Two U.S. states have now banned declawing as ‘Merica inches closer to joining the rest of the civilized world in prohibiting the brutal practice.
With a stroke of Gov. Larry Hogan’s pen, Maryland became only the second state to ban declawing, joining New York, which outlawed the practice in 2019. Like New York’s version, the new Maryland law prohibits declawing unless it’s deemed medically necessary.
As most cat lovers know, declawing isn’t the manicure-like operation it sounds like. It’s the totally unnecessary, horrific amputation of a cat’s toes up to the first knuckle.
Declawing inflicts a lifetime of pain on cats, changes feline gait and posture, leads to early arthritis and causes a long list of secondary problems. For example, declawed cats are much more likely to bite because they have no other form of defense when they feel threatened, and they’re also much more likely to stop using litter boxes because it hurts to walk on the sand-like and granule texture of the litter with half-amputated toes.
The fact that so much misery is inflicted on innocent animals to protect furniture is indefensible.
The law goes into effect on Oct. 1, and veterinarians who perform the procedure after that time face fines of $1,000 and disciplinary action by the state veterinary board. We’d have preferred immediate implementation and stiffer penalties to prevent a last-minute rush on declawing appointments and discourage anyone considering breaking the law, but a win is a win, and all the major animal advocacy groups are celebrating, as they should.
On paper, the promise of “hypoallergenic cats” sounds great.
For the first time, people who love cats but are allergic to the furry little guys would be able to open up their homes to them. More cat lovers and more homes for cats is always a good thing, right?
Maybe not in this case.
The quest to create cats who do not trigger allergies depends on CRISPR gene editing, a method that allows scientists to edit, delete and replace sections of the genome. In this case, Virginia-based biotech company InBio wants to edit the genome of domestic felines to block Fel d 1 (Felis domesticus allergen I), a protein produced in cat saliva and in tiny subdermal exocrine glands, which secrete the protein via the same ducts that allow a cat’s fur to grow out from its skin.
Since cats are fastidious neat freaks and groom themselves constantly, the Fel d 1-carrying saliva is applied to their coats several times a day. When it dries, it contaminates a cat’s living space by flaking off the fur as dander or by shedding.
That’s why people who are allergic to cats can suffer symptoms like sneezing, itching and watery eyes not only from petting them, but also from spending time in homes where cats live.
What does Fel d 1 do, and why do cats need it?
The problem is that no one knows why cats produce Fel d 1 and what purpose it serves. Other proteins, like Fel d 4 found in pheromones and Fel d 2, help cats communicate by scent and prevent certain fluids from leaving the bloodstream, respectively.
Take a look at this quote from Nicole Brackett, a geneticist at InBio: (The emphasis on certain words is ours)
“The gene sequences don’t appear to be that well conserved over the course of evolution, which suggest things about whether or not the gene is essential,” Brackett told BioSpace, a life sciences publication. “An essential gene, one that would be required for survival or viability, generally doesn’t change much over evolution, and we’re seeing change between the exotic and domestic cat that suggests that maybe those sequences are not conserved, and maybe the protein is not essential.”
While we understand scientists have to be circumspect, especially regarding research that breaks new ground, that’s a lot of hedging and a lot of uncertainty. (It’s also not clear if Brackett is comparing domestic feline Fel d 1 levels to wild cats — felis sylvestris and lybica — wild felids in general, or hybrids like Bengals and Savannah cats, which are more commonly called exotics.)
The team members developing the allergen gene edit assume Fel d 1 doesn’t have a critical function because individual domestic cats and other species of felids may produce different quantities of the protein.
But that’s a huge assumption, and it’s also presumptuous to assume we humans would know whether the gene edits have a major impact on felines. After all, we still don’t always know when cats are in pain or the reasons for many of their behaviors, and we don’t know what sort of cascade effect can be triggered by shutting down the production of a protein.
The race to make cats hypoallergenic
Companies see a huge opportunity for profit in the cat allergy alleviation market. Last year, Purina announced to much fanfare the availability of a new kind of cat food the company claimed would drastically reduce allergens after about three weeks of putting kitties on the new grub.
The claims haven’t been independently verified, and most press coverage is either credulous or consists of marketing masquerading as news coverage, like this advertisement from Purina that is presented like a news story in USA Today.
Back when a company called HypoCat announced it had conducted successful trials of a “vaccine” that would “neutralize’ Fel d 1, we spoke with immunologist Kamal Tirumalai, who pointed out that humans making such profound changes to companion animals for the sake of human convenience “passes neither the scientific nor the moral smell test.”
Like others, Tirumalai said she worried about unintended consequences.
“A vaccine given to cats to reduce their allergenicity for humans burdens them unnecessarily when human allergy to cats is primarily a human problem and should have a human solution in the form of reducing people’s cat allergies,” Tirumalai told PITB at the time. “Cats are perfect as they are. Why should they be the ones forced to change in order to be accommodated by a human whose immune system happens to have a problem with one of their proteins? This solution just doesn’t pass the moral smell test.”
HypoCat uses an injection to “induce anti-Fel d 1 antibodies in the cat,” while the CRISPR technique would snip the relevant DNA out entirely.
So far, Brackett and her colleagues have deleted one of two cat cells that produce Fel d 1 in samples in a petri dish, and have not made any changes to live animals. The experiments yielded a “55 percent knockout rate” for the Fel d 1 allergen, Brackett said, “which we were really happy with.”
Designer kittens: Gattaca for cats
If subsequent attempts are successful and the company sees commercial promise in editing feline genes, the process could be used to create “designer kittens” or to alter the genomes of existing cats. Brackett told Smithsonian magazine that the goal is to accomplish the latter.
But if it turns out the edits don’t work for existing cats, or the designer kitten trend becomes a thing, there’s another major moral concern similar to the objections to cat cloning. If people buy designer kittens, they’re not opening their homes to the millions of cats who need them.
Manipulating feline DNA isn’t a novel idea. A decade ago, a research team spliced genes from jellyfish using a different method to create cats who glow in UV light as part of a study into feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Ultimately it comes down to what we’re willing to do for the sake of our own convenience. At a time when declawing has finally been outlawed in two states and dozens of cities, and people are more conscientious than ever with regard to their pets, do we want to risk their health so we don’t have to pop a few Benadryl?
Older cats could soon have easier lives after the FDA approved the first-ever drug to treat feline arthritis.
Degenerative joint disease and the pain that comes with it is extremely common, impacting 45 percent of all domestic cats and 90 percent of cats older than 10.
It’s the reason kitties “slow down” later in life, it’s a significant blow to quality of life and it often leads to decisions to euthanize beloved pets who are in severe pain. The new drug, called Solensia, has been described as a “highly efficacious treatment” by experts. It can “extend [cat] life, extend their happiness, and extend that beautiful relationship between cats and their owners,” Dr. Duncan Lascelles told USA Today.
“This is absolutely groundbreaking,” said Lascelles, who researches pain and surgical methods at the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine. “I have been in pain research for 30 years and this is the most exciting development that has happened.”
Solensia is administered via injection by veterinarians, with doses calculated by weight. Because traditional painkillers and other drugs can aggravate kidney disease and other common feline ailments, the new medication “marks the first treatment option to help provide relief to cats that are suffering from this condition,” said Dr. Steven Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
“You’re Grounded, Go To Your Room!”
A Nebraska woman called the police on her cat this past Monday, Jan. 10, after kitty supposedly flipped out.
The woman told police she was breaking up a fight between her cats when she warned one of the feline aggressors she would “put it in its room” if the fighting didn’t stop.
“At this point, the cat became enraged and attacked,” the police report says.
The woman suffered “superficial” scratches from the cat’s claws and was treated at a local clinic as a preventative measure. Unfortunately Omaha police took the cat and brought it to the Nebraska Humane Society. It’s not clear if the cat was permanently removed from its home or what its fate will be. Calls to the police and the Humane Society by Newsweek were not immediately returned.
Grudge The Cat Gets Her Own Comic
I’m not a big fan of Discovery, the newest iteration of Star Trek, but there are some elements of the show I like — including Grudge, the feisty Maine Coon companion of the rogueish Cleveland Booker, played by David Ajala.
Now Grudge stars in first issue of a new spinoff comic, dubbed Adventures in the 32nd Century.” The comic will tell Grudge’s origin story, as well as how she encountered Booker and appointed him her loyal human servant.
Although Grudge is female and often referred to as Queen Grudge in the show, she’s played by a pair of Maine Coon brothers, Leeu and Durban, who swap off between acting in front of the camera and napping.
If you can’t get enough of the well-traveled kitty, there’s also The Book of Grudge, in which the Star Trek feline shares her opinion on everything from space travel to the nature of time.
“Depending on what planet you’re on, what sun you’re passing or what temporal anomaly you find yourself in, I’ve learned that time is nothing but an artificial construct,” Grudge muses in the book. “So it’s in everyone’s best interests to synchronize their clocks to me.”
A cat in Colorado has tested positive for the Bubonic Plague.
You read that right. The same bacterial infection that was called the Plague of Justinian back in the 6th century BC, killed one out of every four people living in the Mediterranean, then flared up occasionally every century or two before returning with a vengeance in 14th century Europe, where it was called the Black Death and killed a third of the population on the continent.
The kitty ranges near a public park and likely caught the infection from a rat, local health authorities told KUSA, an NBC news affiliate.
Like many infections, it was never completely eradicated, and WHO statistics show about 100 people die annually of plague.
“While plague is a serious disease, and cases of animal-borne disease in household pets is never something we like to see, it is normal and expected for some animals to contract plague in Jefferson County each year,” said Jim Rada, director of Environmental Health Services for the county. “The good news is that modern antibiotics are effective against plague, and as long as it is treated promptly, severe complications, illness or death can be avoided.”
When we think of outdoor dangers to cats, we tend to think of abusive humans, vehicle traffic or poisons, but this is a reminder that nature can be lethal as well.
While the day was founded in 2005 by an animal welfare advocate and the ASPCA to raise public awareness about the number of shelter cats who need homes, it’s expanded into an opportunity for people to show their cats off online and do something special for them. The day’s founders also recommend a range of ways to celebrate from adopting a new cat, to volunteering at a local shelter, to pampering your own feline.
I’ll be celebrating by giving Bud some catnip and a special treat, and spending extra time playing with him. After he’s tired out, he’ll probably enjoy one of his favorite activities — climbing on top of me and taking a nap.
The Cat Man Cometh
A man accused of brutally murdering his mother and aunt was thrown out of court on Tuesday for repeatedly meowing.
Nicolas Gil Pereg meowed when Judge Laura Guajardo asked him his name and ID number at the beginning of the court hearing, then kept on going, vocalizing a total of 55 times and ignoring a warning from the judge before she lost her patience and had him tossed.
Gil Pereg empezó a gritar como un gato delante de la jueza técnica Laura Guajardo, justo cuando empezaba la lectura de los alegatos de apertura.
El momento quedó captado en la transmisión oficial del Poder Judicial, donde se pudo ver la incomodidad en la sala. pic.twitter.com/MTIWISDj5E
“Mr. Gil Pereg, before the entry of the jury I warned you that if you wanted to remain in the courtroom, you should do so in silence, with respect and decorum,” Guarjardo said in a surreal scene, as the disheveled man continued meowing.
The so-called “cat man” allegedly killed his mom and aunt when they flew in from Israel to visit him in 2019, according to local media reports. Gil Pereg, who lived in a dilapidated home with 37 cats and several dogs, is accused of burying their bodies in shallow graves less than four feet deep on his own property, then reporting them missing to local authorities.
He’s performed his unimpressive approximation of a meow in earlier court trials, and asked to be moved from prison to a psychiatric unit. In addition, he petitioned the judge to allow him to have his cats with him in psychiatric care.
During earlier hearings, he stripped his clothes off and urinated in front of the judge, according to the Daily Mail. Before the murders, he had assumed the name Floda Reltih — Adolf Hitler backwards — for an indeterminate period of time, reports say.
Gil Pereg’s attorneys argue he’s not sane, but so far there’s no indication the court is buying it. A 2020 evaluation by criminal psychologists described Gil Pereg as a “hostile, evasive, challenging, ironic and confrontational person.” The accused murderer is manipulative, the forensic psychologists said, and only expresses emotions toward his pets.
The prosecutor warned the trial’s six jurors “not to be fooled” by the eccentric man’s behavior, saying his calculated actions after the murders show he fully understood “the criminality of his actions.”
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.