Chronicles of Athena – Nine Weeks

For the forseeable future, instead of Fluffy Fridays, we’ll be getting updates on Athena instead. As I’m counting her age based on weeks at the moment, these will probably be at the weekend, and we’ll be talking about the development that happened in the previous seven days.

At the age of nine weeks, coupled with the fact she moved houses, there were a LOT of little connections being made in the little lady’s tiny brain. This has been characterised by bouts of very enthusiastic play behaviour (interestingly, most of it focussed around people, I think because the change in her circumstances at the start of the week made her keen for reassurance. Her favourite way to play is sit on someone’s lap and bat at her toys, or play fight with a person’s hand) and then deep sleeps (which she also prefers to do on someone’s lap). All in all, for a lady who was mostly hand reared I have to say she’s extremely well adjusted, if a little clingy.

Between 8-10 weeks, kittens go through something called a socialisation period – the things they experience this week, particularly people, will set their expectations up for the rest of their life. So I’ve been having guests around and making sure to do things like laundry, hoovering, hair drying, changing the bed linens, etc. I live in a busy tenement flat so she’s been hearing all sorts of household noises (her first siren made her eyes go VERY wide indeed).

The physiology and behaviour is all very interesting, but I thought this would be a cool opportunity to look at how a bond between a human and an animal develops. When will she do the things that are characteristics of my cats, when does she teach me the things she wants?

So in that vein, here are some of the more personal developments:

She’s a big cuddler, and really prefers to be close to your face. Today she’s discovered she can lie on the top of the sofa’s pillows and rest her head on my shoulder while gaming. This is the best place to be and she’ll purr very loudly.

She’s discovered the view outside the window, and was especially fascinated when the football crowds were walking past.

When she’s feeling insecure she hides in the bottom shelf of the TV stand, behind my basket of miscellaneous games controllers, DVDs and chargers. She has not quite figured out what her igloo bed is for.

She very quickly got into the habit of using her scratching tree and is only mildly confused by my rug which is of a similar material. Climbing the scratching tree to the top platform is how she shows off to guests.

Guests are awesome, they mean extra cuddles.

Bedtime is also awesome, because it opens up a whole new type of game to play (the crawl under the covers and tickle Jilly game – if one day I blog about the sad incident where I squashed the kitten, this will be the cause of it), but she’s beginning to think about sleeping in one of her beds as she becomes less reliant on me.

She’s not super amazing at cleaning herself and has a semi permanent gravy stain on her chin.

She thinks claw trimming is great fun.

 

Things I’d forgotten but quickly learned:

The dangerous way that kittens will feedback into the gaming loop where you can’t stop gaming because you’d move the kitten and that would be cruel.

The scratches all up and down your arm.

Being catted but also desperately hungry.

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Welcome Athena

I’ve noticed a weird thing. No matter how much you may earn your rent telling people what animal welfare is, being flown half way across the world to teach this to professionals, and being generally young and successful at this whole ‘making a career of animals’ lark – when you make a big decision like “I’m going to get a cat”, you become racked with self doubt.

Maybe it’s just me.

I know, on an intellectual level, that I am more than capable of looking after a cat. I know that while I might not give her a perfect life (because no animal ever has a perfect life), it is life that will be pretty damn good. And yet I’m a compulsive worrier.

On Monday I picked up Athena from my friend Leigh’s house. She has been fostering kittens for Arthurshiel Rescue Centre, and Athena is one of a litter from 8 month old Star, who couldn’t cope with her babies. After a little brush with tapeworm that had made her feel a bit ill, she was finally ready to come home with me at the age of 9 weeks exactly, with all of her siblings already rehomed.

It was a long car journey, with a very grumpy little lady complaining most of the way. When I caught her eye at traffic lights the complaining would start again.

When we finally got home, I sat back and opened her carrier, trying to ignore the hammering of my heart – would she be terrified? Would she find some unknown hole in the wall and get stuck in the Kingdom of the Mice (never mind that I still haven’t figured out how the mice were emigrating from the Kingdom of the Mice in the first place)? Well she immediately started exploring, finding the darkest, sneakiest corner of the room (turns out not to be gateway to Kingdom of the Mice so we’re all good), and then she came to see me. With a quick head rub and a purr she was emboldened enough to run to the other side of the room.

Purring within ten minutes of coming into her new home. You’d think I’d have relaxed about this point, right?

So there was plenty of exploring, although she steadfastly refused to enter her perfectly pleasant igloo bed, or her tree nest. After a little bout of play she fell asleep on my lap for a while, and only woke up to play a little bit longer.

When I couldn’t stay awake a moment longer I decided to leave the door to the bedroom open, to see if she would follow. After a few minutes of calling, she decided she’d come and see what this whole other world was about. She explored briefly, but in coming to see me for some reassurance, she discovered something quite wonderful, quite mighty . . . the memory foam mattress.

My friends, you haven’t seen true mystified delight until you’ve seen a kitten discover memory foam. She played for a little while before curling up under my arm and falling fast asleep.

I’d love to say I slept like a log and that all my worries faded away. I stayed awake all night and fretted about her habit of chewing on electrical wires.

In the morning Athena was confident enough to explore under the bed for a little while, and then headed to the living room. Knowing I’d no chance of sleep, I followed, and we played and cuddled and bonded all day. Was I feeling relaxed yet? Ask me about the moment I lost sight of her and somehow convinced myself she was stuck behind a kitchen cupboard (she wasn’t, she was relaxing in her hidey place behind the tv stand). When I left her for an hour and a half on Tuesday, I came back convinced she would somehow have broken herself, she had been in her hidey hole and came to see me immediately for cuddles.

For the next few months, Fluffy Fridays will be devoted to Athena’s development, but for now, I’m just trying to relax into the idea that I can look after this little lady, and give her the best possible home, while teaching her that computer charger are not for teething.

But in the mean time I have to pop off as we’ve discovered that our tail is fun for chewing . . .

Fluffy Friday – Fluffy Gets Fluffier

I wasn’t sure when to post about this, but I’m much too excited to wait.

The Fluffy Sciences family is growing by one this month, as I prepare to adopt this little lady.

The Fluffy Sciences family grows
The Fluffy Sciences family grows

I will post more about her in the coming weeks, but suffice to say this is a decision I’ve been thinking about for a very long time now, and while I’m (overly) nervous about the responsibility (am I really ready to be a grown up?) I’m hugely excited.

She’s currently being fostered with her siblings by a friend of mine and I expect to pick her up round about the 21st. Currently she’s named Cleo, but I’m leaning towards ‘Athena’ as a more geeky handle that will fit the Fluffy Sciences world better. So stay tuned . . .

Manchester Dogs Home

You may have seen in the news that last night, Manchester Dogs Home suffered an enormous fire.

 

The Guardian reports that a 15 year old boy has been arrested on suspicion of arson. So far, 53 dogs have died and 150 rescued.

If you want to help Manchester Dogs Home you can donate (the centre is completely destroyed), or if you live in the area, the North Manchester Police office is accepting donations of blankets and food.

I’ve seen a few comments calling for this boy to be treated very poorly by the law. I would caution against this as best I can. Acting out like this is undoubtedly an indication of a very unhappy life. If this kid is guilty, he needs help. After all, animals can be an important part of our social development, and animal abuse is an indicator of future antisocial behaviour.

 

Not so fluffy this Friday.

Who’s a Pretty Boy Then?

Working in the world of international animal welfare as I have been doing in the last couple of months, you are confronted by your own innate biases. These are little (or big!) ideas you have about animal welfare that influence the way you think about it and the choices you make for animal welfare.

These biases are often problematic as one of our main messages is “It is the animal’s point of view which matters”, and the animals don’t know about our biases. 

Now biases are hard to recognise because they are part of the way we think about the world. I’ll give you an example from my own background. I did a zoology degree which, in all honesty, was not big on the animal welfare side of things. ‘Naturalness’ was prized above all, because  we were conservationists and behavioural ecologists. I then went to work in wildlife rehabilitation with the RSPCA where we did our utmost to avoid interacting with the animals because if we were to accidentally tame one, it would not be appropriate to release that animal back into the wild. This meant that for orphaned wildlife such as foxes we went to great lengths to get them to behave naturally, with so-called ‘soft releases’ where they’re given a cage outside and then allowed out of the cage, getting maintenance feed for a period. This enables the orphans  to learn how to fend for themselves in a manner that attempts to mimic their wild counterparts. 

I then went to work in the world of agriculture, where animals are production units. While I worked in the field of welfare in both of these roles, it is frowned upon, culturally, to show affection to the animals. Most animals would be distressed by what we think of as human affection.

So I have developed an idea about most animals that aren’t dogs, cats and horses, that they really don’t particularly want or need human attention. 

But this isn’t necessarily 100% true. Many exotic animals in the pet or zoo trade, have been raised by humans. While not domesticated (genetically selected for traits that make them more suited for human-association), they have learned to cope with humans, and even desire human contact. It is a bias I have had to confront myself, seeing instances, particularly in primates, where human contact appears to be enriching.

The most difficult part about a bias is that seeing your bias contradicted feels wrong. On my holiday I visited a parrot sanctuary, which rescued former pet parrots. I noticed my bias creeping in as dozens of birds chirruped “Hello” and “I’m a pretty boy then” at me, beckoning to climb up on my shoulder and engage with me. One little cockatoo wanted very much to play with my hair, a parakeet was reciting its full repertoire of phrases  to my aunt while it sat on her shoulder in a  behaviour I could only describe as ‘desperate for attention’.

These birds are very intelligent and, at most, only one or two generations away from their wild ancestors. My training tells me they need all the complexity and diversity of a wild environment.

But behaviourally, I can see that many of those individual birds desperately wanted and craved human affection. They found it enriching and pleasurable, possibly only because their environment was not sufficiently complex without it, but could it be that some animals can simply enjoy the company of humans, much as we enjoy theirs?

This is a difficult question for me to parse, going against the grain so to speak. And yet if we ask the question “what does this animal perceive”, the right kind of human attention must be very positive for them.

You can’t shed a bias overnight, and my (many) cultural biases will remain with me, affecting the way I think about animal welfare. I’ll try and talk more about them in the blog, and hopefully by recognising our own biases, we can move past them to help the animals that need it. 

Bird sits on shoulder
Some animals crave human attention