Tag: London

Study: Even Experienced Caretakers Give Cats ‘Unwelcome Affection’

By chance, one of the first things I saw Tuesday in my post-wake-up browsing was a short video of three guys standing in a triangle formation, each of them with a puppy. A drum recording began, and the men began drumming an overturned pot in the middle with the puppies’ paws.

The dogs, of course, had no idea what was going on. They were confused and stressed. Then I saw this from the official TikTok page of Imperial Point Animal Hospital in Delray Beach, Florida:

That’s a veterinarian abusing a kitten.

It might not be overt abuse. She’s not hitting or screaming at the poor cat. But she’s taking a sentient being with its own feelings, likes and dislikes, comforts and discomforts, and using it as a toy for clicks and likes on social media.

I thought about that when I read the newest study from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham, which looks at the way people interact with their cats and how their behavior may or may not align with what cats prefer and what they’re comfortable with.

Although Bud and I have a deep bond formed over more than seven years of spending time together, establishing trust, mutual respect and love, he would tear my face off if I did to him what the vet tech is doing to the kitten in the above video.

And you know what? He’d be justified, once he got over the shock and wondered if I’d been replaced with a doppleganger.

The UK study involved more than 100 felines at Battersea Dogs and Cats’ London cattery, with scientists recording interactions between humans and cats via a GoPro camera in a large pen where people can interact with cats one-on-one. There were 120 human participants of various ages and from different walks of life. Each person interacted with three cats separately.

Researchers looked at whether the cat or the human initiated interaction, where the human touched the cat, whether the human restrained the cat, and the cat’s response.

They also collected information on each human participant, such as how many cats they have at home and how long they’ve been caring for felines. Human participants rated themselves on how well they know cats and how well they take care of them.

They used a system that corresponds to the below image to grade physical affection. The image is mostly self-explanatory, but to be clear, the green areas are where cats like to be touched, the yellow areas are “meh,” and the red areas are no-go zones for most cats:

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In earlier studies, the team established what many cat caretakers know: Allowing cats to initiate physical interactions, going easier and lighter on petting, letting cats control how long the interactions last, and avoiding any kind of restraint are “best practices” for petting cats. They reaffirmed that scratching cats under the chin, rubbing their cheeks and forehead are “the best ways to increase their affection and reduce aggression.”

That might seem obvious, but in research there’s an important distinction between knowing something (or thinking you know it) and proving it with research. It’s important to prove it, and to forgo assumptions, to produce credible and repeatable experiments.

Animal behaviorist Lauren Finka, lead author on the new study, said although the above may seem like common knowledge among experienced caretakers, that’s not always true, and it’s not always reflected in their behavior.

“Our findings suggest that certain characteristics we might assume would make someone good at interacting with cats—how knowledgeable they say they are, their cat ownership experiences and being older—should not always be considered as reliable indicators of a person’s suitability to adopt certain cats, particularly those with specific handling or behavioral needs,” Finka said.

We should point out here that these are “best practices” for establishing a healthy, trusting relationship with cats, and taking their feelings into consideration. Lots of people might force their cats to do things without much push back, but that doesn’t mean the cat is happy. No one’s perfect, and there are always things we can learn about how to do better by our furry friends.

Finka also said she hopes people who run shelters and rescues take the research into consideration. That’s because some people run into the same problems I did: When you’ve never had a cat, and/or you don’t fit the profile of what people think a “cat person” is or should be, you could encounter resistance or skepticism from shelter staff.

One volunteer at an animal shelter asked me if I was adopting a kitten for my kids or girlfriend, because it didn’t occur to her that I’d want a cat. Some shelters require references from a veterinarian, which you can’t get if you’ve never had a pet before.

“Importantly, within shelters, we should also avoid discriminating against potential adopters with no previous cat ownership experience,” Finka said, “because with the right support, they may make fantastic cat guardians.”

For us, it’s more confirmation of what we’ve always believed: The more you take your cat’s feelings into consideration, and treat the little one with the respect he or she deserves, the happier your cat and the deeper your bond will grow.

Sunday Cats: Eurasian Lynx Captured On Long Island, ‘Loneliest Cat’ Has Been Returned To Shelter Twice

The saga of a “big cat” spotted on Long Island this week has come to an end with the animal’s capture.

Authorities believe the cat is a Eurasian Lynx and was a pet who escaped or was abandoned by his owner. The frightened feline was first spotted on Wednesday in Central Islip, Long Island, a suburb that stretches for 118 miles just south of New York City.

“Scared the daylights out of me,” Diane Huwer, a self-proclaimed cat lover who was the first to encounter the lynx, told the local ABC affiliate.

The area encompasses two counties and is one of the most densely populated places in the U.S. with more than 7.6 million people. It’s one of the worst places in the world for a wild cat to be abandoned, with heavy traffic, ubiquitous environmental noise and endless shopping plazas surrounded by labyrinthine residential neighborhoods.

It’s illegal to own wild animals in New York, and the cat’s “owner” likely would have kept it without a proper enclosure to avoid attention from authorities.

The lynx’s sightings made the headlines in the New York papers, as well as coverage by local TV news and online publications. It went viral on social media, with users trying to determine what kind of cat it was from the handful of blurry photos witnesses were able to snap. Some media coverage suggested it was a true big cat. (Here at PITB, we thought it was possibly a Savannah cat or an American lynx.)

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Authorities said the Eurasian Lynx was clearly socialized and wasn’t aggressive when they finally caught him. Credit: SPCA

Local authorities searched fruitlessly for three days and were about to give up early Saturday morning when someone spotted the wild cat in a residential neighborhood and called police.

The hungry feline was pawing through garbage cans next to a house in Central Islip. Authorities said the young lynx was friendly and socialized to humans.

“He was rubbing his face on the cage, looked like he was a friendly cat and from the tips we’ve gotten,” Frankie Floridia of Strong Island Animal Rescue said. “It seems these people have had him since he was a baby.”

Veterinarians have named the lynx Leonardo de Catbrio and said he’s about a year old. Despite his ordeal, the 40-pound cat was not malnourished or dehydrated, and the vets who gave him a check-up said he’s in good health. They’re waiting on lab results to confirm his species.

“Someone obviously had it as a pet,” the SPCA’s Roy Gross told Newsday. “These are wild animals, not the type of animals anyone should have. … They don’t belong in captivity this way.”

In the meantime, police, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the SPCA are looking for Leonardo’s “owner,” who faces misdemeanor charges and a fine of up to $1,000 if he or she is convicted. They’re sure to have questions about how the person acquired a wild cat, let alone a non-native species. It’s been illegal to “import” wild animals since the Wildlife Act of 1976, and the illegal wildlife market has been a scourge on law enforcement and conservationists alike.

“I know everybody wants something that’s exotic,” Gross said. “They want something cool. It’s not cool.”

Header image of Eurasian Lynx courtesy of Pexels

A lonely cat in the UK needs a forever home

Eleven is a silver tabby who’s been returned to the shelter twice by would-be adopters, and staff at the shelter are appealing to the public to find her a forever home with patient humans.

The four-year-old with bright green eyes has been with Battersea Cats and Dogs in south London since April. Her rescuers say she takes a while to adjust to new surroundings, and they believe that’s why Eleven was returned twice within days. If Eleven’s failed adopters had been more patient, shelter staff said, they would  have discovered she’s a loving lap cat once trust is established.

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Eleven the Cat takes a while to warm up to new people. Credit: Battersea Cats and Dogs

They hope to place her in an “understanding home” with people who “will give her the time and space to settle in, as she would be a wonderful addition to a home.”

“Eleven needs her own space when she’s settling in, so she can hiss and swipe if pushed into interactions that she is not ready for,” a shelter spokesman told the Mirror. “She expects respect, but once given she will reward you with plenty of love. She is a super clever cat, who enjoys learning and she will sit on command for a treat of course.”

Bohemian Catsody: Cats Sing Queen

Queen frontman Freddie Mercury loved his cats so much that when he found himself missing them on tour, he’d ask his girlfriend to put them on the phone.

“He’d get to a hotel, we’d dial through, and he really would talk to his cats,” Peter Freestone, Mercury’s personal assistant of 12 years, wrote in his memoir.

Mercury’s feline infatuation began years earlier when Mary Austin, his girlfriend and eventual fiance, adopted a pair of kittens named Tom and Jerry when she and Mercury moved in together. Austin would stay home to take care of the duo — and a subsequently growing pride — when Freddie did gigs.

“Mary would hold Tom and Jerry in turn up to the receiver to listen to Freddie talking,” Freestone wrote. “This continued throughout the years with succeeding feline occupants of his houses.”

Mercury was a servant to 10 cats throughout his life, and loved them so much he dedicated an album to them, devoted a song to his cat Delilah, and took great joy in picking out presents for them at Christmas.

Thus, Bohemian Catsody seems both inevitable and so natural, it’s a wonder someone hasn’t done it before. New Zealander Shirley Șerban uploaded the video on Oct. 1 and it’s already got 89,000-plus views.

The lyrics couldn’t be more appropriate:

“I choose to employ you, now attend to me
Open the door, then I’ll come, then I’ll go
Feed me now, don’t be slow!
Stalk you in the bathroom
Privacy don’t matter to me…to me!
Mama, just killed a mouse
Ate it all except the head
That’s your present on the bed
Mama, a sign of my love
Why did you scream and throw it all away?
Mama, ooooh, oooh!
Didn’t mean to make you cry
I’ll try to find a bird for you tomorrow!”

‘The Beast of Billionaire’s Row’: Wealthy Londoners Have Little Patience For Abandoned Cat

The saga continues in the case of the big Savannah who was mistaken for a leopard or cheetah in London earlier this week.

The hybrid cat — whose appearance prompted a massive police response that included helicopters and heavily armed squads — has been stalking the gardens of an opulent London burb for months, neighbors claim.

The British press dubbed the Savannah “The Beast of Billionaire’s Row” after it popped into a back garden in the upscale neighborhood of Hampstead on Monday, scaring a mom and daughter who were eating dinner outside.

They called the police to report a large wildcat, and authorities responded in force before realizing the mysterious felid was a Savannah, a cross between a Serval and a domestic cat. A wildlife expert confirmed the cat wasn’t dangerous and police stood down, leaving the cat to its own devices.

And that’s exactly the problem, homeowners in the neighborhood told UK newspapers: They say the rare feline has been wandering the area for eight months, and believe it was abandoned by its owner or escaped from its home.

“Anyone saying it’s a recent escape is talking absolute rubbish,” said Kate Blackmore of Highgate, an adjacent neighborhood less than a mile from Monday’s sighting.

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The cat was scared during an encounter with a woman in her backyard. Credit: Kate Blackmore

Blackmore told the Daily Mail she’s seen the cat in her yard 10 times over the months, and shot video of the hybrid in September when it crossed her yard.

“Look at you, you’re massive. Wow! Where do you come from?” Blackmore says in the video. “What’s with the growling, mate?”

The cat looks underfed and scared, making unmistakably nervous noises as the camera rolls. At one point Blackmore raises her voice and the cat flashes its teeth in response, hissing anxiously.

Blackmore told the Daily Mail she thinks the large hybrid may have chased one of her cats, who turned up dead in a nearby road last year, but admits it’s speculation. That hasn’t stopped the Mail from reporting the Savannah “has savaged a kitten” with nothing but Blackmore’s word to go on.

Blackmore told the Daily Mail she’s “really passionate about rehoming this cat,” which contradicts statements she gave to the Sun and other newspapers, in which she seems determined to blame the scared ex-pet. She’s the sole source for several irresponsibly speculative articles claiming the Savannah has been eating pets in the neighborhood.

“We have had ten visits from the Savannah. It scared one kitten away and eight weeks later it was found dead,” Karen Kate Blackmore told the Sun. “So you can understand my rage towards the cat — it could be killing other people’s pets.”

Blackmore’s crusade against the Savannah seems especially odd considering she has two Bengal cats, which are also hybrids. Bengals are a mix of domestic felines and Asian leopard cats(*). Like Savannahs they’re sold for thousands of dollars, valued for the wild-looking rosettes on their coats, and can wreak havoc if they’re not provided with enough attention and stimulation.

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Kate Blackmore with one of her Bengal cats.

 

 

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The Savannah at a local park, where it cozied up to a family. Credit: Laura Rosefield.

Other neighbors say they’ve encountered the animal and haven’t seen any signs of aggression. Laura Rosefield, who lives nearby, told the Sun she interacted with the cat in a neighborhood park, calling it “very tame.”

“I suddenly went ‘Oh my god what is that?’ and we saw the cat and said ‘It’s a leopard, it’s a mini leopard,’” Rosefield said.

She said the “shockingly beautiful” hybrid even sat with her family and was comfortable around people.

“We were ohh-ing and ahh-ing, and it padded around us for quite a long time, it padded over my foot for quite a long time,” she said. “My partner stroked it and it purred along while he was stroking it.”

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Credit: Laura Rosefield

Looking at the cat’s condition and body language in the video, it doesn’t seem like a well-loved pet out for a fun stroll near its home — it looks like a sad, confused and abandoned former pet.

Savannah cats retain the energy and intelligence of their wild cousins and are similar to working dogs in that they need near-constant stimulation and socialization. If their needs aren’t met they can become bored, destructive and could escape to make their own adventures.

First-generation hybrids, known as F1 Savannahs, are considered too wild to be kept as pets and are used as breeders. Typically pet Savannahs are third- or fourth-generation (F3 or F4), retaining the rosette-and-dot coat pattern of their wild forebears and most of their size, but with dispositions more like typical house cats.

The animals can fetch up to $20,000 in the US, with F1s commanding the highest prices. Unlike the US, where many caretakers keep their cats indoors for their safety, it’s common for owners in the UK to allow their cats to wander outside.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated the origins of the Bengal breed. Bengals are hybrids of the domestic cat, felis catus, and the Asian leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis. Thanks to reader M.A. for pointing out the error.

 

Helicopters, Armed Squads, Scotland Yard…For A Cat?

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.”

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A woman having dinner outside took this photo of the cat before calling police.

“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.

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A Serval cat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.)

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Credit: Savannah Cat Association

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Not as big as a Savannah cat, but fearsome and terrifying!

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.

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A four-month-old F1 Savannah hybrid. Credit: Jason Douglas/Wikimedia Commons