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St. Louis author shares tips on ‘How to Pet a Cat’

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Provided by Angela Staehling
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Artist Angela Staehling offers whimsical illustrations in addition to practical advice in her new book, "How to Pet a Cat."

The first thing you need to know about how to pet a cat is that there are a lot of ways not to pet a cat. For example, you do not want to employ the “That Awkward Moment Pet,” which involves stroking a cat’s paw. Totally awkward. And for the love of all things furry, please refrain from the “This Is Not a Hair Salon Pet,” which basically involves making a mini-Mohawk on your cat’s back.

“You're kind of creating these tufts of hair that are standing up,” explained author Angela Staehling. “And so heat is able to escape, right?” That, to your heat-seeking feline overlord, is a very bad thing.

Much better: Approach your cat with the appropriate humility and gently pet them on their chin, near their ears, or on their back at the base of their tail — all spots where cats have oil-producing sweat glands.

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Emily Woodbury
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St. Louis Public Radio
Angela Staehling works in art licensing by trade, but she's developed a side expertise in feline physiology.

“And what happens is, when you pet them in those areas, they love it, because it transfers onto your skin,” Staehling said. “They own you, right? They put the oils on you; you are now their property.” And what cat wouldn’t love that?

An artist based in Wildwood, Staehling is the author of “How to Pet a Cat,” out today from Chronicle Books and coming soon to a Target (among many other locations) near you.

She told St. Louis on the Air that a lighthearted family dispute led her to the concept. On family vacation a few years ago, Staehling and her kids found themselves missing their two cats, Theo, 11, and Rocco, 13 — and realizing they had vastly different understandings of how each wished to be petted.

Listen to Angela Staehling on St. Louis on the Air

Sharing her go-to move with Theo, Staehling was surprised when her daughters offered alternate options, each convinced she alone knew what the cat wanted. “It had never dawned on me that there were all these ways our one cat Theo wanted to be petted,” Staehling explained.

From there, the idea snowballed in her head. “It just was so funny to me that there are all these different petting methods,” she said. “I thought it honestly was hilarious. You know, do you really need a guide on how to pet a cat? And I just couldn't get it out of my head.” Chronicle, which previously published Staehling’s tome on “Happy Houseplants,” immediately said yes to her proposal, and the rest is history.

Well, at least until she started doing her research. The illustrations came easily to Staehling (she used Rocco and Theo as models, along with a few Instagram-famous cats). She wasn’t exactly ready for the deep dive she took into feline physiology — but nevertheless was impressed with the insights she garnered.

“There really is a science behind it,” she said.

Understanding that science has made Staehling infinitely more popular with the family pets. She’s now far less likely to overstep with her petting.

“I might have that urge to go run over and pet my cat as he's laying with his belly up in the air,” she said. “It looks so cute, and his little paws are dangling over. But I've kind of learned to give them a little bit of space.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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