Today is the first of Elul on the Jewish calendar. It is both the start of the period of introspection leading up to the High Holy Days, and the "New Year for Animals" (see my previous post.) So I thought this would be a good time to review a new animal art book, CAT SAYINGS: wit & wisdom from the whiskered ones by Bradford G. Wheler. I savored this book on Shabbat afternoon the way I feel it should always be read, relaxing on the couch with three of my furry-purry feline friends curled up with me.
The book features full-color works by 60 different artists from 9 different countries. Some are full time professional artists, others are hobbyists, but all share a love of animals and, in a myriad different styles and media, have captured the beauty, mystery, love and whimsy of the cat. Add to this the wonderful collection of quotes about cats, and you have a book to treasure and savor for years to come.
A few of my favorite quotes are:
"A black cat crossing your path signifies the animal is going somewhere" -- Groucho Marx
"A kitten is the rosebud in the garden of the animal kingdom" -- Robert Southey
"I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it" -- Abraham Lincoln
That last quote was a new one to me, and especially precious, because I have been involved in animal welfare for many years, and am currently planning, with my friend and co-writer Richard H. Schwartz, to develop a curriculum resource book for the New Year for Animals.
As I have written on this blog before, many Jews, especially among the Orthodox, are cut off from nature and animals. As a community, we suffer from a severe case of "nature deficit disorder," often oblivious to the beauty of God's creation. And this in spite of the many beautiful Jewish teachings about the humane treatment of animals in the Torah and writings of our Sages -- which, sadly, often go unstudied. So I agree with Lincoln: If religion does not teach us to treat our animals better, of what use is it?
And I was not surprised to read that Napoleon, Hitler, and Alexander of Macedonia all hated cats. You just can't order a cat around, they are independent thinkers who can't be dictated to. As Mark Twain is quoted on page 8: "Of all God's creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat." I'm not sure if cats are the only independent animal species, but they certainly don't kowtow to humans.
Quite a few of the artists included in this book are also animal activists, many of whom donate part of their proceeds to animal shelters and various wildlife causes. The author has included biographies of all the artists in the back of the book, along with contact info and web addresses where you can view more of their work and, of course, buy it.
I also got a chuckle out of this quote from Ernest Hemmingway: "One cat just leads to another," because we currently have 12 cats and no, I'm not hoarding them. Several of them are rescues who wandered into our farm when so many homes were foreclosed around here a while back. I suspect their owners abandoned them and, as my wife would say, I'm a cat magnet. Some people are horse whisperers, I'm a cat whisperer. So we end up with a lot of stray cats who wheedle their way into my heart. I'll close with this quote from Garrison Keillor, also cited in CAT SAYINGS: "Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function." Some things just are.
CAT SAYINGS is available from amazon.com (this link benefits this blog) or directly from the publisher at BookCollaborative.com