Quake Cats: Heart-warming stories of Christchurch cats
by Craig Bullock (Random House, $39.99)
Reviewed by Kelly Bold
As a crazy-cat-lady in the making, Quake Cats immediately went onto my “must have” list when I heard of its pending publication. And my anticipation of this companion to last year’s best-selling Quake Dogs  was well founded: it’s another beautiful, emotional and uplifting read.
The book is laid out with the same winning formula as its predecessor but this time photographer Craig Bullock has done it alone, writing the stories accompanying his truly stunning photography himself. I loved the juxtaposition of the relatively succinct stories with the generosity of the photos: each tale has at least three images with it and every puss portrait is striking in its clarity and ability to really show us the unique, often plucky and courageous, and sadly all too frequently traumatised kitties Craig shares with us. For like the battered and weary human residents of earthquake ravaged Canterbury, their feline friends have suffered, too.
Take Chippy for instance. The gorgeous tabby and white cover boy of Quake Cats was found living rough in an abandoned Red Zone fish and chip shop, surviving by eating fat from the deep fryer which also coated him. It was thanks to one of the many wonderful organisations assisting animals in the quakes’ aftermath that Chippy was able to have the happy ending he deserved with a new forever family.
Other stories made my heart fill with happiness at the lengths to which owners would go for their pets, and the big-hearted officials who stepped outside their duties to lend a hand. One such story is Debbie’s: this 18 year old boy’s home (yes Debbie is a male!) was in the heart of the badly hit CBD which of course was placed under a strictly enforced cordoned after the 22 February quake. Refusing to even consider giving up on his old pal, owner James created a “Please help: cat in building” banner which kind police officers placed outside his apartment building for him. As Urban Search and Rescue teams swept the area, they located Debbie trapped outside on a tiny balcony and were able to reunite James with (a very hungry and thirsty but otherwise fine) Debbie.
There are stories of mama cats and their babies and elderly felines in their twilight years, of everyday moggies, prize-winning show kitties and the big cats of Orana Wildlife Park. There are stories of remarkable reunions years after quake-forced separation that made me beam with joy, and there are stories of trauma that brought me close to tears: many Christchurch cats have no physical scars but they carry psychological ones. And while the shaky ground might finally be settling, for some cats their poor jangling nerves cannot be stilled: they and the people who love them must find new ways to live and cope in this buckled city.
And as it was the story of the unknown dog that undid me in the first instalment of this book duet, it was the final story of The Unknown Cat, and the hauntingly beautiful silhouette photo accompanying it, that broke me this time around too. Crushed by falling masonry, The Unknown Cat was rushed to the vets by his owners. Unable to afford the life saving surgery he needed for his traumatic injuries and with no guarantees of the outcome, they made the heart-wrenching decision to say goodbye. Another lady at the vets at the time took pity on this poor wee soul and offered to pay the vet for his treatment and rehabilitation. Miraculously, he survived and now lives with his anonymous benefactor. I truly wept over this story – for the generosity of spirit of this woman and the hundreds like her who, despite the chaos, fear and uncertainty of those dark days, unthinkingly extended great compassion and kindness to our furry friends.
We’re a nation of cat lovers – as Quake Cats’ introduction tells us, we have the highest rate of cat ownership in the world, with nearly half of all Kiwi households having at least one. So it’s absolutely no surprise this book has gone straight onto the New Zealand best seller list, and deservedly so. And with proceeds from all copies sold going to Christchurch cat charities, you can warm your heart reading these stories and knowing your purchase will help more quake city kitties in need.