Thursday, August 30, 2007


After I bought my home here in Texas I knew that something was missing (aside from wanting to be in North Carolina). I decided that the missing element was a cat who could become my surrogate child. Since the demise of my beloved mostly Maine Coon Tigger in Georgia, my life hadn’t been the same. Bereft of feline companionship I wandered the earth aimlessly pondering the meaning of life.

Growing up with cats (lots of them) and my most recent experience with Tigger, that erstwhile Maine Coon of up to twenty-one pounds, convinced me that another Maine Coon with their loving nature, kindly disposition and great intelligence or even a like-signed Norwegian Forest Cat (Wegies to cat folks) would be the perfect choice. I contacted some Catteries in Texas and found that most were expensive as hell and wouldn’t sell to me anyway since I had no intention of cloistering the cat inside my home.

After consultation with Friends and Family, I went to the no-kill animal shelter, Dog & Kitty City, operated by the Humane Society of Dallas County near Love Field in north Dallas. I went in and amidst around two hundred cats and a lesser amount of dogs found this very young seemingly mostly Maine Coon standing in the middle of a litter box, back arched, ears flat on her head and spitting and clawing at anybody that would try and get near her. In a nutshell, she was not happy. I decided after looking at some absolutely gorgeous cats that this critter needed me the most. After some intense counseling, scrutiny and some well-pointed questions all intended to determine my suitability for parenthood, I was allowed to pay a reasonable adoption fee (all the animals are spayed and neutered) and that cat became my proud owner!

The orientation period turned out to be fairly short and before long I adopted a suitable (proud and noble) name for my new owner. Sister-in-law Barbara unequivocally noted that the cat was a Sophie and as an unashamed admirer of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, the Hobbits and the aristocratic Baggins Family, the die was cast. Ms. Sophie Baggins was christened and became a willing accomplice and member of the Buxton Family.

Sophie has proved to be the penultimate cat, using shrewdness and cunning to further her agenda and domesticate her large human. Her Jekyll & Hyde tact is to dominate by kindness and snuggling and, as necessary in the same breath, withhold her affection, the perceived ultimate cat behavior. In short, despite her tendency to regularly grace affection on her human she still retains, by nature, the tendency to occasionally embrace the solitary life. That, however, doesn’t appear to be an overriding consideration as I have found Sophie taking up nearby relaxed positions just “hanging out” and watching me as I work on the computer, watch TV, cook or otherwise engage a wide variety of other domestic activities. She has proved to be my buddy many times jumping up and resting on my desk, behind or beside my computer monitor as I work. She will sleep long periods when tired and in seemingly uninhabitable solitary places to include the empty space in the back of a small chest in my bedroom (how does she get in there?).

Sophie loves to play in water and rarely will drink in traditional cat style from her water bowl preferring to dip her paws in a full sink (no toilets please!) and lick them dry. The guest bathroom sink is usually full and reserved for Sophie’s nautical forays.

Sophie likes to go outside and eat St. Augustine grass which generally later resurrects itself in long, stringy, sticky lumps on my carpets. That by itself is sufficient motivation to keep the lawn cut, not the elusive Richland Yard of the Month prize. Sophie also likes to hunt for the plentiful Texas lizards, chameleons and cicadas though I have not yet witnessed a ritual killing. It would appear that Sophie would rather play with these new though obviously uncooperative Friends. Her ever so patient stalking and the attendant predictable pouncing and lunging is obviously part of some instinctive, primal play and chase activity literally engaged for its own sake (I don’t know why I’m doing it but I like it!). A recent incident seems to epitomize this when I found her cavorting; her head and part of her upper torso in one of my cowboy boots lifting it almost to the vertical in order to retrieve one of her feathered toys which she had no doubt dropped or kicked into the boot. As always, she was successful, emerging with the toy in her mouth. That kind of play is usually prefaced with a soft plaintiff yowl of boredom and plea to be let outside.

Ignoring other primal imperatives she won’t do her duty outside preferring to come back inside and use the litter box. That duty performed Sophie will immediately present herself at the back door waiting to exit the building and once again survey her domain.

I have noticed that my relationship with Sophie has taken on qualities unlike those I have experienced with any other critters (including humans) with the exception of Tigger. I have at times felt that we have transcended that mundane earthly plane and evolved an interspecies communication. Yes, Sophie and I talk with each other.

I am not talking about those “tsk”, clicking sounds or clapping though they are helpful to get her attention. I am talking about the English language along with some appropriate meows and chortles which she invariably returns. These meows vary in tone, volume and rhythm given the various situations Sophie and I may engage and will occasionally include a high pitched trill or chortle when she is in a rousing affectionate mood. Many times I will see her outside relaxing under a chair or a table and she will look at me and acknowledge my presence with a short meow or chortle (sometimes silent) and then go back to her business.

Sophie will communicate by posturing and body contact as well; witness her leg rubbing, nose nuzzling and occasional encouraging nips. I have been marked from stem to stern. I will allow Sophie to sometimes give me liberal baths though I soon discourage this further hygiene as I know where that tongue has been.

No, I’m not totally naive. I do understand that Sophie has been able to learn that certain sounds will generate a desired response whether its food or something that’s fun or feels good. She does, however, seem to have a larger language base than the other cats who have owned me. Despite this realization I feel that Sophie and I have developed the ultimate symbiotic relationship. In return for that nuzzling and lying across my right shoulder and chest with full bore purring and kneading, I will probably comply with most of her requests.

Early on, I tried to reward her with people food and she has turned her nose up at everything except Chicken of the Sea Albacore Tuna. She prefers her dry food and an occasional fix of wet food where she will ignore the meat and drink the gravy?

I do not threaten Sophie and try not to engage her too long with direct eye contact. I make it a point to stroke her several times a day and continue to grow the bond that we have developed. While combing her the other day I noticed that she has lost most of her ear tufts and her coat, despite the Texas heat and seasonal shedding, is getting more coarse, typical of a Maine Coon. By the way, on some 100°+ Texas days I monitor her outdoor forays closely as I have been concerned about the threat of heat stroke. I have, however, never seen her in distress and she is always cool to the touch. A smart girl, she frequents the cool, shady spots in my garden.

Sophie has proved to be a valuable companion with each of us giving and receiving in kind. Her affection has been earned and is now freely given without reservation or conditions. I would strongly encourage and solicit your support for the Humane Society of Dallas County and their no kill shelter or the humane society in your own towns.

Sounds like we could all benefit from that support and the friendship of our furry Friends, Aye.


Ned Buxton
Owned by a Cat
Richardson, Texas

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Hallelujah! As if Farthingsworth the Pardoner had generated the appropriate Papal indulgence, I have been absolved of any responsibility for my extra thirty or so pounds. You see, I am not to blame - it’s my Friends.

Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health two professors recently published the findings of their study, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years, in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluding that, “Having fat friends to include those hundreds of miles away can affect a person's weight.”

James H. Fowler, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science at the University of California in San Diego and Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., a physician and professor of medical sociology (?) at that bastion of higher learning aka the Harvard Medical School and the principal investigator engaged this 32 year study (1971 to 2003) that involved 12,067 people. Their findings which used information from medical check-ups, suggest that obesity, only recently touted as a disease process (more later), is seemingly spreading through social networks ("is socially contagious") and that, generally speaking, your chances of becoming obese appeared to increase by 57% if your friend was obese.

Christakis continues: having an obese Friend of the same sex increases the risk of you becoming obese by up to 71 per cent. Overweight siblings increase your chances of becoming fat by 44 percent for brother on brother and 67 percent for sister on sister. Christakis noted that obesity in a sibling of the opposite sex did not affect the chance that the other sibling would become obese (must be gender bias). However, that dreaded overweight significant other increases your odds by 37 percent. In short, Fowler and Christakis state that your Friends and Family (same sex) are making you fat.

Dr. Christakis in an extraordinarily obvious “eureka moment” explains that, “Friends affect each others’ perception of fatness. When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad.” Yea, yea, I remember when I went and bought my 1978 Chevy customized van and many of my Friends went out and bought one too. Monkey see, monkey do…. though those vans served us and our Families well.

Many with an agenda that just happens to include obesity are reveling in this news that insinuates that obesity is akin to a socially transmitted disease process. Those with agendas seeking economic opportunity under the obesity banner include, among others, academics, Fat is Beautiful lobbyists, medical researchers, anti-discrimination lawyers and skinny teary-eyed liberals wont to embrace their fat opposite numbers.

As an example, the New York Times has reported that Fat Studies are gaining credibility in academia and, indeed, The Harvard Crimson cited a 2006 New York Times report indicating that University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Professor Margaret Carlisle Duncan offers a class on “The Social Construction of Obesity”. The Times has also reported that the University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department offers a class, "Fat and Society," that examines psychological and sociological issues concerning body image. It would appear that the number of people interested in these fat courses is expanding in direct correlation to the waistline of Americans. Maybe that’s not all bad since this issue needs a lot of attention.

We need, however, to put this whole issue in proper perspective. We don’t need to engage what was no doubt an expensive 32 year study to conclude that we tend to emulate the values and life style of those we embrace as Friends. We don’t need to catalogue obesity as a disease process either. By accepting this premise we are failing to hold ourselves accountable for our own behaviors. Through our own government we have become the ultimate enablers.

In 2002 the IRS ruled that for tax purposes obesity is now a disease. This allowed Americans for the first time to claim deductions for health expenses related to obesity, just as they could for those related to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses. However well intended, the IRS with a wink and a nod cast the dice.

Medicare recognized obesity as a disease entity in 2004 reversing a long-standing policy. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Mark McClellan, MD stated then that, "From the standpoint of Medicare coverage and the health of our beneficiaries, the question isn't whether obesity is a disease or a risk factor. What matters is whether there's scientific evidence that an obesity-related medical treatment improves health.” We certainly agree though there’s that old wink and nod again.

I’m buying into the simplistic and majority theory that obesity is a symptom of our society and can be attributed to among other factors, poor dietary habits, the development of the TV remote, an overall lazy sedentary lifestyle, a forest for the trees culture that places the almighty dollar over Family and, in some cases, genetics. The Fowler and Christakis study is an almost amusing (if it wasn’t true) reaffirmation of a patently obvious truth.

Seems that some (OK, most) folks just can’t differentiate between the chicken and the egg. Obesity is a symptom and not by itself a disease process. It’s obesity that causes the disease processes that we know as diabetes. Yes, obesity is an omnipresent, insidious condition in our United States. It’s farcical to engage the rationalization that we have to modify our behaviors and start to hold ourselves accountable for the consequences of those behaviors. That truth is as obvious as sweet tea in summer. If we can’t or won’t do so as individuals then the life and health insurance industry, the federal government and many employers will. I am not entreating those overweight folks with causative genetic or health-related problems, rather those of us that had options and chose to be lazy.

I did take a cursory survey of my close Friends and Family, near and far and find that most of my Friends and Family are well within accepted norms though over the last several years two close Friends (both morbidly obese) died of complications from diabetes and a stroke. I noted that two of my brothers are indeed overweight though probably not obese. Their influence on my person is apparently negative and I have engaged the services of a good Fat attorney.


Ned Buxton