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A catalog of cats for those cat people we know

“Alpha Cat” original drawings by Gabriella Gallerani, text by Paola Gallerani (Officina Libraria, 128 pages, $24.95)

Are you a cat person? A dog person? None of the above? Or do you love them all? I’m a cat guy who also adores dogs. We live with seven cats and a dog. Our cat Whisky is the household’s respected alpha cat. We all accept that he is the boss. Even our dog does.

When I was a young lad I delivered the Des Moines Tribune. A cat that lived along my paper route would follow me each afternoon from house to house. That was my first adventure in cat magnetism. Somehow cats seem to know intuitively when you are one of their people.

I just read the book “Alpha Cat.” This impressive coffee table volume contains depictions and tales of exotic cat breeds. These are laid out in alphabetical order. There are numerous gorgeous and precise drawings of cats. The illustrator, Gabriella Gallerani, has been creating scientific illustrations for 40 years.

Our house cats turned up as strays, mostly, mixed breeds with faint traces of some possibly more distinguished ancestry. Whisky is the one exception. He was our former neighbor’s cat. I knew that he was an exotic breed. There’s a picture in “Alpha Cat” that looks just like him.

“Alpha Cat” reveals that Whisky is a Maine Coon: “this was the first natural long-haired breed to appear in the United States - in Maine - and one theory of its origin goes back to 1770. Its tabby coat and long bushy tail erroneously led some people to believe it was a cross between a cat and a raccoon.”

When you have as many cats as we do there’s a recurring problem; when a new cat turns up we have to decide what to name him. (I’m sorry to report that all seven cats are males at the moment). We have Whisky, Scamp, Bert, Momo, Lazzy, Toby, and Buddy.

The next time we need to come up with a feline moniker I’ll be referring to “Alpha Cat.” The book opens with T.S. Eliot’s precious

poem: “The Naming of Cats.” That’s followed by the 300+ names of historical alpha cats and their accompanying stories. Some of these cat tales are very entertaining. Here are some favorites:

“Dandelion, the kleptomaniac cat of Sara Peacock, from Spotwood, New Zealand, who discovered that her cat was responsible for a spate of local burglaries. Over the course of two years Dandelion stole more than 700 items from their neighbors, displaying a particular penchant for socks.”

“The Great Mr. Thomas, the magnificent tabby of the British painter Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942), the latter referred to by his friends as “Old Pussy Steer” because of his love of cats. Mr. Thomas had his own armchair across from Steer, and, if a guest happened to sit in it, the cat would stare at him with “revolted patience until Steer would finally explain, ‘I’m afraid you are sitting in Mr. Thomas’s chair.’”

Are you in this category? A cat lover? This exquisite book, printed in Italy, is a work of art. It might make a purr-fect present for all those cat people we know.

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