Cat travel week: home again (lab cats)

There’s something ineffably comforting about sitting at the microscope and pushing flies while a furry felid sits nearby watching.  Although it’s illegal to keep cats in a lab, from time to time we’ve had visiting felids—for both short and long stays.  The longest resident, and my all-time favorite lab cat, was Dusty.

Dusty was part of a litter of kittens rescued from an alley by my technician.  Since she already had cats, and I had a territorial male cat, we had to keep him in the lab until we found an owner.  This lasted a few weeks, and by then we’d grown very attached to him.  We named him Dusty not only because of his color, but because he liked to explore all the crannies in the lab, thereby acquiring a coating of dust.  He would greet me every day as I opened up the lab and gave him his breakfast.  He also sat on my lap as I worked in my office.

Dusty liked to sleep in a large potted plant in my office.

One of his “tricks” was to claw his way up my legs to get a treat.  Although his tiny claws were painful, I tolerated it because it was cute.

We eventually found a good home for Dusty.  His new owners renamed him Odin, after the Norse god.  I disliked that name and thought “Dusty” was much better.  But he’s now grown into a lovely, sleek adult.

Perhaps the most beautiful cat we’ve ever housed was Maya, a longhair who belonged to a research student.  We had her during hot summer days.

Maya lived in a non-airconditioned apartment over the summer.  Being a longhair, she suffered terribly from the heat, so her owner decided to bring her, every day, to our airconditioned lab.  She arrived and left in a soft cat carrier.

Like Maru, Maya liked to rest in enclosed spaces.  She particularly favored the Plexiglas Drosophila cages where we ran mating experiments with flies.

When you have a cat around the lab for a while, you start wondering what you can do with it.  All of us were into infinite felid regressions, so we did this:

Finally, we have Gordon, who belonged to my technician.  Gordon would visit from time to time when it was too hot, or when there were too many visitors at home.  We made him part of the Infinite Cat Project, an online site where you post a picture of your cat looking at a screenshot of the previous cat, who is looking at a screenshot of the previous cat, and so on ad infinitum.  Such is the way one wastes time in the age of the internet.


  1. ritebrother
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    That’s awesome, Jerry. I wish I could bring my cats to my lab, but my institution won’t allow it. My tech and one of my grad students have & love cats, and we talk about our cats daily, usually more that we even talk about our kids.

  2. JBlilie
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Dusty looks like a fine beast I had for 15 years (she died at 22 years old, not too long ago.) What a great cat she was. When she got deaf she would howl louder. When she got dementia, she howled more and louder — at night. That’s what ear plugs are for. She was a great little friend.

  3. Jack van Beverningk
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    “Although it’s illegal to keep cats in a lab”

    Man, then you’re a SERIOUSLY serial offender!

    (But with cats THAT cute, I can’t blame you)

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted September 17, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Also: you’re not exactly pleading the fifth, by publishing all those pictures of your various crimes!

      • gillt
        Posted September 17, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Cats AND flip flops. Noted!

        • JBlilie
          Posted September 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Flip-flops. Love it. Got to be a great guy to work for/with.

  4. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Unresolved questions in science:

    – Can a cat have a lab coat?

    [Sorry, couldn’t resist: there’s been an uptake in science humor lately.]

    • JBlilie
      Posted September 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Very large black cat, heavy tail, goofy expression on face … hmmmmm.

  5. Posted September 17, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Dusty in the potted plant is priceless. My cat used to sit in the sink and wait for a drink of water with very much the same expression…:))

  6. Posted September 17, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I just got a new kitten and she loves being around my work area .She gets jealous of the way I am always holding and clicking my mouse and jumps on my desk and pushes away the mouse from my hands so that I can pet her not the mose!LOL!

  7. daveau
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Technology makes infinite regression so much easier.

    Many’s the time that I wished I could bring one of my cats to work, even for a day.

  8. Posted September 17, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I am fortunate enough to telecommute, so Baihu, my sole remaining resident deity, spends a non-trivial amount of the day napping on the desk, wrapped around one of my arms. It’s a good thing the keyboard is wireless so I can put it in my lap. (Yes, I’ve tried explaining to him that the traditional order of things is cat in lap and keyboard on desk, but he prefers it the other way ’round.) He also spends a lot of time draped across my shoulders; as a result, my shoulders are at least as scratched up as I’m sure Jerry’s legs were. Hands, too…Baihu loves to play patty-cake….



  9. Posted September 17, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Dusty in the potted plant is TOO CUTE. I might have to steal that one.

  10. Evan
    Posted June 20, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    I just discovered a cat and her kittens in my lab. They were hiding in a box. As much as I’d like the cat and her kittens to stay, the department where I work prohibits it. Wish I could keep the cat in the lab too!

  11. Eric Watson
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Well, this was fun! I stumbled across this page on accident, recognizing a picture of Maya on Google Image. She remains a claustrophile, boldly entering any visitor’s backpack or purse. She definitely loved spending the day at the lab!

  12. steve harvith
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Congratulations, Jerry, on your great accomplishments. Even back and W & M, we knew the future would be great for you. I have been interested in the area of consciousness. Any predictions on what we may learn about it in the next few decades? Do you think we will discover the genetic underpinnings of consciousness? Have you written anything on consciousness. I hope your presentations, like the discussion with Dawkins, are available on your website as well as on YouTube. As an existentialist, I haven’t seen anything in your world view, with which I disagree. All the best, Steve Harvith, W & M, 1971

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