Nintendo’s newest game has been out for all of one day and already cats are like “Nuh-uh.”
The idea behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is clever yet simple and seemingly tailored for the pandemic era: Using a Nintendo Switch, players control a tiny Mario Kart equipped with a camera and race it around courses they design in their homes. Because players are controlling the kart through a screen and seeing things from the kart’s point of view, the game augments the race course by generating obstacles to dodge, coins to collect and opponents to race against.
It’s called augmented reality, because it adds layers of computer-generated imagery over things we can see with our own eyes. It’s the same concept behind smart glasses and floating heads-up displays.
But there’s one wild card Nintendo’s designers may not have anticipated: Felis catus.
Nothing grabs a cat’s attention quicker than a small, fast-moving object, and the little karts have been triggering the predatory instincts of countless cats.
Some cats go all “You shall not pass!” Gandalf-style on the karts:
Wealthy Londoners freaked out at the sight of a Savannah cat on Monday, confusing the domestic-Serval hybrid for a big cat.
The pet kitty was stalking the gardens of a neighborhood known as billionaire’s row in East Finchey, north London, when it caught the attention of a mother and daughter who called police to report a large felid.
“I was sitting having dinner with my daughter in the garden when the head appeared. It looked normal so I didn’t take much notice but then the body came out,” the mother told the Evening Standard. “It was elongated, really too big for a domestic pet. The markings were like that of a cheetah or leopard.”
“We were scared. I said to myself ‘we should not be here’ and ran in the house. I took a picture on the way, it was frightening.”
“We called the police and armed officers started the hunt for the animal. They told us to stay inside. There were two police helicopters overhead. It was very dramatic, I can understand it. At that stage they had to think it was a dangerous wildcat.”
Leon Grant, who lives nearby, told the newspaper that police and neighbors thought they were dealing with a big cat.
“It was pandemonium,” Grant said. “There was a police helicopter whirring overhead and armed police and all sorts. It was being dealt with as a huge incident.”
The police, who were accompanied by a wildlife expert, stood down after they realized they were dealing with a pet, the BBC reported. The cops hadn’t found the owner, but said keeping a Savannah cat isn’t illegal in London or its outlying areas.
Savannah cats are hybrids of domestic cats and servals, mid-sized African wildcats. The somewhat controversial breed is energetic, intelligent and needs a lot of stimulation, much like a working dog.
To be fair to the Londoners who were alarmed by the sight of the rare cat, the breed is considerably larger than typical domestic cats. A pet Savannah is about the size of two, maybe two-and-a-half Buddies: (Although not nearly as ripped or as fearsome, obviously.)
First-generation hybrids, known as F1 Savannahs, are not considered suitable pets. Typically breeders sell F3 (third generation) or F4 cats to the general public. A Savannah cat can cost as much as $20,000 in the US, and like all exotic breeds, they’re controversial because many activists feel people shouldn’t buy pets when 1.5 million homeless cats and dogs are euthanized every year.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.