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Cat Culture, Human Culture: An Ethnographic Study of a Cat Shelter

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This study explores the value of traditional ethnographic methods in sociology for the study of human-animal and animal-animal interactions and culture. Itargues that some measure of human-animal intersubjectivity is possible and that the method of participant observation is best suited to achieve this. Applying ethnographic methods to human-cat and cat-cat relationships in a no-kill cat shelter, the study presents initial findings; it concludes that the social structure of the shelter is the product of interaction both between humans and cats and cats and cats and that the observed structure represents, to a large degree, choices made by the cats. The study also concludes that, within the cat community of the shelter, a distinctive cat culture has emerged, which represents the cats' adaptation to the particular conditions of shelter life. Specifically, the shelter allows for the emergence of higher order needs and goals that stress affection, friendship, and social cohesion among the cats rather than territoriality and conflict. The study further argues that traditional animal researchers have mistaken the relative equality of cat colonies for a lack of social structure, as opposed to a different structure from that found in sharply ranked nonhuman animal communities.

Affiliations: 1: SIENA COLLEGE; 2: COLLEGE OF ST. ROSE

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