Tag: Featured

Bidding War For Date With Buddy Intensifies At Charity Auction

LAS VEGAS — Lunch with Elon Musk, a Fender Telecaster signed by Elvis and a date with Buddy the Cat were among the big-ticket auctions expected to help raise millions on Saturday for non-profits at the fourth annual Bucks 4 Buddies charity drive.

The proceeds from the event will be divided among animal shelters and veterinary clinics across the country, helping them stay afloat during difficult economic times and the height of kitten season.

Bidding for the Elvis-signed Telecaster had reached almost $160,000, while the top bidder pledged $75,000 for lunch with Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla and SpaceX.

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A Fender Telecaster signed by Elvis fetched a pretty penny.

Neither matched the frenetic bidding war that had erupted over a dinner date with Buddy the Cat, insiders said. By early Saturday evening the top bid had reached almost a quarter of a million and showed no signs of slowing down.

”Ladies and gentlemen, a quarter of a million dollars!” the auctioneer announced. “Do I have $275 thousand? Two hundred and seventy five, two hundred and seventy five to the elegant lady in the swan dress! Do I have 300? Three hundred thousand! Three hundred to the young lady in the back! Do I have three fifty?”

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A female bidder celebrates her $500,000 bid for dinner with Buddy before an Austrian princess raised the bidding to $550,000.

One woman sighed and hung her head in frustration as the bidding surpassed $400,000, leaving the auction to bidders with fatter wallets.

“I came here specifically for this auction,” said the woman, a European aristocrat who asked that she not be identified by name.

“Don’t feel too bad, darlin’,” said another woman, the well-coiffed wife of a Houston megachurch pastor who was fanning herself with a copy of the auction program. “I had to quit at three hundred thousand. Shame, too. Buddy looks so adorable in his little tuxedo!”

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Cleans up nice: Buddy proved irresistible to the ladies in his tuxedo.

The auction’s organizers said they were delighted by the bidding war over dinner with the gray tabby after other auction items — including a night on the town with Rob Schneider and a weekend hunting pheasants with former Vice President Dick Cheney — fell short of expectations.

Other items on the auction slate did considerably better. A personal performance of “One Night In Bangkok” by Mike Tyson fetched $45,000, while a gold-plated dinner bowl encrusted with 24 karat diamonds — which belonged to Paris Hilton’s dog before she purchased a more ornate bowl for the pooch — brought in $92,500, auction organizers said.

Regardless, the date with Buddy the Cat was poised to bring in the biggest haul and easily garnered the most interest among female attendees of the charity auction.

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A woman representing Charlotte, 6th Countess of Tussaint, enters a bid for dinner with Buddy the Cat.

The bidding was expected to last well into the night, with several determined parties — including supermodel Gigi Hadid, Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco and a white Persian believed to be the foundress of Fancy Feast — each looking to outbid the others for the privilege of dining with Buddy.

“We’re going to Tavern on the Green in Central Park,” a confident Hadid said, “where we’ll toast with champagne before I squeeze those adorable little cheeks! He’s so dreamy!”

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Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Are Cats Self-Aware After All?

The mirror test has been the de facto gauge of animal self-awareness since it was invented in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr., mostly because no one’s figured out a better way to determine if animals understand who they are.

The procedure is simple: When the animal is asleep or sedated researchers will add a smudge of red paint, a sticker or some other visible mark on the animal’s face. Then they place a mirror nearby.

If the animal wakes up, looks in the mirror and tries to probe or wipe away the new mark, it passes the self-awareness test. It means the animal understands the image in the mirror is a reflection of itself and not another animal, according to researchers.

The list of animals who have passed the self-awareness test is quite short: It includes great apes like orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees, as well as elephants, dolphins, orcas and crows.

Cats, who are notoriously difficult to work with in controlled studies, have never passed the mirror test. Dubbed “the world’s most uncooperative research subject,” cats are a challenge even for the most seasoned animal cognition experts.

“I can assure you it’s easier to work with fish than cats,” one scientist told Slate magazine. “It’s incredible.”

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It’s not clear if cats don’t recognize themselves or simply can’t be bothered. Indeed, one of the primary criticisms of the mirror test is that, like most measures of animal cognition, it employs a human perspective to gauge non-human intelligence. It assumes that animals use vision as their primary source of information, as humans do, and it assumes that animals will be immediately driven to touch or remove an unfamiliar mark.

Buddy has a long and tumultuous history with mirrors. As a tiny kitten he once pulled down a thick, heavy wood-framed mirror from a wall, smashing the glass on impact. Thankfully he avoided injury.

As he got older, Buddy graduated to his boxing phase: He’d stand in front of a mirror, put his weight on his back legs and “box” the Buddy in the mirror with a series of quick jabs. Even from another room I knew instantly when he was boxing his reflection thanks to his high-pitched trills and the THWAP-THWAP-THWAP!! of his little paws against the glass.

The boxing phase eventually gave way to the narcissism phase, when Buddy would park himself in front of the mirror and stare at his reflection, occasionally raising a paw to the glass or waving at himself.

Was this evidence of self-awareness? Did little Bud now realize he was staring at his own reflection? After all, even humans don’t pass the mirror test until they’re two years old, so it’s entirely possible a cat can come to understand what it’s seeing in the mirror just like kids can.

So ripped.
So ripped.

Then one day I was shaving with the bathroom door open when Buddy padded up behind me and meowed to get my attention. Instead of turning to face him, I kept shaving, locked eyes with him in the mirror and gave him a slow-blink of recognition. He blinked back.

Finally, yesterday the roles were reversed: Buddy was sitting in front of the mirror while I was reading a few feet away.

“Hi, Bud!” I said, putting my tablet down.

Buddy, still staring into the mirror, met my gaze and blinked at me. Then in a moment that might have been confusion or dawning comprehension, he turned from the mirror-me to the real me, then turned back to the mirror. He blinked at me again.

Is that evidence of self-awareness? If Buddy still thought that the images in the mirror were different animals, wouldn’t he freak out upon realizing there are now two Big Buddies? Or would he meow with joy at the serendipitous development of a second Big Buddy to do his bidding?

He didn’t do any of those things. He took it in stride and reacted to mirror-me the same way he always reacts to regular me.

Skeptics will say this little anecdote proves nothing. It is, after all, just an anecdote, and it’s a far cry from a well-designed, controlled study with a few dozen feline participants.

That’s all true. But maybe we’re onto something here. Maybe instead of the traditional mirror test, which cats don’t seem to be interested in, a new mirror test could gauge how cats react to their owners as seen in a mirror.

Cats are never satisfied with doing things the “normal” way. Why should the mirror test be any different?

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Why We Should Lie To Our Cats

Sometimes you’ve gotta fib to protect the ones you love, which is how I found myself lying to Buddy the first time he wanted to go outside and ineptly chase hunt birds.

“I’m sorry, Bud, I can’t let you do that,” I said, doing my best to sound serious and authoritative.

“Why not?” Buddy asked, pawing at the door impatiently.

“Because it isn’t safe.”

Buddy was exasperated. “I’m 10 months old! I can take care of myself!”

“You don’t understand. It’s not for your protection.”

I lowered my voice conspiratorially and nodded toward the birds outside. “It’s for them. Mice too. Squirrels. Even coyotes.”

Comprehension dawned on the little guy’s face.

“To protect them from me?”

“Precisely,” I said gravely. “It wouldn’t be fair, unleashing a beast of your size and power on those poor unsuspecting creatures. It’d be like that scene in Jurassic Park when they lowered a cow into the velociraptor cage.”

Buddy nodded.

Jurassic Park: Raptor feeding time

“That makes sense.” He eased onto his hind legs and raised his front left paw, flexing. “I mean, I am really ripped. These guns must be intimidating.”

“They most certainly are,” I agreed. “So ripped! So you can understand why I can’t let you out.”

“Illegal, you say? Like actually illegal?”

“A $500 fine if you even step out the front door.”

“Damn.”

After that he didn’t ask to go outside anymore and was satisfied with telling people that the local Council of Dangerous and Awesome Animals had specifically forbidden Buddy the Beast from stalking the neighborhood unless chaperoned by a human with his huge muscles restrained in a harness.

Ed Sheeran’s cat: A preventable tragedy

I recalled this totally accurate and real conversation after reading news that musician Ed Sheeran’s cat, Graham, has died. I clicked on the story expecting to read about a loyal cat who’d stuck with Sheeran over the better part of two decades before succumbing to old age.

That’s not how Graham died.

Sheeran’s five-year-old cat had his life cut short when he was hit by a car on July 31.

Graham, Ed Sheeran's cat
Graham, Ed Sheeran’s cat, as a kitten. He’s pictured sitting on a Les Paul guitar.

Allowing cats to roam free is the norm in the UK, even in busy neighborhoods. Cats are killed in traffic — or meet other unfortunate ends — regularly. Even a rampage by an alleged serial murderer of cats, who was said to kill more than 300, didn’t dissuade them from keeping their cats safely indoors, nor did the subsequent (pardon) copy-cats.

The usual excuses paint cats as one step removed from wild animals, creatures who range several miles in their “natural” states as outdoor kitties.

The problem is, that’s not true.

Domestic cats don’t belong in the wild

Cats are domesticated animals. They’ve evolved over 10,000 years from African and Eurasian wildcats, to the human-friendly mousers who protected grain stores, and finally to the companion animals we all know and love.

They are second only to dogs, who were domesticated 30,000 years ago, as animals who are uniquely attuned to human presence, able to read our expressions, detect our moods from our pheromones and parse the subtleties in our vocalizations.

Cats belong with humans. They have no “natural habitat.” As domesticates who are genetically distinct from their wildcat ancestors, there’s no place in nature for them.

In other words, cats belong in human homes, benefiting from human companionship, protection and care.

They’re not as fast, agile or nimble as their wild cousins, and while some can adjust to rough living, most don’t: The lifespan of a feral cat is a pitiful two to five years compared to the 16 years or so an average, well-cared-for indoor cat can live. For feral cats eking out an existence on their own, as opposed to living in a colony, the average lifespan is less than two years.

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Window perches allow cats prime views of the outdoors without exposing them to danger.

It’s our responsibility to protect our cats

The point is that we’re not doing cats any favors by letting them roam outdoors unsupervised. In addition to being ill-equipped to deal with nature and predators, they’re also defenseless against maladjusted and hostile humans who do things like intentionally poison flower beds. They’re particularly vulnerable to vehicle traffic. They’re easy meals for large birds of prey, wild canids and other mid-sized animals.

So what’s the solution? Simple: Be a good caretaker.

An indoor life shouldn’t be boring. It’s our responsibility as caretakers to provide our cats with attention, affection, toys and stimulation.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, cats aren’t antisocial animals. They want to play, to interact with people, to simulate hunts with wand toys and laser pointers. They feel safe snoozing and purring in human laps. That’s not just the opinion of cat lovers, it’s backed up by solid research showing cats value human companionship.

A happy indoor life

If we give them the attention we’re supposed to, there’s no reason why our cats should be bored indoors. And an indoor life doesn’t have to be completely devoid of nature. That’s why there are customized cat perches, catios and harnesses, allowing domestic cats to watch and enjoy the outdoors without exposing them to the many dangers outside.

The Grahams of the world shouldn’t die early because of our misguided belief that cats need to roam like tigers. Keep your buddy indoors, give him the attention he needs, and he’ll have a long and happy life.

 

Buddy and the People

Buddy and the People. Sounds like a dance-rock band, doesn’t it? Or maybe an 80s pop group with a Huey Lewis vibe.

One of the more interesting aspects of being a cat caretaker minion is seeing how our furry friends interact with other people. For those of us who write about cats — and everyone who has a cat — most of our musings tend to focus on our direct relationships with the little ones.

But getting to sit back and watch how they respond to others can be just as much fun, and sometimes we get to see new aspects of our cats’ personalities.

Buddy is exceptionally friendly and sociable. I like to think it’s because I socialized the shit out of him as a kitten, taking him to new places, having him meet new people, and even making friends with a few dogs. But the truth is he’s been that way since kittenhood, and hopefully I did my best to encourage it.

My Brother, the Other Big Buddy

My brother is Buddy’s favorite person in the world, aside from Big Buddy of course. Bud knows he’s family and treats him that way.

When my brother was staying with me for a few nights and he took the couch, there could not be a closed door between us. Buddy wasn’t having it.

Eventually I relented, warned my brother that he’d likely be startled by feline hi-jinx before falling asleep, and would be woken up rudely at least once overnight. Maybe he’d wake to find Buddy perched on his chest and licking his face. Maybe he’d be violently ripped out of sleep by my jerk of a cat pouncing on his stomach. Or maybe he’d get the classic “Isn’t your face a reasonable place to walk?” indifference cats are famous for.

My Niece, the Terrible Toddler

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(Buddy retreating from my niece. This was the one and only day he wore a collar, spending most of his time trying to get it off before I relented after about two hours and removed it for him.)

His daughter, my niece, is a completely different story. Buddy is terrified of her.

They were babies at the same time, and we’ve got some cute photos of the two of them. I’ve always been careful to supervise any interaction, making sure they’re gentle with each other: No tail-pulling, no clawing. They were good together.

Then my niece became fully ambulatory, and everything changed. Suddenly Buddy’s home, his kingdom, was invaded by this lumbering, oblivious toddler who could very likely hurt him by lack of fine motor skills alone. She chased him, tried to pet him and was delighted every time he ran in terror and retreated to higher ground.

One weekend when I was the babysitter, the Funcle, she asked if she could use the wand toy — Da Bird, for cat servants in the know — to play with him.

Why not? I thought. I showed her how to hold the wand and demonstrated how we play with the cat chasing the feathers.

Then I handed it to her and watched with horror as she proceeded to swing it at Buddy like a slugger trying to blast a 3-0 pitch out of a ballpark.

We put the wand toys on hold after that.

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My Mom, the Wicked and Cruel

Buddy loves my mom, but my mom does not love Buddy.

She’s the kind of person who gets grossed out by cat hair on her clothes and thinks cats are inscrutable, selfish little beasts. Most of the time she ignores poor Buddy’s attempts at affection. She won’t acknowledge him when he rubs up against her legs or bunts his head against her hand.

This has afforded me the opportunity to make her feel guilty with cartoonishly monstrous accusations:

“This poor little cat just wants you to love him, and you can’t even give him a scratch on the head and say good boy? What kind of person is so cold-hearted?”

She’s watched Buddy for me a few times, mostly when I’ve been gone for long weekends. She knows Buddy sleeps on top of me, and I really lay the guilt trip on her for refusing to allow him to sleep in bed with her:

“You’re telling me you’re going to listen to little Buddy crying at the bedroom door, you’re going to hear his tiny paws beating desperately against the door and ignore his plaintive mews for comfort? He just wants to be loved! You are a terrible, disgusting person. Oh, and don’t forget to put fresh water in his bowl every time you feed him.”

Then to add the final touch, the killer ingredient in the guilt sandwich, I’ll text her my first night I’m away and tell her to send me daily photos of Bud next to the current day’s newspaper, so I know he’s still alive.

 

My Friends, the Apostates

True to a cat, the Budster is like a heat-seeking missile when it comes to approaching the least cat-friendly person in the room.

It’s like he’s saying “You will like me, human!” as he sprinkles on the sugar, rubbing up against the newcomer and purring like a sweet little kitty.

“You aren’t big on cats, are you?” I’ll usually ask. “Just pet him. Rub your hand through the fur on his back and scratch the top of his head.”

Invariably: “Wow, his fur is so soft!”

And just like that Buddy’s made a new friend, or has enlisted the services of a new servant, however you choose to look at it.

Perhaps the best are the naysayers and dog people. They never fail to set themselves up.

“Cats are okay, I guess, if you’re into stubborn pets who just sit there,” they’ll say. “But dogs? Dogs can do stuff. You can train dogs. You can’t train cats.”

That’s my favorite moment.

“Hey Bud!” I’ll call out, and Buddy’ll pad on over to me. “High five!”

The disbelief on the faces of doubters when Buddy slaps his little paw against my open palm is delicious.

Buddy 1, Guests 0.