Sunday Obits

I am full of a chesty cold and have spent the weekend falling from sick bed to sick bed around the flat, with Athena following dutifully in my wake to cuddle and occasionally lick me back to full health. So I’ve been reading a lot of internet articles.

There’s a fascinating blog on Jezebel about how a writer felt after the death of his cat Kellog. A paper I wrote looking at how people remember dead pets online will soon be available in Anthrozoos. The nature of the internet means that that paper is already slightly outdated, with this kind of response now more often captured in social media rather than online pet obituaries as it was only a few years ago.

Add it to the list of things to investigate one day .  . .

Chronicles of Athena – Lockout 2016

There I was, happily trotting off to the cinema to see ‘Spotlight’, when I heard an almighty yowl behind me.

Edinburgh tenements have a common stairwell, colloquially known as the ‘close’, with an exterior door at the bottom. I was at the bottom of my close, two neighbours had just passed me on the way up, when Athena decided to make her unhappiness known. Oh dear, I thought to myself, while my neighbours gave me an odd look. Athena has always been vocal and does call out to me when she hears me speaking in the close, but I always have a sneaking worry about separation anxiety.

Nothing to be done now, I think, and keep on going. Three and a half hours later I return, and funnily enough I don’t hear Athena calling out to me at the usual spot (where I think she must know the sound of my step on the stair).

No, because Athena is sitting huddled on the doormat outside my flat’s front door. And when she sees me she howls again.

Poor little Athena slipped out right on my heels when I left for the cinema and spent the better part of four hours in the close feeling miserable. We’ve now fed her plenty of treats (and she’s been tweeting about the experience . . . somehow). All is well.

But if Athena had been a different type of cat, one who’d decided to explore further, or was less sure of the close that she’s explored before, who knows what would have happened? Thankfully, she’s microchipped. It’s so important for responsible pet ownership for your animals to be traceable.

If you’re in the UK the RSPCA has a guide here. And for the US, the AVMA has their guide here.

Speak to your vets about keeping your pets traceable, make sure your records are always up to date, and double check your doors on the way out. Or your cat tweeting threats of negligence might just be the least of your worries . . .

 

Sorry Athena – will get right on that bacon for you.

Digital Pawprint

Our office conversations are usually pretty fascinating (if I do say so myself) but this week we’ve been really been outdoing ourselves in the animal welfare corridor of the vet school.

What rights do people have over their pet’s image?

Our conversation was, as so many of the best conversations are, the result of some interesting coincidences. Our new e-Learning developer at the vet school was the genesis of Edinburgh University’s ‘Digital Footprint‘ campaign, designed to help staff and students manage their awareness of their online presence. We’ve been thinking about this a lot ourselves as we build more and more e-resources (with our YouTube channels too!).

When we take footage of an animal for educational purposes, we get the owner’s consent. But a lot of the animals we record are strays, who hopefully will go on to become somebody’s pet after they get adopted. We also sometimes ‘misrepresent’, in the loosest sense of the word, what might be happening in a piece of footage.

For example, I have a great piece of footage of Athena scratching my hand, seemingly without warning. I use it to accompany lectures/resources of cat aggression. What this piece of footage doesn’t show is that we had been playing boisterously for a few minutes prior to the scratch and I knew full well what was going to happen. I also don’t show much of her reaction afterwards, where she immediately stops her playing and starts a whole host of affiliative behaviours that is a cat’s version of apologising when it knows it’s stepped over the line. The behaviour isn’t really aggression at all, just one component of Athena’s full behavioural repertoire, the same way that if I swear at my friends it isn’t really ‘aggression’ so much as part of our friendship. But I fully believe that as an educator, the clip I show makes my overall message stronger and a facsimile of the behaviour in question is far better than a visual-less description.

I can do this because I fully understand the implications of what I’m saying and what it means to pair that with an image of Athena. Can an owner do the same? For example, if we recorded a dog in the vet clinic and then were later to use that image to imply the dog was in pain (when in fact we know its pain was well managed and these behaviours actually have another cause), has the owner been able to give full, informed consent for this? The answer is ‘no’, and it makes our job really difficult as we try to find images that we have full control over. Which is why you see our animals more than any others in our MOOCs and videos.

It becomes even more complicated when we use images of animals in shelters. They will go on to become somebody’s pet, we hope. Can we use those images when their new owner has never consented? Worse, could we possibly damage a new pet-owner relationship by showing the animal out of context? If somebody watches one of our videos and sees their new dog being the poster child for ‘aggressive dogs’, will they immediately return their new dog? From a risk management point of view, while the risk severity of this is high, the likelihood of the risk is small. It still preys on our minds though. Our best practice is to seek informed consent, and we’re looking at improving this process as we talk with our MOOC team for super secret future projects that just happen to need lots of footage of cats and dogs . . .

But this argument is not just academic. You may have seen the article in the Guardian where the winners of a Thomas Cook selfie competition were contacted by the owners of the horse who featured in their selfie. The horse is performing a Flehmen’s Response (not ‘sticking its tongue out’ as the article claims), but the owners say they trained the horse to do this. While the owners may not be able to control their horse’s image while it is in a public place, do they have the intellectual property rights to the act of training their horse at all?

To go for another example, if I was to relinquish Athena (perhaps because she had jumped on my bladder one last time on a lazy Sunday morning), and one of her future owners then capitalised on her ability to carry out a conversation, could I claim the intellectual property rights as I was the one who had trained her to do that?

Of course there’s another argument, and that is that the animals themselves own their images. Certainly Wikipedia has been contending that the IP of this particular image belongs to no one, as the photographer is the macaque itself! Animal Rights groups, of course, disagree. (Check out my post ‘Value‘ if you want more chat about the ethics of animal use).

Finally, if I am aware of all of this, and the contention of ownership over image, and I post it on my blog anyway . . .

Monkey takes selfie

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain],via Wikimedia Commons

 

. . . have I just lost all my ethical street cred?

When You Know Better than the Expert

John Bradshaw, a scientist at Bristol, wrote two fabulous books: Dog Sense and Cat Sense. They are some of the best popular science books I’ve ever read, and helped me to decide that the Animal Personality book could be a good pop science book. I cite Bradshaw a lot in this blog, if you take a look over the companion animal and cats tags you’ll see his name come up a lot.

So I was interested to see the Guardian’s regular “You Googled It So We Asked the Experts” column had been given to John Bradshaw to answer “Why Aren’t Cats Loyal?

You know from the number of Guardian links that appear on this blog that I enjoy a good Guardian article, but there is the phenomenon “Below The Line” where the Guardian commenters turn their rabid, foaming fingers to the columnist.

In this article I was near in stitches reading the likes of:

I thought that study was pretty superficial. My cat is more out going and more assured when I’m around. It may not be immediate like for a dog but they do miss us. At least mine does.

Superficial, this is why I have decided to go into great depth and talk about my one animal.

My cats have a range of facial expressions and have several vocal expressions to let you know what they want.

Which is why your cats have ten times the facial muscles everybody else’s have . . . oh, they don’t? Perhaps your ability to ‘understand’ them is part of this whole scientific question? Who knew.

The studies are a heap of crap I reckon, my cats are totally loyal more loyal than dogs I’d say without a doubt. With dogs its their nature, cats choose who they are loyal to, there is a big difference when comparing the two.

Science communciation, what a joy.

To all those who read the article and feel their cats were misrepresented, I urge you to pick up Cat Sense which is a sublime read and puts a huge amount of effort into communicating the science, because as another recent Guardian article points out, it is everybody’s responsibility to try and understand the science.

Chronicles of Athena – One Year

This week Athena is one year old! We went from this …

Athena 9 Weeks Old
Athena’s first day with me, discovering Netflix for the first time

To this …

Athena at One Year
Athena as a one year old, not getting into Sense8 on Netflix and very much enjoying the sunshine

 

The aging process is a strange thing, and something me and a colleague have been talking about lately. For Athena, there’s still a way to go. She still has a kitten’s energy, and still finding her own individuality. Purina has a fun age chart on their site here, which suggests that as a rule of thumb, we would consider Athena to be equivalent to a 15 year old human. These kinds of rules are sometimes confusing for pet owners. Athena isn’t likely to start using heavy eyeliner and locking herself in her room (although one night I did walk into the bedroom to find her alone, sitting beside the mood lighting and seemingly listening to the Genesis I had playing), but these companion animal aging rules are more to give you a comparison between the physical maturity and the kinds of behaviours you might expect.

For all my ideas of getting and well-socialising a kitten, Athena has developed her own ideas of how she should behave. Her personality is that of a live wire, cautious and curious bundled up with affection. When we went to stay with our lovely friend Kay while the central heating was being installed, Athena very quickly adopted Kay into the pride and spent the morning accidentally miaowing and making noise outside of Kay’s bedroom, feigning shock and delight when Kay got up (and then looking less impressed when Kay wouldn’t let her in the shower).

I’d love to ask Athena what she thinks of her life, does she enjoy it, what would she change, is she happy with me? But I don’t think she really has any comprehension of a different life, no power to imagine the comparison. What she does know is that she loves her fluffy pillow on the windowsill, she doesn’t know what hunger is, and she’s never felt much pain, and she gets cuddles whenever she asks. I think that means she’s had a good first year. Here’s hoping she’ll have many more.

Happy Birthday, Athena!

Chronicles of Athena – Fifty One Weeks

Let me tell you the story of Athena and the big storm.

You see, on Wednesday night we had a big storm. The storm went on for hours, lots of bright, flashing lightning (Theenie loves lightning she has discovered), followed intermittently by rolling, deep thunder (Theenie . . . less sure about that part). And accompanied with not very much rain, which meant that it was still hideously hot afterwards.

Athena woke me when storm started, bouncing between the windowsill and the bed and talking to the lightning in a manner that was suspiciously like “Wake up! You’re missing it! Looooook!” But her tolerance for the storm was such that after about fifteen minutes of watching the lightning she got much too overstimulated and had to come into the bed for a cuddle (of course, she needs to be right on top of me even though it’s roasting), and then once she was reassured enough to be purring loudly and painfully kneading my arm, she was brave enough to go back to the window and watch the storm again.

Rinse and repeat for two hours.

We didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night.

As AskReddit is back after Chooter-gate I’ve been entertaining myself with this thread asking: If your pet took you to the human vet, what would they be worried about?

Best entry so far…

“Doctor, he pees in the drinking bowl! IN THE DRINKING BOWL! I don’t think he’s all there, mentally. He’s like 20 and still not house broken.” –pickmetoo

Chronicles of Athena – 47 Weeks

Things Athena truly, deeply believes:

  • Jill has the power to summon fun creepy-crawleys. Sometimes, when Jill is so inclined, she will call my name and a bug will manifest at her fingertip.
  • Sometimes I eat these bugs.
  • Sometimes the bugs will escape and crawl over my lip.
  • Sometimes I need help when this happens.
  • Jill has the power of Sheba.
  • The food in the yellow packets is WAY better than the shitty stuff I used to get.
  • Somehow, Jill has barred my entrance to the Forbidden Cupboard of Mystery.
  • Jill still has not figured out where I’ve stashed my paper straws. Ergo, I can bring her straws to play with.
  • When I am sad about the world/because I can’t reach a bug on a wall/am slightly malcontent, I need only cry for Jill to pick me up and make it all better.
  • Cold mornings mean cuddles beneath the duvet.
  • Warm mornings mean sleeping in the sunbeams on the windowsill.
  • If I am bored, I can get a toy from my toybox. Jill will want to play with this toy.
  • Jill knows when I want to scratch the carpet
  • And the mattress
  • And the curtains
  • She is magic
  • Jill also controls the Hidden Cupboard of Secrets
  • And the Fridge of Wonderful Smells

Things I truly, deeply believe:

This kitten is spoiled beyond belief.

Chronicles of Athena – 42 Weeks

Oh the freedom you feel on a Sunday when you also have the Monday off. I am going to live the life of a short girl on the internet and hem some cute dresses and fix a seam on a kimono I got from a vintage shop. It’s all going to be very pinterest, with a little kitten sitting beside a sewing machine and a freshly made caramel latte (from a machine – I am the definition of bourgeois bohemian).

But of course, the photos I post to instagram will not fully represent what’s happening as I repeatedly shout “Athena! Theena! Drop it! Don’t eat that. Here have this.” and obsessively count glass headed pins and picture perforated intestines. But social media isn’t really for reality, is it?

Several people have commented lately that Athena appears to know her name. I’ve been meditating on this from a scientific point of view. You can certainly catch Athena’s attention with her name, or the ‘Theenie/Theena’ variants of it. But does she know that those words specifically mean ‘small fluffy thing that is me’, or do they mean ‘there might be food or toys or love over there’, or more simply ‘pay attention now’.

But she also has certain chirrups that I fancy mean ‘mum’ or at the least ‘two legged cat who feeds me’. Even if it just means ‘pay attention now’, it gets the job done, right?

Somehow, with different brain structures, an evolutionary history giving us very different social structures, Athena and I can reliably draw one another’s attention with certain vocalisations. Pets are freaky.

Chronicles of Athena – 41 Weeks

I’m the kind of person who likes rules (rules control the fun) so Athena should take it as a little victory that she broke me this week.

You see, Athena is a fussy eater.  Athena likes dry food, and treats. Athena will tolerate poultry based foods if it’s grilled and lightly covered in jelly (‘meaty chunks’ are not appropriate, and the richness of gravy based foods gives Athena what we will delicately call ‘the runs’ in large quantities). She will just about accept salmon or sardine if she’s hungry. She won’t eat cod or tuna regardless of how it’s prepared. She won’t even take mackerel off my plate, and if I’m eating salad she’ll try to steal a rocket leaf instead of a piece of a crab.

All of this means that of the range of kitten food available (which the box says ‘feed up until 1 year), there’s only one box where she will reliably eat about 75% of the sachets. For months now, when browsing the shelves I’ve been eyeing up one of the adult boxes of cat food, grilled, with jelly, chicken, turkey, duck, lamb and beef flavours. Just think, I would tell myself. Come July, I’ll be able to buy that box, and my one year old kitten would eat everything I put in front of her.

Well this month, after accidentally picking up a non-grilled box of food that contained BOTH tuna and cod (Athena is so against cod that she won’t even ask for more food when it’s on her plate for fear she might get cod again), I gave up and bought the grown up box 12 weeks early.

Thankfully, Athena didn’t immediately die from being given the wrong kind of food, so that’s a plus. She’s also added beef to her repertoire of nice things to eat.

Although she still has a day or so a week where she’d prefer not to eat. I have no idea where she gets this from. I’ve been on the 5:2 fad diet since Christmas and I still want to kill people when I’m stuffing my face with salad and pickle. Athena daintily turns her nose up and says “No thank you, I’m not hungry today”

Little bitch.