Sunday, November 5, 2023

Q&A with Sarah Brown


Photo by Alice Brown


Sarah Brown is the author of the new book The Hidden Language of Cats: How They Have Us at Meow. An expert on cat behavior, she has been a cat behavior counselor, a consultant for the cat toy industry, and a researcher for animal charities. She lives in London.


Q: What inspired you to write this book?


A: Cats so often get described as cool, aloof or uncommunicative, particularly when people compare them to dogs, and I’ve always thought this was a bit unfair! Cats actually have a lot to say, they just have a different, more subtle style of communication than people or dogs!


So, I decided to write a book that delves into all the amazing scientific discoveries of how cats communicate with each other and with humans.  I hope it will encourage people to step back and take a closer look at the cats in their lives, and to work out how best to interact with them.


Q: Professor and writer Sean Carroll said of the book, “Sarah Brown’s delightful book will help you better understand what our feline friends are trying to say, while appreciating how much remains mysterious.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love this description! While I wanted readers to enjoy learning more of what we know about cat communication, I hoped too that the book would highlight that we still have so much more to discover about cats, some of which may always remain a well-kept cat secret!


Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about cats?


A: People often think that a cat’s coat colour predicts its personality. For example, tortoiseshell/calico cats are often described as being a bit feisty, having “tortie-tude” and they get called “naughty torties.” 

And black cats have a hard time getting adopted because of old associations with bad luck or evil. There does not seem to be any scientific basis to these associations though.


Also, owners often get annoyed when their cats scratch on surfaces in the home and describe it as “problem” behavior. But scratching is a really important natural behavior for cats - it helps maintain claw health and cats also have scent glands between their toes, so when they scratch they leave behind a scent signal. 


Providing them with an appropriate surface on which to scratch, such as a good sturdy scratching post, allows them to express this natural behavior.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between cats and humans?


A: The journey cats have made with humankind over time has been something of a roller coaster, with the dynamic constantly changing.


Cats were valued as pest controllers by early farmers, adored and worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, persecuted and killed in the Middle Ages, and then gradually appreciated once more as adaptable and wonderful companions.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve not started a new project yet, I’m just enjoying seeing the book finished and out in the world!


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Yes! Whenever possible let cats start interactions with you rather than the other way around. The interaction will probably last longer if you do!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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