Category: animals

Animals Teach Us Our Self Worth Isn’t Tied To What We Do

NPR has an interesting article about the very human tendency to peg our self worth to our careers and our egos to our accomplishments, something most of us are guilty of to one degree or another.

I know I’m guilty of it, and I’m often unhappy when I’m not meeting some arbitrary level of creative output.

But Devon Price, a social psychologist, told NPR a pet chinchilla named Dumptruck — “the opposite of productive, and frankly, rather destructive” — led to a revelation Price had about intrinsic worth.

“I would never look at him and think of his life in terms of, ‘Has he justified his right to exist?'” Price told NPR. “He’s not paying rent. He’s not performing any service. And it would be absurd to even think about his life in those terms.”

The article prompted me to think about Bud, of course. He’s just Bud. A gray-furred, mercurial, amusing little guy whose favorite activities are eating, sleeping and hanging out with his Big Buddy.

How Buddy pulls his weight

Does he do anything to “justify” his existence? Well, according to him, he does.

“What services do I provide?” Buddy repeated when asked. “Well, first of all, I’m delightful. I’m responsible for like 95% of the delightfulness around here, let’s be honest. Yes, delightfulness is a word. Because I say it is!”

He also claims he provides security — “no burglar in their right mind would break in knowing I’m here” — as well as daily wake-up services, and “annoyingness desensitization.”

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Credit: Alexas Fotos/Pexels

Price’s observations are not far from those of John Gray, the British philosopher who published a new book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, earlier this year.

Cats live in the moment, Gray points out, and don’t stress themselves obsessing over “an imagined future.” Some people, especially those who don’t appreciate the full scope of animal cognition, would say cats are so adept at enjoying the present because they’re simple creatures incapable of thinking in the abstract or planning for the future.

That, of course, isn’t true: Cats develop abstract thinking skills early in their development, they understand object permanence, and anyone who’s seen a mother cat care for her babies — fretting over hiding spots, frequently moving her kittens and checking in on them when she must hunt for food — knows our feline friends are most certainly capable of planning and worry. (Or you can just watch my cat when his dinner’s late.)

Human anxiety is compounded by existential concerns, which cats aren’t burdened by. They’re not worried about their place in the world, and it probably never occurs to them that trying to be happy acknowledges the possibility of failure.

Contentment is a cat’s natural state

Cats, Gray points out, just do what makes them happy, whether it’s playing with a favorite toy or shredding a roll of toilet paper. They’re not worried about whether they could have more fun doing something else, or whether they’re making the best use of their time. Cats are “among the wisest animals because they’re spontaneous and playful and content with whatever life presents them,” as one reviewer of Gray’s book put it.

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Credit: Anel Rossouw/Pexels

“I would say that a lot of torment in our lives comes from that pressure for finding meaning,” Gray told The Guardian earlier this year. “Unless you adopt a transcendental faith which imagines a wholly other world where meaning is secure from any accident, most of the things that happen to us are pure chance. We struggle with the idea that there is no hidden meaning to find. We can’t become cats in that sense – we probably will need to always have the disposition to tell ourselves stories about our lives – but I would suggest a library of short stories is better than a novel.”

In response to questions about what cats might say to us if they could truly talk, rather than simply communicate, Gray responds with a question of his own: “If they could talk, would they find us sufficiently interesting to talk with?”

Would they consider us buzz kills? Would they roll their eyes, say nothing and return to gleefully knocking beverages off tables?

“Unless cats are hungry or mating or directly threatened, they default to a condition of rest or contentment or tranquility — basically the opposite of humans,” Gray told Vox. “So if cats could philosophize, my guess is they’d do it for their own amusement, not because of some deep need for peace.”

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Credit: Pixabay/Pexels

Would Your Cat Wait Outside The Hospital For You?

A story about an extraordinarily loyal dog has touched the hearts of animal lovers all over the world, and probably has many of us thinking: If I had a medical emergency, would my pet chase an ambulance to the hospital and wait there for days until I emerged?

That’s what Boncuk the loyal dog did after her owner, Cemal Senturk, suffered a brain embolism and was taken to a hospital in the northern Turkish city of Trabzon on Jan. 14.

Boncuk waited patiently for her best friend until Aynur Egeli, Senturk’s daughter, took the loving pup home the first night.

The next morning Boncuk was gone, and Egeli knew exactly where she was going.

“She comes every day around 9 a.m. and waits until nightfall,” Muhammet Akdeniz, a security guard at the hospital, told local media. “When the door opens she pokes her head inside,” Akseniz said, but the polite pooch “doesn’t go in.”

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Boncuk poked her head inside but knew she wasn’t allowed inside the hospital.

Boncuk was reunited with Senturk on Wednesday when an orderly wheeled the man out to the hospital entrance. Senturk was later discharged.

In photos and a short video of the reunion, Boncuk is the image of happiness and relief: Her tail wags uncontrollably and she can’t contain her enthusiasm as she literally jumps for joy.

“She’s very used to me,” Senturk said. “And I miss her, too, constantly.”

Boncuk’s story reminds us of Hachiko, the Japanese Akita dog who was so devoted to his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, that he’d run to Shibuya station every day to greet Ueno as he stepped off the subway. Ueno was in mid-lecture in front of a class of students when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died on the spot.

Hachiko returned to Shibuya every day at the same time for the next 10 years, waiting for his beloved human.

It’s a story of animal devotion that resonates so strongly with people that Hachiko was memorialized with a statue just feet from the spot where he stood every day, waiting for Ueno.

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Boncuk waits for her owner in front of the hospital.

Yes, this wonderful story begs the question: Would my pet do the same for me?

Putting aside the problem of actually getting to the hospital — which would be almost impossible given the distance, traffic and the fact that he’s an indoor cat — if Bud were allowed to stay in a hospital room with me, I believe wholeheartedly that he would remain by my side.

Like other pets who have strong bonds with their people, he knows when I’m not feeling well, and when I was sidelined with Bell’s palsy and a debilitating headache a few years ago, he never left my side.

That is not to say he wouldn’t be his usual incorrigible self. You know that little button that calls the nurse? He would abuse the hell out of it if he knew its function, and he’d probably think the nurses were there to serve him, bring him snacks and fluff his pillow.

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“Nurse! In here! My pillow needs fluffing! Also, could you be a doll and fetch me some Temptations?”

The truth is that pets are not allowed in the vast majority of hospitals. Writing in PetLife, Alicia Beyer notes pets “not only brighten patients’ spirits, but hospitals are reporting that the pet visits can have dramatic effects on patient’s health, recovery and emotional well-being.”

In Canada, there’s an organization called Zachary’s Paws, which was started by Donna Jenkins in honor of her 25-year-old nephew.

“While Zachary was in the hospital for many weeks and very sick after having a stem cell transplant,  he begged to see his dog, Chase,” Jenkins told Bored Panda. “We sneaked Chase into ICU to see him and the effect it had on Zachary was remarkable. When Zachary realized he was not going to survive his cancer, he made me promise to start the organization.

But as PetMD notes, there are good reasons why most hospitals don’t allow pets, including problems pets can pose to patients with compromised immune systems and allergies. Hospitals that do allow pet visits have strict standards, and the animals must be thoroughly cleaned by staff before they’re allowed in.

Alas, even as more hospitals allow pet visitation or therapy animals, many exclude cats, and a 2015 report by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America says cats “should be excluded.” The report claims cats can’t be trained as well as dogs, the risk of bites and scratches is higher, and more patients may be allergic to cats.

Conservationists Want Cat Owners On Their Side

Wildlife conservationists are worried, and they have a right to be.

In addition to the billions of animals we humans kill every year in our ruthless exploitation of life on this planet, our pet cats have their own separate impact, killing birds and small mammals in significant numbers.

Yet conservationists aren’t making headway with cat lovers, primarily because their approach frequently relies on shaming and drastic, often cruel proposals: Some Australian states are outright culling cats, offering $10 a head for adults and $5 for kittens, for example, while a pair of academics from the Netherlands advocate criminally prosecuting cat owners who let their pets outside combined with a policy of euthanizing millions of cats. Extremists in the US are pushing for similar measures, arguing that TNR (trap, neuter, return) isn’t an effective way of managing cat populations.

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Something has to be done, and a few smart conservationists are realizing the accusatory, Richard Dawkins-style of engaging “the enemy” just causes people to withdraw, not to listen and cooperate.

“I get quite sick of the conflict focus of some conservation biologists,” Wayne Linklater, chairman of the environmental studies department at California State, tells New Scientist. “The solutions lie with the people who care most about cats, not with the people who don’t care about them.”

Great. Now there are a few things conservationists should know as they engage with people who care for cats:

  • Most of us want what you want: We want cat owners to keep their pets inside. Cats aren’t wild animals. They have no “natural habitat” and contrary to misconceptions, they don’t belong outside. They’re not equipped to provide for themselves, and they face dangers from traffic, predators like coyotes and mountain lions, fights with other cats, and perverse humans who kill and torture them for fun. Strays and ferals live short, brutal lives (living to an average of 3.5 years) while indoor cats live 17 years on average. The “cats belong inside” angle is common ground from which to start a dialogue.
  • Stop repeating bunk studies as fact! The idea that cats are an all-consuming plague on wildlife came about as a result of a handful of studies, yet all but the most recent of them are based on old data and manipulated numbers compiled by people with an agenda. One of the earliest studies, which claimed cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually, relies so heavily on invented numbers and massaged data that it’s worthless and outright dangerous to informed discourse on the topic, yet it’s repeated as fact by credulous conservationists and the press. Knowing the true scope of the problem is key to understanding whether mitigation efforts really work. Misinformation only sabotages those efforts.
  • Come get your people: Peter Marra is one of the co-authors of the bunk 2013 Nature Communications study with the above oft-cited numbers, and he’s also the author of the shrill Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. Marra is an advocate of using taxpayer money to kill millions of cats. He also says that anyone who questions his claims about cats — a group that includes major animal rescues, welfare organizations, and many academics — is tantamount to climate change deniers and tobacco companies that denied for decades that cigarettes have a negative effect on health. Marra’s major contributions amount to sowing misinformation, polarizing the issue and inflaming opinions on both sides. Everything about his behavior indicates he wants to sell books and promote himself, not save wildlife from predatory domestic cats. He should not be taken seriously and his research should not be reported as fact.

Cat lovers are, by definition, animal lovers. They’re people who care about wildlife and domestic animal welfare. It shouldn’t be difficult to engage with them.

At the same time, cat advocates need to purge the crazies out of their ranks as well. Sending death threats to scientists (see the New Scientist link up top) is way out of order, it’s inhuman behavior and it only hurts the legitimacy of our cause.

A good first step toward reconciliation could involve enlisting cat owners in an effort to properly study feline impact on small wildlife, producing reliable data to facilitate a measured, fact-based approach that doesn’t begin and end with the notion that cats are hellspawn.
If all sides engage in good faith, there’s no reason why we can’t protect wildlife and cats.

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Memorandum To Human, re: Disgusting New Bug-Based Cat Food

Dear Big Buddy,

You find yourself in receipt of this notice so there exists a written record of the amendment to section 176.2 in the Little Buddy Care Agreement, forbidding the use of repugnant and objectionable non-approved yums.

Specifically we refer to the so-called “alternative proteins” hawked by Nestle’s Purina brand, which substitutes Glorious Yums like turkey, chicken and turkey, for unacceptable ingredients such as “fly larvae protein.”

As the language of the new LBCA amendment makes clear:

“At no time shall human serve any Purina products or any products containing ‘alternative proteins’ including, but not limited to, fly larvae protein, invasive Asian carp protein, and any alleged ‘cat food’ that includes insects or non-approved yum ingredients.”

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No. Don’t even think about it.
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Insect larvae-based pet food is attractively packaged.

Please keep in mind, dear human, that section 176.1 still applies:

‘At no time shall Buddy the Larger serve Little Buddy any abhorrent meat substitute or so-called ‘vegan cat food.’ Violations are punishable by biting and shitting in your shoes.”

We acknowledge that Nestle claims it’s motivated by “the need to diversify sources of protein in food for a variety of reasons, including environmental goals such as fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity.”

But that just means the cheap bastards are looking to increase profit margins beyond the sky-high margins it enjoys for the lowest-grade quasi-meat it uses for its existing pet food lines.

After all, a company run by the environmentally conscious wouldn’t destroy entire swaths of Indonesia and Malaysia, endangering the health of locals and children, and directly driving the pending extinction of orangutans.

As always, we expect you to adhere to the Little Buddy Care Agreement. Violations will be recorded and will negatively effect your score on the annual Service Quality Report Card, so remain vigilant. Only the best yums will do.

Sincerely,

Little Buddy, Esq.

Big Buddy Goes Face To Face With A Tiger

The big cats at the Bronx Zoo have had a rough 2020 too.

First the zoo was shut down — along with thousands of other gathering places — due to the novel Coronavirus.

Then a tiger at the zoo got sick and tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first positive test for an animal in North America and the first recorded instance of human-to-tiger transmission. Seven other big cats at the zoo caught the virus, including four tigers and three lions.

Thankfully they recovered and everything — or almost everything — looked normal when I visited this week.

One of the awesome things about the zoo’s Tiger Mountain is that it has a trio of viewing ports that provide a prime view of a small pond where the tigers drink, swim and nap.

This tiger lounged in the distance for a few minutes, then got up and gave us a show.

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At one point the tiger came right up to the glass and looked at me:

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Standing three feet from a tiger is an experience, glass or no:

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Not as terrifying as Buddy’s visage, of course, but still something to behold.

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The lions were less welcoming. They were clumped up in the shade of an oak tree, snoozing without so much as a tail flick for motion.

Next was a snow leopard. This guy clearly didn’t deal well with a lot of humans gawking at him, and I could only snap a few shots before he retreated back up a hill in his enclosure, where the angle and brush gave him a measure of cover from human eyes.

I also saw him spinning in a circle repeatedly, a sign of zoochosis. I’m not an animal behaviorist and I’m not qualified to judge the work of the Bronx Zoo’s keepers, who obviously care a great deal for their animals. It’s just a reminder that even the best zoos in the world — with entire teams dedicated to things like enrichment and enclosure design — struggle to keep animals healthy and happy in captivity.

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Even though the name of their species sounds like an Italian dessert and they’re often mistaken for baboons, Gelada are old-world monkeys native to the grasslands of Ethiopia.

Geladas are the only primate species that are grazers: Up to 90 percent of their diet consists of grass and grass seeds. They’re easily recognizable by the hourglass-shaped furless patches on their chests, and they’re the only monkeys to form “herds” instead of troops, with an individual herd’s size swelling to more than 1,000 at a time.

When Geladas aren’t eating they’re grooming each other. Allogrooming, or social grooming, doesn’t just help monkeys keep their fur neat and free of parasitic bugs — it’s also a way of maintaining social bonds and reducing tension.

When I visited, I saw a male Gelada grooming a female. Female “heart patches” are usually more pale than their male counterparts, except when they’re in heat. So it’s probable that this scene is a bit of foreplay during mating season:

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A female on the rocks nearby. The enclosure features a series of cliffs surrounding central grassland, closely mimicking the species’ native habitat:

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This bird got within feet of the path adjacent to its exhibit, and its kind seem to have free reign within the park, as I saw another one hanging out in a wooded area earlier.

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but he was very vocal and insistent about something:

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A group of zebras. I think they were sleeping. These four didn’t move a muscle, and zebras are one of a handful of species who can sleep while standing upright.

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A brown bear enjoys the warm weather, which topped out at almost 80 degrees. Another bear was nearby, taking a dip in the pool.

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And finally, a friendly reminder to the zoo’s visitors: Wear your masks! The zoo enforces an always-on policy for masks, which I think is a reasonable precaution. While masks may not be strictly necessary while strolling down the wide visitor paths of the zoo, viewing spots at popular exhibits can get crowded, and some of them are partially-enclosed.

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