We’re back to Caturday Felids again, and let me know if you want this to continue, as I’m not sure people are that keen on Caturday felids, and it takes a bit of work. At any rate, we’ll have one today, at least.
The Washington Post has a lovely story about an English woman, profoundly deaf, who got a kitten. It turned out that the kitten, now an adult, helped her in many ways, and so he beat out 3,000 competitors to become the UK Cat of the Year. Click to read:
A precis and some photos (and their captions) from the Post:
Then something stopped her as she read the paper that day in April 2021, deep in the pandemic.
“I saw a photo of a tiny black and white ball of fluff, and I fell in love with him then and there,” said Moss, 66.
A family had placed an ad, hoping to find a home for the last kitten in their cat’s litter. When Moss reached out to them, the family arranged to bring by the two-month-old domesticated shorthair with tuxedo markings. Soon, the deal was sealed.
“He jumped from their arms straight into mine, and I knew that he had chosen me,” said Moss, who decided to call him Zebby because his colors resembled those of a zebra.
Moss had heard of studies showing that pets can help to alleviate loneliness for people who live alone, but she had no idea the cat would turn into her helper and her ears, even grabbing her mail and slippers for her.
And last month, about 2½ years after Zebby leaped into her life, Moss was stunned when her cat was named Britain’s National Cat of the Year by Cats Protection, the country’s largest feline welfare charity.
he helps Moss, said Zahir White, spokesperson for Cats Protection.
“He’d had no training at all,” Moss said, “but his cat instincts and curiosity seemed to tell him that I needed his help — that I wasn’t able to hear anything at times when the hearing aids were out of my ears.”
. . . From their first night together, Zebby slept next to her, and if he heard noises in the dark, he would jump up and become agitated, she said.
After several weeks, Moss noticed that whenever her phone rang or somebody knocked on the door, he would tap her with his paw or pace in front of her to alert her.
When security lights came on outside, she said, her cat would scratch at the glass and run around the room until she woke up.
“He became my security guard and night watch cat,” she said. “Sometimes, he would even nibble my toes to wake me.”
It wasn’t long before Zebby took on another task: picking up Moss’s mail.
“He heard the rattle of the letterbox being opened, and he stretched up on his back legs and pulled the letter from the flap as a hand posted it through,” she said. “I thought at first it was a ‘one off’ game, but he continued to do it every time the post arrived.”
Zebby now carries the mail in his mouth and drops it at her feet, Moss said. He also fetches her slippers if she’s not wearing them.
“He has helped break the loneliness and has made my house a home,” she said. “Zebby always makes me laugh.”
Besides Zebby, this year’s National Cat of the Year finalists included a sociable cat named Elsa that visits local shops in Bridgwater, England, and Dali, a cat from Shipley, England, that survived for a month while stranded on a patch of river rocks.
At the July 17 ceremony, Moss’s eyes filled with tears when Zebby’s photo popped up on a giant screen and he was announced as the grand prize winner. The only downside, she said, was that Zebby wasn’t there with her.
There were three finalists, but Zebby won!
She took home two glass-engraved awards for Zebby and a gift package that included a pet store voucher worth $255.
And a giant photo:
The article below was in Science (click on screenshot), but reports findings from an article in the Journal of Chemical Senses.
In short, cats love tuna because they have umami (“savory flavor”)receptors on their tongues that are stimulated by tuna (DUHH!). First, the scientific abstract:
. . . and from Science:
. . . . tuna (or any seafood for that matter) is an odd favorite for an animal that evolved in the desert. Now, researchers say they have found a biological explanation for this curious craving.
In a study published this month in Chemical Senses, scientists report that cat taste buds contain the receptors needed to detect umami—the savory, deep flavor of various meats, and one of the five basic tastes in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Indeed, umami appears to be the primary flavor cats seek out. That’s no surprise for an obligate carnivore. But the team also found these cat receptors are uniquely tuned to molecules found at high concentrations in tuna, revealing why our feline friends seem to prefer this delicacy over all others.
“This is an important study that will help us better understand the preferences of our familiar pets,” says Yasuka Toda, a molecular biologist at Meiji University and a leader in studying the evolution of umami taste in mammals and birds. The work could help pet food companies develop healthier diets and more palatable medications for cats, says Toda, who was not involved with the industry-funded study.
The study’s funding is describes as “Mars Petcare UK supported the study financially; they did not have any influence over the study conception, design or interpretation, or the decision to publish the data.”
But cats’ love of tuna then raises the question, “Why do cats favor a flavor their ancestors never detected?” (Remember that the housecat evolved from Felis silvestris lybica, the European wildcat, which doesn’t encounter tuna.) Here’s the answer:
But cats must taste something, McGrane reasoned, and that something is likely the savory flavor of meat. In humans and many other animals, two genes—Tas1r1 and Tas1r3—encode proteins that join together in taste buds to form a receptor that detects umami. Previous work had shown that cats express the Tas1r3 gene in their taste buds, but it was unclear whether they had the other critical puzzle piece.
So McGrane and colleagues biopsied the tongue of a 6-year-old male cat that had been euthanized for health reasons unrelated to the study. Genetic sequencing revealed his taste buds expressed both the Tas1r1 and Tas1r3 genes—the first time scientists showed that cats have all the molecular machinery needed to detect umami.
When the researchers compared the protein sequences encoded by these genes with those of humans, however, they found a striking difference: Two critical sites that allow the human receptor to bind to glutamic and aspartic acid—the main amino acids that activate umami taste in people—were mutated in cats. “So I began thinking, maybe cats can’t taste umami,” McGrane says.
To double check, he and his team engineered cells to produce the cat umami receptor on their surface. They then exposed the cells to a variety of amino acids and nucleotides. The cells did respond to umami—but with a twist. In people, the amino acids bind first and the nucleotides amplify the response. But in cats, the nucleotides activated the receptor, and the amino acids further boosted it, McGrane says. “That’s the exact opposite of what we see in people.”
In the last part of the experiment, McGrane and colleagues gave 25 cats a taste test. In a series of trials, they presented the felines with two bowls of water, each with various combinations of amino acids and nucleotides, or just water alone. The cats showed a strong preference for bowls that contained molecules found in umami-rich foods, suggesting this flavor—above all others—is the primary motivator for cats.
Well, that’s a bit of a yawner. Cats like tuna because they like meat, and have similar molecular machinery to other animals that like meat, though the response works in a slightly different way. Just remember, if you give your cat ice cream, it likes it because of the creaminess, not the sweetness. At any rate, it must have been a slow news day at Science.
Finally, from Fox News in Colorado, the story of a woman who feeds a cat that hung around the state fair (click to read):
As the Colorado State Fair approaches next weekend, one remarkable tale of devotion and friendship, spans two decades, involving a dedicated state fair worker and an endearing state fair cat named Garth.
Sheri Giordano, a dedicated employee of the Colorado State Fair since 1994, reminisces about the day she first crossed paths with Garth, a little black dot under the grandstand.
“I saw a little kitty that was sitting in the grass under the tree right outside of the grandstand. So since the famous Garth Brooks performed at the Grandstand, I named him Garth,” Sheri fondly recalls.
From that moment, a beautiful connection was forged that would withstand the test of time. Sheri had him neutered and vaccinated. For two decades, Sheri made it her mission to care for Garth.
“I had a sense of dedication to him. I felt like he was special and I loved him and I wanted to take care of him,” Sheri explains.
Through snow and rain, Sheri would faithfully visit the fairgrounds every single day, ensuring Garth had food and fresh water. The routine became her anchor, a source of purpose even on the most challenging days.
“It’s been a huge part of my life, and there were days when I didn’t want to get up, but I knew I had to go take care of Garth. So he’s always been there for me, so I was always there for him,” Sheri tearfully expresses.
Then Garth disappeared for four months, and, mirabile dictu, returned, but in bad condition. He was taken to the vet:
But the passage of time had taken its toll on Garth. Sheri recognized that it was time for him to retire from his state fair cat duties.
“He was skinny and scrawny and he barely had a voice. And I don’t know what happened to him, but that was the point where I realized I needed to do something with him,” Sheri shares.
Sheri took Garth to the SOCO Spay and Neuter Association. There, they conducted tests to ensure his health, and Garth’s bloodwork astounded everyone.
“It was a little bit of a shock to hear of this 20-year-old feral cat that his blood test was clear. So it was a real testament to Sheri for taking such good care of him over the years,” Lisa Buccambuso, the Executive Director of SOCO Spay and Neuter Association, affirms.
Nowadays, Sheri visits Garth every week, ensuring he continues to receive the love and care he deserves. And amidst the routine, there’s a moment that brings a smile to everyone’s face –
The big questions, which aren’t answered in this piece, are twofold:
1.) Why didn’t she just adopt the cat, or put it up for adoption, if she took the trouble to go to the fairgrounds every day. Garth would surely be better off in someone’s home than under the bleachers?
2.) WHERE IS GARTH NOW? Sheri is said to visit Garth every week, but where does she visit him? Has he been adopted? Is he still at the fairgrounds? (The article says he’s “retired from his state fair cat duties.
Perhaps readers can answer these pressing questions, but the news people sure fell down on the job here.
Lagniappe: Peter sent a reddit video of a nice man feeding one of Istanbul’s street cats (this one has a collar). The Turks love their kitties! Sound up, please.
h/t: Jon, Nicole, Matthew