Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob is a 2016 feature film based on the bestselling book by James Bowen. While it's well produced, it plays a bit like a made for TV Lifetime movie. The film is based on the true story of Bowen's climb out of the gutter with the help of a ginger tom cat called Bob. While the no holds barred true version straight from Bowen's pen is presented in his bestselling book of the same name, the film version is somewhat whitewashed. As far as I can tell, this was done for the sake of easier storytelling and to broaden the appeal of the feature.

The story revolves around Bowen, played by Luke Treadaway, and his fight with heroin addiction and homelessness on the streets of London. After years of struggling alone, the presence of a generous social worker, here played by Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt, and the titular cat help him to realize that he has more to live for than his next fix. The film is harmless enough but it never really opens up any of the characters beyond what's needed by the very basic plot.

All of the performances are sound, not the least of which is Bob's. He's given star billing and we're expected to believe that the real Bob is the only cat we see in the movie. He isn't. The crew used a cadre of lookalike stunt-cats alongside the real feline star in order to get all the shots they needed.

Make no mistake - this film, though it is based on Bowen's true story, includes a lot of fabricated elements to try and force it to conform to the warm-hearted, rags-to-riches plot it so desperately wants to embody. In that regard, the film is entirely predictable.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bowen's very honest account in his 2012 book. I enjoyed the film less, and only partially because of the watered-down tone. Any time a cat is used on set, I cringe a little. I've worked on film sets myself so I know how impatient people can be when time is running short. It's no place for an animal, least of all a cat. 

Worse yet is the film's portrayal of James feeding Bob nothing but human food from the corner store. He's shown giving Bob milk, tuna, and other canned fish products along with what looks like a little bit of dry kibble. While most cats will gladly eat canned tuna, it lacks many of the nutrients they require, especially taurine. If James was still feeding Bob this inadequate diet, I've no doubt that Bob would not have survived. The fact that this is never mentioned in the film shows just how cat-unfriendly the production really is.

While I have no doubt that James Bowen loves Bob and cares for him as well as he can, the fact remains that Bowen, his publishers and the producers of the film are all exploiting Bob's popularity for money. There are now several Bob books, including a children's book (which begins with Bob's elderly caregiver dying - another convenient omission from the film), a Christmas book, and a sequel to the original bestseller. If this adds to people's love of cats, I'm all for it, but I know that Bob really only cares about being safe and warm and fed with his human. Fortunately, books don't require Bob's presence, but this film did.

The Real Bowen and Bob

The Real Bowen and Bob

Rather than a rags-to-riches story, I'd have preferred the filmmakers focus on Bowen's awakening to the fact that Bob is a sentient being who isn't that different from all us other mammals. That's the part of the story that's present in the book but is missing from the film.

A Street Cat Named Bob is a harmless enough entertainment, albeit a shallow one. It's just too bad that's all it is.

Review: Pet Fooled

If you pay any attention to pet food labels (and you should), you know what a mix of information and hyperbole they are. Even the most diligent consumers can quickly become overwhelmed by the maze of misinformation that's put out there by the big pet food brands. Add in the fact that most of these are owned and operated by just a handful of huge conglomerates and you have a real mess.

Pet Fooled is a documentary that challenges the status quo and tells it like it is. No matter how many pretty pictures of happy animals they put on their packages, most pet food companies are selling garbage and telling us that it's the best thing to feed our furry family members. In essence, they're lying to all of us, and it's high time they were called on it.

That's not to say that all pet food is bad. It isn't. There are some conscientious companies out there (see THIS POST for our top recommendations and links to some great resources). If there's a shortcoming to this documentary, it's that not enough good alternatives are specified. That's a minor nit, but a genuine cause for concern when you've spent the bulk of your short 70 minute running time telling us just how bad the situation is. Most consumers want to know what their best options are in spite of the misleading pet food manufacturers' claims.

The film, written and directed by Kohl Harrington, is well produced and features veterinary noteworthies Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Barbara Royal, along with activist Susan Thixton of truthaboutpetfood.com and others. They all have very important insights into the pet food industry and I feel it's important for more people to hear them. The only way commercial pet foods will change is if people change their buying habits.

Pet Fooled is a fantastic first step for many consumers. It's that first ray of light in the darkness. The second step is up to you. Do your research and pick the best foods you can afford. After all, your feline friends are depending on you!

Review: The Lion in Your Living Room

There are lots of documentaries about cats but there are very few that truly focus on what we know, and don't know, about our feline companions.  The Lion in your Living Room is one of the best.  If I had to give someone a crash course on cats in less than an hour, this is what I'd show them.

The 50 minute show, recently added to Netflix, covers a lot of territory in a short time.  The documentary begins with basic cat physiology and also covers dietary needs, communication skills, and territoriality.  There's also a very good section on the evolution of the domestic cat and the ways in which the species became companions to humans.

If there is an omission, it's the lack of a clear argument for the trap-neuter-return (TNR) solution to feral cat overpopulation.  It's mentioned briefly, but there's nothing about ear-tipping spayed and neutered ferals.  While I understand that this isn't the primary focus of the show, it's important to communicate this symbol to the public at large so that they know these ear-tipped ferals have been "fixed".

What's most impressive about the show is the way in which it illustrates how cats view our world.  It's probably the most important insight a cat caregiver can have.  While not all cats behave the same, they all share perceptive abilities and biological needs that are quite different from our own.  The better we understand these differences, the better we'll be at fulfilling the needs of our furry housemates.

The Lion in Your Living Room was written, directed, and produced by Daniel and Donna Zuckerbrot for their Reel Time Images Productions and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2015.  It's exceptionally well shot and edited and it contains a wealth of valuable information in an entertaining package.  Very highly recommended!

When Shouldn't You Adopt a Cat?

Sometimes a cat is better off not being adopted.  Does that sound crazy to you?  Well, consider this:  Most cats aren't given adequate veterinary care by their caregivers.  Cats under the age of 10 should visit the vet at least once a year for a checkup.  Cats over 10 should go every six months.  And yet, most cat caregivers let the health of their feline friends slide.

These are some of the most popular reasons given by well-intentioned people, and our usual responses:

  • My cat hates it.
    • We all need things that we don't like.  Even cats.  Your cat won't hate you afterwards, but she could live in pain or die without good medical treatment.
  • I can't afford it.
    • A cat can't pay the veterinarian by herself.  She needs your help.  If you don't have the resources to provide adequate care, you shouldn't adopt.
  • My cat seems okay.
    • Cats are excellent at hiding their pain.  It's a survival instinct.  No cat wants you to know that they're sick or injured.  You need regular veterinary visits to make sure they're okay.
  • My vet charges too much.
    • There are a large variety of veterinary practices out there.  Yes, some are very expensive, but many are reasonable.  We know a good vet in Los Angeles who only charges $35 for an office visit.  There are also mobile clinics in larger metro areas that charge even less.  Do your homework.  Observe your feline friend closely and make notes about any behavior changes before bringing your cat in to save time.
    • If you can't afford reasonable veterinary care for your cat, you shouldn't have adopted.  If you have to give him up to get him the care he needs, then do so.  It sounds harsh,. but your cat's life may hang in the balance.
  • My vet's not good with cats.
    • We hear this one from time to time and it's puzzling.  We shouldn't require that our veterinarians love our cats.  We can handle that part.  We need them to provide adequate diagnostic and medical care.  If they have a gruff demeanor after a day spent dealing with difficult pet "parents", cut them some slack.  A veterinary hospital isn't a kitty day spa.
    • If your vet is truly behind the times with diagnosing cat problems, you have two choices.  1. Find another vet.  2. Help them by doing your own research into issues.  This can be a mine field online, but books like Anitra Frazier's The Natural Cat can certainly be good resources.

These are excuses, not reasons.  If you agree to adopt a cat, you also agree to look out for that cat's well being.  That includes regular vet visits and necessary medical care should the need arise.  If you don't have the resources to cover the costs of these needs, you really should not adopt a cat.  Doing so would be selfish!

Review: KitNipBox Subscription

While cats don't always like change, they often need the stimulation that it creates.  Indoor cats are especially susceptible to boredom.  A new toy or a shipping box with holes cut in the ends can be the curious new adventure that they need to shake things up from time to time.  That's why we were so excited to try KitNipBox.  It promises a new box of toys and/or treats every month!

There are two subscription levels - $19.99/month and $29.99/month.  The lower priced box includes four or more toys and/or treats each month and the higher, six or more.  You can even specify not to include food treats and they'll replace those with extra toys.  Great, right?  Well, it depends on the goodies.

We placed an order for the lower-priced box and specified no treats because our spokescat, Mina, has food allergies.  The KNB web site at kitnipbox.com is well-designed and the order process went smoothly.  About a week later, we received our first box. 

When we opened it, we found a nice tissue wrapping with some postcards about KNB and the contents of the box.  But then we dug in and saw the actual items.

We got a mini container of pet wet wipes in place of the food treats, a couple of very low quality stuffed toys, a tiny loofah flip flop, and a cheap collapsible bowl.  All of these items seemed like they were leftovers from the discount bin.  At best, they would cost $4-$5 total at the dollar store.

Since the stuffed toys were listed on the postcard as "stuffed with catnip" we took a whiff but didn't smell any catnip.  In the name of research, we performed surgery on the elephant toy.  What we found was most infuriating.  The toy was stuffed with fiberfill.  There wasn't a single flake of catnip inside.  We cut open the ladybug to reveal the same.  Not only were these two toys of very low quality, they were misrepresented by KNB.

In the end, our cats only liked the box, so we can't recommend KNB.  You should definitely spend your cat entertainment budget elsewhere.  In fact, you can make better toys at home from things you already have.  Plastic bottle tops are a favorite in our house, as are paper bags and boxes.  Get creative and you won't have to spend a dime.