cock defended himself well and replied that if it wasn’t for his crowing, the farmer wouldn’t be up in time each day, to complete his work. After a short hesitation the cat responded,
‘Although a good explanation, if I was to accept it, I would remain hungry.’
 Without further ado, the cat ate the cockerel.
The message? Justification is nice but not essential!

A clear conscience leads to a restful night's sleep!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

The New Covey Book Trailer Awards!

I'm thrilled to announce that the book trailer for 'A Dead Man's Debt' has been entered for the New Covey Book Trailer Awards.
To view this evocative trailer, as well as the other entries, please visit:

Should you wish to vote for 'A Dead Man's Debt' , the trailer is number 4 on the list.
Many thanks,
Grace x

Sunday 7 November 2010

'Familiar Felines' - cats and witchcraft.

  A Norse legend, tells that Freya, the goddess of love and fertility, rode in a chariot pulled by two black cats. The latter were actually her swift horses that had been possessed by the devil. The cats served Freya well for seven years, and at the end of this time were rewarded by being turned into witches – disguised as cats!

     Centuries old insecurities led the cat to be labelled as the witch’s familiar. The Hungarians even specified that this happened at seven years of age – the cat could be spared this fate by incising a crucifix into its skin before it reached this significant age.    

     So great was the association of cats with witchcraft in 15th century Europe that they became synonymous as a symbol of evil. Scotland had its own sinister cat, the Cait Sith or Highland Fairy Cat. More a demon than a fairy, this monstrous black and white animal with a spot on his chest, was said to be a transformed witch.

     Pope Innocent VIII legalised the persecution of witches, and as a result many women who kept cats were tortured. The hysteria spread, encouraged in the name of ‘casting out the devil.’ When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, some protestants staged a mocking ceremony of this superstition, by filling a wicker dummy of the Pope with cats, which they threw onto a bonfire. The screams of the cats was said to be,
‘The language of the devil from the body of the Holy Father.’
This sick cycle continued with Catholics shaving the heads of cats, to represent protestant friars, before hanging the poor animals.

Next week - More Cat-tales from history.