Tag: Australia

UK Couple Narrowly Avoid Striking ‘Big Cat’ In Road, Cali Cat Cafe Holds Festivus Fundraiser

A UK couple say they narrowly avoided hitting a big cat that bolted in front of their car Wednesday morning.

Chris and Marion said they were driving on the A303 in Hampshire, a rural road in southern England surrounded by farmland, fields and wooded stretches, at 7 a.m. when the felid leapt across the road and ran into a nearby field, possibly giving chase to prey. While others suggested it could have been a lynx — which went extinct in the UK more than 1,000 years ago — the witnesses ruled out the possibility, saying the cat was “twice the size of a fox” with a tail that was “thick and solid.”

When they made a Facebook post about the encounter, several others claimed they’ve seen a similar-looking “big cat” moving through Hampshire’s fields. There are several groups dedicated to alleged big cat sightings in the UK on Facebook.

It’s the latest in a surprisingly persistent legend of phantom big cats prowling the British countryside. There are no extant big cats in the UK or in Europe. They exist only on other continents: Lions and leopards in Africa, tigers and leopards in Asia, and jaguars in South America. Among felids that are not true big cats but are often grouped with them, pumas exist only in the Americas and cheetahs are exclusively found in Africa.

Despite that, hundreds of witnesses report seeing feliform animals much larger than well-fed ferals or small wildcats. A similar phenomenon exists in Australia, where for years people have insisted they’ve seen big cats slinking through the bush.

Ghost Cat
“Ghost Cat” illustration by Ken Jovi Credit: Ken Jovi/Artstation

While it’s possible that people in the British countryside or Australian bush are illegally keeping large felids, and it’s possible that a handful could have escaped over the decades, that’s an unlikely explanation for the sightings for several reasons. While big cats are apex predators, animals who have lived in captivity all their lives and have been given food will not know where to go or how to hunt. In places like Texas, where as many as 5,000 tigers live in backyard enclosures, escaped cats are quickly spotted wandering human neighborhoods, confused and looking for food.

If an escaped tiger or leopard was somehow able to rapidly adjust to the English countryside and fend for itself without being spotted, there would be evidence — pug marks, droppings, claw marks denoting territorial boundaries on trees, the carcasses of prey animals, burglarized pens, farm animals missing and terrorized.

That goes double if, as some suggest, there is a breeding population of panthera genus cats. Even a handful of such animals would consume thousands of pounds of meat each week.

Still, as Wednesday’s alleged sighting proves, rumors of large cats stalking the mists of the English countryside are unlikely to die out any time soon.

A Festivus for the Rest of Us…And Our Cats

Festivus is the celebration that keeps on giving.

The operators of Tail Town Cats, a cat cafe in Pasadena, California, are hosting a Festivus get-together that will double as a showcase for adoptable kitties and a way to help support adoption efforts.

Hosted by a cat named Art Vandelay — who found his forever home through the cafe — the celebration will include a traditional Festivus pole, the Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength. (Among the grievances listed in advance are general disappointment with the frequency of treats, displeasure at sharing litter boxes, and humans who recycle cardboard boxes instead of giving them to the felines.)

People in the Los Angeles area can attend in person, while others can watch online.

Art Vandelay
Art Vandelay found his forever home through the cat cafe and will return to host its first-ever Festivus celebration.

Seinfeld fans will recognize Art Vandelay as George Costanza’s most frequently-used alias. Vandelay is alternately described as an importer-exporter or as an architect. As George famously said: “I’ve always wanted to pretend to be an architect.”

As for Festivus, it’s taken on a life of its own 25 years after it was popularized on Seinfeld.

The made-up holiday had its humble origins in the home of writer Daniel O’Keefe, who introduced it to the nation — and immortalized it in the process — by writing it into “The Strike,” a 1997 episode of the sitcom. At the time, Seinfeld was a ratings juggernaut, averaging more than 30 million viewers an episode. Festivus is celebrated annually on Dec. 23.

Cats May Be Able To Help Detectives Solve Crimes

Check out our newest feature, catwire!

When you think of a crime scene, you probably picture uniformed officers manning the perimeter, crime scene tape cordoning off the room where the deed was done, detectives trying to reconstruct what happened, and techs collecting evidence.

Those techs might swab surfaces for traces of a suspect. Drinking cups and water bottles might be dusted for fingerprints, stray hair might be bagged and sent back to the laboratory for analysis. Discarded cigarette butts, door handles, buzzers — they can all yield evidence, to say nothing of cell phones, USB sticks and smart appliances.

But what about the pets? If a suspect was especially careful not to leave prints or touch anything at the crime scene, could the fur of a cat harbor DNA?

A team comprised of scientists from Australia’s College of Science and Engineering at Flinders and the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department wanted to know if cat fur could indeed hold critical evidence at crime scenes, so they conducted a study involving 20 pet cats from different homes, and what they found could provide an important tool for law enforcement. Their findings were published in the journal Forensic Science International.

If detectives are trying to piece together the identities of robbers who, say, broke into a home, brutalized the people there at gunpoint and stole their valuables, they can’t interview the victims’ pet cats about what they saw, but it turns out they can swab the kitties’ fur and have an excellent chance of retrieving useful DNA.

Blacksad
Blacksad is a famous feline detective in his own series of comic books. He may have to be careful not to leave his stray fur all over his own crime scenes.

The research team swabbed the fur of pet cats in their test households, took DNA samples of the adults living in those homes — who were the stand-ins for victims — and asked the human participants to fill out surveys asking about their cats, what they do on a typical day, and whether or not they have interaction with people outside the home.

After the team conducted DNA analysis on the fur swabs “[d]etectable levels of DNA were found in 80% of the samples and interpretable profiles that could be linked to a person of interest were generated in 70% of the cats tested,” the study authors wrote.

While most of the samples matched the DNA of people who lived in the homes — as expected — samples from six cats revealed the presence of DNA from other people. The research team didn’t take DNA samples of minors, and two of the positive fur swab samples came from cats who lived in a home with a child and slept in that child’s bed most evenings. But four other samples turned up “mystery” DNA even though no one else had visited those homes for at least several days.

For DNA from pets to have any real evidentiary value, prosecutors have to prove a “chain of custody” of sorts, establishing that suspects could not have had contact with the animals in question unless they were inside a home where a crime has taken place. If the cat is allowed to roam outdoors every day, for example, it becomes much more difficult to prove a suspect’s DNA was transferred to a pet inside a home rather than on the street.

That’s why the research team is hopeful, but also cautions that their study is a first step toward understanding more about how human DNA is transferred to fur, whether it requires a person to be physically present (as opposed to their DNA being passed along secondhand in stray hair or skin cells), how long a cat’s fur can harbor human DNA, and other questions prosecutors will have to answer.

“This type of data can help us understand the meaning of the DNA results obtained, especially if there is a match to a person of interest,” said study co-author Mariya Goray, a DNA transfer expert. “Are these DNA finding a result of a criminal activity or could they have been transferred and deposited at the scene via a pet?”

The team recommends more research “on the transfer, persistence and prevalence of human DNA to and from cats and other pet animals and the influences animal behavioral habits, the DNA shedder status of the owners and many other relevant factors.”

If they do answer the aforementioned questions and prosecutors believe they can establish a suspect’s presence at a crime scene thanks to feline-provided evidence, it might not be too long before we see a cat-centric episode on future seasons of Law & Order or CSI, both of which are scheduled to be revived as police procedurals enjoy a resurgence on TV.

Must rub on person!
As dedicated cat servants know, cats rub against everything and everyone. The behavior is instinctual, and cats have pheromone glands on their faces, sides and paws, which they use to transfer their scent..and fur.

Sunday Cats: Expert Fails At Feline Facts, Aussie Karen Lures Cats From Home To Issue Roaming Fine

This is why we always say it’s better for cat servants to regulate themselves than allow the government to get involved.

A Karen in Australia issued a $280 fine to a homeowner for allegedly allowing his cats to roam — after she lured the kitties onto the street herself.

The entire bizarre spectacle was captured on security cameras at the home of Julie and Steven Stephens, a couple in Toowoomba, about 80 miles west of Brisbane. The uniformed Karen, who is employed by the Queensland council, totes a clipboard in one hand as she walks up the Stephens’ driveway in broad daylight.

As one of the curious cats approaches, Karen reaches for a pen in her pocket and starts scribbling on her clipboard, apparently eager to get started on the paperwork, before slowly backpeddling so the kitty will continue to follow her. When the cat reaches the sidewalk, the unnamed woman scoops it up and walks to her government-issued vehicle parked in front of the Stephens’ home.

Steven Stephens was watching the episode unfold via his camera system and bolted outside to stop the government employee from taking his cat, he told Yahoo News Australia.

The Karen wasn’t able to “impound” the cat, but she wrote Stephens a hefty fine for “allowing his cat to roam,” and promised she’d be back to inflict more misery.

“She said she would be back in two weeks with the police to take all but two of our dogs,” Mr Stephens said.

Queensland cat story
A municipal employee from the Queensland council is seen luring a cat away from its home in this still shot from surveillance video. Credit: Steven Stephens

We’re unable to embed the video, but you can watch it at Yahoo News Australia.

Unbelievably, Toowoomba Regional Council “CEO” Brian Pidgeon doubled down and quoted the relevant section of law on pet roaming when a local newspaper asked him about the incident. Pidgeon did acknowledge his employee was accused of luring the Stephens’ cat, but said he couldn’t talk about that because he’s conducting an “internal investigation,” which is bureaucrat-speak for figuring a way to worm his way out of the situation. There is, after all, clear video showing the Karen luring the cat away. There is nothing ambiguous about what happened.

Stephens admitted he and his wife have “too many” dogs according to local law, which has set arbitrary limits on animal custodianship, but said there are good reasons for that. The dogs sooth his wife, he said.

“A few years ago she had a severe car accident, her partner at the time died, she has a metal plate in her head and now has severe depression and anxiety,” Stephens said. “The dogs help with her anxiety.”

The family has been so rattled by the incident, and apparently has so little faith in their local government to treat them fairly, that they told Yahoo News they’re looking to sell their home and move to “a larger parcel of land in the bush.”

That in itself is an extraordinary admission, indicating they don’t expect basic courtesy, honesty or professionalism from the local authorities.

Now imagine how this would have played out if the Stephens family did not have security cameras. The council worker would have said their cats wandered off the family’s property of their own accord, and that would have been it. The Stephens would be forced to pay the fines, have a legal battle on their hands to get their cats back, and would be fretting over the impending confiscation of their dogs.

I know I sound like a broken record with regard to how local governments, guided by bunk “research” studies, impose themselves on pet caretakers, especially those of us who have cats. That’s why it’s important not to give them any reason to interfere — and to make sure everything is recorded, as the Stephens family wisely did.

Who knows what the government Karen’s motivations were. Was she trying to meet a quota? Does she dislike animals? Does she enjoy flexing the little bit of power she has, or inflicting misery on others? By preempting legislation on cat ownership and roaming, we can avoid putting ourselves at the mercy of such people in the first place, which is in the best interest of cat caretakers, and most importantly cats themselves.

Feline fact fail

I’m sure Nigel Barber, PhD., is a nice guy. I don’t mean to give him any grief. But when you present yourself as an expert on a topic and you write an authoritative column on a trusted site that has millions of readers, you really should make sure you’re not spreading misinformation or providing a picture of a situation that is decades behind the current science.

In a column for Psychology Today titled “Does Your Cat Love You?“, Barber rattles off a list of cliches, half-truths and outright falsehoods about cats, the kind of thing you might have expected 20 or 30 years ago before a wealth of research helped us dispel incorrect assumptions about felis catus.

close up of person cuddling cat
Credit: Sevra Karakuu/pexels

After mucking up the domestication timeline, Barber says cats are “fearful of people,” “tend to withdraw from strangers,” and paints an outdated picture of aloof animals who technically don’t need human care to thrive. He also says cats attack people, including their caretakers, without warning or provocation.

Then there’s this nugget:

“As essentially wild predators, cats can be quite unpredictable. Many owners who are devoted to their cats complain that the cat often scratches them unexpectedly. One acquaintance had the cat declawed and found that the pet reverted to using its teeth on her!”

Can you believe it?!?! A woman had her cat declawed, and the cat bit her!

It’s not just that we know cats give off plenty of nonverbal warnings when they’re uncomfortable, or that declawing makes a cat much more likely to bite. Organizations like the Humane Society, SPCA, The Paw Project and others have been saying that for years.

It goes well beyond that — studies, including the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of declawing, have proven without a doubt that cats are much more likely to bite when they’re subjected to the cruel and painful declawing procedure. (See “Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats,” a 2017 paper in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.)

That’s because declawing a cat not only inflicts a lifetime of physical pain and psychological trauma, it robs felines of their primary defense mechanism, making them feel much more vulnerable. Without claws with which to warn off unwanted handling, the poor declawed cats have only one defensive weapon available to them — their teeth.

An evolutionary psychologist should understand that, and should also understand that scratching is a natural and necessary behavior for cats. It’s not right or wrong, it’s cats being cats. Mutilating innocent animals to protect inanimate objects like furniture is objectively wrong and cruel. When you adopt a cat, scratching comes as part of the package along with all the positives like unconditional love, amusing antics and calming purring.

There are ways to dissuade and train your cats to mostly avoid scratching furniture, but no one should expect their cats will never put a claw on their couches. If you don’t want your furniture scratched, don’t get a cat. End of.

Another Viral Story Claims A Student Identifies As A Cat

Humans have dragged cats into the culture wars, and it seems our furry friends can’t claw their way out.

Australia’s Herald-Sun claimed this week, without any evidence, that a “phenomenally bright” teenage girl at a private school in Melbourne identifies as a cat, and the adults who run the school are cool with it as long as she isn’t too much of a distraction to her classmates.

This is the fifth or sixth viral story about school kids “identifying as cats” so far in 2022. They vary in details — some articles claim schools provide litter boxes in student bathrooms, while others assert teachers were fired for refusing to “meow back” to cat-identified children — but they’re all variations on the same theme.

None of the stories have turned out to be true.

There are big time red flags in this story. It doesn’t name the student, but that’s not uncommon. Unless a kid decides to speak to the media directly, most outlets refrain from naming minors. But the article doesn’t name the school and it’s based on the word of one person, with all the details attributed to someone described as “a source close to the family.”

Viral story about alleged cat-identified teenager
The Herald-Sun’s story has spread via News Corp.’s digital platforms to social media, clickbait sites and less scrupulous publishers.

Single-source stories are no-nos in journalism, for obvious reasons. There’s an old joke among journalists: “If your mother tells you she loves you, confirm it with a second source.”

In other words, assume nothing and verify everything, especially if the claim is unusual or extraordinary. The absolute minimum standard is two sources, preferably three.

It used to be that breaking this rule was playing Russian roulette with your career, because it’s bound to blow up in your face at some point, and no editor worth her salt would run a story like that. Unfortunately in the age of “publish now, verify never” the veracity of a story is a secondary or tertiary consideration, far less important than an article’s potential to catch fire, go viral and reel in clicks.

This story doesn’t even come close to meeting minimum standards, because the claims come from someone whose name isn’t revealed. When the source is anonymous, the need to verify becomes even more important.

Viral hoax story
Another News Corp. platform promotes the story.

In this case, if a friend of the girl’s family claims the girl is allowed to behave like a cat in school, and that friend isn’t willing to stand by that claim, no reputable news organization should run the story unless they have confirmation from the school or a legitimate document (like a letter to parents from the school) that backs up the claim.

The Herald-Sun story says the school issued a statement in response to the alleged controversy, but again, the school isn’t named so it’s impossible to confirm any details.

Finally, the Herald-Sun is a News Corp.-owned tabloid whose editors have a reputation for printing stories designed to rile up their readership and drive clicks online. The paper gives its reporters bonuses based on traffic numbers, which is an incentive to fabulate outrageous nonsense and ignore crucial but time-consuming work like serving as watchdogs of government.

The editors of the Herald-Sun may not be stupid, but they’re willing to destroy the remaining scraps of credibility the media still has to enjoy one-time spikes in traffic. They know a story like this will make the rounds on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, TikTok and the personal sites of culture war vultures whose formula for drawing readership is whipping readers/viewers into a frenzy.

In the meantime, the most recent polls show media credibility with the public is at an all-time low, which is what happens when journalism becomes a race to the bottom. We used to laugh at junk tabloids that ran cover stories about alien abductions and Elvis sightings. Now we click on them and share them on social media.

Thankfully cats remain oblivious, and ignorance is bliss.

Why Are UK Cat Owners So Intent On Allowing Their Cats To Run Free?

Jinx the cat was so grateful to UK couple Martin Rosinski and Michelle Bowyer for giving her a home that she decided to bring them a gift.

“The first time I was working at home, I heard Michelle making a commotion because Jinx had come in with a mouse and dumped it on the carpet in front of her as a ‘thank you’. That’s their way of expressing love. You can’t tell her off, so we thanked her a lot for it and took it away from her,” Rosinski said.

“Then this started happening more and more often to the point where we would be woken up at 2 a.m. as Jinx would meow loudly and announce, ‘Hey I have a gift. If we didn’t get to her fast enough she would decide to eat it herself, which would involve piles of mouse parts being smeared into the carpet. This was happening at 2 a.m., then again at 4 a.m. on many nights and we’d not get any sleep having to deal with this. Her record was four in one night – that night was a frenzy of three mice and one bird. It was something that was a real cause of stress.”

The solution is pretty simple, right? Keep Jinx inside.

The former stray won’t like it at first. There will be an adjustment period when the meowing will be seriously annoying. But it’s better than allowing your cat to play Predator at night and waking up to find your cat sitting on your chest, proudly presenting a twitching mouse to you.

Rosinski and Bowyer didn’t take Jinx inside.

Instead they created a bespoke intelligent cat flap that allows Jinx to come and go as she pleases, but won’t open if she’s carrying prey. They both have backgrounds in tech: he’s a researcher who also tinkers with software and hardware, and she’s a web developer.

cute brown tabby cat
Despite being domesticated, cats retain their predatory instincts and many will kill small mammals and birds if allowed to wander on their own outdoors. Credit: Aleksandr Gorlov/Pexels

Their system, OnlyCat, uses a camera and an algorithm to determine if Jinx is carrying something in her mouth. If she is, the cat flap won’t grant her access, and Bowyer and Rosinski will get a text informing them Jinx has been up to her hi-jinx again, along with a photo of her entry attempt.

The OnlyCat prototype has prevented Jinx from bringing in 42 prey animals since June of 2021, the couple said. OnlyCat may prevent her from bringing her prey inside, but it hasn’t dissuaded her from killing.

“Two months ago I think something clicked and she realized, ‘I can’t bring these home. It’s just not going to work,’” Rosinski told the UK’s South West News Service. “She still catches them outside but she’s learned that there’s no point even trying to bring them home, which is a relief.”

The couple developed the OnlyCat into a full product, which launches on Aug. 16 at £499. (A little more than $600 USD.) Their site says the retail version of the flap has worked 100 percent of the time in tests, and the developers believe “99%+ accuracy should be achievable for everyone.”

It’s similar to a device built by Amazon engineer Ben Hamm which uses DeepLens, an AI-enabled camera system, and Sagemaker, a software tool for training machine-learning algorithms, to determine if cats are carrying prey.

Hamm’s version, which he created for his cat Metric in 2019, initiates a 15-minute lockout timer if Metric tries to enter while carrying a kill, and automatically sends a donation to the National Audubon Society, which protects birds and their habitats. The algorithm was trained using tens of thousands of images of cats approaching normally, and with prey in their mouths. So far, Hamm hasn’t developed a retail version of his AI-enabled cat flap.

orange tabby cat on gray rock
The feline predatory drive is instinctual. Indoor cats can exercise that drive with wand toy games and by chasing laser pointers. Credit: Aleksandr Nadyojin/Pexels

We don’t think there’s any one way to raise cats, and it’s obvious there are different cat cultures in various countries.

Nevertheless, seven out of 10 cat owners in the UK allow their cats to roam free, and anecdotes like the ones about Jinx, with her multiple kills a night habit, draw the ire of birders and conservationists.

Peter Marra is the author of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences Of A Cuddly Killer and co-author of many of the leading studies claiming cats are the primary threat to bird populations. He’s currently making the media rounds and endorsing strict policies — many of them in enacted in response to his studies — that would make it illegal to allow cats outdoors.

The Australian government is airdropping poisoned sausages by the ton in a plan to cull as many as two million cats, a town in Germany tried to ban outdoor cats, a US politician recently suggested starting a “hunting season” for feral and stray felines, and some people — including wildlife biologists and conservationists — have gone vigilante and convinced themselves they’re doing good by randomly picking off cats with shotguns and poisoning feeding stations for strays.

Maybe it’s time for more people to reconsider allowing their cats to roam free. Like putting a cat on a diet or trying to break a bad habit, there’ll be loud and annoying protests in meow, and it’ll get worse before it gets better, but eventually cats always adjust to changes if given long enough.

As domesticated animals they don’t have a natural habitat anymore, and they don’t actually need to be outside. It’s entirely possible to keep things fun and interesting for the furry little guys, and that’s on us. All that’s required is our time, attention and affection. Interactive play time. Toys that can keep a cat occupied by herself. Catnip. Condos and tunnels. Window perches. Cat TV on Youtube. Simple things to play with, like plastic bottle rings, crinkled tin foil and cardboard boxes.

We don’t think anyone should be required to keep their cats indoors, and that’s the point. We have an opportunity to meet conservationists halfway and make a real effort to reduce feline impact on small wildlife. If we don’t, eventually we’ll be forced to comply by laws that’ll be draconian compared to the voluntary measures we could have taken to prevent the government from getting involved.