Category: travel

TSA Baggage Scan Reveals Kitty Stowaway In Luggage

It was a tuft of orange hair poking out from the zipper of a carry-on suitcase that first alerted a TSA agent that something weird was going on.

The agent, who was processing a traveler departing from New York’s JFK airport on Tuesday morning, then consulted an x-ray scan, confirming the suitcase contained some unusual cargo — a ginger tabby cat tucked in among toiletries, snug and napping comfortably in the enclosed space.

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An x-ray scan revealed Smells tucked snugly into the suitcase. Credit: TSA
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The incriminatory tuft of orange hair that gave away Smells’ hiding spot. Credit: TSA

As for the traveler, the cat didn’t belong to him, nor was he aware kitty had climbed inside. It turned out he had been a house guest of friends living in Brooklyn, and the cat named Smells had slipped into the luggage before he left for home, for what is a suitcase if not just another box?

The TSA confirmed the story with the cat’s owner before letting the traveler board his Florida-bound flight.

“An officer called and asked if I wanted to press charges” said Alix, Smells’ 37-year-old human. “He wanted to know if there was any reason [the passenger] was trying to steal my cat and go to Florida.”

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A TSA security agent opens the suitcase to reveal its unauthorized would-be stowaway. Credit: TSA

After Alix assured the TSA agent that Smells “really likes to check out boxes” and definitely would have climbed in on his own, she hired a driver to retrieve the kitty, who was unperturbed by the adventure.

“I was worried he’d be freaked out but he wasn’t even meowing on the way back,” Alix told the New York Post. “I went to give him some extra treats and he acted like nothing had happened.”

As for the TSA — which often deals with more serious finds like guns and drugs secreted into passengers’ luggage — the saga of Smells was a welcome change that gave them a good story and some laughs.

“On the bright side,” TSA spokesman Lisa Farbstein wrote on Twitter, “the cat’s out of the bag and safely back home.”

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Smells the cat. Credit: His humans
“I was worried he’d be freaked out but he wasn’t even meowing on the way back,” she said. “I went to give him some extra treats and he acted like nothing had happened.”

Sue, My Dear Cat Sitter, I Love You!

Have I mentioned how much I love my cat sitter?

Not only has she fed and watered Buddy almost every time I’ve been away these last few years, she’s done a great job and she even continues to watch Buddy despite the fact that Bud attacked hertwice.

She doesn’t play with him anymore since the second incident, and I don’t blame her. He’s known her since he was a kitten, for crying out loud. I’m sure he attacked her out of bratty frustration that she wasn’t me coming through the door, not because he was scared an unknown intruder was coming in.

Still, Sue’s so good that she was reluctant to tell me Bud attacked her because she didn’t want me to think there was a problem.

I appreciate Sue even more after reading this Reddit post about a couple who entrusted their neighbor’s 16-year-old son to watch their cat and dog while they were away for a few days.

Here’s the gist of it straight from the source:

He was supposed to let the dog out twice a day and keep an eye on the food and water. The cat is an indoor cat and he was to feed her.

Two days in he lost our key so I had to give him the garage code so he could get in.

We got home after 4 days and the cat was no where to be found. I called him and asked when the last time was he saw the cat, he told me that morning. Well we knew the cat was gone and checked our security cameras. We saw her at 5:30am on the camera outside so at a minimum she had been out since the day before. (I can see the history of when the garage opens and closes in our app) and he hasn’t been there that early. I had also checked her litter box and it was pretty clean, so she was probably gone for 2 nights.

When I told him the cat was gone he did come over and offer to go look for her and took off in his car. We saw him come back on our camera with a grocery store bag, so not sure if he actually went looking for her or not like he claimed.

We left the door open over night and she did come home and is fine. There was a good chance she couldn’t have, as we live 1 street over from open space where a pack of coyotes frequent and she is only 8lbs so a lot of other animals could have gotten her too.

Here’s the main part: we decided not to pay him. It’s a pay what you want agreement and given that we now need to rekey the house and he lost our cat we didn’t feel that he took his responsibilities seriously. And the bigger the mistake the bigger the consequence. You may say, well any job would have to still pay you. Yes, but they also can deduct or charge you the cost of damages which in this case will be more than what we would have paid him and we aren’t asking for it, just not paying him. Is that wrong?

The story was posted to the popular AITA subreddit, short for Am I The Asshole?, a place where people can solicit advice from strangers on whether they were justified for acting a certain way in a situation, or whether they were in fact “the asshole.”

Most people who responded said no, the poster and her husband are not in the wrong, and for the most part I agree.

In their situation, if my cat had come back, I would have given the kid something just to keep the peace with the neighbors and never hire him again, but I can see their side of it too. It’s expensive to get a locksmith, probably at least $200 if they only have two doors.

If the cat hadn’t come back, however, my rage would be incandescent. Nuclear. Scratch that. It would be beyond supernova level, akin to a gamma ray burst visible from millions of light years away, with a perpetual afterglow drifting in the void between galaxies. I would not be able to forgive myself nor shake the thought of my little Buddy lost, hungry, alone and terrified, and not knowing what happened to him.

It’s time to send Sue another bottle of wine and a card reminding her just how much I appreciate her.

Ballsy Thai Tourist Grabs Tiger’s Crown Jewels

Look at the balls on this one!

A woman from Thailand apparently decided that caging, beating and sedating tigers for selfies wasn’t enough mistreatment for Earth’s critically endangered apex predators. You can always add more insult, just a little icing on the “We Destroyed Your Entire Species” cake, by grabbing a handful of tiger testicles and mean-mugging for a selfie.

Of course the reason the tourist, named Waraschaya Akkarachaiyapas (also referred to as Khun Waraschaya in some media reports), was able to enter the tiger enclosure and pose with the tigers in the first place is because the keepers at Tiger Kingdom zoo in Thailand sedate the animals until they can barely yawn, rendering them incapable of defending their personal space or doing anything other than laying down as tourist after tourist touches them and poses for selfies.

Tiger Kingdom was at the forefront of the so-called “Disneyfied” “zoo experience,” in which the operators rake in millions by breeding tiger cubs like an assembly line and charging tourists to interact and pose for photo with the animals.

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The tourists are told comforting lies: Employees of Tiger Kingdom dress like Buddhist monks, spout platitudes about being one with nature, and claim their “humble” operation began when one kindly monk took in an orphaned cub and founded a sanctuary decades ago.

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Tourists are told that kindly monks founded a sanctuary after taking in an orphaned tiger cub.

The reason the tigers are so docile, the tourists are told, is because the monks hand-raise them, socializing them with humans from a young age. (Paging Siegfried and Roy, as well as Joe Exotic’s two former employees who lost limbs to hand-reared tigers!)

The comforting fiction allows tourists to justify what they’re doing: When an acquaintance of mine proudly changed her social media profile photo to a shot of herself hugging an adult tiger, she acted as if she was shocked by the suggestion that the tigers were sedated. No, she explained, you don’t understand! These tigers were hand-raised by the monks from the time they were cubs! That’s why they love spending 12 hours a day having their tails pulled and getting mounted by tourists who want to ride them like horses. They love it!

It takes only a few seconds to refute what we’ll gently call that misconception: Articles abound of former employees and conservation experts describing horrific conditions for the animals at Tiger Kingdom. (It’s not the only “zoo” that thrives on selling big cat interactions in Thailand: When the infamous “Tiger Mountain” attraction was raided by authorities in 2016, they found the remains of more than 60 tiger cubs, tiger pelts, and “around 1,500 tiger skin amulets, plus other trinkets apparently made of tiger teeth.”)

The cubs, who would normally spend at least two years with their mothers, are taken away when they’re infants so Tiger Kingdom’s employees can hand-raise them, and not with the care and good intent they claim: The operators want the cubs to be accustomed to being handled and passed around so they don’t protest too much when tourists manhandle them.

The cubs are big money-makers, and tourists will pay a premium to feed them from milk bottles. The baby tigers are fed and fed until they can’t drink anymore, then they’re fed some more, former employees say. The bottle-feeding only stops when the day’s over and there are no more tourists forking over an additional $15 to get “adorable” photos of themselves with the babies.

That’s also the age when the cubs are introduced to the bamboo stick, the primary tool for keeping them in line. A cub who doesn’t want to leave its cage for another day of manhandling and force-feeding is smacked on the nose with a bamboo stick until it complies.

Tiger attractions like the infamous one at Thailand’s Tiger Kingdom have popped up all around the world, with interest fueled by enthusiastic reviews from celebrities like Beyoncé, who shared photos of her visit to an American tiger park with her millions of Instagram followers.

If Queen Bey says it’s okay, then it must be okay. Okay? 

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Queen Bey says it’s okay to mess with tiger cubs and chimp babies, so it must be okay!
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Queen Bey says it’s okay!

Life as a cub at Tiger Kingdom is a walk in the park compared to adulthood. Most of the adults are confined in cages 24 hours a day and are only let out on busy days when the operation swells with visitors who want tiger selfies. (Tiger selfies are extraordinarily popular with men who use them on dating site profiles, and Buddy’s home state of New York went so far as to ban tiger selfies because of their prevalence.)

When you consider the context, it’s really not surprising when someone like Waraschaya Akkarachaiyapas feels perfectly comfortable literally molesting the animals for her amusement.

We’ve poached this species to the brink of extinction and destroyed its habitat. We make rugs of their pelts, mount their taxidermied heads to our walls, sell their claws and teeth as trinkets, and grind their bones into dust for use in elixirs that allegedly cure ailments like baldness and erectile disfunction, according to ridiculous millennia-old folk medicine systems. (Having exhausted their supply of tigers to slaughter for traditional Chinese “medicine,” the Chinese have turned to poaching the Amazon’s jaguars to fuel their insatiable appetite for big cat parts. Jaguar poaching has skyrocketed “200 fold” in the last five years to fuel Chinese demand for animal parts.)

In that context, literally molesting a helpless animal is a drop in the ocean of abuse, decimation and the destruction of the dignity of these amazing animals. We’re supposed to be the intelligent species on this planet, the wise caretakers of the only world that we know of brimming with life. We are failing miserably.

 

Cats Are The Monks At This Japanese Temple

One of the highlights of my trip to Japan last summer was Gotokuji Temple, the famous “cat shrine” in Tokyo’s Setagaya suburb.

Gotokuji is home to thousands of statues of maneki-neko, or “beckoning cat,” an important and ubiquitous image in Japan: Statues of maneki-neko adorn shops and virtually every public place in Tokyo, but Gotokuji is where the legend of the beckoning cat was born. Visitors write prayers on the statues and ask for good luck for a variety of venture, from opening new businesses to getting married.

There is, however, only one current feline resident at Gotokuji, while Kyoto’s Nyan Nyan Ji — literally “meow meow shrine” — is populated exclusively by feline “monks,” who wear monkly garb and take their duties — especially napping, er, meditating — very seriously.

The most recognizable of them is Koyuki, the chief cat priestess at Nyan Nyan Ji.

Here are some photos, all courtesy of the temple’s Instagram, showing what life is like for Koyuki and her fellow priests:

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“This is how it’s supposed to be, humans: You kneeling before us. Those ancient Egyptians had it right.”

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“I can call upon powerful minions to smite you whenever I please.”

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“Tiny humans are permitted to touch my holy personage.”

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“And here is the nursery, where it’s currently reading time for our kittens…”

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“Walk with me on the path to deliciousness…”

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“Read the sign! We’re not open until I says so. Now if you please, I have napping to do.”

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Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(12)
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The Return Of The King’s Servant

My cat played it cool when I walked through the door today, acting as if he was indifferent to the fact that I’d been gone since Thursday afternoon.

I knew otherwise, of course — not only did Buddy attack his cat sitter, he also puked on two different carpets, leaving me a pair of surprises as a welcome-home gift.

As usual, the little guy couldn’t keep up the charade. After a few minutes he forgot he was supposed to be mad at me and climbed up to head bunt and reestablish his scent on me.

I enjoyed my time in the Catskills despite the heat and the pandemic. It was pretty clear some of the local businesses were hurting, especially those relying on vacationers coming through in the summer season.

For those of you unfamiliar with the region, the Catskills is an area of New York State about 120 miles north of New York City.

Most people who don’t live here think of New York as the city and its surrounding environs like Long Island and Westchester, but the vast majority of the state is rural and known for agriculture and recreation: The National Baseball Hall of Fame, Howe Caverns, Niagara Falls, the Adirondack mountains, Lake George, dozens of ski resorts, rivers for kayaking and fishing, and many other things for people who want to get away.

The Catskills does have a feline etymology, for those of you wondering. “Kill” is the Dutch word for river or creek, and the suffix is found in the names of local towns and rivers: Fishkill, Spackenkill, and Peekskill among them.

The “cat” in Catskill comes from catamount, a somewhat archaic word for a cougar, also known as a puma, mountain lion or panther. Although they’re very rare in the area these days, mountain lions were abundant in the forested valleys and mountains of the Catskill region.

Thus Catskill translates to “cat creek.”

This hotel on Route 28 has a section dubbed The Catamount, with carved wooden mountain lions keeping watch over the guests:

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Belleayre Mountain is a ski resort that offers scenic gondola rides in the summer. Here’s the view from the gondola:

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And from the mountain top:

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I saw this sign in Woodstock. We hope little Spooky finds her way home:

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A sign declares “HIPPIES WELCOME” in Woodstock, but not today — the shop is closed because of COVID-19:

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This is the interior of Candlestock, a candle shop in Woodstock, NY. As the sign says, the “drip mountain” was started 51 years ago and has grown into a monstrosity of wax:

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This dog was well-behaved and polite and waited for us to get up from our chairs before he swooped in for potential crumbs beneath the table. He’s got a unique coat and look, and he’s missing his tail. Does anyone know what kind of dog this is?

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A shop called Modern Mythology on Woodstock’s main stretch:

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Here’s my seven-year-old niece exploring the edge of Esopus Creek:

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A stretch of rural road that I thought looked pretty cool:

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Fabulous Furniture on Route 28 is adorned with metal sculptures of aliens, rocket ships and UFOs, all built by the store’s owner, Steve Heller:

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Heller also builds custom cars:

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