Tag: research study

SPCA Offers $6k Reward After Shooter Kills NY Woman’s Beloved Cat

When Margaret Oliva’s husband died eight years ago, her cat Stella helped her through her grieving.

“She was my sanity, you know?” the Long Island woman said.

Oliva’s beloved tortoiseshell went outside on Sept. 1 and didn’t come back that night. Oliva enlisted the help of relatives to find Stella but wasn’t able to locate her until she heard “whimpering cries” on her Ring system’s audio.

Stella had collapsed near a bush on the front lawn. Oliva rushed her badly injured cat to an emergency veterinarian, where the fading feline fought for her life but succumbed hours later. The vet told the shocked Hicksville woman that someone had shot Stella twice, likely with a pellet gun.

“To have her taken like this…No, I can’t accept that,” Oliva told a local TV news station.

Now the SPCA is offering a $6,000 reward to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of Stella’s killer. Matt Roper, a detective with the Nassau County SPCA’s law enforcement division, said he believes Stella was shot by someone in the immediate neighborhood.

spcastella
The SPCA is offering a $6,000 reward for Stella’s killer.

Studies have shown that house cats who are allowed to wander outside during the day rarely go far. In a paper published in Scientific Reports earlier this year, a team of scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences tracked 100 indoor/outdoor cats by equipping them with GPS collars. The data showed cats spend almost 80 percent of their time within 50 meters — or about 164 feet — of their homes, and a handful of statistical outliers who traveled a longer distance didn’t exceed more than a quarter mile.

The SPCA’s Roper said Stella suffered one projectile to her chest and one to a leg. Her killer is likely nearby and almost certainly knows about the anguish caused to Oliva. If caught, the killer could face a felony charge.

“This could be a high powered pellet gun,” Roper said. “This could be something that could be shot a couple of houses length, a couple of yards in length.”

Oliva’s home in Hicksville is about 10 miles from Glen Cove, where a cat named Gracie was shot and left paralyzed last summer when one pellet hit her stomach and another hit her spine. Poor Gracie was in a neighbor’s yard, dragging herself toward her home while her back legs hung limp. A woman found Gracie after hearing her crying out in pain, Newsday reported.

“What happens is a woman takes her kids for a walk,” said detective Lt. John Nagle of the Glen Cove Police Department. “When she returns to the house she hears an animal crying and goes to investigate. She finds this cat, just beyond the neighbor’s chain link fence, and the animal is crying and it can’t walk. Another neighbor, who happens to be a vet, comes over. She gets a cat cage, places it in the yard — and the cat immediately crawls over to it … She takes the cat to her vet, where she works, thinking maybe it’s been hit by a car. That’s when she finds out it’s not damage from a car, but that there’s two bullets.”

There’s a $5,000 reward for Gracie’s shooter.

In October of 2021, a young cat the rescuers named Abraham was shot with a pellet gun in Suffolk County on eastern Long Island. Like Gracie, Abraham was struck in his spine. The SPCA of Suffolk County, which called Abraham’s shooting “a horrific act of animal cruelty,” is offering a $4,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his shooter.

graciecatreward
Gracie’s shooter hasn’t been found yet either.

The New York Times Is Back To Spread Misinformation About Cats

Prompted by the recent news that Polish scientists have added cats to a list of invasive alien species, the New York Times ran an enterprise story on Tuesday titled “The Outdoor Cat: Neighborhood Mascot Or Menace?”

I’m highly critical of print media stories on animals because I’ve been a journalist for almost my entire career, and I know when a reporter has done her homework and when she hasn’t. Unfortunately it looks like Maria Cramer, author of the Times story, hasn’t.

Her story identifies the stray cats of Istanbul as “ferals,” cites bunk studies — including meta-analyses based on suspect data — and misrepresents a biologist’s solutions “to adopt feral cats, have them spayed or neutered and domesticate them.”

Doubtless the biologist understands cats are domesticated, but Cramer apparently does not, and her story misrepresents the domestication process.

Individual animals can’t be domesticated. Only species can. It’s a long, agonizingly slow process that involves changes at the genetic level that occur over many generations. Domestication accounts for physical changes (dogs developing floppy ears while their wolf ancestors have rigid ears, for example) and temperamental ones. A hallmark of domestication is the adjustment to coexisting with humans.

agriculture animal beautiful cat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In other words, if cats were wild animals it would take hundreds of years to fully domesticate them, and I’m sure no one’s suggesting we wait hundreds of years to solve the free-ranging cat problem.

Ferals can be “tamed,” but the majority of cats living in proximity to humans are strays, not ferals. The difference? Strays are socialized to humans and will live among us, while ferals are not and will not. Strays can be captured and adopted. In most cases ferals can’t, and the best we can hope for is that they become barn cats.

To her credit, Cramer does make efforts to balance the story and quotes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the U.K., which places the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of humans, noting “the decline in bird populations has been caused primarily by man-made problems such as climate change, pollution and agricultural management.”

Even our structures kill billions of birds a year. That’s the estimated toll just from the mirrored surfaces of skyscrapers, and no one’s suggesting we stop building skyscrapers.

Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud (MBS), the de facto ruler of Saudi Araba, has been busy commissioning science fiction city designs when he’s not murdering journalists critical of his policies. The design he’s chosen for his ultra-ambitious future city, which he hopes will rival the pyramids in terms of lasting monuments to humanity’s greatness, is a 100-mile-long mirrored megacity called Neom, which is Arabic for “Dystopian Bird Hell.” (Okay, we made that up. Couldn’t resist.)

Take a look:

The point is, of the many factors driving bird extinction, humans are responsible for the majority of them, and if we want to save birds we have to do more than bring cats inside. Additionally, sloppy research portraying cats as the primary reason for bird extinction has resulted in cruel policies, like Australia’s effort to kill two million cats by air-dropping poisoned sausages across the country.

This blog has always taken the position that keeping cats indoors is the smart play, and it’s win-win: It protects cats from the many dangers of the outdoors (predators like coyotes and mountain lions, fights with other neighborhood cats, diseases, intentional harm at the hands of disturbed humans, getting run over by vehicles), ensures they’re not killing small animals, and placates conservationists.

At the same time, we don’t demonize people who allow their cats to roam free, and we recognize attitudes vary widely in different countries. Indeed, as the Times notes, 81 percent of pet cats are kept indoors in the US, while 74 percent of cat caretakers allow their pets to roam in the U.K.

We have readers and friends in the U.K., and we wouldn’t dream of telling them what to do, or suggest they’re bad people for letting their cats out.

Ultimately, tackling the problem depends on getting a real baseline, which Washington, D.C. did with its Cat Count. The organizers of that multi-year effort brought together cat lovers, bird lovers, conservationists and scientists to get the job done, and it’s already paying off with new insights that will help shape effective policies. To help others, they’ve created a toolkit explaining in detail how they conducted their feline census and how to implement it elsewhere.

Every community would do well — and do right by cats and birds — by following D.C.’s lead.

Humans Are An Alien Invasive Species, New Study By Feline Science Institute Finds

Homo sapiens are an invasive species who do irreparable harm to the environment and other animals on an unprecedented scale, a new study by the Feline Science Institute has found.

The results prompted feline scientists to add homo sapiens, commonly known as humans, to a database of destructive and invasive animals maintained by the Academy of Scientific Studies.

Cat scientists have only just glimpsed the breadth of human-initiated impact on other animals, Dr. Oreo P. Yums, lead author of the newest research paper, told reporters.

“We found humans are astonishingly, almost indescribably destructive,” Yums said. “For instance, although they fret about birds, humans kill more than a billion of them a year just with their skyscrapers, which birds are prone to fly into due to their mirrored surfaces. Add in wind turbines, cell towers, power lines, habitat loss and slow die-offs due to chemicals, and by conservative estimates we’re talking about billions of birds killed by humans every year without even tallying active measures like hunting.”

Humans have killed off an estimated 70 percent of the world’s wildlife in the last 50 years alone and show no sign of stopping. Oceans are overfished, animals like pangolins and big cats are ruthlessly hunted to extinction to feed demand within the Chinese traditional medicine market, and human addiction to palm oil means the “two-legged demon monsters don’t even have sympathy for their fellow primates,” mewologist Charles Clawin said.

“In Borneo and Sumatra there are entire schools, filled to capacity, for critically endangered orangutan babies who were orphaned by human contractors clearing ancient jungles to make room for more palm oil plantations,” he said. “Often, the humans use industrial equipment to tear down trees while the orangutans are still in them. Other times, they dispatch the mothers with pistols, not realizing there are babies clinging to them.”

In Africa, where the elephant population has plummeted in the last century, more than 110,000 elephants have been slaughtered in the past 10 years alone for their tusks. The elongated incisors are used to make jewelry and piano keys, and items made from ivory have become a status symbol in China, where growing middle and upper classes seek to show off their wealth with luxuries.

In 2019, Chinese businesswoman Yang Felan, dubbed the “Ivory Queen,” was arrested and charged with smuggling $2.5 million worth of tusks from Tanzania to her home country. Yang, “a key link between poachers in East Africa and buyers in China for more than a decade,” was a respected businesswoman, investor, restaurateur and vice chairwoman of the China-Africa Business Council.

“Poachers continue to slaughter elephants and our big cat brothers and sisters,” said Luna Meowson, who tracks the illegal wildlife market for the University of Nappington. “Having extirpated tigers from virtually their entire range, poachers are turning to South America, where jaguar poaching increased 200 fold between 2015 and 2020. It never stops.”

Big Bruce the Lion Slayer
A human hunter poses victoriously after heroically slaying a lion (panthera leo) from atop his trusty steed, a mobility scooter, after a team of guides drove him around the bush in an air-conditioned SUV, then lured the animal directly into his line of sight. A female of the species, presumably his mate, looks on proudly.

Although the earliest details remain murky, fossil records show Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The invasive species, which has a gestation period of about nine months, began rapidly breeding and immediately went to war with fellow members of the genus Homo.

After wiping out two-legged rivals including Homo neanderthalensis, Homo altaiensis, Homo denisova and Homo bodoensis, the victorious Homo sapiens set their eyes on other species. Throughout their history they’ve also proven remarkably adept at murdering themselves and continue to hone their skills.

“Those OG humans, they had to really work at slaughtering other species and extirpating wildlife,” said Chonkmatic the Magnificent, King of North American cats. “They didn’t have attack helicopters, stealth bombers, tanks, carrier battle groups, daisy cutters, artillery, mortars, phosphorous, napalm, biological weapons, or even small arms like rifles. In those days a pimply kid from Oklahoma sitting in an air-conditioned base in Virginia couldn’t wipe out an entire city 5,000 miles away by pressing a button ordering a drone to drop a nuke. They had to put some sweat into violence, you know?”

522616
Breakthroughs in recent centuries have led to innovative and more convenient ways for Homo sapiens to author mass destruction and render entire sections of the Earth lifeless.

The species, known for its aptitude for tool-making in addition to eating ultra-processed foods and staring at screens, began with simple tools of destruction like the Mark I Spear, early bows and even torches. Over the centuries they innovated, coming up with clever and inventive new ways to inflict pain and end life until the advent of electricity, the industrial era and the brutally destructive war machines of modern times.

Human scientists have tried to obscure their species’ impact on wildlife and the planet by declaring species like felis catus “invasive” and “alien,” but even if cats are “guilty of grabbing a forbidden snack every now and then,” they don’t have the coordination, technology or will to carve up habitats, render entire swaths of the Earth uninhabitable with nuclear fallout, create Everest-size mountains of garbage, or effortlessly drive millions of species to extinction, Clawin said.

“They’re so good at it, they don’t even have to try,” he noted, pointing out human accidents or incidents of negligence like oil spills and chemical run-off into rivers. “We tend to think of humans out there with shotguns and rifles, cackling maniacally as they shoot anything that moves. And, sure, they do that, especially in places like Texas where the sight of any animal always prompts the question ‘Should we shoot it?’ But our research shows they can wipe out entire categories of fauna in their sleep. It’s remarkable.”

Additional reading: Polish institute classifies cats as alien invasive species

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.

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.