Tag: Dogs

This Good Boy Has Helped Defuse 150 Russian Explosives In Ukraine

This is a cat blog, but every once in a while Little Buddy the Cat magnanimously allows us to issue well-deserved props to dogs who do extraordinary things, like Patron, a two-year-old Jack Russell terrier in Ukraine.

The bomb-sniffing good boy has so far sniffed out 150 dangerous explosives, including landmines and live ordnance left behind by the retreating Russians, according to Ukraine’s foreign ministry. He finds the explosives, tells his human buddies, and the de-miners go to work on neutralizing the devices.

Not only does Patron help save lives at a crucial time in the war, when Russian forces are covering their retreat with mines and other traps, he’s also a handsome little guy and he happily cuddles with kids who could really use a little brightness after what they’ve endured. Is there anything Patron can’t do?

Patron and other bomb-sniffing dogs perform a critical task as they help their human handlers sweep cities and towns before civilians can return. While some “experts” predicted Ukraine would fall in days, the country has shocked the world by not only enduring the Russian invasion, but pushing the invaders back after inflicting heavy losses on them.

Making home safe for returning refugees

As a result of their failure Russian units are consolidating in eastern Ukraine, and some Ukrainians are cautiously returning to what’s left of their cities and neighborhoods for the first time since the Feb. 24 invasion. Since Russia abandoned efforts to take Kyiv and the entire country, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been returning home every day, according to a United Nations report.

While Kyiv was a ghost town just a few weeks ago, people have returned to the streets, bakeries and cafes have reopened, and churches are holding services again. Patron and his buddies are making sure hidden mines and other traps are neutralized before people come home, avoiding further tragedy after so much loss.

Patron has been helping clear Chernihiv and its surrounding environs. The northern Ukrainian city, which is about 150 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, has been designated a “Hero City” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The title has also been given to cities like Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mariupol, and marks sites where Ukrainians dug in to defend their homes despite the brutality of the Russian invasion.

“One day, Patron’s story will be turned into a film, but for now, he is faithfully performing his professional duties,” staffers at Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security wrote on Twitter when they shared a video of Patron last month.

Cats have your back, dawgs!

Buddy the Cat salutes Patron and says cats “would totally would help sniff out explosives, but the dogs seem to have a handle on that and we don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder.”

Instead, Buddy said, he’s sure the felines of Ukraine are engaged in some other kind of dangerous, patriotic work, such as reminding humans when it’s dinner time, keeping seats warm and providing delightful company to the war-weary.

Will California’s Bill of Rights for Cats and Dogs Make A Difference?

Declaring cats and dogs should have fundamental rights, an assemblyman in California has introduced a law that would create a Bill of Rights for the two most popular companion animal species.

The text of the proposed legislation covers the basics including the right to food and water, veterinary care and a life free from abuse, neglect and anxiety. It recognizes felines and canines as sentient animals who need mental stimulation, and says adopting means committing to caring for an animal for its entire life.

But it’s really about pushing for an even greater effort to spay and neuter both species to avoid euthanizing almost a million unwanted cats and dogs every year.

There’s been great progress in the last decade alone: In 2011, kill shelters and animal control departments in the US put down more than 2.6 million cats and dogs. In recent years that number has fallen to 920,000, including 530,000 cats, according to the ASPCA.

That’s still a staggering number of lives taken, and animal advocates think the US can continue the downward trend in euthanizing pets via efforts to educate people and execute trap, neuter, return (TNR) plans.

orange tabby cat beside fawn short coated puppy
An orange tabby and his puppy friend. Credit: Snapwire/Pexels

Whether Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s bill would help accomplish that is unclear.

It’s already a crime in California to harm an animal as opposed to the majority of states, where pets are considered property and the consequences for hurting or killing someone’s beloved cat or dog don’t go beyond providing monetary compensation. (However, it’s notable that the proposed cat and dog bill of rights would be added to California’s Food and Agriculture Code, not the Criminal Code. The fact that animal welfare legislation continues to exist in agriculture law instead of criminal is a relic of times when the only laws concerning animals were written to regulate their ownership, sale and slaughter.)

Santiago’s bill doesn’t specify a new plan for spaying and neutering more felines and canines. It doesn’t include funds for TNR or fund new enforcement efforts, and it doesn’t provide welfare groups with new tools.

Mostly what it does is require shelters and rescues to display the pet bill of rights in “a conspicuous place” or face a potential $250 fine. It doesn’t even specify how money collected via fines would be used.

But a bill of rights “changes the conversation” around animal welfare, the lawmaker said.

“It sounds pretty simple,” Santiago said, “but we need to talk about it.”

Santiago’s proposed legislation has the support of Judie Mancuso, president of the animal advocacy group Social Compassion in Legislation.

“Those rights go beyond just food, water, and shelter. As stated in the bill, dogs and cats have the right to be respected as sentient beings that experience complex feelings that are common among living animals while being unique to each individual. We’re thrilled to be codifying this into law.”

Dog and cat
“So did you hear about the new bill of rights for cats and dogs? It says I have a right to ride you like a horse. No, seriously. Crouch down so I can get up there!” Credit: Tehmasip Khan/Pexels

There’s a long way to go yet for the potential law.

The bill doesn’t have any co-sponsors and it’s not clear how much support it has among other lawmakers. Without significant support it might not be put forth for consideration at all. New York’s assembly, for example, declined to put a declawing ban on the floor for a vote for years until it finally garnered enough support among politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as voters and organizations like the PAW Project. The declawing ban finally passed in October of 2019.

Even if Santiago gets co-sponsors and convinces enough colleagues to proceed, it would have to pass in the state senate as well. As for PITB, we think failing the first time around might not be a bad thing if it forces Santiago to think bigger and smarter so it includes real measures to get more pets spayed and neutered. A bill of rights is a nice sentiment, but it won’t change much the way it’s written.

If Santiago and future allies lay out a competent plan for tackling companion animal overpopulation, perhaps it could be a model for other state to follow.

Study: Cat Brains Have Gotten Smaller

Cats have gotten a good deal out of domestication: They’re safer, warmer and protected from almost all threats. They know where their next meal is coming from, and won’t hesitate to meow our ears off if dinner is late.

But one tradeoff doesn’t immediately appear beneficial: Domestic cats have smaller brains than the species they’ve evolved from, African and Eurasian wildcats.

“[D]omestic cats indeed, have smaller cranial volumes (implying smaller brains) relative to both European wildcats (Felis silvestris) and the wild ancestors of domestic cats, the African wildcats (Felis lybica),” the research team wrote.

Wild cats have the largest brains on average, followed by wild-domestic hybrids and domestic cats with the smallest brains of the three.

That’s another strong indicator that domestication is the determining factor in feline brain size, although the researchers point out that they are comparing domestic cats to current wildcats, and not the ancient population of wildcats from which domestic cats evolved beginning some 10,000 years ago with the dawn of agriculture and permanent human settlements.

Wildcats with friendlier and bolder dispositions were the first to approach human settlements, drawn by the rodents who were themselves feasting on human grain supplies. Humans realized that the cats were taking care of their rodent problems but weren’t interested in eating the grain, and a beautiful partnership was born.

superhandsomebuddy1
“I have a yuge, yuge brain, the best brain. It’s tremendous.”

Smaller brains do not necessarily correlate to lower intelligence, however, and cats aren’t the only species whose brains became smaller after they were domesticated. Dog brains are about 30 percent smaller than the brains of gray wolves, but dogs have adapted spectacularly to living with humans and reading human behavioral cues.

“The dog is successful not because of the size of its whole brain per se, but because domestication has led to subtle brain changes with a stunning result: the ability to live in the world of people,” a Smithsonian Magazine article points out, noting dogs are also adept at getting people to do all sorts of things for them.

If brain size alone resulted in higher levels of intelligence, whales and elephants would rule the Earth.

Instead “the complexity of cellular and molecular organization of neural connections, or synapses, is what truly determines a brain’s computational capacity,” neuroscientist Kendra Lechtenberg wrote.

The researchers weren’t interested in drawing any major conclusions about feline cognition with the study. They’re more interested in the phenomena of “domestication syndrome,” which causes changes both physical (floppy ears, coat color variation, shorter muzzles) and behavioral. (Less aggression, playfulness.)

The jury’s still out on why exactly those traits emerge, but some studies have attributed it to differences in embryonic development. Unlike many other domestic animals, cats don’t look much different than their wild felis lybica and felis sylvestris counterparts.

The cat study was published on Jan. 26 to Royal Science Open Science, a peer-reviewed open-access journal. The research team was comprised of biologists from the University of Vienna and data curators from the National Museum of Scotland.

Do You Use ‘Baby Talk’ With Your Cat?

A few years ago when Bud was a bit more of a daredevil than he is now, I was sitting on my balcony on a warm summer night when the little dumbass squeezed through the railing bars and did a circuit of the balcony outside the rail — with only three or four inches of ledge between him and a potentially brutal fall onto the concrete below.

“Bud!” I said, feeling my own fear of heights bubble up as I watched him take his precarious stroll.

He ignored me.

“Bud!” I said again, loud enough to make sure he heard me but not so loud as to startle him and cause him to fall. “Bud! I’m talking to you! Get back over here right now!”

He paid me no mind. I stood up, put my hands on the railing and looked down at him.

“Buddy, get back here now! I’m not gonna say it again!”

At that point I realized there was a couple about my age, probably returning from the bars, drunk-walking toward the back door of the building and watching me have a furious one-sided discussion with my cat. They seemed to think it was hilarious, not only because I was speaking to my cat, but also because I was talking to the little stinker like he was a person.

I don’t baby talk with Buddy, and I’ve noticed my brother doesn’t baby talk his dog, Cosmo.

Sure I’ll speak to Bud warmly and encourage him when he’s clearly frightened of something. (Which is very rare, of course, because he’s such a fearless and brave tiger!) But it isn’t baby talk, and 95 percent of the time I speak to little man as if he’s, well, a little man.

It turns out I may be “doing it wrong,” at least according to some veterinarians and animal behaviorists who say baby talk is a good way to communicate with pets. Animal behaviorists call it “pet-directed speech,” and although the studies so far have been limited, they seem to suggest cats (and dogs) are more likely to respond to it than typical speech in normal registers and cadences. (A study published in the journal Animal Cognition earlier this year found horses respond well to “baby talk” too.)

Despite that, I just can’t bring myself to do it. There are certain standards we must uphold in this home, and besides, I’m pretty sure Bud would paw-smack me if one day I scratched his head and started saying “Who’s a good widdle boy? Is that you? Are you the good widdle boy? Yes you are! Yes you — OUCH! What the hell, dude? Why’d you do that?”

Do you “baby talk” to your pets?

person wearing apron holding orange tabby cat
“Who’s a cute widdle fluffy wuffy?” Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Iran’s Theocrats Want To Ban Cats, Dogs and Other Pets

The Prophet Muhammad heard the afternoon call to prayer one day and was about to rise when he realized his favorite cat, Muezza, was sleeping on his sleeve.

Rather than wake the slumbering kitty, Muhammad cut off his sleeve, stroked her fur and headed off to pray.

That story — and accounts of Muezza regularly napping in the lap of Islam’s most sacred prophet as he preached to followers — make Muezza one of the most well-known felines in human history, and form the basis for Islamic teaching regarding cats. Muslims consider cats the cleanest of animals, worthy companions and, thanks to the way the Prophet Muhammad treated Muezza and his other cats during his life, animals worthy of respect and the protection of humans.

Why, then, do hardline Islamic lawmakers in Iran want to ban the keeping of cats as pets, along with other animals?

Animal lovers in the country of 84 million are alarmed after conservative lawmakers introduced a bill, titled “Protection of the Public’s Rights Against Animals,” that would ban people from “importing, raising, assisting in the breeding of, breeding, buying or selling, transporting, driving or walking, and keeping in the home wild, exotic, harmful and dangerous animals.”

The list of “dangerous animals” includes creatures domestic and wild including “crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, cats, mice, rabbits, dogs and other unclean animals as well as monkeys,” according to Agence France Presse.

Cat in mosque
A cat loafs in Saudi Arabia’s Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, just a few hundred feet from the Kabah, the most sacred site in Islam. The fact that cats are allowed in such close proximity to the site reflects the Prophet Muhammad’s devotion to felines. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Penalties for violating the ban would be steep:

“Offenders would risk a fine equivalent to 10 to 30 times the ‘minimum monthly working wage’ of about $98 or 87 euros and the ‘confiscation’ of the animal,” the report says. If passed, the law would also require landlords to ban pets on their properties.

The proposal has caused an outcry in Iran, where keeping pets has become more popular in recent years, especially because it’s not just one or two politicians introducing a long-shot piece of legislation: At least 75 of Iran’s 290 legislative representatives have already signaled support for the bill.

Officially, Iranian lawmakers who support the pet ban say they’re obligated to act because pets are “dangerous.” Mohammad-Taghi Naghdali, an Iranian MP, told Persian-language news site Didban-e Iran that dogs in particular can “cause nuisance and harm” to people, citing a recent incident in which a dog killed a child in a Tehran public park.

But observers say the real reasons have to do with the Iranian government’s interpretation of Islamic teaching, as well as fear that keeping pets is a western, liberal (in the classic sense) behavior that poses a danger to the Islamic theocracy.

In 2019, dog walking was officially banned in Tehran, and authorities warned residents to keep their pets out of public spaces.

“Police have received permission from the judiciary branch to crack down on people walking dogs in Tehran,” Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi said in late 2019. “Carrying dogs in cars is also banned and if a dog is seen inside the car, police will confront the owner of the dog.”

In 2016, media reports said “officials were showing up at the homes of pet dog owners claiming that they were from a veterinary unit and these dogs needed vaccinations. The dogs were taken away, ostensibly for the purpose of vaccination and were never seen again.”

Dogs are considered “ritually unclean” according to Islamic hadiths, and some majority-Muslim countries, especially theocracies like Saudi Arabia, ban dog ownership completely with very few exceptions, such as seeing eye dogs for the blind.

By contrast, cats are widely tolerated and even welcomed into holy sites in most Islamic countries. In Saudi Arabia it’s not uncommon to see cats lounging on the grounds of mosques, while Turkey is famously hospitable to felines, with Istanbul earning an international reputation for its well-treated and ubiquitous street cats. In Turkey, cats are welcome in mosques, shops and homes, and tiny shelters for strays can be found almost everywhere.

gliistanbul
The late Gli, the most famous feline resident of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The proposed law has not gone over well with the people of Iran, who are often at odds with the country’s theocratic leaders on almost every aspect of social life.

“I have renamed my cat ‘Criminal’ since I heard this proposed law,” one Iranian wrote on Twitter, while journalist Yeganeh Khodami tweeted: “How many times have cats sought to devour you so that you consider them wild, harmful and dangerous?”

A common refrain among animal lovers is that the country’s leadership is once again focusing on something ultimately unimportant and harmful to Iranians instead of working to fix real problems like a depressed economy, widespread droughts and nationwide belt-tightening caused by international sanctions.

“Why should I imprison him at home?” a Tehran woman walking a dog told Agence France-Presse. “The MPs probably assume that young couples today don’t have children because they have a pet dog, but that’s stupid. It’s not the dogs but the economic conditions that don’t allow us to have children.”