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The story behind a new book's strange dedication to Toast the cat

"The greatest academic acknowledgement I've seen in a while," read the viral tweet of this photo by Jonathan Robbins (@robbinshistory).
Jonathan Robbins
"The greatest academic acknowledgement I've seen in a while," read the viral tweet of this photo by Jonathan Robbins (@robbinshistory).

Of all the people in Jonathan Saha's life worth dedicating his book to, none of them could match the impact, or lack thereof, of Toast the cat.

Saha's cat "was no help at all," reads the dedication page in Colonizing Animals which recently went viral on Twitter, collecting more than 266,000 likes.

"It felt appropriate to dedicate the book to the animal who had the biggest impact on my life," Saha, a researcher, told NPR in an email, since working on the book made him appreciate how much animals shape human society.

Sadly, Toast died the same month that the book was published, in October 2021. She'd been with Saha since 2015, when his sister-in-law's family couldn't bring her with them for a move. Toast got her name after the family's youngest child dreamed of a cat named Toast, according to family lore.

In the book, Saha, an associate professor of history at Durham University in the U.K., explores how colonialism changed people's relationships with animals in Myanmar, and how colonialism was widely reliant on animals — practices which have profound legacies today, he said.

"Always being attentive to animals in the present is, I think, necessary to the work of starting to undo some of the damage done by British imperialism," he explained. And Toast served as an animal presence throughout the writing process.

Toast used to curl up on Jonathan Saha's shoulders. Saha said of this photo: "She looks lovely, I look absolutely shattered as a new dad."
/ Jonathan Saha
/
Jonathan Saha
Toast used to curl up on Jonathan Saha's shoulders. Saha said of this photo: "She looks lovely, I look absolutely shattered as a new dad."

"There was no way of getting Toast to do any form of productive labour," he wrote to NPR, like the elephants and cattle that contributed to industries in Myanmar. "But, I suppose there was an influence the other way around — living with her meant it was impossible to lose sight of the fact that animals have their own agendas and needs quite apart from human concerns."

She may have been no help, but Saha described her as busy during the process, sitting and walking across his laptop keyboard, being noisy and seeking attention. She had a habit of curling up on Saha's shoulders to be carried around the house.

Were there any other runners up that Toast beat out for the dedication?

"I fear this will cast me in a bad light, but I guess my two daughters," he said. "They adored Toast, though. 'Cat' was my eldest daughter's first word. So, I think they approve of the decision."

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Halisia Hubbard