Tag: cat research

Uvalde And Buffalo Mass Shooters Both Had History Of Killing Cats

One of the takeaways from the 2019 documentary Don’t F*** With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer is the connection between violence toward animals and violence toward humans.

The 30-year-old who killed college student Jun Lin previously announced himself to the world with a series of videos in which he killed cats and kittens, then led online groupies on a years-long goose chase, parceling out crumbs of information to keep them interested until he finally “graduated” to humans and murdered Lin.

If police had taken the cat-killing videos more seriously, some of the documentary’s subjects believed, detectives could have caught the killer before he set his sights on a person. Of course, this blog’s position is that animal life has intrinsic value and animal abuse should be investigated for its own sake, but if police are more motivated out of fear that animal abusers could commit violent crimes against people, that helps cats and other animals too.

Now we’ve learned that the 18-year-old gunman responsible for the Texas school shooting and the 18-year-old who gunned down 10 people in a Buffalo, NY, supermarket were both cat killers before they were murderers of human beings. The former murdered 21 people, including 19 children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 while the latter took the lives of 10 people, all black, in a hate-motivated massacre on May 14.

The Texas shooter filmed himself grinning while holding “a bag of blood-soaked dead cats,” the New York Post reported on Sunday. David Trevino Jr., who knew the shooter, said he was “known for hurting cats.”

“He liked hurting animals,” Trevino told the Post. “I’m told he killed the cats and carried around the bag of bodies for s–ts and giggles The video shows he was not right in the head. He’s not all there. The video raises all sorts of red flags.”

The Buffalo murderer told online acquaintances he’d beheaded a cat, and wrote about it in a journal as well. Like the Texas shooter, his animal abuse wasn’t a secret. His mother knew, and gave him a box to bury the dead animal.

brown tabby cat lying down on gray bed sheet
Credit: Mark Burnett/Pexels

The shooters both fit the profile of animal abusers who move on to hurting people: Most animal abusers are men younger than 30, according to the Humane Society, and studies have found men who abuse cats often target them as an emotional proxy for women. More than 70 percent of women who have companion animals and were in an abusive relationship reported their significant others harming their pets.

Classmates of the Texas shooter described him as “eerie,” “scary” and quick to lose his temper. He was known for physically threatening girls and women, and for harassing them online. One classmate, 17-year-old Keanna Baxter, said he got “super violent” when he dated her friend.

“He was overall just aggressive, like violent,” Baxter said. “He would try and fight women. He would try and fight anyone who told him no — if he didn’t get his way, he’d go crazy. He was especially violent towards women.”

The Texas shooter spent a lot of time creeping on women on social media and in group chat services, which brings us full circle back to Don’t F*** With Cats. In a conversation with a teenage girl on group video chat app Yubo, he told her he “wanted his name out there” like the deranged killer at the center of that documentary.

The shooter, who lurked in group chats uninvited, also showed off the guns he bought after he turned 18 on May 16.

“He would be active every day and join our lives, repeating girls’ names until they paid attention to him,” the girl said.

Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone was widely condemned for putting one of the Boston marathon bombers on its cover as if he were a rock star, but the issue was its best selling of the year.

Although the blame game begins while the bodies of the victims are still warm, as shrieking heads speculate on cable news, no one ever talks about the obvious and uncomfortable truth, which is that these disaffected young loners desperately want to show people they’re important, that they matter.

If they can’t find fame, infamy is a second prize they’re happy to embrace, and they’re motivated in part by the notoriety that previous members of their grim brotherhood “achieved” by massacring fellow human beings.

Major media figures aren’t merely willing to grant that wish. They’re wholeheartedly, enthusiastically in on it, filling hours of airtime looping the same short bits of footage, breathlessly reporting every nugget of information, and holding court over panels of “experts” who are happy to speculate on motivations regardless of how little they know. They blame video games, society, the lack of nuclear families, the lack of male role models, white supremacy, bullying, guns — everything but their own role in turning the killers into household names.

After all, almost everyone who was alive in 1999 can name the two trenchcoated murderers who perpetrated the Columbine massacre, back when things like that still shocked the country. But how many of us can name a single one of the 13 victims?

That’s why I won’t name the killers on this blog. It’s just one blog, in one small corner of the internet, and it won’t make a difference. But if everyone stopped naming them, stopped making them household names and the stars of obsessive crime porn, stopped turning them into objects of fascination whose faces are plastered on magazine covers like rock stars, maybe it would change things.

If would-be killers knew infamy was off the table, that if they survive they’ll remain anonymous nobodies without prison groupies begging for face time, journalists begging for interviews, and grief vampires discussing them for years in “true crime” books and on podcasts, would they go through with it?

Does Your Cat Know Your Name? Study Says Maybe

I’m pretty sure Buddy does not know my name, and why should he?

He doesn’t hear my name spoken often, and in his mind I’m probably “Big Dumb Benevolent Human And Butler,” or BDBHAB. That’s a mouthful, even in meow, thus the much easier-to-say “Big Buddy.”

But a new study from Japan claims cats “possibly” know the names of their humans.

First, the parameters of the study would have eliminated the Buddies from the start: the research team from Kyoto University enlisted only cats who lived with at least two other felines. This is because they also wanted to find out if cats knew the names of their furry roommates as well.

The 48 cats who participated in the study lived in regular homes or cat cafes. The team played a recording of their human calling the name of one of their buddies, while a monitor showed an image of a cat. Sometimes the names and the images matched, and sometimes they didn’t.

The cats took longer looks at the images when the feline image shown didn’t match the name they heard, which the researchers said was indicative of surprise.

Separately, 26 cats were run through a similar experiment. In that scenario, the researchers played an audio clip of the cat’s human’s name and showed an image of either the human caretaker, or a cat. Like they did with the first experiment, cats looked longer when the images didn’t match the names, expressing apparent puzzlement.

What's your name, dude?
“I’m a Buddy, you’re a Buddy. We’re all Buddies.”

In case you’re wondering, it does seem to matter if a cat grows up in a home rather than a cat cafe. When the name and face matched, researchers called that a “congruent condition.”

“Half of the trials were in a congruent condition where the name and face matched, and half were in an incongruent (mismatch) condition,” they wrote. “Results of Exp.1 showed that household cats paid attention to the monitor for longer in the incongruent condition, suggesting an expectancy violation effect; however, café cats did not.”

The reasons are fairly straightforward. In a home setting, cats almost always interact with their human family members, while felines in cafes interact with different employees on different shifts, and with customers, who might be regulars or strangers. Either way, the cats living in homes are much more likely to hear their own names and the names of their feline roommates.

“The latter probably have more opportunities to observe interactions between the owner and each of the other cohabitating cats, which might facilitate learning of the face–name relationship,” the team wrote.

The Kyoto team pointed out that many wild animals, particularly mammals and birds, make sounds that correspond to animals, objects or abstract ideas. Monkeys and birds, for example, use a range of different calls to communicate to each other when they’ve found food or spotted a predator heading their way.

The stakes are much lower in a home setting, but evolutionary traits can still serve cats and dogs well. One reason pets may be keen to recognize the names of their furry roommates, the research team speculated, is competition. After all, Socks would want to know if Oreo is getting more treats or head scritches.

What’s The Real Reason Cats Love Boxes?

Buddy is not overly obsessed with boxes.

I think that’s because he feels safe here, he’s got plenty of places to hide if he wants, and he’s got a big cat tunnel with four ways in or out. He doesn’t need another little space to crawl into.

Still, like any cat, the little dude likes a good box. When he gets to play with a new box he likes to sniff it, rub against it once or twice, then jump inside and determine if it’s comfortable. Then he gets serious, looks around, and slowly sinks down below the top of the box…

…and remains there for a few seconds before cautiously raising his head and looking around. Usually this is accompanied by a delighted trill, and I get the strong sense that he thinks he’s invisible to anyone outside the box while he has the advantage of seeing them.

“You cannot see Buddy, but Buddy sees you!”

Does he ambush me from the box? Does a bear crap in the woods?

There isn’t an abundance of research into why cats love boxes so much, but the existing data combined with what we know about the feline mind strongly suggests that, first and foremost, boxes have a strong psychological effect. They make cats feel secure and well-protected.

Anyone familiar with cats knows the little furballs like to wedge themselves into hideaways, scurry under tables and hide in laundry baskets. The behavior starts in kittenhood when they’re tiny enough to crawl into shoes and sneakers.

In 2021, animal cognition grad student Gabriella Smith conducted a study in which she found cats will happily sit in Kanizsa contours with the same enthusiasm they have for boxes.

Kanizsa contours are two-dimensional. The participants created them by using tape and paper to make the shapes on the floor. They’re not even proper boxes, just the illusory suggestion of boxes or general square shapes. That doesn’t seem to matter to cats:

Of course pieces of tape or paper on the floor do not afford any real protection, so the feline affinity for boxes seems to be more about feeling protected.

Since cats are territorial, it could be that they also like clear boundaries around their personal space.

The key here seems to be having the boundary without blocking access, as cats are notoriously not cool with closed doors or being confined. If they want to spend an hour in a tiny space and it’s their idea, they’re fine with it, but they don’t like to be restricted by when they can come and go.

Notably, this isn’t behavior limited to felis catus. So far there doesn’t seem to be any exception to the box-loving rule among felines and felids of any species. Tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards and pumas seem just as fond of them as their smaller cousins, as you can see in this video from Big Cat Rescue:

Boxes are comforting, cozy, fun to explore and make the perfect hiding spots for ambushes. If you’re a cat big or small, what’s not to like?

Sunday Cats: FitBit For Felines, Plus CFA’s Top Breeds For 2021

A Japanese company that sells FitBit-like devices for cats released its first data-driven report this week and promises new revelations to come as more people buy the devices for their cats, leading to more data.

The company and its device are both called Catlog. To mark “Cat Day” in Japan, which falls on Feb. 22, researchers at the Shibuya, Tokyo-based firm issued a report saying data shows cats sleep progressively longer as they age, and cats in general sleep longer in winter.

Yeah. Not exactly a whopper.

Still, it’s one thing to know something anecdotally and another to prove it, and there are tantalizing possibilities as more kitties are equipped with Catlog. The collar-like device uses “biologging” technology to record and sort data on things like eating, drinking, sleeping, grooming and exercise. The data is relayed to caretakers via a mobile app and added to the information coming from every other Catlog, giving the research team behind the app hard data for cats across all ages and breeds.

The Catlog has received Japan’s Good Design Award, a sought-after mark of excellence among Japanese products.

Catlog
Catlog looks like a regular collar with an unobtrusive device attached.

Unfortunately Buddy won’t be contributing to that data even if Catlog pushes into the US market. Little dude won’t tolerate a collar at all and is not shy about loudly, repeatedly, incessantly communicating when he doesn’t like something. 🙁

Most Popular Cat Breeds of 2021, According to CFA

The Cat Fanciers’ Association has released its annual list of the most popular cat breeds. While the CFA recognizes 45 breeds and registers “non-pedigreed” cats as well, the list is based only on CFA registered cats. That means it provides a good snapshot of which breeds are trendy, but it’s not a definitive most popular breeds list.

Cats without a particular breed still account for the vast majority of all pet felines, but among people who registered their cats with CFA, Ragdolls were the most popular in 2021, followed by gentle giant Maine Coones and exotic shorthairs. (Note that this list does not include the fearsome and elusive Buddinese Tiger.)

2021-breeds-with-CC
The world’s largest registry of pedigreed cats has again determined the world’s most popular cat breeds, based on registrations. This year’s Top 10 list reflects the increasing popularity of certain breeds. However, registrations of ALL cats have increased substantially, reflecting the growing popularity of pet cats since the beginning of the pandemic.

Can Cats Feel Jealousy?

Bud isn’t fond of my smartphone.

Like many other humans I spend too much time looking at the damn thing, and that’s not good even though I have the excuse that I use my phone as a reader and my presence on social media ranges from extremely limited to nonexistent.

When His Grace has decided I’ve looked at the screen long enough and it’s Buddy Time, he’ll pad up and slap the phone out of my hands, or if I’m laying down he’ll climb on top of me, nudge the phone out of the way and sit on my chest so he has my full attention.

“No glowing rectangle!” he’s saying. “It’s Buddy Time! Now scratch my chin and rub the top of my head as I purr!”

Naturally I comply, and before long Buddy is leaning in, pressing the top of his head against my forehead, which is his way of saying: “I love you, slow dumb human! You have many flaws and you don’t give me enough snacks, but you’re my Big Buddy!”

Of course, intuitively knowing Buddy is jealous of — or annoyed by — my phone is different than proving it in a well-designed, repeatable experiment.

Psychology Today’s Jessica Wu writes about just such an effort by a team of researchers out of Japan.

Before I offer my criticism of the study, let me first say I have respect for the team at Kyoto University. They’re one of a handful of research teams around the world that routinely produce studies into cat behavior and cognition, and it’s clear that they view it as an important and crucial area of research. That’s significant, because even though we’ve seen something of a renaissance in cat-related studies over the past half-decade or so, many scientists still think cats are nearly impossible to work with.

The team at Kyoto also understands the territorial nature of cats makes it difficult to study them in a lab environment, so they go the extra mile and enlist people who are willing to let them into their homes to study their little tigers.

That’s what the Kyoto team did for their 2020 study on jealousy, splitting their research between typical homes and cat cafes. (Fifty two cats in total participated.) All the cats observed in the study had been living in their homes or cafes for at least six months.

Researchers took a method that’s been used to study human babies and dogs, and adapted it for felines. They brought in a plush cat and a pillow with a corresponding color and texture.

Then they asked the participants to spend time petting the plush cat and the pillow in front of their furry overlords while team members carefully watched the kitties for their reaction. Each experiment was then repeated with a stranger petting the plush and the pillow to gauge whether cats behaved differently when observing someone they aren’t emotionally attached to.

The team found the cats “reacted more intensely” to the plush cats than the pillows, but there wasn’t any marked difference in how they reacted when they watched their humans versus strangers.

Crucially, the cats didn’t show signs that they were upset, like human babies have in such experiments, and they didn’t try to physically separate their humans from the plushies, as many dogs did in their version of the experiment.

jealous-cat
“How dare you hand out yums and not include me!” Credit: icanhazcheezburger

The results indicate cats didn’t express jealousy in the experiment, but the Kyoto team are pros, noting that it’s just one study with one approach.

“We consider the existence of some cognitive bases for jealousy to emerge in cats, and the potential effect of cats’ living environment on the nature of their attachment to their owner,” they wrote. “More ecologically valid procedures are required for further study of these issues.”

It’s my non-expert, non-scientific opinion that researchers would get better results using actual cats instead of proxies. That introduces a new set of problems and an experiment involving rival cats won’t be easy, but science isn’t supposed to be easy, and if we really want to understand how cats think, we have to get as close as possible to mimicking real circumstances.

Plush Cat in Kyoto study
The plush cat used in the Kyoto study. Perhaps the cats involved in the research felt the humans were insulting their intelligence. Credit: Kyoto University

It would also help to expand the scope of the experiment. How much can researchers really glean from a fleeting interaction? Jealousy isn’t something that just bubbles up and disappears. It happens within an emotional context. It’s a secondary emotion that sprouts from elements of primary emotions like fear, anger and confusion.

Scientists are very careful about anthropomorphizing animals, for obvious reasons, but sometimes they’re guilty of over-correcting as well and denying the obvious, which is why the prevailing scientific opinion for almost half a century, until 1959, was that animals don’t have emotions or cognition.

In the meantime, Buddy will continue to make sure Buddy Time is equal to, or greater than, glowing rectangle time.