Category: Buddy

Dear Buddy: Can Cats Sense Ghosts?

Dear Buddy,

Can cats sense ghosts? My Mr. Cuddles sometimes stares at blank walls or gets up and starts zooming around the house for no apparent reason at 3 a.m.

I’m pretty sure he can see and sense ghosts. After all, what other explanation can there be for that kind of behavior? But since you’re the smartest cat in the world and an expert on everything, I thought I’d ask you first.

Thanks!

Ghost Believer in Great Britain


Dear Ghost Believer,

First I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight: I did NOT run screaming when I watched The Ring with my human, and I did NOT run to my litter box and cry when we watched Alien. Those are vicious lies invented by Los Gatos, the criminal catnip cartel, who will stop at nothing to discredit me. Now for the answer to your question:

According to Occam’s razor, “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Or to put it another way, “It is pointless to do with more what can be done with fewer.”

Consider, my friend, that the burden of proof rests with the person who claims ghosts exist. Not once in the history of humans — or cats — has anyone been able to provide legitimate evidence of the supernatural. In fact, the word supernatural itself precludes existence on the physical plane: If we can see it, hear it, smell it and feel it, it exists in the physical world, and therefore cannot be supernatural.

This is why, invariably, supernatural phenomena turn out to be things we just don’t understand yet, and by understanding them we remove all the mystery.

The sun isn’t a god riding a chariot across the sky, it’s a star and our world is caught in its orbit. Lightning isn’t an angry Zeus hurling bolts from Olympus, it’s an electrostatic discharge that produces a flash of extreme heat in the atmosphere, leading to a visible flash and a shockwave we call thunder. The Pythia at Delphi wasn’t an oracle who communed with the gods, she was just really, really high off gases that seeped up from a fault line beneath the temple.

Cat Zeus
“I am Cat Zeus! Fear me, for my lightning bolts are powerful and my epic beard is comprised of cats!”

So, too, do our odd feline behaviors have mundane explanations:

  • We can hear things you can’t hear. If you see us staring at blank walls, we’re probably engaged in deep thought (I like to ponder the Fermi paradox and quantum entanglement), or maybe we’re looking in the direction of a sound we can hear, but falls outside of your hearing range. (We felines can hear sounds up to 64,000 Hz, while your inferior human ears can’t catch anything above 20,000 Hz.) That means you may be oblivious to the mice chirping behind the wall, but we know all about them.
  • We can see things you can’t see. You think it’s pitch black? That’s cute. While you stumble around with your eyes useless in the dark, we can see just fine. In fact, even the tiniest sliver of light — an amount imperceptible to you — is enough for us to successfully navigate obstacles in a room or catch movement in our field of vision. You may think we’re pawing at invisible entities at bedtime, but really we’re just swatting flies in the dark.
  • We can feel micro-changes in air density. Our whiskers aren’t just about making us look good. They help us navigate tight spaces and they’re super-sensitive. How sensitive? They’re so packed with nerves and blood vessels at the base that they’re at least as sensitive as your fingertips! You can silently pass wind in the hallway and we’ll be aware of it in the bedroom as our whiskers register the tiniest shifts in air current. Your farts stink, by the way.
  • We can smell things you can’t smell. Speaking of stinky, did you know we have 200 million olfactory receptors? You humans only have five million. Who’s the superior species now, huh? You think we’re furry little wizards who can sense you coming home, or possess powers of precognition, but the truth is we just pick up your nasty Axe body spray from half a mile away. Ghosts don’t wear Axe body spray, or Curve, or Cool Water for that matter.

By now you should have noticed a common theme. You might have bigger brains than us because your heads are huge, but we know all about all sorts of good stuff happening around us while you humans remain oblivious to it. Heck, sometimes you don’t even see or hear things happening right in front of you because you’ve always got your faces buried in those stupid screens!

Buddy's Whiskers
Bud’s Whiskers: Stylish and functional!

If we did sense ghosts, you can be sure we’d meow at them for treats and demand they let us in the bathroom, but we don’t. Also, I personally wouldn’t be scared, but lesser cats might get freaked out if they see ghosts, and you’d know because they’d go all white and try to hide under the blankets.

Hope that clears things up!

Your friend,

Buddy

Buddy the Cat Spotted With Jaguars In The Amazon

MATO GROSSO DO SUL, Brazil — Fisherman and naturalists working in the Pantanal have reported a strange sight in recent weeks — a domestic cat tagging along with jaguars.

The gray tabby was observed lounging on the banks of the Amazon, napping in a tree and struggling to take bites out of a caiman killed by a generous jaguar, witnesses reported.

“HQ, we’ve got something extraordinary here,” a naturalist was heard reporting over local radio channels. “A jaguarundi is — no, scratch that — a house cat! A house cat is following a group of jaguars from the river bank into the deeper jungle.”

The feline in question was identified as Buddy the Cat of New York after his concerned human reached out to local authorities and appealed to the Brazilian press for his safe return.

“He does this all the time,” the New York man, identified as Big Buddy, told an interviewer from Folha De S. Paulo. “First he broke into the tiger exhibit at the Bronx Zoo and tried to get the tigers to accept him, only to be claimed as a cub by one of the tigresses. It took weeks to convince the zoo to get him out, and when I got him home I had to bathe him five times just to get the stink of tiger saliva off his fur.

“Then somehow he made his way to Tanzania, where he wandered around the Maasai Steppe for a few weeks trying to get into a lion pride. He failed miserably in that endeavor, too. Now with the jaguars. It never ends.”

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Buddy the Cat, known as Kinich Bajo to his jaguar friends, pictured here in the Amazon.

The exasperated New York man claimed responsibility for his failure to keep his “ridiculous” cat from adventuring, but also blamed the transportation industry for accommodating Buddy.

“Who the hell allows an unaccompanied cat to take a bus or board an airplane?” he asked. “How did he end up in first class, sipping champagne and buzzing the stewardesses for more turkey every five minutes? I’m told he got quite drunk and threatened to become combative if he didn’t get an entire fried turkey.”

Asked why his cat was obsessed with ingratiating himself to larger cat species, Big Buddy answered without hesitation.

“He’s a dumbass,” the human said. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very cute, very loving little guy, and often a good boy, but a dumbass all the same.”

Buddy’s human said the 10-pound domestic cat often tears around the house, ambushing animate and inanimate objects and practicing his roar, “but he sounds like Elmo singing a funk song in falsetto.”

jaguar-big-cat
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As of press time, Buddy the Cat still hadn’t returned home. Jaguars are known to be extraordinarily laid back compared to other big cats, and a loosely-affiliated group of the South American apex predators seemed to tolerate the domestic kitty.

“I can’t leave now,” Buddy told reporters. “They’ve begun to accept me! It would be a violation of trust if I just left them to eat all this delicious food by themselves.”

Kinich Ahau, the local jaguar elder, said his extended family had taken a liking to Buddy.

“Have you heard of this turkey? We did not know of it. It is wondrous!” the great jaguar said. “Buddy, or Kinich Bajo as he is known to us, has also shared great wisdom in the form of new and comfortable napping techniques. On the first night, we observed him construct a soft bed of leaves for himself in the crook of a branch, and over the following suns and moons we have come to appreciate softer napping spots.”

Buddy had sparked a renaissance in jaguarian napping technique, Kinich Ahau said.

“Nobody naps like Buddy,” he said. “No one!”

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Brothers: Xibalbá, left, with Kinich Bajo and Ek B’alam.

With the fond support of the Amazon’s jaguars, Buddy was set to undergo an ancient shamanistic ritual involving the imbibing of Ayahuasca, a powerful psychoactive brew said to reveal cosmological secrets to those who drink it as part of a spiritual ceremony.

“We would not have invited Kinich Bajo, or Buddy as you call him, to commune with the ancient B’alam (jaguar) spirits if we did not sense a deep spirituality and wisdom inside him,” said an elder jaguar shaman named Mike the Melanistic. “He has shown us the way in matters of snacking and napping, and now as we welcome him to our ethereal fraternity, we shall accompany him on his journey to the stars, where he will drink of the deep knowledge of our ancestors.”

Buddy himself told a reporter he was looking forward to the ceremony.

“It’ll grant me, like, awesome powers and shit,” he said. “I’ll be able to disappear in a puff of mist like the jaguars do, my muscles will get bigger and, like, I’ll be able to sniff out snacks from up to a mile away. Pretty cool, if you ask me.”

At press time the jaguar shaman elders said the ceremony does not, in fact, grant such powers.

Bud’s Book Club: The Game of Rat and Dragon

A week ago we kicked off Bud’s Book Club with a short story, The Game of Rat and Dragon, and a non-fiction book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon. This post deals exclusively with the former. (If you haven’t read the story yet, it’s available here free. Most people will be able to read the story in less than a half hour at a moderate reading pace.)

By now everyone who’s read the story knows what it’s about: Cats, of course! But the story requires a bit of world-building setup before the kitties are introduced:

In an unspecified future humans have become a true spacefaring species, mastering interstellar travel and founding colonies in new star systems.

It’s a lot like the days of colonial powers founding settlements in the New World, but without the ugliness of terrestrial colonization or the quaintness of crossing a mere ocean.

Using a form of traveling called planoforming — essentially faster-than-light (FTL) jumps — human ships are able to reach distant star systems without traveling for the decades or centuries it would normally take to cross the unfathomable distances between solar systems.

Just when it looks like no obstacle remains for humanity to spread out into the galaxy, the intrepid explorers on the rim of human-occupied space realize there’s an insidious threat lurking in the void between stars.

Huge entities, invisible to the human eye, live in the vacuum of the interstellar medium. They haunt the void and attack human ships without warning. They are “beasts more clever than beasts, demons more tangible than demons, hungry vortices of aliveness and hate compounded by unknown means out of the thin tenuous matter between the stars,” author Cordwainer Smith writes.

When the mysterious entities attack, most people are mercifully killed in an instant, but the unlucky ones survive in a permanent state of insanity, their minds unable to cope with whatever alien malevolence they’ve witnessed.

As they learn more from each disastrous encounter, humans come to understand these creatures prefer the deep dark, shying away from star systems and their abundant sunlight.

But without a way to make it across the void, it becomes clear the era of human exploration and colonization is over unless something can be done to stop the enemy.

ratanddragon

To extend the nautical theme, you can think of the dragons as giant krakens who prey on trade ships and passenger liners crossing between the American colonies and Europe during the Age of Sail. Although pushing the boundaries of new frontiers has always been dangerous, you can imagine how quickly intercontinental trade and settlement would grind to a halt if, say, half of all ships were sunk en route.

Humans can’t see the dragons, but that isn’t the primary reason they can’t successfully fight them. After all, the history of human warfare proves we’ve become adept at destroying enemies we can’t see, whether a ship’s dropping depth charges on a submarine hidden in murky waters, or some 20-year-old kid on an aircraft carrier hundreds of miles out to sea is using a joystick to lob drone-fired missiles on mainland buildings.

The real problem is that people just aren’t quick enough, unable to target and fire on the dragons before the entities react and speed away to safety.

So they turn to cats.

Kitties to the rescue

With their incredible reflexes, reaction time and hunting instincts, cats are more than a match for the dragons, and here’s where the story starts to get really fun. Cats, we’re told, travel alongside human vessels in their own little football-shaped ships that are equipped with precision miniature nuclear warheads.

Cats are happy to destroy the dragons — if their humans present the conflict as a game, make the “dragons” look like rats, and offer substantial rewards in the form of fish and poultry.

Space Kitty
“I come from the Great Litterbox in the Sky!”

That’s why the cats are called Partners: Using some sort of brain link, specially trained humans pair up with the cats, mentally project images of the dragons as “gigantic rats,” and act like spotters so the kitties can pounce on their space rodents before the latter can hurt the human passengers.

Because the dragons are harmed by light, the cats lob “ultra-vivid miniature photonuclear bombs, which [convert] a few ounces of a magnesium isotope into pure visible radiance,” neutralizing the threat before anyone can be harmed.

The mind link between human being and cat is a two-way connection, affording cats a close-up view of human thought patterns just as the humans can feel the kitty’s mental processes.

We learn that our hero, Underhill, loves the feline Partners, and he’s deeply offended when a fellow soldier mocks his work by meowing at him. We also learn the cats understand that, while their task is dressed up as a fun hunting game, they face real danger when they fight the dragons.

The mind of a cat

Through Underhill’s eyes, we meet several of the Partners.

My favorite is an unnamed tomcat, described as “a greedy old character, a tough old male whose mind was full of slobbering thoughts of food, veritable oceans full of half-spoiled fish. Father Moontree had once said that he burped cod liver oil for weeks after drawing that particular glutton, so strongly had the telepathic image of fish impressed itself upon his mind. Yet the glutton was a glutton for danger as well as for fish. He had killed sixty-three Dragons, more than any other Partner in the service, and was quite literally worth his weight in gold.”

astrocat
“To boldly go where no moggy has gone before!”

We’re told that the cats recognize the complexity of human minds, but aren’t necessarily impressed by them. The things humans concern themselves with and worry about are “silly” from a cat’s perspective (which, perhaps not coincidentally, is how the philosopher John Gray imagines how cats view us), and cats can quickly grow bored with a human too focused on highly abstract thoughts or subjects that simply don’t have much bearing on feline life:

“Usually the Partners didn’t care much about the human minds with which they were paired for the journey. The Partners seemed to take the attitude that human minds were complex and fouled up beyond belief, anyhow. No Partner ever questioned the superiority of the human mind, though very few of the Partners were much impressed by that superiority.

The Partners liked people. They were willing to fight with them. They were even willing to die for them. But when a Partner liked an individual the way, for example, that Captain Wow or the Lady May liked Underhill, the liking had nothing to do with intellect. It was a matter of temperament, of feel.

Underhill knew perfectly well that Captain Wow regarded his, Underhill’s, brains as silly. What Captain Wow liked was Underhill’s friendly emotional structure, the cheerfulness and glint of wicked amusement that shot through Underhill’s unconscious thought patterns, and the gaiety with which Underhill faced danger. The words, the history books, the ideas, the science—Underhill could sense all that in his own mind, reflected back from Captain Wow’s mind, as so much rubbish.”

Underhill is as fond of Captain Wow and Lady May, a friendly Persian, as they are of him. He’s happy when he’s called upon to defend a ship and finds out he’s been paired with the latter:

“When he had first come into contact with her mind, he was astonished at its clarity. With her he remembered her kittenhood. He remembered every mating experience she had ever had. He saw in a half-recognizable gallery all the other pinlighters with whom she had been paired for the fight. And he saw himself radiant, cheerful and desirable.”

spacecats

What’s unique about this story — and what makes it particularly memorable, in my opinion — is Cordwainer Smith’s decision to explore the feline mind.

Out on a limb, from a feline world view

Minds, human or animal, are called “black boxes” for a reason. Even with the benefit of advanced science, even with fMRI and other forms of imaging, even with algorithmic AI that can read thoughts and sketch rudimentary images from our minds, we really don’t know what others are thinking, human or animal.

Smith goes out on a limb by imagining what must go on in the minds of cats, and it’s obvious he’s not only a cat lover, but he had a lifetime of experience with our furry friends when he wrote the story.

The idea that cats are all about emotion and tangible things — and are bored by things humans concern themselves with — seems dead on, as does the idea that cats aren’t impressed by our intellectual superiority, which only counts as superiority in human terms. Even if they had opposable thumbs and the means to create, would cats be interested in the kind of things we do?

Probably not. God only knows what kind of structures cats might build and what songs they’d write, but I’m pretty sure my cat would write paeans to turkey.

Did you like the story? What are your thoughts?

Buddy’s Gate Crashing My Dreams

Buddy has a tendency to show up in my dreams, which I attribute to his relentless insistence on messing with me while I’m asleep, whether it’s yowling in my ear for breakfast, deciding my nose needs grooming or just burrowing into me with a soft “Mrrrrrp!”

Last night, however, was a doozy. I dreamt I was back in high school, but instead of being in class I was in the newsroom at my first-ever newspaper job, which somehow occupied the third floor of the school building. I excused myself to go have a smoke — which I don’t do anymore — and walked down to the first floor where Bud was waiting for me near the door leading outside.

To say I was alarmed to find him just hanging out unsupervised in my high school-slash-workplace would be an understatement.

“Bud!” I said. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I came here with you, remember?” Buddy answered, speaking as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “We took the Celica.”

I sighed.

“I can’t have you running around here where someone could snatch you,” I said. “You’re going back in the car until I’m done for the day.”

“No I’m not!”

“Yes you are!”

“Oh yeah?” Buddy asked. “Where’s the car?”

Celica
A black Celica just like the one I owned until it died one day on the highway en route to Long Island.

And that’s when my dream morphed into a recurring nightmare, which is that I’m walking through a parking lot and can’t find my car. (In this case the car I got at 19 years old, a black Celica hatchback that was all sleek looks and underwhelming engine power. I still miss that car!) In these dreams I start to panic, redouble my efforts, and realize the parking lot is so huge, so endless that I’m gonna need a lift, someone to drive me around so I can look for my car

Buddy smile
“I’m a little Buddy, short and sweet! Here are my clawses, here are my feet!”

Maybe I can ease my anxiety in future dreams by dispatching Buddy to look for the car, but in last night’s dream he was clearly responsible for moving it.

“Bud…” I said. “What’d you do with the car?”

Dreams have a way of making it seem perfectly reasonable that a 10-pound house cat can not only speak, but drive a car.

I was absolutely sure that little jerk had hidden my car! (And here’s the standard disclaimer for all new readers: “little jerk” is a term of endearment when it comes to Bud. I love the little guy, obviously.)

I know it was just a dream, but it’s probably not a bad idea to hide my keys from now on…

Bud’s Book Club: The Man-Eaters of Kumaon & The Game of Rat and Dragon

Welcome to the inaugural post of Buddy’s Book Club, where we’ll read stories about cats and stories involving cats!

We’re going to start things off easy with a classic short story of the cat canon, which is available for free online via Project Gutenberg, and a seminal book about big cats from a man whose name is indelibly linked with them.

The Game of Rat and Dragon (1954) by Cordwainer Smith

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Read it here for free from Project Gutenberg, a collaborative effort to create a digital archive of important cultural literary works that have fallen into the public domain. For those unfamiliar with Project Gutenberg, it’s completely above-board, legal and safe for your devices, and the story opens in plain HTML with illustrations included as image files. You can read the story in a browser or download it onto a reading device, tablet or phone.

The Game of Rat and Dragon first appeared, as so much short fiction of the era did, in a digest. Although Smith had penned it the year before, the story was published in Galaxy Science Fiction’s October 1955 issue and became an instant classic among cat-lovers and science fiction aficionados. (There is considerable overlap between the two, not surprisingly: Introverts whose imaginations run wild when they look to the stars tend to have many of the same personality traits as people who prefer the more sublime antics of cats.)

The Game of Rat and Dragon imagines a far future in which humanity has become a star-faring culture, meaning we’ve conquered interstellar flight and have begun to colonize planets in star systems other than our own.

There is, of course, a problem. The dark, lonely void between stars isn’t as empty as we thought it was, and is inhabited by invisible (to the human eye), inscrutable, inexorable entities eventually dubbed “dragons.”

When dragons attack they leave only death and insanity in their wake, putting the entire idea of interstellar travel at risk. Imagine if there was a not-insignificant chance of your passenger jet being attacked by impervious creatures every time you hopped on a plane. It wouldn’t be long before the entire air industry collapsed and the world suddenly became a much bigger place, with other continents unreachable by air.

Who can help humans with this problem? Cats, of course! To say more would be to spoil the fun. Meow!

Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944) by Jim Corbett

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Available as an ebook for 99 cents from Barnes and Noble.

Jim Corbett was a sportsman, the son of a government official in the British Raj who was raised in India’s jungles and came to know them intimately. He’s best remembered as the fearless hunter who finally brought down the infamous Champawat tigress, who officially claimed 436 lives over a years-long rampage as a man-eater, and likely many more that went unrecorded.

To understand the gravity of Corbett’s accomplishments, it’s necessary to understand the effect of a man-eater on rural India. The people living in India’s tiny villages are subsistence farmers. If they don’t farm, they don’t eat.

But when a man-eater as dangerous as the Champawat tigress claims an area as its hunting grounds, everything grinds to a halt: Farmers refuse to tend their fields, villagers disappear behind locked doors, and a simple walk to a neighboring village becomes an impossibility unless escorted by a group of two dozen or more armed men. Even then it’s a risk, for as Corbett notes, when tigers become man-eaters they have no fear of humans and will kill people in broad daylight, even when they’re in groups.

And yet for all their power and predatory instincts, tigers are never deliberately cruel and don’t harm humans willingly. Tigers become man-eaters by unfortunate circumstance, usually due to negligence or stupidity on the part of humans.

The Champawat tigress, for example, was like any other big cat until a human hunter took aim and shot her in the mouth, destroying one lower canine completely and shattering another. The tiger could no longer take down her usual prey, or at least not without serious difficulty. At some point — perhaps after encountering the body of a person it did not kill — the tigress realized she could survive on human flesh.

If that hadn’t happened, those 436-plus souls wouldn’t have been lost, an entire region wouldn’t have been brought to its knees, and the tigress would have continued life as normal.

The vast majority of the time, tigers are content to let humans be.

“I think of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who, while working in the forests or cutting grass or collecting dry sticks, pass day after day close to where tigers are lying up and who, when they return safely to their homes, do not even know that they have been under the observation of this so called ‘cruel’ and ‘bloodthirsty’ animal,” Corbett writes.

Despite his reputation as the man to enlist when a man-eater terrorized a region, Corbett saw the way things were trending a century ago, and begged people to let the big cats live undisturbed.

“A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage,” he wrote, “and that when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”

Corbett would undoubtedly be deeply disturbed by the situation today, with only some 4,000 wild tigers remaining in the entire world, and the glorious species mostly reduced to spending life in captivity, constantly sedated so that idiots can pay to take selfies with them.

The Man-Eaters of Kumaon follows Corbett on 10 hunts of man-eating tigers and leopards. It’s also a story of life in the British Raj, rural life in India, Corbett’s jungle adventures, his love for his loyal hunting dog and his turn toward conservation.

Schedule:

We can do the short story in a week, yeah? Let’s shoot for one week for The Game of Rat and Dragon, and two weeks for The Man-Eaters of Kumaon. We’ll adjourn and discuss in follow-up posts. Happy reading!