'Lost Cat': Do we ever really know our pets?
Caroline Paul thought she knew her cats inside out – until one went missing and came back revitalized. She and illustrator (and partner) Wendy MacNaughton tell the story of their journey into the life of their cat.
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I don’t think that we expected this. This conversation has become one of the most heated debates around the book. So it’s good that this conversation is being had.Skip to next paragraph
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Q. For me, the central question of your book is an unsettling one. What do you think: Can we ever really know our pets?
Caroline: I’m very clear about that by the end [of the book]. I’ve been an animal lover and owner all my life. I’ve always had this bond and it was my instinct that I knew [my animals] very well.
And then Tibby disappeared. He was, as I say in the book, the shy and skittish one who couldn’t survive the urban jungle. And he didn’t like people and was not food-motivated and loved only me. And when he came back after five and a half weeks fat and happy I was disoriented.
I was already disoriented obviously from my accident and being on painkillers. But this turmoil rolled me upside down again. This relationship, that I was so sure of, turned out to be so different. So he was now the swashbuckling adventurer. I really did think I would find out more about him through this quest, that by putting on all this technology and searching, that somehow that would answer who he really was. But of course in the end it doesn’t.
I don't think that we really know our animals. We think we do because we’re humans and we think we can control things like that. We don’t know anybody that we love. It could be a girlfriend or a cat. I think we just have to be at peace with that.
Q. Wendy, was there a point when you became a cat person? Were you calmer about the search for Tibby or was there a point at which you became as deeply invested as was Caroline?
Wendy: To be blunt I think that there were times when I was MUCH calmer. I think toward the beginning of this whole adventure, to be honest, it was more about my caring about what Caroline was going through and her recovery. The cats were a little bit secondary. But they definitely grew on me and then of course I became more involved in the investigation. When Caroline sent me out to walk all over the neighborhood [to look for Tibby], I became more invested. Then when he came back, with every little piece of information we gathered I guess that I fell deeper and deeper in love with cats.
Q. Tibby and Fibby have since passed on and you now have two new cats. Is it a different experience?
Wendy: It is for me, because they are my babies. I love these cats so much. The whole experience with Tibby kind of cracked my heart open to loving animals.
Caroline: These cats have very different personalities. That’s another thing I learned, that each animal has a very distinct personality. [The new cats] wander the neighborhood night and day but they love me when they come back. I’m sure of that. I’m less certain about the uncertainties and I’m okay with that.