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.
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.
I’ve never been more grateful that I’ve weaned Buddy off of Temptations.
The treats, which are famously irresistible to cats thanks to some strange alchemy that definitely isn’t healthy for them, now come in Tasty Human flavor in a new promotion for Halloween. (They’re heavy on corn and other fillers, as usual, but the meat ingredients in Tasty Human flavor come from chicken, liver and beef. Apparently we taste like KFC and burgers.)
The commercial spots are clever and humorous.
“I read that if our cats were bigger, they’d try to eat us!” a man whispers as ominous music plays and his cute cat grooms himself in the background. “So this Halloween, I’m gonna keep him satisfied with these.”
The man tosses a nervous look over his shoulder at his cat as the music swells with a horror movie-style orchestral stab, then he shakes the bag.
I won’t be buying any.
The popular cat treats are made by Mars, the almost $40 billion pet food and candy multinational that has had its own significant controversies, particularly with the use of slave labor in sourcing particular ingredients. Many of its pet food brands, such as Whiskas, are loaded with cheap carbohydrates and use by-product meal as their primary protein sources.
But I stopped feeding the Budster Temptations before I knew any of that, and for an entirely different reason: The little guy turned into a full-fledged kitty crack addict when he ate them.
Like any cat, Bud loves his treats, but when I fed him Temptations he had a one-track mind: The first thing he’d do in the morning was follow me to the kitchen, sit in front of the treat cabinet and meow incessantly for his precious Temps. It got to the point where he was turning his nose up at wet food he’d always liked and pestering me for Temptations instead. He was going full-on Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
I weaned him off once, stupidly folded less than a year later when I bought a bag for him on impulse (we were out of treats and the grocery store did not have any other kind), and had to wean him off the kitty crack a second time when he returned to his cracktastic ways.
Nowadays the little dude gets natural treats with non by-product meat as the main ingredients, and he behaves like a normal cat: He still loves his snacks, but he doesn’t ignore his wet food and howl at me for kitty crack.
Back in the Dark Ages of kitty cognitive knowledge, when scientists wouldn’t go near a cat with a 20-foot pole because they were considered impossible to work with, the conventional wisdom was that as long as a cat was fed and watered, its needs were met.
Going away for three days? Leave a few bowls of dry food and water and you’re good to go, or if you really want to splurge, get an automatic feeder, the prevailing wisdom went. Gonna be away for a week or two? Get someone to check in on the cat a few times a week just to make sure food and water is available.
“If you want a dog but you don’t have time to meet all of its needs, get a cat,” people would say. “They take care of themselves.”
It didn’t take me long to realize how wrong the “prevailing wisdom” on cats really was, and thankfully in recent years we’ve seen a boom in research into cat behavior, intelligence and emotional needs. Among the many things verified by those studies is the fact that cats absolutely are emotional animals and are not the cold, indifferent automatons many people insisted they were.
One reason for that enduring myth may be cats’ famous stoicism. Ignore a dog and she might cry, become destructive or pee in your house, but one thing’s for sure — she’s going to let you know she’s not handling the isolation well. Ignore a cat, and he’ll just withdraw.
I’ve seen plenty of examples of the latter in the homes of friends and acquaintances. The cats are just sort of there, existing like the furniture or plants, interacted with rarely and given affection only occasionally. Those poor cats are quiet, seemingly indifferent, expecting nothing and sadly accepting of their place. They are neglected.
But when you pay attention to your cats they come out of their shells, so to speak. They warm to you. They reveal their hidden emotional core.
Of course, when you raise a cat with attention and love, that’s there from the very beginning, and they WILL let you know when they’re not happy with your absence.
Who do we know who’s like that? His name sounds like Bum, or maybe Bunny, or…oh yeah! God forbid I should ignore Buddy. I’ll never hear the end of it. In fact, he’s on my desk right now, butt parked next to the mouse, and I’m sure any minute now he’s going to decide that I’ve been writing for too long and declare it’s Buddy Time.
Of course, the little jerk attacked his own cat sitter, a friend who has been caring for him when I’m away since he was a kitten! That complicates things.
If you’ve made it this far, you might be wondering how long you can really leave your cat alone. The answer is no more than 24 hours without someone dropping by to check on kitty, refill the water and food bowls, and give him some attention.
If you’re gone longer you’re going to want to make concrete plans for a cat sitter to be there every day.
“You should not leave your cat alone for a prolonged period,” veterinary postdoc Mikel Delgado told Inverse. “Cats also have emotional and social needs that can’t be met when they are left alone for extended periods.”
If your cat likes to play, that’s great, but even if the little one doesn’t, your cat sitter can make things easier by simply hanging out, Delgado said.
In the photograph, Buddy is sitting on the coffee table in the classic feline upright pose, tail resting to one side with a looping tip, looking directly at me.
The corners of his mouth curve up in what looks like a smile, his eyes are wide and attentive, and his whiskers are relaxed.
He looks to me like a happy cat.
Tably agrees: “Current mood of your cat: Happy. We’re 96% sure.”
Tably is a new app, currently in beta. Like MeowTalk, Tably uses machine learning and an algorithmic AI to determine a cat’s mood.
Unlike MeowTalk, which deals exclusively with feline vocalizations, Tably relies on technology similar to facial recognition software to map your cat’s face. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to interpreting what facial expressions mean — it compares the cats it analyzes to the Feline Grimace Scale, a veterinary tool developed following years of research and first published as part of a peer-reviewed paper in 2019.
The Feline Grimace Scale analyzes a cat’s eyes, ears, whiskers, muzzle and overall facial expression to determine if the cat is happy, neutral, bothered by something minor, or in genuine pain.
It’s designed as an objective tool to evaluate cats, who are notoriously adept at hiding pain for evolutionary reasons. (A sick or injured cat is a much easier target for predators.)
But the Feline Grimace Scale is for veterinarians, not caretakers. It’s difficult to make any sense of it without training and experience.
That’s where Tably comes in: It makes the Feline Grimace Scale accessible to caretakers, giving us another tool to gauge our cats’ happiness and physical condition. With Tably we don’t have to go through years of veterinary training to glean information from our cats’ expressions, because the software is doing it for us.
Meanwhile, I used MeowTalk early in the morning a few days ago when Buddy kept meowing insistently at me. When Bud wants something he tends to sound whiny, almost unhappy. Most of the time I can tell what he wants, but sometimes he seems frustrated that his slow human isn’t understanding him.
I had put down a fresh bowl of wet food and fresh water minutes earlier. His litter box was clean. He had time to relax on the balcony the previous night in addition to play time with his laser toy.
So what did Buddy want? Just some attention and affection, apparently:
I’m still not sure why Buddy apparently speaks in dialogue lifted from a cheesy romance novel, but I suppose the important thing is getting an accurate sense of his mood. 🙂
So with these tools now at our disposal, how much can artificial intelligence really tell us about our cats?
As always, there should be a disclaimer here: AI is a misnomer when it comes to machine learning algorithms, which are not actually intelligent.
It’s more accurate to think of these tools as software that learns to analyze a very specific kind of data and output it in a way that’s useful and makes sense to the end users. (In this case the end users are us cat servants.)
Like all machine learning algorithms, they must be “trained.” If you want your algorithm to read feline faces, you’ve got to feed it images of cats by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even by the millions. The more cat faces the software sees, the better it gets at recognizing when something looks off.
At this point, it’s difficult to say how much insight these tools provide. Personally I feel they’ve helped me understand my cat better, but I also realize it’s early days and this kind of software improves when more people use it, providing data and feedback. (Think of it like Waze, which works well because 140 million drivers have it enabled when they’re behind the wheel and feeding real-time data to the server.)
I was surprised when, in response to my earlier posts about MeowTalk and similar efforts, most of PITB’s readers didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm.
And that, I think, is the key here: Managing expectations. When I downloaded Waze for the first time it had just launched and was pretty much useless. Months later, with a healthy user base, it became the best thing to happen to vehicle navigation since the first GPS units replaced those bulky maps we all relied on. Waze doesn’t just give you information — it analyzes real-time traffic data and finds alternate routes, taking you around construction zones, car accident scenes, clogged highways and congested shopping districts. Waze will even route you around unplowed or poorly plowed streets in a snowstorm.
If Tably and MeowTalk seem underwhelming to you, give them time. If enough of us embrace the technology, it will mature and we’ll have powerful new tools that not only help us find problems before they become serious, but also help us better understand our feline overlords — and strengthen the bonds we share with them.
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.