Saturday, April 5, 2014

Busted! Cats Get Up to More Than You Expect...

Above: Do you know what your kitty is up to right now?
Photo by Karel Jakubec. This public domain work is also posted in the photographer's Wikimedia Commons collection.

If your kitty roams outside the house, chances are you don't really know how your furry friend is spending his or her time. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) are teaming up with photography experts at National Geographic to fill this knowledge gap. (Note: the cat pictured above, a Czech tom named Zhofak, was not involved in the research. Owner and photographer Karl Jakubek jokes that the photo portrays an innovative new style of bird-feeder for hawks, eagles, and condors. ;-)

Dr. Sonia Hernandez of UGA, her colleagues at National Geographic, and her students are combining forces to outfit kitties with small cameras that attach to their collars. The first phase of the research, which studied pet kitties, resulted in awesome photos and videos of freely roaming pet cats. Results showed that a whopping 85 percent of the kitties engaged in one or more types of risky behavior, such as crossing streets, fighting, or eating/drinking unknown substances. The researchers hope that actually seeing these images will help cat owners understand the risks their pets face when allowed to roam freely.

The research also documented that while fewer than half of the cats hunted (only 44 percent did), they caught mostly desirable native species like anoles and voles -- not common house mice. The surprise finding was that a small number of the study cats were leading double lives -- they actually entered the home of a second family while supposedly out "roaming!"

Next up for the researchers -- using the kitty-cam technology to study a colony of feral cats on Georgia's barrier islands. Results should be of interest to all cat enthusiasts, so keep an eye out for updates. Here's a poem inspired by the kitty-cam research:

Song of the Kitty-Cam Cat
By Cathryn Chaney © 2014

I wear a brand new kitty-cam;
it rides beneath my chin.
It captures pictures that will show
my owner where I've been.

At last she'll know the labor --
the risks I must allow
to catch her all those lizard treats;
she'll surely eat them now.

Imagine how she'll swell with pride
to see how well I fight.
That possum thinks he's awesome,
but he'll go home bruised tonight.

I hope, though, she'll feel lonely
to see me nap at ease,
tucked tight between the gallons
of our neighbor's anti-freeze.

Because, to be quite honest,
although I'm brave and strong,
I'd rather curl up on her lap,
at home where I belong.

If you want to see some of the striking images the research team recorded, check out these photos and videos. You might also want to bookmark the webpage for the Kitty Cams Project.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Ending: Escaped Cat Comes Home Four Years Later!

Above: Cats are well-known as escape artists
Illustration by Laura Valentine and originally published 1865. This public domain work is courtesy of Reusable Art.

One thing about kitties: they're veritable escape artists! At our house, we humans must work as a team to keep our furry friends from rushing out the door every time we go out or come in. Two of our three kitties have been unfortunate enough to get out and then spend a night outside when we couldn't find them again before dark. I was distraught that I might never see them again. Fortunately, when morning came, our AWOL kitties were waiting outside the front door and were very happy to get back in.

Compared to one woman in New Hampshire, my brief distress was nothing. Her adorable cat, Fuzzy, was missing for four years! According to news coverage, Michele Wright thought Fuzzy had been run over by a car after escaping, and she went through the full mourning process for her feline friend. But little did she know that Fuzzy was alive and well, wandering the streets of the nearby city of Dover. Fortunately for Fuzzy, he was eventually taken in by the Cocheco Valley Humane Society. The shelter chose Fuzzy for an in-store adoption program, and Michele just happened to come into that pet store the very same day Fuzzy was up for adoption!

The staff in the pet store reports that Michele was insistent that the rescued cat was her cat. She came back the next day with photos of Fuzzy, and she was also able to identify a unique mark on the bottom of Fuzzy's paw. Everyone agreed -- the rescued cat was indeed the missing Fuzzy! Michele filled out the paperwork to officially adopt Fuzzy, and she paid the adoption fee to cover the updated shots her kitty had received at the shelter. Fuzzy now sports a microchip that can be scanned should he ever show his escape artist tendencies again! Here's a poem inspired by the happy ending Fuzzy and Michele are enjoying:

Inside Cat
By Cathryn Chaney © 2014

Inside Cat, I see your paws twitch
As you lie on the window ledge
And eye the sparrows with extreme desire.
You tell me that you are a
That is forced to drive
In slow circles around the
Parking lot of a grocery store.
You ask how I can be so heartless.
But it was my heart that broke
When you tried being Outside Cat that night.
And you sounded more like a
Moped, cat, as you meowed in the grey dawn
To get back in.
You don't even like sparrow.

If you want to see some adorable footage of Michele and Fuzzy, try this YouTube link.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cat Cafes Come to America!

portrait of a cat in a Japanese cat cafe
Above: Okoge, a cat photographed in the "Magic of Cats" cat cafe in Kamata, Tokyo.
Photo by Takashi Hososhima. Originally posted on
Flickr and used here in accordance with the copyright owner's Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Yes, that's right. Cat cafes are coming to several cities in the U.S. The idea comes from Japan, where cat cafes are very common. While you enjoy your favorite coffee drink, you can watch the kitties play or cuddle them. In fact, at some Japanese cat cafes, the coffee is optional -- you just pay an hourly cover charge for access to cuddly kitties. The goal is to encourage people to adopt the adorable critters without having to put them on display inside a cage.

All I can say is: What a great idea! I sometimes head to PetSmart with my son just to watch the kitties, and we always want to take them out of the cage for a proper pet. I hope they open a cat cafe where we live! Good job, Japan! Read all about the upcoming opening of American cat cafes here.

I think cat cafes seem so appealing because, for some people (the -- ahem -- right kind of people), cats and coffee fall into the same natural class of things. Warm, comforting, smooth. The types of things you want to have about you when the weather turns chilly and raindrops streak down the windows of your library room. Here's a poem inspired by the incipient cat cafes:

Another Afternoon at the Cat Cafe
By Cathryn Chaney © 2014

The coffee is like drinkable velvet,
A liquid hug that warms my belly
And makes my stomach purr.
The drowsy kitty asleep on my lap
And the inquisitive kitten who
Watches me from atop the newspaper rack
Only solidify my intention:
Barrista, please bring me another espresso
While I call my husband and explain to him
Where he can find something
To heat up for his dinner.

Adorable Long-Whiskered Kitty Makes the News!

Closeup of cat whiskers
Photo by Hettie van Nes. Originally posted on Wikimedia Commons and used here in accordance with the copyright owner's Creative Commons 3.0 license.

An adorable kitty named Whiskers (not the one pictured above) currently lives with a foster family in Somerset, England while she awaits a new home. Her whiskers aren't the longest in the world, but they are believed to be the longest in Britain. The whiskery feline was featured in the online version of Britain's The Mail newspaper. She recently had a litter of kitty babies, who also sport long whiskers. If you live in rural Somerset and want to adopt Whiskers, contact the Cats Protection cat rescue. To see a picture of adorable little Whiskers and her whiskers, read all about it here.

I have three cats, and one of them is a black-and-white tuxedo cat like Whiskers. I love the way his white whiskers contrast against his black velvety pelt. When I pet him, he stretches out his whiskers in front of him with all his might, and then his whiskers remind me of the projections on a lionfish:

Photo by Christian Mehlf├╝hrer. Originally posted on Wikimedia Commons and used here in accordance with the copyright owner's Creative Commons 2.5 license.

The long, graceful whiskers on little Whiskers are so feminine and sweet that they look like something you'd see on a Disney fairy. And yet these elegantly swaying whiskers are important sensory organs for a cat. According to the experts, each whisker on a cat is connected to such a rich set of nerve endings that the cat can use them to sense slight air movements around their body. Cats have a specialized region of the brain to process information from their whiskers: it's called the "barrel cortex" and has some similarities to the visual cortex. Here's a haiku inspired by Whiskers:

By Cathryn Chaney © 2014

Slender silver wisps,
Help you run and dodge in dark,
Like eyes I can pet.