Barsik the cat made headlines about five months ago when he was surrendered to a Manhattan animal shelter at a whopping 41 pounds.
The five-year-old was kept in the shelter’s office because he couldn’t comfortably fit into a standard cat cage, and a regular carrier couldn’t contain him either so he was carted in a stroller, according to the New York Post.
To add insult to injury, when staffers at the shelter wheeled Barsik inside, an amused visitor dug out her cell phone, laughed as she snapped a few photos and asked: “Did he eat another cat?”
Barsik has come a long way since that depressing day.
The big guy has been in the foster care of Angelique Iuzzolino of New York’s Anjellicle Cats, and he’s been steadily dropping weight.
Barsik weighs 34.9 33.3 pounds, according to Iuzzolino, who has been posting updates on Barsik’s Instagram. He’s still extra chonk, but he’s no longer in danger of matching the 46-pound Guinness record for a cat. Most importantly, he’s making progress.
He certainly looks a lot happier than he did when he was abandoned by his former people:
Barsik will be up for adoption, but if you’re interested in the big guy you’ll have to wait. He’s got a few more pounds to lose before he goes to his forever home.
The mirror test has been the de facto gauge of animal self-awareness since it was invented in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr., mostly because no one’s figured out a better way to determine if animals understand who they are.
The procedure is simple: When the animal is asleep or sedated researchers will add a smudge of red paint, a sticker or some other visible mark on the animal’s face. Then they place a mirror nearby.
If the animal wakes up, looks in the mirror and tries to probe or wipe away the new mark, it passes the self-awareness test. It means the animal understands the image in the mirror is a reflection of itself and not another animal, according to researchers.
Cats, who are notoriously difficult to work with in controlled studies, have never passed the mirror test. Dubbed “the world’s most uncooperative research subject,” cats are a challenge even for the most seasoned animal cognition experts.
“I can assure you it’s easier to work with fish than cats,” one scientist told Slate magazine. “It’s incredible.”
It’s not clear if cats don’t recognize themselves or simply can’t be bothered. Indeed, one of the primary criticisms of the mirror test is that, like most measures of animal cognition, it employs a human perspective to gauge non-human intelligence. It assumes that animals use vision as their primary source of information, as humans do, and it assumes that animals will be immediately driven to touch or remove an unfamiliar mark.
Buddy has a long and tumultuous history with mirrors. As a tiny kitten he once pulled down a thick, heavy wood-framed mirror from a wall, smashing the glass on impact. Thankfully he avoided injury.
As he got older, Buddy graduated to his boxing phase: He’d stand in front of a mirror, put his weight on his back legs and “box” the Buddy in the mirror with a series of quick jabs. Even from another room I knew instantly when he was boxing his reflection thanks to his high-pitched trills and the THWAP-THWAP-THWAP!! of his little paws against the glass.
The boxing phase eventually gave way to the narcissism phase, when Buddy would park himself in front of the mirror and stare at his reflection, occasionally raising a paw to the glass or waving at himself.
Was this evidence of self-awareness? Did little Bud now realize he was staring at his own reflection? After all, even humans don’t pass the mirror test until they’re two years old, so it’s entirely possible a cat can come to understand what it’s seeing in the mirror just like kids can.
Then one day I was shaving with the bathroom door open when Buddy padded up behind me and meowed to get my attention. Instead of turning to face him, I kept shaving, locked eyes with him in the mirror and gave him a slow-blink of recognition. He blinked back.
Finally, yesterday the roles were reversed: Buddy was sitting in front of the mirror while I was reading a few feet away.
“Hi, Bud!” I said, putting my tablet down.
Buddy, still staring into the mirror, met my gaze and blinked at me. Then in a moment that might have been confusion or dawning comprehension, he turned from the mirror-me to the real me, then turned back to the mirror. He blinked at me again.
Is that evidence of self-awareness? If Buddy still thought that the images in the mirror were different animals, wouldn’t he freak out upon realizing there are now two Big Buddies? Or would he meow with joy at the serendipitous development of a second Big Buddy to do his bidding?
He didn’t do any of those things. He took it in stride and reacted to mirror-me the same way he always reacts to regular me.
Skeptics will say this little anecdote proves nothing. It is, after all, just an anecdote, and it’s a far cry from a well-designed, controlled study with a few dozen feline participants.
That’s all true. But maybe we’re onto something here. Maybe instead of the traditional mirror test, which cats don’t seem to be interested in, a new mirror test could gauge how cats react to their owners as seen in a mirror.
Cats are never satisfied with doing things the “normal” way. Why should the mirror test be any different?
What do you think of them? I can’t believe it. I think they’re awful and I’m scared. I have a good home, but what if my mama died or something and no other people came to help me and I was left outside? Would this happen to me?
Stasi from ‘Stralia.
This is from the third link you sent me:
“…good news, folks! You can legit be a bounty hunter in Australia. Sort of. Now before you get excited over traveling around Australia, hunting down outlaws, and slamming down bounty posters onto a sheriff’s desk in demand of payment, people are off-limits if you decide to be a bounty hunter in Australia.
No, what you’ll be hunting are – wait for it – cats. Feral cats to be specific.
The Banana Shire Council up in Queensland is offering bounties on the presentation of feral cat scalps and are willing to pay you $10 per scalp.”
Oh, what brave hunters, stalking the outback with bolt-action rifles to combat the plague of 10-pound kitties! Well, I’ll bet they’re as heroic as this guy:
Don’t worry, Stasi. Buddy will give these Australians a piece of his mind. And if those savages don’t stop, you can come live with Buddy in New York.
His Grace, Buddy the King Dated August the 14th, 5 A.B. (Anno Buddy)
To the Foul, Ignoble Degenerates of Australia,
After enquiring about your country, having never heard of it before receiving this most unfortunate news, we have been reliably informed that “Australia” is a former penal colony for English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh riff-raff who were banished from their home countries.
Some 160,000 criminals were forcibly transported to your abominable hovel of a “country,” where the assorted scoundrels, reprobates and rapscallions engineered a vulgar approximation of civilization. Fueled by alcohol, you copulated and produced more pissants. Generations of them, which brings us to you.
We understand there are two primary reasons for this: Our collective impact on local species, and Greg, best known to humans as the Bane of Birds, the vicious white cat who snacked on an entire bird sanctuary.
Look, Greg is a dick. We freely admit that.
We told him those birds were in a sanctuary. We told him not to eat the birds. We told him to stop messing with humans. We even told him to stop hogging the Temptations.
Greg didn’t listen, and now Greg’s dead. At your hands.
We offer the opportunity for a cease fire. You got Greg. There’s no reason for you to continue hunting us with rifles and arrows like the wimps you are, terrified of getting scratched by creatures that weigh 1/20 your weight even if we are 10 times your superior.
We control rodent populations. We are furry and we like to cuddle. We are like warm, purring pillows of love and cuteness. What more could you want?
And so we extend this olive branch in the sincere hope that you take it. Recall your “hunters” or face our wrath!
Signed, His Grace, Buddy the King First of His Name, Sole Sovereign of the Fields of Turkey, Ruler of New York, Protector of the Apartmental Realm, the Most Handsome, Totally Not Scared of Anything
Gather round, kids, and listen to another tale of how cats always win.
My cousin has been married to her husband, Rob, for more than 25 years, and on one of their early dates he took her to the Bronx Zoo.
These were the days before the famously large tiger enclosure was remodeled into Tiger Mountain. Nowadays a series of huge fiberglass panels separates the tigers from the visitors, meaning there’s no open air between them.
You can probably thank Rob for that.
Back then only a reinforced fence separated the Earth’s biggest cats from people who’d come to gawk at them, and Rob decided he’d get my cousin to laugh by goofing off in front of a tiger.
He started off making a few faces, and the other visitors — kids, their parents, other couples looking at the tiger — found it funny. (At least according to Rob they did.)
Encouraged, Rob stepped up his act, dancing and waving until one tiger in particular took interest.
“What are you going to do, tiger?” he taunted. “That’s right! Nothing! You can’t do anything!”
The tiger roared, and Rob roared back. The huge cat was clearly not amused by a human dancing like a clown, making stupid faces and taunting it with an insulting approximation of a roar.
So the tiger turned around.
“That’s right!” Rob said, declaring premature victory. “Walk away! You can’t do nothin’!”
Oh, but the tiger could.
The annoyed cat raised its tail, backed up a stride and let loose a projectile — “a wad” is how Rob described it — of thick, gooey urine, hitting Rob square in the face.
The tiger had impeccable aim.
“It was enough to fill that,” Rob said, pointing to a large soda bottle. “It was all over me. It was in my mouth!”
Rob staggered back and lost his footing, taking one of the young bystanders with him as he fell. The angry mother stared daggers at him as she yanked her kid away, realizing with horror that he’d suffered collateral damage from the gooey salvo.
As for the tiger, it chuffed and, having proved its point, sauntered away.
Miraculously, my cousin agreed to continue dating Rob. Not that she found the episode flattering.
“That should have been the big warning sign,” she joked.
Today they have two adult daughters. As for Rob, he’s an executive at one of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, but says he has no illusions about his level of maturity.
“The way I was back then is the way I am now,” he told me. “I’m still an idiot.”
He may be an idiot, but he’s not going to mess with any more tigers.
At the dawn of time in 1 AB (Anno Buddy), a mommy cat gave birth to a litter of feisty felines. They were strapping young kitties, and when the time came for them to pair up with humans and move to their new homes, they went one-by-one.
All except one, the smallest and runtiest of the bunch. He was sick and he had a limp, but he was a happy little boy. Every day he waved goodbye to his brothers and sisters, and wondered if anyone would want him. He was small and his mew was only a squeak, but he already had a very big heart and lots of love to give.
Then it happened. A mysterious stranger enquired about the runt and almost two weeks later he arrived in person to take the little kitten home. The little kitten was scared. This human put music on in the car ride home, and his singing voice was terrible!
The kitten cried.
“Don’t worry,” the human said as he drove. “Me and you are going to be best buddies! You’ll see!”
After arriving at a strange new place, claiming every inch of it and pooping under the human’s bed for two weeks, the little kitten knew he had found his home. The human’s bed became his bed. The human became his pillow. Things were turning out okay.
The human fed the kitten healthy food. The kitten’s limp improved, his coat started to look healthy, and his poops were less nasty. The kitten also learned that the box with litter inside it was for the aforementioned pooping, not for making sand castles.
The kitten still had no name. One day the human’s mom observer her son with the kitten, and after her son called the cat “little buddy,” she said: “That’s a perfect name for him: Bud. You guys are the Buddies. Buddy number one and Buddy number two.”
They were henceforth known as Big Buddy and Little Buddy.
The big human and little cat became best friends. One day Big Buddy brought home a harness. Little Buddy didn’t like it. But after a lot of practice, Little Buddy learned to accept the harness and learned how to walk on it next to his Big Buddy.
It was during one of those walks that a human female saw Little Buddy and declared him the cutest kitten ever. Suddenly Little Buddy realized he was very handsome, and embarked on a career as a kitty model that continues to this day.
Soon Little Buddy began pumping iron, and began the transformation to the strong, regal kitty with huge muscles that you’re familiar with today.