Worship Us, Oh Puny Humans!

Dear Buddy,

Did you hear the news about the cat mummies and the big trove of cat statues found by archaeologists in Egypt? My dad says Egypt is a special place ‘cause that’s where humans used to worship us a long time ago. Is that true? Why did they stop?

Kitten in Kentucky


Dear KiK,

Your dad is right! Egypt is a magical land, a place where humans were once keenly aware of our status as the most awesome species on Earth.

Egypt is where you’ll find the biggest litter box on the planet. It stretches for miles and miles until finally the horizon reveals a huge weather-worn statue of a cat and three stone pyramids jutting out of the litter.

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The Great Sphinx of Giza keeps watch over the world’s most sacred litter box.

It is said that by pooping in front of the Great Sphinx and reverently burying the poop in the great litter dunes, one can gain the wisdom of the Sphinx and power over the red dot.

This new discovery solidifies our special status in Egypt and gives us insight into how humans worshiped our ancestors. As you can see, the bodies of the kitties are wrapped up. Those are called funerary blankets, nice and soft for kneading and sleeping.

The discovery was made when archaeologists opened the tomb of a royal priest in service to a pharaoh who ruled long ago, when humans knew their place and cats were viewed as da bomb. Inside the tomb, the archaeologists found two mummified lion cubs and the mummies of several kitties, as well as lesser animals like crocodiles.

Also among the treasures were 75 boxes of cat statues which were venerated by the ancient Egyptians.

Archaeologists are calling the find “unprecedented”:

In a rare discovery announced at a press conference by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities on Nov. 23, this dusty duo of long-deceased baby lions was found in a Saqqaran tomb filled to the brim with gold-decorated wood, stone, and bronze cat statues, and a cache of cat mummies.

The tomb was found near Giza’s Saqqara necropolis, which archaeologists believe was associated with the cat goddess Bastet and Miysis, who was her son and a lion god himself. Egyptians also worshiped another cat goddess, Sekhmet, who like Bastet had the body of a human woman and the head of a lion.

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The hieroglyphics read: “Hark, for there will come a handsome cat prince named Buddy, and ye shall worship him by presenting only the tastiest turkey.”
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This relief sculpture portrays the cat goddess Sekhmet.

But there’s one thing you should know, Kitten in Kentucky: Humans never stopped venerating us. They just need to be reminded once in a while with a good hard smack.

This is why, my dear kitten, humans work all day whilst we lounge, and it’s why they often spend more money on our food than they do on their own.

Rejoice, little one, for you are descended from deities!

Your friend,
Buddy

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A statue of Bastet guards the eastern litter box region of Abydos.
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This statue depicts Sekhmet, a lion goddess worshiped in ancient Egypt.

Study: We’re All Terrible At Reading Our Cats’ Facial Expressions

Most of us completely suck at deciphering our cats’ facial expressions, according to a new study.

That might come as a surprise to some because it’s often claimed cats don’t have facial expressions, or they can’t be read. They do, and they can.

The researchers from Ontario’s University of Guelph used a series of short clips selected from YouTube cat videos. They stripped all the context and blacked out everything but each cat’s face so participants wouldn’t be able to read body language or identify what the cats were doing.

The people who participated in the study — more than 6,000 in all — had only the faces to go on, and they were asked to assess whether each cat’s facial expression was positive or negative.

It turns out reading feline facial expressions is especially difficult: On average, participants got only 11.85 out of 20 questions right. That’s less than 60 percent.

Here’s the crazy part: Researchers found cat owners were no better at interpreting cat expressions than random people. Veterinarians scored the highest, a result that makes perfect sense.

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“No, I did NOT drink from the toilet! How dare you impugn my character with such vulgar accusations, good sir!”

Less than 15 percent of people are “cat whisperers,” study author Georgia Mason said, and can correctly interpret a cat’s mood based on the face alone.

“Anyone who writes cats off as sort of moody or distant is probably underestimating them,” Mason said. “The point is they are signaling, it’s just subtle and you need expertise and maybe intuition to see it.”

If you’re wondering what the test looks like, you can take an abbreviated version of it online. Here’s my score:

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I’m a cat whisperer! Okay, not really. I scored a lousy four out of eight in the advanced version of the test.

I’m accustomed to reading feline body language — whiskers, ears, tails and fur provide a wealth of information about a cat’s mood — and absent most of that information, I found it difficult to gauge based on their faces alone.

On the positive side, scientists say the lessons from these studies can be applied to our companion cats eventually.

“We’re hoping [to conduct] more research to develop tools to help people read their cat better,” Mason said. “That would make living with a cat more rewarding.”

Top photo credit: BBC Science Focus

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Is this cat: A) very angry, B) extremely angry, or C) ready to kill her human?

RIP Lil Bub, Famous Tabby and Feline Ambassador

Lil Bub, one of the first cats propelled to fame via the internet, has passed away according to her caretakers.

The tiny tabby, who was afflicted with feline dwarfism and the rare bone disease osteopetrosis, first came to prominence when photos of her popped up on Tumblr and Reddit in 2011. Her human, Mike Bridavsky, built a social media presence for the little cat, sharing her daily exploits with millions of followers on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Lil Bub’s celebrity was also used to raise money for animal welfare and homeless pets.

Bub’s unique look was a hit with online cat aficionados. Because of her conditions she remained the size of a kitten, her limbs were shorter than average, and her teeth never grew in. Most photos of the beloved cat show her tongue lolling out of her mouth and an inimitable facial expression that looked like a permanent smiley face.

Bub, who suffered complications from the bone disease, died in her sleep on Dec. 1, Bridavsky said. She was eight years old. Bridavsky, who said he’s devastated by the death of his cat, didn’t announce her passing until Dec. 3, presumably to grieve in private before getting bombarded with messages and media enquiries.

“I have always been fully transparent about BUB’s health, and it was no secret that she was battling a persistent and aggressive bone infection,” Bridavsky wrote on Instagram. “Even knowing this, we weren’t expecting her to pass so soon or so abruptly without warning. I truly believe that she willingly made the decision to leave her failing body so that our family would not have to make that difficult decision ourselves.”

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Lil Bub’s owner shared the first photo he took of the famous cat, left, and the last on Dec. 1.

“It is impossible to put into words the profound effect that BUB has had on my life, on the lives of thousands of homeless pets, and on the lives of those of you that have cared for her as if she were your own family. She taught me everything that I know about unconditional love, she brought my wife Stacy and I together, she’s the reason we have our beautiful children Rosco and Lula, and she has been a constant source of warmth and love in our lives for the past 8 years. To say that our family is devastated would be an understatement.”

Buddy’s Dark Materials

With a Game of Thrones-size void left in my TV-watching schedule, and shows I care about — The Expanse, The Last Kingdom, The Witcher — either between seasons or yet to debut, I’ve been watching HBO’s newest big-budget fantasy adaptation, His Dark Materials.

Based on a series by the British novelist Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials follows the adventures of Lyra, an 11-year-old girl living in a parallel world that resembles a steampunk version of Victorian England.

What sets the series apart, aside from its fantastical setting, is the prominent presence of animals. Lots and lots of animals. Animals everywhere: Rabbits, foxes and cats underfoot, hawks and eagles in the air, snakes slithering on the shoulders of their humans.

In Lyra’s world, the human soul isn’t a nebulous concept or incorporeal entity. Instead, each person’s soul takes the physical form of an animal.

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James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, whose daemon is a powerful and intimidating snow leopard named Stelmaria. Credit: HBO
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Stelmaria looks just like a real snow leopard, a credit to the show’s visual effects team, who had their work cut out for them with this adaptation. Credit: HBO

These animals — somewhat controversially called daemons in the books and series — are fully sapient creatures with the ability to speak, and they often serve as the conscience and voice of reason for their humans. The bond between humans and their daemons are sacred, the series informs us, and they cannot be separated.

The daemons of children can change form, taking the shape of virtually any animal, but upon adulthood each person’s daemon “settles” as a particular animal and no longer shifts. A daemon in its settled form, the series tells us, reflects the true nature of a person.

Nomadic people’s daemons often settle as hawks. Sneaky or evil characters have daemons who settle as snakes and insects. Protagonist Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, hasn’t “settled” yet in the series, and he’s been seen as a cat, a moth and a fox — among other forms — but he usually takes the form of a snow white ermine:

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Lyra (Daphne Keen) and Pantalaimon, the tiny ermine to the left. Credit: HBO
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Ruth Wilson plays Mrs. Coulter, whose daemon is a snub-nosed monkey. Credit: HBO
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Lin Manuel Miranda plays the roguish aeronaut Lee Scoresby, whose daemon is a rabbit named Hester. Credit: HBO

Of course, were I to occupy Lyra’s world, my daemon would be a massive and powerful tiger. I mean, let’s face it, no other animal would do me justice. 🙂

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Who would mess with me if I had my own tiger? Credit: Andrew James

Alas, I already have one, and his name is Buddy. While watching the show, I couldn’t help but notice the way the animals follow their humans is precisely the way my cat follows me. The show’s daemons are never far from their human counterparts, and straying too far away causes them pain. To hear Buddy yowl when I’m on the other side of the bathroom door, he feels the same way.

Unfortunately he wouldn’t be much help in a fight, but he’d be a hell of a wingman!

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“You’re never getting away from me, dude!”

 

My Cat’s Letter to Santa Claws

Dear Santa,

I have been a good boy all year.

I’m always here for my Big Buddy when he’s feeling down, I mostly scratch where I’m supposed to, and I don’t poop outside the litter box. Also, if there were any mouses around I would totally get rid of them, but there’s no mouses probably because they are scared of me because I’m so ripped.

I know you see me when I’m sleeping, which is kinda creepy, and you see me when I’m awake, so you know I don’t knock over the Christmas tree and I’ve only broken like three or four ornaments. I didn’t break any of Big Buddy’s guitars this year either!

Here is my Christmas wish list. I hope you can make it to my house this year! I will put out a glass of milk and some turkey in case you’re hungry or thirsty when you come by.

Your friend,

Buddy


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You see me when I’m sleeping, you know when I’m awake…

I’ve always wanted a Roomba, which is a little robot designed for kitties to ride on. It looks like so much fun! I really want one.

I want a saw so I can cut Buddy-size holes in the doors in my house. That way no doors can stop me!

I want a boot or a sneaker big enough for me to nap in. When I was little I used to sleep in Big Buddy’s shoes. They smelled so good and they were nice and cozy. I haven’t fit in a long time because I got big. I need a big shoe.

I want a bell I can ring when I want snacks!

And the last thing I want is a hammock that goes on the window so I can watch the birds.

So my list is a Roomba, a saw, a shoe big enough to nap in, a bell and a hammock. If you can’t bring all those things, that’s okay.

Thank you, Santa Claws!

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How Long Is Too Long To Leave A Cat Alone?

“If you want a pet but you don’t have time to walk a dog, get a cat.”

“As long as they have food, cats are fine. They don’t care if they’re left alone.”

“Cats are solitary creatures who are content to ignore you.”

Despite taking over the internet and solidifying their status as one of the most endearing animal species, cats are still widely misunderstood, as these oft-spoken sentiments illustrate.

Of course, as we cat servants know, our furry friends do care very much about remaining in the company of their favorite people.

In a new column on Psychology Today, bioethicist Jessica Pierce backs up something we’ve been saying for ages: Cats are social animals, and it’s harmful to think of them as one step above a plant, content to live a solitary existence as long as they’re fed and watered.

The myth of the aloof, independent cat feeds another misconception: that cats are just fine when we’re not around. Indeed, a common piece of advice for someone thinking about acquiring a pet is “if you are gone a lot and don’t have time for a dog, get a cat instead.” Many people believe that cats can be left alone for long hours every day, and can even safely be left alone for days or even weeks, as long as food and freshwater are made available to them.

This is bad advice and does cats a great disservice because domestic cats kept as companion animals in homes likely need their humans just as much as companion dogs do.

So how long is too long to leave a cat alone? Unfortunately no one knows for sure.

There haven’t been studies on the topic, in part because many behavioral scientists still believe cats are too difficult to work with in research settings.

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The big tough guy who cries by the door when I step out of the house for 20 minutes.

But new studies — including the research out of Oregon State that showed cats view their humans as parent-like figures — show cats form strong emotional connections to their people, mirroring the behavior of dogs and even human children.

Other recent studies demonstrated that cats crave human attention and affection even more than food, and look to their humans for reassurance when they’re uncertain about things.

Some people will say that’s all fairly obvious and unremarkable, but there are two primary reasons the findings are significant: First, in the scientific community something has to be proven in a controlled, replicable study. Anecdotes don’t count. Secondly, there’s finally enough research to confirm cats absolutely form bonds with their humans, and those bonds are genuine.

Although felines are superficially aloof, when you get to know them better it becomes clear they’re simply good at pretending they’re nonchalant.

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“No more computer, it’s Buddy time!”

While cautioning that cats are individuals with their own personalities and quirks, Pierce suggests looking to research on dogs and loneliness.

“The rough guidelines for dogs—that about four hours alone is comfortable, but longer periods of alone time may compromise welfare—may be a reasonable place to start for cats,” Pierce wrote, “but further research into cat welfare is needed in order to develop empirically-grounded guidelines for leaving cats alone.”

As for Buddy, who is known to meow mournfully and park himself by the front door when I leave, his one-off limit is about 12 hours, or half a day. I’m okay with leaving him alone overnight after he’s been fed, and while he may not like it, he’s fine if left alone for an extended period once in a while. I wouldn’t do that regularly.

Anything more than that, however, and I’ll enlist the aid of a friend to stop by, feed him and play with him. Maybe that way I won’t get the cold shoulder and resentful sniffs when I return.

The Cat Who Ate The Turkey

Buddy has a new hero.

Heather Ziegler, a columnist for a local newspaper in West Virginia, recalls a Thanksgiving from her teenage years made memorable by her cat helping himself to the turkey:

My mother had taken the huge frozen turkey and placed it on top of the [freezer] to begin the thawing process several days before Thanksgiving. By the grace of God, we all survived this process over the years.

However, this particular year was a first for our family. A day or so before Thanksgiving, my mother went to retrieve the turkey. A scream was heard, peppered with a few harmless curse words. At some point, the family cat had discovered the turkey and had begun to enjoy a pre-Thanksgiving meal. The turkey was ruined and it was too late to thaw another bird.

The story has a happy ending of sorts: Heather’s mom and dad took all twelve (!) of their children out to dinner, where they were joined by their young cousins, whose police officer father had been shot a few days earlier and remained hospitalized. Thanks to the crafty cat, those kids had the comfort of their extended family on a difficult holiday.

Since then, Ziegler writes, The Turkey Incident has become a fondly-remembered bit of family lore.

As regular readers of Pain In The Bud know, turkey is Buddy’s favorite food in the universe.

Why turkey, and why not chicken, beef, salmon, duck or tuna? Who knows? He’s loved it since kittenhood and would eat turkey all the time if he could.

Thankfully he won’t be putting a damper on Thanksgiving: I don’t eat meat, and my aunt hosts Thanksgiving in her house. But maybe it’s time for a special turkey treat for the good boy in the form of Thanksgiving leftovers.

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This silver tabby (not Buddy) can’t wait to get his paws on leftover turkey. Photo credit: Nick Strate