Walk Through The Web Wednesday – 12/28

Hello Furiends,
It’s been crazy in our neck of the woods – below zero temps and nasty wind chill and then 38 degrees and rain. The Human has been doing a lot of grumbling, especially when the snow plow leaves a big icy wall at the end of the driveway so she can’t get out. I don’t know how you humans do it but at least we felines are sitting by the window and snoopervising.

I hope the weather is better in your neck of the woods but I know some of our furiends in the east are dealing with snowmageddon too. Here’s to a safe, happy week and we’ll be popping in again before the New Year with a feline take of 2022.

A “talking cat” is giving scientists insight into how felines think

Well, if the truth be told, Billi, the 13-year old Floridian feline doesn’t really talk but she does make her thoughts known by pressing buttons. I did a report on cats and these devices several months ago and found there has been progress made since then.

When Billi presses a button twice that says “dog” her human asks her if there is a dog outside. A few minutes later Billi then presses the button for “tummy” twice.

Many cats and dogs have been featured in the news using an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device — essentially, a sound board made up of buttons with a different word vocally recorded on each — to “talk” to their humans. Billi’s human was inspired to try the device after she saw a dog using it.

Due to the lockdown Billi’s human had a lot of time on her hand so she began to work with Billi.

“At that point Billi was the first cat that I knew of to try it,” Baker said. “I hadn’t seen any cats do it.”

She was concerned because the buttons were very large for little kitty feet to manipulate. She started Billi with the word “food” because Billi is food motivated.

Billi was quite capable of pushing the buttons and quick to pick up on the fact that the food button made food appear.

Today Billi has 50 words on her board, and  is part of the ongoing research project called TheyCanTalk, whose goal is to understand if animals can communicate with humans through AAC devices. While the study is mostly made up of dogs, about 5 percent of the animals using AAC devices are now felines. It turns out that many cats have been successful at using the device.

Leo Trottier, cognitive scientist and founder of How.TheyCanTalk Research and developer of the FluentPet system Billi uses, admitted to Salon Magazine he was “pessimistic” about cats using the buttons, but was pleasantly surprised when they started to see felines catch on. Now, he’s intrigued by the ways in which cats appear to use the buttons differently from dogs.

What’s interesting is that cats tend to do more single button presses than multi buttons. He said that you need to find what the cats really want in order to get the cat to work with the buttons.

Billi’s human observes that Billi strings words together less frequently than dogs. Baker has a theory on why cats, like Billi, might be more prone to pressing one button to communicate.

“She does string words together, but it is much less frequent than what I see some of the dogs doing, and I don’t know exactly why that is but I will say she’s more deliberate in her button presses,” Baker said. “Billi is very, very deliberate when she presses a button and knows exactly which one she’s looking for, she takes her time . . . and if she is going to string a sentence together, she’ll take a thinking loop and then she’ll come back — very rarely does she go from one directly to another.

Could it be that in observing cats use the AAC device, humans are finding out that the stereotypical differences between cats and dogs are actually true? Perhaps, but researchers have been very cautious to jump to any conclusions about these “talking” animals yet. In fact, it’s up for debate if these animals are, scientifically speaking, speaking — or if they’ve simply been trained to use specific buttons to conjure specific things. Whether or not their communications are spontaneous has yet to be concluded.

“I’m very intrigued by the cats that are using the boards, because there’s really a dearth in cat cognition studies, particularly those that happen in the home,” Gabriella Smith, a cognitive science researcher at CleverPet noted. “Cats are really kind of overlooked in the companion animal cognition world. I’ve been a big fan of Billi, and my animal cognition scientist brain just lights up because I see these behaviors that I know from my own cat — but now I’m able to look at it from a cognition lens.”

Smith added that having cats as part of the TheyCanTalk study is a great way to study their cognition — and also, perhaps, dispel myths about cats.

“They have this reputation of just doing what they want and not really caring what the humans are doing, and I think this is a great opportunity to see that they actually are paying attention,” Smith said. “Seeing that they can be engaged, that they’re not just cat automatons, that aren’t driven by instinct 24/7 can function a great deal positively for their role in other studies.”

Regardless of what these studies ultimately tell us about cat cognition, Billi’s owner has observed a noticeable shift in Billi’s happiness since introducing the buttons to the talkative kitty.

“I really believe that the majority of house cats are bored and depressed,” Baker said. “We don’t give them any stimulation so you know, anything that we can do for them that gives them a better life, I’m for it.”

Cats in the Middle Ages

We felines had a bad reputation in the middle ages. Humans linked us with paganism and witchcraft which meant we were often treated with suspicion. Still, if you pursue medieval manuscripts you’ll be surprised at the playful images you see. Oliver wrote about a poem The Human saw in Dublin about Panger Ban, the meschevious cat owned by a monk.

From these (often very funny) portrayals, we can learn a lot about medieval attitudes towards cats—not least that they were a central fixture of daily medieval life.

In the middle ages, men and women were often identified by the animals they kept. Pet monkeys, for example, were considered exotic and a sign that the owner was wealthy, because they had been imported from distant lands. Pets became part of the personal identity of the nobility. Keeping an animal that was lavished with attention, affection and high-quality food in return for no functional purpose—other than companionship—signified high status.

It was not unusual for high-status men and women in the middle ages to have their portrait completed in the company of a pet, most commonly cats and dogs, to signify their elevated status.

It is commonplace to see images of cats in iconography of feasts and other domestic spaces, which appears to reflect their status as a pet in the medieval household.

In Pietro Lorenzetti’s Last Supper, a cat sits by the fire while a small dog licks a plate of leftovers on the ground. The cat and dog play no narrative role in the scene, but instead signal to the viewer that this is a domestic space.

Similarly, in the miniature of a Dutch Book of Hours (a common type of prayer book in the middle ages that marked the divisions of the day with specific prayers), a man and woman feature in a cozy household scene while a well looked-after cat gazes on from the bottom left-hand corner. Again, the cat is not the center of the image nor the focus of the composition, but it is accepted in this medieval domestic space.

Just like today, medieval families gave their cats names. A 13th-century cat in Beaulieu Abbey, for example, was called “Mite” according to the green ink lettering that appears above a doodle of said cat in the margins of a medieval manuscript.

Royal treatment

Cats were well cared for in the medieval household. In the early 13th century, there is mention in the accounts for the manor at Cuxham (Oxfordshire) of cheese being bought for a cat, which suggests that they were not left to fend for themselves.

In fact, the 14th-century queen of France, Isabeau of Bavaria, spent excessive amounts of money on accessories for her pets. In 1387, she commissioned a collar embroidered with pearls and fastened by a gold buckle for her pet squirrel. In 1406, bright green cloth was bought to make a special cover for her cat.

Cats were also common companions for scholars, and eulogies about cats were not uncommon in the 16th century. In one poem, a cat is described as a scholar’s light and dearest companion. Eulogies such as this suggest a strong emotional attachment to pet cats, and show how cats not only cheered up their masters but provided welcome distractions from the hard mental craft of reading and writing.

Cats in the cloisters

Cats are found in abundance as a status symbol in medieval religious spaces. There are lots of medieval manuscripts that feature, for example, illuminations (small images) of nuns with cats, and cats frequently appear as doodles in the margins of Books of Hours.

But there is also much criticism about the keeping of cats in medieval sermon literature. The 14th-century English preacher John Bromyard considered them useless and overfed accessories of the rich that benefited while the poor went hungry.

Cats are also recorded as being associated with the devil. Their stealth and cunning when hunting for mice was admired—but this did not always translate into qualities desirable for companionship. These associations led to the killing of some cats, which had detrimental effects during the Black Death and other middle age plagues, when more cats may have reduced flea-infested rat populations.

Because of these associations, many thought that cats had no place in the sacred spaces of religious orders. There do not seem to have been any formal rules, however, stating that members of religious communities were not allowed to keep cats—and the constant criticism of the practice perhaps suggests that pet cats were common.

Even if they were not always considered as socially acceptable in religious communities, cats were still clearly well looked after. This is evident in the playful images we see of them in monasteries.

For the most part, cats were quite at home in the medieval household. And as their playful depiction in many medieval manuscripts and artwork makes clear, our medieval ancestors’ relationships with these animals were not too different from our own. Humans have always loved us!

Study FindsCats recognize the names of feline furiends who share the same household.

“Hey Al, The Human is calling for you.”

Cats can remember each other’s names when living in the same household, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by Kyoto University and published in Scientific Reports, found cats could identify other felines by their names and faces.

The scientists showed pet cats living in homes and felines living in “cat cafés” photos of cats they resided with to determine their reactions. The cats were then played an audio recording of their owners, or a researcher, calling out a name — either the name of the familiar cat in the photo or a fake name.

California Woman Accidentally Takes in Baby Fox After Mistaking Wild Animal for a Lost Kitten

Researchers discovered that pet cats spent more time looking at the image when the audio incorrectly identified a familiar cat than when the correct name was said. The study’s authors concluded this behavior may have occurred due to the cat expecting the correct name and being confused when it is not stated.

Additionally, the study found that cats who have lived with a family for a more extended time were more likely to stare at a photo of a misidentified cat for longer. However, cats who lived in cafés did not exhibit the same behavior.

“Whereas house cats probably learn by observing the reaction of the specific cat whose name was called, café cats are more likely to hear different names called by different guests, making such learning more difficult,” the authors wrote.

Feline who hates cat carrier purfurrs baby car seat

Fitzwilliam Darcy, a Flame Point Siamese cat from Edmonton, Canada, got to experience what it’s like to travel as a mini human (without the actual car ride).

Posting to the THIS CAT IS C H O N K Y group (a group I might add that Oliver and I are proud members of) on December 13, owner Natalie Ehrenholz shared two snaps of Fitz—who only goes by his full name when he’s in trouble—in her daughter’s car seat.

Captioned “safety furst,” the adorable photos have received almost 4,000 likes from fellow cat lovers..”

16 thoughts on “Walk Through The Web Wednesday – 12/28

  1. Alberto, you look so festive in your sleigh. We do hope you are staying warm if you plan to go riding, though. 🙂

    The weather has been super iffy here, too. We went from low 50s to -2 in 24 hours. We were in single digits for a few days, but now are inching up towards 40 tomorrow. We figure it’s best just to stay inside where it’s warm and toasty whenever possible.

    Those stories are fascinating! Especially the ones about the insights about the “talking cat” and cats in the same household recognizing the names of cats who live in their household.

    Stay warm, pals. XO

    Like

    • Considering the fact that my felines have let me know in no uncertain terms that working is not in their itinerary. I have purchased assorted food puzzle games and they not only refuse to use them, they whack them down the stairs or hid them under the sofa. Sigh, I think my only hope would be to try with a kitten, these three have already trained me well!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Not sure we need to know what our cats are saying…sometimes it is best to Mind Your Own Beeswax,

    It is finally warm enough that our huMom can get the new sticker for her license plate to adhere safely and not freeze and drop off.

    Like

    • It sounds like your huMOM is dealing with the same problems ours is. She gets her license plate tags in November but sometimes she has to wait until January to get them to stick. Mol!
      Purrs & Head Bonks,
      Alberto

      Like

  3. I do hope your winter woes are behind you and the rest of the winter is a “pussycat.”

    Of course, cats know their names and the name of the other cats in the house. There was a man years ago who talked about his four cats, and said he knew good and well they knew their own and each other’s names by this, if he walked in a room with the four and called one name, the other three would look at the one called. That one would look around as if to say, “What? Why are you looking at me?”

    They knew, they always do!

    Like

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