Sunday, June 26, 2016

For the Less Well-Adjusted Cats

I've helped quite a few consistently violent or anxious cats, and these two complaints are generally what non-cat-people, and frustrated cat people will cite as the reasons for their frustration.

Violent cats are on one hand easy to deal with because there is a single method that I've found works very well and doesn't need much adaptation.  Cats are violent for two reasons: first, because they feel they're playing.  Consider when a violent cat scratches, or grabs your arm to claw at it, what is your immediate reaction?  We're creatures of instinct, too, so naturally we pull away, try to get kitty off of us.  Think about the similarities between that action and the action of, say, a cat toy being tugged about in her claws.  To them, it's just another game, and being violent by nature with their non-lethal weapons, it's a fun one.  In order to curb this behaviour, you need to make it less fun.

The process is painful, but hear me out.  If kitty is clawing at you, regrab them — not hard, just essentially to fixate them on what they're doing, and also give them the very real sensation that you are definitely bigger than they are.  An interesting thing about the cat psyche is that they don't seem to register size when considering whom they can beat up.  That having been accomplished, you're going to let them continue clawing your arm.  This doesn't mean you shouldn't vocalize your discontent; enough "ow!" and "hey!", coupled with the grabbing, will have your cat stop.  She may look up to you, confused and embarrassed, or she may just get miffed that her tactics aren't working as they usually do, but at this point you'll be able to get her claws out of your skin and you'll keep her with you for a pet and cuddle, so long as she'll tolerate it.  This is simple operant conditioning, pairing the fun they usually have with something humiliating or uncomfortable, and then rewarding them for ceasing the humiliating and uncomfortable thing while simultaneously showing them another activity to enjoy with you.  The change will not happen overnight, and may take weeks, even months of this depending on the stubbornness of your cat, past trauma, intelligence, and your own skill, but I've seen it succeed many times.

The other reason cats are violent, though, is because they're afraid.  Generally, this takes a very different form, and rather than grabbing and clawing for long periods it's a quick grab and kick, usually with some angry vocalizations, or else just lashing out.  Acutely angry or afraid cats will often jump at faces.  While some cats that are playing may employ hit and run tactics, smacking or scratching you, and running away, only to come back and try the same thing again, angry or afraid cats will avoid you if they can.  If this is the reason for your cat's violence, you need to get them into a comfortable situation in which they won't have a choice but to be with you.

This is also the treatment for anxious cats that I've found works well: Live intensely with your cat for a period of time.  That is, keep her in your room with good food, water, litter pan, cushions, catnip, and anything else that might help them feel comfortable, except for hiding places.  The reasoning behind anxiety in both cats and humans is ultimately the same: we have a stimulus that gives us anxiety and our escape from that stimulus exacerbates it, because we are conditioning ourselves to fear it more.  Cats are very, very good at escape, so they are very good at being anxious.  In this treatment, you are preventing your cat from escaping you.  It may be extremely traumatic for them; depending on their level of anxiety, usually past abuse, she may hiss and spit every time you move, search desperately for an escape route, even urinate on the floor, but you need to be consistent and give your cat as much attention as you can while still attending your basic human needs likely for several days on end.  Over time, and the key term here is graduated exposure, try to pet and cuddle her; like with the violence-for-play method, when she lashes out at you, however much you may bleed, just let her until you can scritch her ears, hold her, or find some other way of making her feel physically good, which will calm her down.  Ideally, only let her go when she seems calm, and wants to get to a different spot for her own comfort rather than because she's afraid, although you may have to try a few times to get to this level.  If you are not able to, ensure your cat is not getting away from you because she escaped; rather, be sure it's on equal terms.  For instance, you may reach out to pet her and she may jump at your hand and slash it immediately, backing away and snarling.  You want to continue advancing in this case, and just get to the point where you can gently scritch her cheek, and then move away, having succeeded in your goal.  There's a lot of sacrifice to be made here in terms of your own physical pain and scarring, but you retreating from her self-defence is just another form of letting her escape and build her anxiety further.  Throughout the entire process you want to be very verbal with your cat, using a sweet, soft tone.  This ultimately may sound borderline psychologically abusive, and you definitely need to have the heart for it, but this exposure is crucial.  Ideally, you want to keep this up until kitty can lie contentedly on your bed as you get into it, and visibly appreciate petting without any violent preamble.

Cats are an enigmatic species; we've lived with them for thousands of years and we still don't quite understand them.  And they like it that way, being the shy kid in the back of the room that no one quite gets and fewer people still will even try.  But as people who love our cats it's our duty to understand them whether they help us along or not, to develop that relationship between cat and human, and make their lives as happy as they can be.  Best of luck.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cat Communication

In general, people don't bother with their cats too much.  It sounds very distasteful to say, but it's true: We think of our cats as rather asocial animals, who can generally take or leave us, and when they take us they may well just leave us three minutes later, until the next time we're busy enough that we're worth bothering.  Cats are assholes, we say.

I, obviously, feel very strongly against this.  Cats can be very sociable, loving, even needy as any dog you might find if they're given the attention and the respect, and their communicative needs are met.  Dogs, though they aren't anymore, originally came from pack animals, and are still naturally more gregarious than cats are.  We, as humans, can sympathize with this, and so we have an easier time communicating with them.  Cats, on the other hand, are nocturnal, less interested in consistent, close proximity, and prefer the one on one.  This doesn't mean they have fewer social needs, only that their social needs are different.  They're the introverts of the animal world, and a common misconception about introversion is that it means you simply don't like people.  Introverts don't like crowds, don't like strangers, but the few people that they do like they become very attached to, and require them in their lives more than extroverts might rely on their own friends.  Cats are like this.

So no, don't assume kitty is fine if you leave home for a week and they have no one to interact with.  You may come home and they seem to ignore you, but this is because cats have a more complex social mind in some ways in comparison to dogs: they have the capability to quietly resent, they are vengeful, they can be embarrassed.  Have you ever seen kitty do something stupid, like slip across a kitchen floor chasing a bug only to collide with a counter, and you laugh, and they stalk off to face away from you, licking themselves?  Their humiliation looks a lot like ours, and so do their feelings of being abandoned.  They haven't forgotten you when you get home after that long trip, they just aren't very happy that you left them alone in the first place.  Cats isolating themselves, whether in humiliation or sickness or other upset, is a survival mechanism.

Cats also listen very attentively to verbal communication.  Like the other forms of concealment or deceit listed above, they often know very well what we want them to do or are telling them, but ignore us intentionally.  If one develops a strong relationship with a cat, they may well tear this barrier down, as my own has, and react to your wants and needs almost implicitly.  In return, cats also have a huge range of their own verbal expressions, highlighting how important verbalization is to them.  The more you talk to your cat, the more they'll talk back!

Cats have somewhere between thirty and upwards of one hundred distinct vocalizations, depending on one's source.  This is actually far more than dogs have, which is somewhere in the teens.  For comparison, the greatest number of distinct sounds in a human language is 141 at most.  Coupled with body language, this means a cat can express an awful lot with little effort.
  • A content cat will have her ears forward, her eyes almond-shaped, and her whiskers down and forward in what I like to call a 'cat smile', since like a human smile it uses muscles in the cheeks.  The tail will be relatively still, perhaps just flicking at the tip, back and forth like a pendulum.  Content cats obviously will purr, but if you're talking to them and petting them, especially if they're pacing about while you do so so that you can get to their favourite places, they may give short little chirping noises or bubbling sounds from their throat.  A very good way to see a content cat though, apart from all this, is the slow-blink.  A lot of people see this as them being snobby, and in humans this is a rather self-important expression, but in cats they're telling you that they're happy where they are and they appreciate your presence.  Cats will also rub against things when they're happy, and contrary to popular belief, this isn't them declaring your desk or your leg as their property, it's just communication like everything else.
  • An excited cat will have a more rapidly flicking tail.  People usually note that an active tail in a cat generally means they're annoyed or angry, but an excited cat's tail may be all over the place as well.  She'll be moving around a lot more, and may even look agitated, but the facial expression will mirror their content state, especially in the ears and the whiskers.  She may vocalize much more, especially if you're vocalizing back to her, with loud purring and meowing.
  • An annoyed cat will be making very few vocalizations at all.  She'll have her back to you, perhaps her ears back so that she can hear what you're doing.  Her whiskers will be pushed back as well, and her tail will be flicking.  In this state, it's best to just leave them alone; as humans, our natural response is to try to cheer them up, but they just want time to themselves.
  • An angry cat is easy to spot.  Ears back, whiskers back, hackles raised.  They'll snarl and hiss, and generally be very unpleasant.
  • A frightened cat is also easy noticed.  The facial expression will be similar to an angry one in that the ears and whiskers will be back, but the tail will be still, and the eyes will be wide.  A cat under consistent stress may actually purr, just as they do when they're injured.  Some have asked me before how one can tell between a purring happy cat or a purring, and it's all in their facial expression and their reaction to stimuli.  We all know what a cat looks like when she's enjoying being pet, curling her body against your hand; a frightened cat won't appreciate attention as overtly, although unless she bristles or moves away from you, comforting her is very advisable.
In general, the way you interact with a cat will be very different from how you interact with a dog or a person.  People often lament that they dislike cats but cats in houses always seem to like them; this is because cats enjoy being ignored.  Most cats don't enjoy intense physical attention, but even the most casual pet or ear-scritch can make them very happy; if she decides she wants to go somewhere else, do something else, don't follow her.  She'll come back on her own.  The petting may get more intense, and some cats love being brushed roughly, or having themselves underneath your body, making them feel loved and protected, but one way to almost always engage with your cat is just through verbalization.  If you observe cats in the wild, big or small, most of their interactions are very brief physical contact, along with quite a few more vocalizations, often at long distances apart.  Tell your cat her name in the right tone and you're guaranteed a cat-smile and a slow-blink.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Canada: Bestiality and What It Entails

So, a bit of an early update because there's been some news recently: A man accused (and certainly guilty) of molesting his two stepdaughters on 13 counts over the last 10 years was also therein accused of bestiality, as he had reportedly smeared a substance on the girls' genitals to encourage the family dog to lick them there.  The court ruled that according to the law, the man was not guilty of bestiality as bestiality specifically requires penetration to take place.

This issue is rather hard to stomach for me, as I imagine it is for anyone reading, and of course, it has caused an uproar.  People seem to have generally forgotten that this man was abusing his daughters for ten years and the highlight of the issue has been the poor dog who was compelled by tastiness to lick someone's private parts.  Nowhere do you see anyone discussing the issue of how this could have gone on for ten years, how the wife could not have known about it, how children need to be protected, as the girls were just in their teens (and that's at the time of conviction, I do believe).  It's all about the dogs.

And of course appealing to their sense of reason is useless.  Ask people how on earth having a dog lick a body part smothered in peanut butter or what have you, without any force used or any form of coercion beyond the reward, could be exploitative and abusive, and there is no response, only that it's criminal because it involves animals and sex, when in all honesty even the most stalwart anthropomorphizer must admit that the dogs probably in this case don't care a lick (pun fully intended) whether they're lapping at someone's hand or their crotch, beyond the slight difference in flavour.  To assume otherwise would be to assume that dogs have some complex sexual culture in the way that human beings living in worlds developed under Abrahamic religions do.  It would put them higher in their sexual finickiness than many human cultures all over the world.  It's absurd.

But the public verdict is almost unanimous and everyone hates this man not for being a child molester but for utilizing a dog's taste buds in being such.  But there's good news at least for Canadian zoos: Those blowjobs you give your dog, the cute little rubbings and lickings you might give a cat in heat are entirely legal where you live.  So despite the idiocy of the public, the intelligence of lawmakers can sometimes win through, and maybe this is a tiny step forward for the rest of us in the western world.

Article from Vice here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Zoophilia and Veganism

It's been some time since I've really involved myself in any sort of zoophilic community, the only good one I've ever found still being at, but one thing I recall people discussing in places is whether it's moral or not, especially as people who prefer the company of animals over people in matters that go beyond mere introversion, to eat meat and consume other animal products.

The argument has been made that we as zoos don't just love certain animals, but all animals, and we understand them better than the general population due to both our interest and our proximity to them that we try to maintain, both physically and emotionally.  It's been said that anyone who can do that and still feel that they are not morally in the wrong for consuming animals cannot be doing it right.

I would argue, however, that if we understand our animals the way we say we do, we also understand our own animal nature, which historically has included eating meat as a crucial part of our lifestyle and our development as a species.  It may be today that we can exist on certain proteins, synthesized supplements, all from non-animal products, but to me doing this denies some of my basic nature, the same as just giving my cat beef-flavoured supplements would deny hers.

Morality goes beyond floaty pieces of philosophy, though, and it would come down to whether or not I feel a sort of sympathy for the animals I consume.  And I do.  Ideally, we would live in a world in which animals and humans are free to live their own lives without interfering with one another without consent.  Wild horses would never have gone extinct everywhere outside Mongolia.  Bears would leave alone campers.  Birds wouldn't get sucked into jet intakes.  Unfortunately, that isn't a world we live in, and isn't a world we can live in; humans are taking over and I don't believe it will even be a possibility without a literal apocalypse for us to stop it.  So to me, there are two options: The first is that we press the philosophy that animals need to be protected, away from humans, and be allowed to live free lives without our meddling.  And this has merit, morally; freedom is good, but unfortunately it often is juxtaposed against safety.  If animals as a whole were allowed, and made, to live without human interference, that would also necessitate that they're living without our protection.  We already of course see this when we compare the lives of animals within human society versus without; despite our consumption of them, cows, pigs, chickens are not in danger of going extinct, because we measure our consumption.  Meanwhile, even though consumption of them has been made completely illegal, many endangered species are only dwindling in number, and continue to dwindle apart from within reservations specifically set aside for them.  Imagine, for a moment, if rather than insisting they are wild animals, we managed to domesticate the Amur tiger.  They're bred, selected for docile behaviour, and sold as pets.  Suddenly they're a business, and now the tiger is nowhere near the brink of extinction.

But we're talking about slaughtering animals here, not simply keeping them as pets.  Let's disregard for a moment the fact that most of the animals consumed in the United States are kept in pretty horrible conditions, and this, I agree needs to change.  And it can change, it has changed in other parts of the world, with greater regulation of animal welfare in farming and a decrease in the immense amount of waste that requires the United States to slaughter so many more animals than they should.  Let's pretend that we have done that, because it will happen, and that every hamburger is raised free-range, hormone free, and so on.  We're still slaughtering these animals, but in the wild, these animals are naturally prey animals as well.  Yes, they may perhaps live longer lives out there, but they more often will actually live shorter ones, riddled not only with the promise of eventually being eaten by a predator but also sickness, injury, accident.  It's arguable that the ideal possible artificial habitat for cattle is more humane than the wild that would be the only alternative.

To me, the PETA-style notion of animal liberation is silly.  If all animals were free of human influence, we would also be free of theirs, which would be an absolute tragedy, I say not just as a zoophile but as someone who benefits from the fact that dogs were domesticated for hunting, that cats were first used in agriculture, that horses were first bred and raised for not only riding but meat and milk.  Cows don't make the best pets in my opinion, having raised them before, but I'm happy nevertheless that they're in it with us, guaranteed survival (at least as their modern, selectively bred incarnation), rather than being bulldozed by the relentless tide of industrialism like the rest of the wilderness.  I'd like to see every animal included in human society, humanely, alongside us, and I think if we manage this, we ourselves will become more human in the process, more understanding rather than neglectful or fearful of our nonhuman fellows on this planet.

So as a member of a historically rather carnivorous species, I will continue to eat meat, but I will also be conscious of where that meat comes from, and how I, as a carnivore, might impact the humanity in the raising of that meat.  Am I getting chicken from a factory farm, or is it local, free range?  Just how far can the dairy cows who produce my milk move?  Do you know the answers to these questions?  Eat meat or do not, but if you do, be responsible about it.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Equus is a play that was composed, like many strange and controversial pieces of media, in 1973.  It follows a troubled teenage boy, repressed by his overly dogmatic upbringing, with his feelings for (or about) horses being central to the story and what it represents.

Like most fiction that deals with individuals with zoosexual proclivities, it primarily uses the attraction as fuel for metaphor.  In this case, it's not so much about the perversion, as Alan, the protagonist, never does interact in a sexually explicit way with any horses, but as a representation of something that he has been prevented from, and ultimately an object of worship (as these two things are consistently linked in the play).

I don't want to discuss the literary elements of the play, although they are definitely here, because I feel it's very dishonest in a lot of ways.  It's dishonest scientifically, being one more piece to add to the heap of ones that depict hypnosis for enhanced recall as a valid practice.  And it's dishonest in its message, as it opens with the psychiatrist, Dysart, giving the audience the very 70s notion that we perhaps should not be treating troubled teens for fear of giving them "boring" lives in place of their disordered ones, and Dysart remaining a positive and moral figure throughout the play, even to the mutilation in the end.  The message is clearly throughout the play meant to be about how Alan has it right, and is just the victim of the tug of war between militant atheism and fear-based evangelism while trying, and being prevented from, finding his own spirituality and worship, naturally tied into sexuality.  But it ends with the real-life inspiration for the play, in which he mutilates the object of his worship, and still our benevolent psychiatrist laments that he may yet cure the boy, as if his insanity may still be preferable to a healthy life.

It's dishonest, of course, about zoophilia as well.  Although it is a play meant for a then-modern audience, and its depicted zoosexuality is meant only as a literary element, it still insists upon depicting those with similar feelings about horses as troubled monsters just beneath the skin.  The constant shouts and whooping of Alan whenever he comes into contact with them, be it during the nude moonlit ride or the actual blinding of the stabled horses, gives us the impression that while the human side of his sexuality is troubled, and he's socially inept, and he has a horrible, mentally abusive relationship with his parents, the most salient disturbance about him is how he feels about these animals.

I don't believe anyone who knows how the play ends would see this play as a good one to suggest to a zoophile anyway, but as it was quite successful and even has a modern film adaptation, to me its dishonesty is worth noting here.  And we as the zoo community can use this dishonesty to open up a window into the minds of those who don't quite understand us, perhaps don't even realize we exist.  That's important when we're looking into acceptance.