Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Cemetery Cats

Cats make themselves at home in graveyards for a variety of reasons, both practical and -- maybe -- supernatural

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

During a recent stroll through La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I spied one of the resting ground’s residents. Not a ghost or zombie, but clearly a permanent resident: a cat curled up in front of one of the mausoleums.

What is it about cats and cemeteries? Cats have made homes in them around the world. Cimetiere des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (otherwise known as the Paris pet cemetery) isn’t just a resting place for deceased pets. Feral cats wend their way through tombstones or nap inside crypts, one of which has little cat-shaped entrances (or are they exits for kitty ghosts?). Inside a small building, living cats can find shelter and food, and water flows from a fountain.

At Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, feral cats snooze among the stars -- movie stars, that is -- enjoying food, water and shelter provided by cemetery management.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo is located in an area known as “cat town.” Community cats greet cemetery visitors and are cared for by volunteers.

Cats hang out at the graves of rock star Jim Morrison and French writer Colette -- a noted cat lover -- as well as at many other burial spots in Paris’ Pere Lachaise. They even have their own Facebook page, the Cats of Pere Lachaise.

Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the Protestant Cemetery, has a managed colony of feral and stray cats. Perhaps they’re admirers of one of the cemetery’s other residents, English Romantic poet John Keats, who penned the sonnet “To Mrs. Reynolds’ Cat.”

Your own local cemeteries likely house a clowder of cats. When you think about it, cemeteries have a lot of appeal for felines: They’re quiet, with little traffic, and offer shelter from the elements. Tombs make a nice vantage point -- it’s easy to see the approach of other animals or humans from the top of one -- or serve as a launchpad into a tree. Grassy lawns or stone markers warmed by the sun are a pleasant place to catnap. If meals aren’t provided by volunteers, mice, squirrels and rabbits probably provide good hunting. There’s little risk from dogs or other predators, and plenty of hiding places if necessary.

“Cemeteries are quiet, and the cats are under no threat there,” says Luz Damron, author of the upcoming memoir “The Cat Lady of Baltimore,” the story of her struggles to help keep stray cats safe.

Veterinary behaviorist Wailani Sung, at San Francisco SPCA, agrees. “I would suspect it is due to lower risks from predators and disturbance from human population,” she says. “Most cemeteries are quiet and fenced off, so it is similar to being in a rural setting amid an urban environment.”

And who knows? Cats may feel at home in cemeteries because of their long association with transformation and the afterlife. In Finnish mythology, cats escorted the souls of the dead to the underworld. Celtic mythology has cats guarding the gates to the otherworld. Babylonians believed a benevolent cat accompanied the souls of priests to the afterlife. A Greek myth tells of a servant bold enough to trick the goddess Hera. She was punished by being turned into a cat and sent to the underworld to serve Hecate, goddess of restless spirits and entranceways. In Thailand, it was said that the souls of kings who died passed into the body of a Siamese cat so that the former king could appear at the coronation of his successor.

Whether cemetery cats are communing with the spirits, exercising their role as spirit guides, or simply enjoying the good life in surroundings populated by the dead, they are a living reminder of the millennia-old bond between cats and humans -- even beyond the veil.

Q&A

How to head

off pet fears

Q: With Halloween coming up, I’m worried about how my puppy will react to scary decorations, especially the giant inflatable spiders and skeletons. How should I prepare her for them or react if she seems frightened?

A: Fear of strange objects isn’t unusual in puppies, especially if it’s something that is large and meant to be frightening. And puppies can even be taken aback by less threatening seasonal items, such as bags of leaves, if they’ve never seen them before. They may freeze in place, try to hide behind you or bark ferociously at the scary thing.

You’re on the right track to try to tackle this potential fear before it grabs ahold of your pup. Your own attitude can make a big difference in how she responds. If your dog sees that you aren’t afraid of this strange new thing, she’ll take her cue from you.

Be both confident and nonchalant as you and your dog walk toward the object. If your dog puts on the brakes, sit or kneel in front of the item yourself and just wait quietly. Don’t try to coax her. Once she sees that you’re not afraid and that you haven’t been incinerated by the inflatable dragon, she’s likely to approach on her own, although still cautiously. Give lots of praise and have plenty of treats in your pockets to hand out as rewards.

Teaching your dog to investigate new things at her own pace is a smart way to familiarize her with new places, things and even people in uniforms or costumes. Reward any sign of interest, such as looking at or touching an item. Learning to check out an item this way will increase your dog’s confidence in any situation and help to ensure that she’s not afraid of new things in the future. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

DNA tells story

behind blue eyes

-- Siberian huskies are known for their striking blue eyes, and researchers may have discovered the source of the trait, thanks to dog DNA testing. A study published earlier this month in the open-access journal PLOS Genetics looked at a panel of more than 6,000 genetically tested dogs whose owners provided phenotypic (appearance) information such as eye color about their pets. They found that a duplication on canine chromosome 18 was strongly associated with blue eye color in Siberian huskies, as well as with blue eye color in non-merle Australian shepherds. Scientists at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine partnered with dog DNA company Embark to make the discovery. In a blog post, senior scientist Aaron Sams wrote, “While more work will need to be done to figure out exactly how this duplication leads to the development of blue eyes, we think that this duplication may disrupt the process by which pigment is deposited in the iris of the eye during development.”

-- The demand for veterinary specialists such as radiologists, cardiologists and more is outstripping supply, according to a report earlier this month in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. In highest demand are internal medicine, surgery and emergency and critical care specialists, but more veterinary ophthalmologists, dermatologists and dentists are needed as well.

-- It’s not too late to celebrate Adopt-A-Dog Month, sponsored by the American Humane Association; Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, sponsored by the ASPCA; National Animal Safety and Protection Month; National Pet Wellness Month; National Pit Bull Awareness Month; National Service Dog Month; and on October 29, National Cat Day. Ways to mark the occasions include adopting a pet; volunteering time at a shelter; handing out information about pet care, health or adoptions to friends, family and neighbors; and sharing profiles of adoptable pets on social networks. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.