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2009-09-23 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson
“Feed me!” It’s the “purrfect” ploy. Cats may not do what we want them to do, but they are vocally adept at manipulating us to do what they want, espe­cially when it comes to provid­ing room service. Now there is scientific proof that reveals the feline modus operandi. It seems conniving cats urge owners to filltheir food bowls by sending a specific, mixed signal that people findhard to ignore.

According to the July 14th issue of Current Biology (Cell Press), a team of University of Sussex psychologists discovered that many cats hide a high pitched cry within a purr when soliciting food from their hosts. The urgent pleading, reminiscent of a human baby’s cry, is combined with a pleasant purr- a subliminal trick that preys upon our parental instincts. Thescientists say that these cats appear to be exploiting humans’ innate tendencies to nurture our own offspring.

Dr. Karen McComb got the idea for this study be­cause her pet cat Pepo had the habit of waking her up each morning with his persistent purring. Talking with other cat guardians, she found that she was not alone. Many others had cats like Pepo that exhibited similar annoying behavior. What feline force drove the sleepy masses to spring from bed to serve their demanding cats breakfast even before they got them­selves a cup of coffee? McComb set up an experiment that tested human response to different purring types. When people listened to recordings of purrs of cats actively seek­ing food at the same volume as purrs from cats in the “non-solicitation” mode, even those with the no cat experience rated the “solicitation” purrs as more ur­gent and less pleasant. The common factor in determining whether the sound was judged as more urgent and less pleasant was the high frequency cry embedded within the nat­ural low pitch purr. When that cry was removed, the urgency rating decreased significantly. Getting the recordings was quite a task because not all cats use this technique, nor were the real schemers cooperative. When actual cats were recruited for the tapes, it seems that cats that had one to one bonds with their person were more apt to try this tactic. A cat that came from a busy household or multi-cat set­ting where there was so much activity that this plain­tive purr might be overlooked was more likely to screech a regular meow.

In other words, the “spoiled brat cats” have “purr­fected” this sneaky trick. These cats tend to use this behavior in private with their owners at anti-social times, like in the early morning, and also tend to sti­fle themselves or leave the room when strangers ar­rive. McComb’s team had to train the owners to use the equipment to record both kinds of purrs for the study.

“Feed me! Feed me now!” Just like the monster plant in the play Little Shop of Horrors, over the last 11 years my 3-legged brat cat Veto (who has never been to Sussex) has fine-tuned this soprano/basso cry. Be­ginning

around 6 a.m. he emits the solicitation purr, and if I don’t act fast enough, he then starts noshing on houseplants so he’ll wretch, wakes up the dogs or, better yet, bites me. “Ouch, must be time for Fancy Feast!”

GOOD NEWS: Happy to report that both Alex, the black Pit Bull, who was discovered with his own­er who had died (“Pets” Beacon 8/20 & 9/3/09) and Kember, the German Shepherd turned into the shelter to be put down because of hypothyroidism ( Beacon 9/10/09 ) have found new homes. Actually Kember is living with the same lovely family who had adopted another Babylon Shelter miracle Shepherd. You may remember Lissy from 2004 - the amazing, bedraggled gal whose blurry tattoo traced to Germany and her many Schutzhund titles. Her tale was even included in a children’s book. Lissy passed away at the age of 12, several months ago. Kember has quite a void to fill.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Speaking of Fancy Feast, our poster cat is a most exquisite feline- an abandoned fe­male Persian- pure white, odd eye (which means one green, one blue eye), declawed, young, loving. She is in C-8, and I can’t believe she hasn’t been scoffed up. Theadorable scruffy female Schnauzer mix in the Puppy Room will be getting a grooming makeover because she is severely matted. She was found on Wellwood. Theshelter is completely full with dogs, kittens, and cats. Here is a sampling of the pets waiting:

Male: a friendly Min Pin in the Puppy Room; “Ber­nie” mature Rottie/Shepherd Cage 8; “Winston”- friendly black eviction cat.

Female: emaciated young Shepherd mix Cage 1; Shih Tzu poster dog from last week; Lab mix pup with a widow’s peak Cage 10; “Hallie” patient Pit Cage 38.

Reminder: Come to the” Buddy Cares Pet Fair” this Sat. Sept. 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tanner Park in Copiague. Thefestivities will showcase Babylon Shel­ter dogs and cats. Several will be there. Also low cost microchips and rabies shots available for the public’s pets. Call the shelter or 631-893-1053 for more info.

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