Caturday felid trifecta: Cat lockdowns; why do cats purr?; Scotland contemplates law for informing cops and RSPCA if you hit a cat

June 3, 2023 • 9:30 am

Here’s a story from the New Yorker that will divide cat-lovers into the “innies” and the “outies”. Click to read:

It’s about the German town of Walldorf, which is legally required to monitor species that are locally threatened. It turned out that the crested lark (Galerida cristata), though widespread across Eurasia and north Africa, was locally rare.

The town set aside some nearby fields as lark habitat, but the birds stayed put, so Walldorf fenced in the vacant lots where the birds were nesting in the weeds. A community of sixteen thousand people—home to the software giant sap and one of the richest towns in Germany—was now spending more than eighty thousand euros a year to protect a small number of birds.

Here’s a crested lark from Wikipedia (photo from Morocco):

By last year, only two pair of the species were observed breeding in the town. And so the local government took more drastic action:

“From now until August 31,” it declared, “the free roaming of cats is to be prevented by their owners in the area covered by this decree.” The rule would take effect in just three days, not only in the new subdivision but also in Tredwell’s neighborhood, and recur each spring until 2025. The owner of any cat caught outdoors would be fined five hundred euros, or about five hundred and fifty dollars; any cat that injured or killed a crested lark could incur a penalty of fifty thousand euros.

And of course there are two sides. As author Crair writes,

As a city person, I have always thought of the countryside as close to nature—but many rural animals, struggling to survive in agricultural landscapes, are now seeking refuge in denser human settlements. Urban wastelands are becoming sanctuaries for rural birds; scientists in Czechia, where the crested-lark population has fallen by two-thirds since the nineteen-seventies, discovered the birds nesting in abandoned commercial developments, where native weeds still grow. These habitats were so fragmented that the birds stopped functioning as a single, healthy population. Baden-Württemberg likewise became a kind of crested-lark archipelago, with islands of birds in a sea of unpopulated fields.

Cats are most dangerous to wild bird species that live in small and isolated groups. On actual islands, for example, cats have contributed to the extinction of at least thirty-three creatures. The Birds of the World database, from Cornell University, warns, in an entry on the rare Razo skylark of Cape Verde: “One introduced cat could easily spell the end of this species.” This is why nations like Australia, where cats only arrived with European settlers, often regulate cat ownership. In Germany, where there are few restrictions on cat ownership, the nation’s felines kill more than fifty million birds each year. Peter Marra, a Georgetown biologist, argues in his book “Cat Wars” that “the most desirable solution,” for conservationists the world over, would be to “remove all free-ranging cats from the landscape by any means necessary.”

And yet it’s hard for cat owners to resist the insistent meowing at the door as many cats demand to go out. (I always kept my cats indoors, mostly to keep them safe, as I didn’t ever see them be predators.) But the cat-owners of Walldorf, and their moggies, resisted:

Last summer was “a real horror show” for Walldorf’s cats and their owners, Tredwell told me. Mimi and Fluffy refused to use a litter box for weeks, but Tredwell couldn’t open the windows for fresh air, lest the cats escape. The cats threw up, shredded the furniture, and clawed her face while she slept. She was allowed to let them roam with expensive G.P.S. tracking collars, but the cats ran away from her when she tried to steer them away from lark territory. She gave Mimi and Fluffy to her mom, who lived outside the lockdown zone, but they disappeared and turned up at Tredwell’s door two days later. When she was finally allowed to let them out again, on September 1st, they disappeared for another three days.

Oy gewalt! What is one to do? Well, the pecksniffs, with their authoritarian streak, came out to report people:

Many residents of Walldorf started to think that efforts to enforce the lockdown went too far. “There were people running around taking pictures, trying to gather information about the cats,” Marine Vetter, a local cat owner, told me. The country’s largest newspaper, the tabloid Bild, reported that locals received a letter asking them to report cat sightings to Fischer’s team. The paper called Fischer and his employees the “Katzen-Stasi.” In January, Walldorf hired a second conservation company to protect crested larks; Fischer resigned. In February, a state official said that Fischer’s team may have improperly collected private data. (Datenschutz, or data protection, is a –schutz about which Germans tend to agree.)

The author does make a good point, especially salient given that the species is only locally endangered, and because of human activity that reduced suitable habitat, not necessarily because of cats:

Still, my conversations with Lepp left me feeling sorry for the cats. There’s no telling whether last year’s larks hatched in Walldorf because of the cat lockdown, some other factor, or pure luck. Cats seemed to be bearing the burden of bad decisions that humans have made, which have transformed so much of the planet that many of our fellow-creatures can no longer survive—and no one talks about keeping people indoors from April to September. (Incidentally, when we were locked down at the start of the covid-19 pandemic, birds became more visible and produced higher-quality songs.)

Why not keep humans indoors, too?  We are, after all, the world’s most notorious and profligate predator.


Maybe you already know the answer(s) to this question, but read the LiveScience piece below in case you don’t:

Most of the piece:

“It’s one of those behaviors that we mostly understand, but not totally,” said Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant at Feline Minds, told Live Science. “Purring is likely reflexive, like breathing.”

The comfortable rumble of a cat’s purr is one of life’s little joys for cat owners. But is that true for the cat, too? Yes, generally, cats purr when they are feeling good. Whether sitting on a lap or sprawling in sunshine, a purring cat is usually a happy cat.

“Ninety percent of the time, purring is positive,” Delgado said. “It means that your cat is experiencing pleasure. It’s happy, content and feels safe.”

Other reasons cats purr

But research suggests that cats purr for other reasons, too. One is related to survival. Kittens are born blind and deaf; they start purring a few days after birth. In the wild, purring is safe because it is quiet, so it’s unlikely that predators will hear a kitten purr.

At first, purring helps kittens stay close to mother cats, Dr. Kate Anderson, a veterinarian and professor at Cornell University, told Live Science. “They actually find their mom by purring, and their mom checks on them and then she purrs back,” Anderson explained.

But wait! There’s more!

Kittens also purr while they are nursing. “The purr may even lead to some bonding between mom and kittens,” Delgado said.

Cats keep purring when they grow up. “They’ll purr with another cat that they’re friendly with,” Anderson said.

Often, cats purr while grooming each other, when “there’s some caretaking behavior going on,” Delgado said. Domestic cats purr around familiar humans and dogs. Cats also purr while resting, eating or enjoying their alone time.

What’s more, cats may purr to get what they want. Most of the time, said Delgago, purring is a reflex; but purring can be intentional as well. According to a 2009 study in the journal Current Biology, cats use a specific “solicitation purr” to ask for food or to nudge humans to get out of bed. This purr mixes in higher-pitched frequencies that sound a bit like a baby crying. “When humans hear cats purring loudly using a solicitation purr,” Anderson said, “they see it as urgent.”

And more: they purr when they’re stressed or injured, though why they do this isn’t fully understood:

Although cats usually purr when they’re happy; that’s not always the case. They sometimes purr when they are stressed, Delgado said.

“I had a cat that used to purr at the veterinary office — and my cat definitely did not like going to the veterinarian!” Delgado said. “So that was kind of a stress response.”

Anderson has treated many injured, purring cats; she also thinks purring can be a coping mechanism, as it may help them self-soothe when they are sick, scared or dying.

One idea is that purring may help cats heal. A 2001 study in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America noted that cats purr at frequencies between 20 and 150 hertz, which are similar to frequencies used in human treatments for bone growth and muscle pain.

But there is no strong evidence to support or refute this idea.

Now you may be asking this: “What is the loudest purr ever recorded?” The Guinness Book of World Records has your answer, and I’ve put a video of the champion below:

The loudest purr by a domestic cat is 67.8 dB and was achieved by Smokey, owned by Lucinda Ruth Adams (UK) at Spring Hill farm, Pitsford, Northampton, UK, on 25 March 2011. This was equalled by Merlin, owned by Tracy Westwood (UK) in Torquay, Devon, UK, on 2 April 2015.

Smokey is a domestic cat and achieved its record in its home, where it felt relaxed and happy.

Merlin was 13 years old at the time of its record.

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, I give you Merlin in full throat. That is one loud purr!


Now the prospective law described below definitely makes sense, and was sent in by gravelinspector. He noted this:

I know you don’t want news of cat attacks, but this is somewhat different. Link below.

In the UK, Scotland and England/Wales, the law is currently that if you have a collision in your car (or bike) with a dog, you’re obliged to inform the police and RSPCA / SSPCA ([Royal or Scottish] Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or a local vet. Because a dog is a piece of property with an owner and a value.

Ditto horses, sheep, cattle, deer … but not cats. Cats, in law, don’t have owners (well, we know that!), and therefore have no value, and no requirement to inform anyone of damage to this “non-property”.

Well, a case in Auld Reekie is leading to another attempt to change the law:

Click to read:

From the piece:

A well-known Edinburgh cat, taken to the hearts of the residents of the city’s west end, is at the centre of calls for a change to the law.

Hugo, an Arabian Mau, was well-loved around the cobbled streets of the upmarket retail area and, despite having a devoted owner, was looked after by hundreds of locals.

The tabby died last week after he was hit by a car that failed to stop.

His death has inspired a campaign to make it law to report such an incident.

Foxes and badgers also come under this category.

It comes from a section of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

Hugo was left injured in a nearby garden and it was only a local who recognised him who saved him from dying right there.

The cat’s owner, Jane Rutherford, said: “He was a big wanderer – always crossing roads. He crossed that road for four years.”

Hugo was discovered by a kind neighbour in Palmerston Place who immediately took him to the vet and then called Ms Rutherford.

She added: “We were lucky because everyone knows him. I dashed to the vet and he got slightly better overnight, but the prognosis wasn’t great.

“I took him home and eventually had to make the decision to let him go.

Here’s Hugo in his better days:

Locals are now agitating for a law, and they have an unanswerable argument (my bolding).

Ms Rutherford believes it would be a fitting legacy.

She said: “A cat is no less precious than a dog. We don’t know how long he was there – ten minutes or an hour – in pain. I would love to see that change so other pets are not discarded.”

Gravelinspector gave another rationale for a report-hit-cat law:

Possibly, this time round the law will be changed. One significant difference from the 80s is that now all (domesticated) cats *should* now be microchipped, which disposes of the legal fiction of “not existing without ownership”. Probably it’ll drown in legalese – the normal fate for such outrage campaigns. Maybe not.
h/t: Gravelinspector, Ginger K.

9 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Cat lockdowns; why do cats purr?; Scotland contemplates law for informing cops and RSPCA if you hit a cat

  1. My last dog Rimsky, a Wheaten Terrier (the only pure breed dog we ever had) purred when resting next to me. Our previous dog Aida, a mutt, always came over to me after I yawned audibly (maybe thinking I was signaling it was time to retire for the day). Our smartest dog Orlando, very shaggy, bearded and probably mostly terrier, could read our minds (i.e. our body language)perfectly. Dogs probably know more about human behavior than we do about theirs.

  2. The loudest purr by a domestic cat is 67.8 dB and was achieved by Smokey, owned by Lucinda Ruth Adams (UK) at Spring Hill farm, Pitsford, Northampton, UK, on 25 March 2011

    Depending on precisely where in the environs of Pitsford this farm is – and indeed the actions of building companies since I was a conservation volunteer in the area – Smokey was probably living on (or next door to) a nature reserve full of very tempting dinosaurs. Also lots of “water margin” water-fowl terrain which was one of the habitats we constructed over the years.
    Happy-cat territory!

  3. The German ethologist, Paul Leyhausen, offered a very elegant explanation for the reason cats purr. In his book Cat Behavior, he explains that it simply means, “I am not a threat.” with a corollary meaning of “Be nice to me.” Consider: they purr to their kittens, they purr when they are in pain, when they are stressed, when they are relaxing and when they are seeking attention. What better way to endear themselves to us than to say, “Don’t worry, I won’t claw your face off.”

    This also implies that a purring cat is not always a happy cat, but may be in need of some TLC. My sweetie, Isa, used to purr while she grabbed my hand and gnawed (gently) on my knuckles, which, I suppose, had “I am not a threat” actually meaning, “I am not really trying to eat you.”

    Still, I find it very plausible that there is a very simple meaning behind the purr that we, being human, choose to interpret in complex ways. It’s a feline version of Motel of the Mysteries.

    I recommend Leyhausen’s book, but if your library doesn’t have a copy, be prepared to spend a lot; last time I checked, used copies were going online for $175.00 and up.

  4. That law change would be great. The days when d*gs were all working animals, and hence worthy of any traffic accident involving them being reported, are very much in the dim and distant past.

  5. Or wherever possible contain your cats in an environment which is as close to being free run as is possible. We have shared our homes with many cats over many years and in different countries and locales.
    currently we are reduced to five cats having recently lost our seventeen year calico Miss Tooty to old age. Our present home is in a part of Canada where cats are at risk from a range of predators not least of which are large feathered ones which will happily take even quite a large cat. Our provincial power supply company find cat collars in the nests of these large aerial predators on their power pylons, a popular place to nest.
    We have outdoor but ostensibly indoor spaces available to our cats where there is fresh air, smells and sounds and views of the local fauna without risk to either party and these are available throughout the day until we retire for the night. This we find is the best compromise and as far as we can tell the cats are in reasonable agreement. We also have harnesses for them and take them regularly for walks mostly on our own property which is quite large and varied in make up. Our eldest cat a venerable brown tabby knows “walkies” as well as any respecting dog, although mid winter he will often decline the option.

    1. I sincerely appreciate you being a responsible steward of cats. You really have made the best compromise that protects both them and wildlife. I get very frustrated where I live that people allow their cats to free-roam, which is not only in violation of the county’s ordinance, but it’s pretty much a guarantee they will be taken by a coyote, raptor, car or even a parasite. Not to mention certain awful individuals who do not want them on their property who may do them harm (and as much as I love animals, one must respect others who do not want someone else’s pet on their property).

      1. Katey, I couldn’t agree more. Here it also an offence to allow cats and dogs to roam unattended and to be fair to our neighbours we rarely see either unless it is the occasional “escapee” It is always interesting to see who is first through the cat flap access to the fully screened front of the house, there is quite often a queue so I am fairly confident they are happy with the front arrangement. The most small mammals of interest are always the red squirrels of which we have lots and they will often tease the assembled cts by running along the the bottom of the screened area, with “thumb” up!
        The rear of the house is something similar but slightly larger and with a conventional door so no cat flap.

  6. If cats are to included with dogs, to be reported when involved in accidents, does this mean that their owners will also be held responsible for their actions? Dog owners are responsible if their pets cause any damage and are responsible if they roam loose or cause harm to other people. Does this mean will be able to sue my neighbours for their cats defecating and spraying in my yard?

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