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A CAT NAMED DARWIN by William Jordan


How a Stray Cat Changed a Man into a Human Being

by William Jordan

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2002
ISBN: 0-395-98642-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

A nature writer’s transforming encounter with a stray cat, described in a perfectly pitched account that nicely balances sentiment and science.

In his mid-40s, a self-employed bachelor who enjoyed his freedom, Jordan (Divorce Among the Gulls, not reviewed) was a self-confessed dog person. But then a cat entered his life and, as he observes, stole his heart. Called Darwin in homage to the great biologist, the animal imparted lessons not only about cats, but about humans and life itself. As he describes his encounters with Darwin and the fabric of their evolving relationship, Jordan also traces the evolutionary biological changes that differentiate cats from humans, cats’ genetic inheritance (their remarkable geographic sense and spatial awareness), and the difference between wild and domesticated cats. (The latter live in prolonged kittenhood, dependent on others for affection and food.) Jordan first saw Darwin lying near his apartment block’s trashcans and impulsively leaned down to stroke the unkempt orange tabby. In typical cat fashion, he purred and then bit Jordan’s hand. Instead of being angry, the bemused author found himself buying cat food and feeding Darwin, who quickly persuaded Jordan to let him come indoors. Soon, the author ruefully admits, he was in a relationship with a cat: talking to Darwin, using endearments, missing him when away. A checkup at the vet revealed that the cat had feline leukemia and the prognosis was uncertain. In the year that followed, Jordan battled to save Darwin, and though the fight was ultimately lost, he was surprised by “an unexpected sense of self-worth” gained by taking care of his pet. Grieving, he lists the things he learned from Darwin: respect and love of life; the value of loyalty and commitment; the fact that the human mind is “is meant to embrace others.”

A perceptive and intelligent tribute to man’s other best friend.