Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Casper the Commuting Cat by Susan Finden

Casper the Commuting Cat: The True Story of the Cat who Rode the Bus and Stole our Hearts
By Susan Finden
Copyright 2010
Simon & Schuster UK - Nonfiction/Memoir
228 pages

I knew nothing about this particular cat of British "national celebrity" but saw the book at a reasonable price in a Tesco and, being a cat fanatic, decided it would be a fun vacation read. The subtitle gives you a good idea of Casper's favorite antic, riding on the No. 3 bus around Plymouth in England, on regular 11-mile journeys.

Casper was particular about bus lines and drivers and he regularly waited politely in the queues to board the bus, where he would nap or watch the passing scenery. Eventually, Casper become a favorite of both passengers - even some with allergies - and drivers of the First bus line. Because his story spread by word of mouth and then through the news, Casper became so well known that he became the bus line's mascot. Drivers and passengers did their best to see that Casper returned safely to the bus stop across from his home.

Casper the Commuting Cat tells about author Finden's history of cat ownership and love of cats, how Casper came to join her family and why he may have been prone to straying so far, as well as details of his rise to fame. It also tells about his tragic death, which is so sad I was really glad the cover blurb gave fair warning.

What I liked about Casper the Commuting Cat:

I liked reading about Casper's adventures and loved the photos of Casper and the author's other cats. I was also very impressed with the author's commitment to give older, unwanted cats homes rather than choosing the adorable kittens that are easy to place. In general, the book was a little awkwardly written but entertaining.

What I disliked about Casper the Commuting Cat:

The author is rather adamant about the fact that most cats simply cannot be convinced to stay indoors. I disagree. Provided plenty of playtime and attention, I've found that many cats are quite satisfied to stay indoors -- some are even afraid of the outdoors.

Please bear in mind that I used to have exactly the same mentality! I've had a big change of heart in recent years. Our little Sunshine was an indoor-outdoor cat for a time, simply because she felt obligated to go through a door if it was opened (and I thought I was required to let her do so). Spooky was always insistent about going out (my fault - I introduced her to the outdoors) and was injured not once but several times.

Eventually, Sunshine decided the Great Outdoors was scary and not worth the trouble. Both Sunshine's resistance to the outdoors and Spooky's injuries (two of them very serious) convinced me I needed to alter the way I looked at caring for valued pets. We decided in advance that our next cats would be indoors-only, after Miss Spooky's death. Fiona has been a little challenging, occasionally sneaking out but frightened enough of the unknown that she's never gone more than a few feet from the door. Isabel is simply curious and will look outside but bolt away from the door when I walk in or out.

Casper was apparently determined to go outside -- to the point of breaking windows and cat doors, so it's understandable that the author let him out when she left for work. If the alternative is frequently replacing broken windows, what do you do? But, I was frustrated that she was so insistent that most cats can't be kept indoors. She also said it's impossible to humanely restrain them outside. While I wouldn't do it myself, I've seen a cat humanely restrained in a fenced yard. She had a leash attached to a wire that ran the breadth of her yard. I would never restrain a cat in a yard with no fence, but I thought that was a brilliant idea and the cat seemed content. We saw that particular feline when we were house-hunting.

A mild sort-of rant:

Cats are vulnerable little creatures. Besides automobiles, there are other animals and humans who will harm cats, poisons they can get into, places they can get stuck, etc. It's not unusual for a small cat to curl up under the hood of a car, next to a warm engine. Car engines can be death traps. A lot of people think the new-fangled "catio" concept (enclosed patios specifically for cats, with things to climb on and play with, but screens to let in outdoor smells) are silly. But, if you truly love a pet and can afford such a thing? I think they're a terrific concept. I can't. But, if I had the money, I'd have a catio built for my little beasties, or a little playroom built into my garage. Having pets spayed or neutered also keeps them closer to home and happier, as well as keeping the unwanted pet population down, so I'm a huge advocate of spaying and neutering.

~~End of rant

The bottom line:

I enjoyed reading Casper the Commuting Cat, but it's not a favorite pet memoir because I am so strongly opposed to the author's opinion that a cat's desire to roam cannot be overcome. I just don't think that's necessarily true. Some cats are difficult to restrain but I don't think it's good to advocate giving them an option. I do, however, understand that Casper was an older cat who was set in his ways and it's certainly true that I have to work to keep my own little gals entertained. I've found that if you give them plenty of exercise and keep them well-fed, they're perfectly happy to "hunt" stuffed toys, a bird on a stick, a laser. It's the joy of the chase that they love if they're not hungry. Good reason to keep them indoors, away from our rapidly-dwindling songbird population.

A side note:

My hometown in Oklahoma has leash laws that are imposed on both dogs and cats. I was surprised when I found that out, but I think it's an excellent idea. Cats can do damage to property (particularly gardens - we've had a bit of trouble with neighborhood cats deciding our kitchen garden makes a lovely litter box) and they have a natural instinct to hunt. Running loose is also hazardous to their health. I'm impressed with my hometown.

In other news:

Well, actually, there is none. I'm in a mood to whip out reviews, so this is the third post I've written, today. Monday is a day off from my exercise program, so I suppose I'll get quieter as the week progresses and Rachel (our fearless exercise leader) slowly tries to kill me. I'm just going to go ahead and set this one to post mid-morning on Tuesday.

What's up with you? Read anything brilliant, lately?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I thought this sounded cute and like something I would love to read, so I was going to put it on my "books to get via ILL" list until you mentioned 1) the death (although I enjoyed the book about Dewey the library cat, the part with his death had me sobbing and sorely missing the cats I grew up with) and 2) the author's opinion about being able to keep cats indoors.

    My cat is curious about going outside, but mainly because she doesn't understand why the front door in the only door she's not allowed to go through. I have held her while standing outside my apartment, and she was stiff with nervousness the whole time.

    Also, sometimes what pets may want is not best for them. I hate seeing neighborhoods plastered with missing pet signs, because there is so often a good chance the pet has been run over, or eaten by something bigger and wilder. An outdoor cat I used to see from time to time had to forcibly be kept inside because he got into the habit of eating garbage, making himself sick. As he got older, the bouts of garbage-induced sickness were harder and harder for him to recover from. A coworker of mine took in a stray cat that was maimed by a coyote - after he healed up (forever three-legged, at that point), he never again showed a desire to leave the safety of her house.

    So, I'm firmly a "start them off as indoor cats" person. Cats that are used to being outdoors can have problems with the idea of staying indoors, but if they're indoor cats from the start there's usually no problem.

    I once checked out a book about cats that, for the most part, seemed to contain perfectly good information...until I got to a section in which the author said that it was overly restricting to keep a cat inside. The author felt that those who kept their cats inside were being overly protective. I turned the book back in and got something else.

  2. This sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for the review!

  3. Library Girl,

    That's exactly what I thought, that it would be cute but it was going to be awful reading about his death. And, the story of Casper was interesting, but she was just so very adamant that not some but most cats can't be kept indoors. I don't buy that. We eventually discovered that we could even keep Spooky indoors if we shook our keys before opening the door to go out (which always frightened her away) and kept a foot in front of the door as we entered. So, while I understand that Casper may have been a traveling cat in his early life and his window-breaking was enough to keep him from being a full-time indoor cat, I was really upset about her frequent comments that most cats can't be kept indoors.

    I agree, starting them out as indoors-only is the only way to keep them inside. Like you, I've occasionally carried Fiona outside and she is very, very tense. When she's managed to sneak past us, she's never gone far and she stayed low to the ground, terrified. All she really wants is to munch on the monkey grass, anyway, so sometimes I'll just bring in a handful and she eats it like lettuce. It's really cute.

    There are, unfortunately, a lot of pet owners who think neutering isn't worth the time, it's fine to just feed cats and leave them outdoors in spite of the risks (one friend of the family can list at least 20 cats her family has named but never let indoors -- all dead), even not getting shots for the pets they care for. I just don't get that. A pet is like a child. You feed them, protect them from illness and dangers, play with them and get their shots regularly. If you're not willing or able to do that, you shouldn't be a pet owner. I feel very strongly about that.

    And, not neutering is just cruel. So many, many animals are killed simply because there's nobody to adopt them. The author's pets are all neutered and otherwise well cared for, I should add. She adopts older cats knowing they may cost her a lot of money because of health problems, so there were certainly things to admire about the author, even if I strongly disagree with her indoor/outdoor philosophy.

    Obviously, I finished the book. I figured I'd spent the money on it and at the time I didn't have anything else to read (unless you count the ebooks on my iPad . . . but I was in the mood to hold a book in my hand). I don't think I'll be quite so quick to grab pet books off the shelf without reading a little about them, in the future, much as I love cat stories.

  4. My daughter would love the book. She is always interested in cats that do special things, and I think she would like this. I sent her a link to your review.

    We have 3 cats, and for the life of me, I can't let them outside. It's too scary out there, and not to mention hot. I worry that living by a main road, the cats will inadvertently wander out into the road and get hit. Though all three act like they would like to scoot out the door every time it's opened, the reality is that when they get out, they just sit around in the backyard basking in the sun. We have had a lot of posters up for missing cats in the neighborhood, and that also makes me want to keep the little furbabies inside. It's just too dangerous, and I would worry myself to death if they got out, so inside they stay. I don't think that making them exclusively indoor cats is a bad thing, and besides, if they go outside, they need to have vaccinations, which in some cases can give them cancer. I will take my chances with keeping them indoors, thanks.

  5. Kelly,

    It's pretty fun and unique. You don't hear about a cat riding a bus very often, after all! I loved the way the passengers and bus drivers fell in love with Casper and took care of him.


    It's definitely interesting! Casper is a beautiful cat, too. I forgot to mention that. He looks pretty on the cover but when I opened the photo pages, I gasped a little. His markings were just gorgeous.

    My girls get their vaccinations. I think some are still necessary but we're going to have to figure out what's making Fiona so sick and ditch that shot, whatever it is. I'm really nervous about getting her shots, next year, since she had such a bad reaction this time.

    Yeah, there are so many hazards outside! The heat here has always been enough to keep mine in during the hottest parts of the year, but we live on a road that has the feel of a roller coaster and people speed up as they get going. It's really dangerous. We had some neighbors who said they had two dogs land in their yard after being hit by passing vehicles in a single day. And, one of the neighborhood kitties died in front of our house, not long ago. I asked around but couldn't figure out who owned him. Nobody knew.

    Our Sunshine just basked in the sun when she was dying. I think the A/C was too cold for her. That was really the only time she wanted to go out - when she was sick. I went out with her because I knew how ill she was and I worried that she wouldn't return.

    Spooky was a bit of an explorer, though. She had a lot of run-ins with dogs, so I frequently had to coax her down out of trees. Honestly, it's just not worth the risk to have cats running around outside. I wish I could afford to build mine a catio, though!

  6. Anonymous2:46 PM

    I wouldn't be able to read this book just from your mention of the death!

    I like the idea of a cat riding a bus, but it is such a terribly bad idea. I, too, am a proponent for keeping cats indoors. I have taken cats out on leash before, but my cats seem to prefer it indoors. My 17 year old cat used to like hanging around outside on leash, but he doesn't enjoy it anymore. Our current four cats live happily indoors.

    One of our cats who passed away a few years ago really liked going outside up until the end of his life. When we took him in, he was an outdoor cat (declawed!) that someone abandoned. We made him an indoor cat, which didn't make him happy. Our compromise was to take him outside on leash from time to time.

  7. Readerofthepack,

    I can't say I blame you. It helped knowing in advance that the cat was hit by a car, but still . . . so, so sad. When I got to that point, I still had a terrible time getting through it. I had to put the book down for a bit and walk away.

    I've never taken a cat out on a leash, but I've considered it. Husband thinks if we do that, the cat's desire to go outdoors will grow stronger, but it sounds like that's not necessarily the case. Good to know. Right now, I think my cats are very happy to be inside a nice, air-conditioned house. Neither of them has been begging to go out since the heat hit. It's currently 96 degrees with a heat index of 119. Eeks! I'm staying in, too!

    Incidentally, I was just reading about how cruel declawing is. I didn't realize it involved basically amputating toes by a knuckle. Apparently, outlawing declawing is becoming a trend. My mother declawed her cat (both have since passed away - the cat just before the mother) and she let her cat outdoors. I thought she was nuts. She had no idea what killed the cat. One day Callie just came in from outdoors, curled up on the couch and died. She was only 7 years old.


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