Cat Project Archives for April 1-5, 2019.
1, 2019: "Always the cat remains a little beyond the
limits we try to set for him in our blind folly." -
Gratuitous Kute Kittiness: "Not the face!"
Cat Mewvie: My little pet puma.
Feline Art: Cat photostudy,
Chinese village saved by cats.
by Maggie Wong
From the moment you arrive at Houtong Village in northern Taiwan, you'll
have no trouble knowing who the real stars are.
There's a cat-shaped bridge, pet food bowls on the side of the walkways,
street signs with cat motifs, cat-themed cafes and, of course, furry
feline friends roaming freely everywhere.
In the early 1900s, Houtong, in New Taipei City, was the biggest and
most technologically advanced coal-mining site in Taiwan. It was a prosperous
town with about 6,000 residents and workers, before the mine fell into
disuse in 1990.
As most young residents moved away for better opportunities, Houtong
became a sleepy village with about 100 residents.
But in 2010, Houtong's fame surged after a cat lover and photographer
started blogging about the village's growing stray cat population. Houtong
was transformed into a cat-lover mecca while also providing a source
of income for local villagers.
Many of the stray cats, now given affectionate nicknames, are taken care
of by local villagers as well as a troop of volunteers.
In addition to the village's many cute kitty-themed shops and cafes,
the local government has also seized the opportunity to revamp Houtong
and highlight its long history.
An award-winning pedestrian cat bridge was built. Metal plates featuring
tiny paw designs were embedded into streets. A cat information and education
center opened in 2014, featuring elevated cat walkways on the façade
of the building.
A museum park dedicated to the town's former mining life opened in 2010,
later hosting a cat lantern festival in 2012.
It all appears to be paying off. The town now draws an estimated one
million visitors every year.
But Houtong, now under the spotlight, isn't completely purrfect.
According to local reports, the town has become a magnet for those looking
for a place to abandon their unwanted pets.
During the most recent survey, the New Taipei City Government Animal
Protection and Health Inspection Office estimated that the village is
now home to about 286 cats -- 50 heads more than two years ago.
With the constant patting and feeding from visitors, some also flagged
concerns about the health of the furry residents. The department works
with local residents and volunteers to vaccinate the cats and provide
regular medical treatment.
Signs have been erected around town advising visitors how to behave while
also pleading pet owners to be responsible.
2, 2019: "A cat doesn't know what it wants and wants
more of it." - Richard Hexem
Gratuitous Kittiness: Tiny photobomb!
Cat Mewvie: The kitty in the yoga
Feline Art: "Cat" by
3, 2019: "For me, one of the pleasures of cats' company
is their devotion to bodily comfort."
- Sir Compton Mackenzie
Gratuitous Kittiness: Kitty mobile home.
Cat Mewvie: Baby likes kitty.
Art: "Celtic Cat" by Cheryl Baker.
4, 2019: "I saw the most beautiful cat today. It was
sitting by the side of the road, its two front feet neatly
and graciously together. Then it gravely swished around
its tail to completely encircle itself. It was so fit and
beautifully neat, that gesture, and so self-satisfied,
- Ann Morrow Lindbergher
Gratuitous Kittiness: The final evolution of the Poke-cotton ball.
Cat Mewvie: Brushing the Maine
Feline Art: "Where
No Cat Has Gone Before" by Elizabeth Jancewicz.
5, 2019: "People who love cats have some of the biggest
hearts around." - Susan Easterly
know their names as well as dogs.... they're just
by Matthew Schwartz
Call a dog by his name, and his tail wags, he starts panting happily,
and he showers you with love and affection.
Call a cat by his name, and... well, cats are a bit harder to read. Does
the cat even know what his name is?
So researchers in Japan set out to answer the question: Can a cat understand
the difference between its name and any other random word that sounds
Research on cats is slim compared to research on dogs. That may be because
cats can't be bothered to participate in the experiments. But in a study
published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, the Japanese researchers
devised a way to get results whether or not the cats cared to cooperate.
Researchers conducted a series of experiments in which a person would
speak four different words, and then say the cat's name. According to
the study, the words chosen were "nouns with the same length and
accents as their own names." If the cat acted differently when it
heard its name, the scientists would know that the cat could distinguish
its own name from other words.
The reason for saying four words before the name was to "habituate" the
cats — or get them accustomed to hearing words spoken. Cats often
move their heads or ears when hearing words spoken, but that response
diminished after four words. Only then was it time to say the name — and
see how the cats responded.
Researchers conducted several versions of the experiment, all held at
the cat's home, with the owner out of view. In one version, researchers
would play a recording of the owner saying the four words with a 15-second
pause between each, followed by the cat's name. In another version, an
unfamiliar voice would say the words and the name. Sometimes the words
weren't just nouns, but the names of other cats that lived in the house.
In any case, the results were clear: Most of the cats moved their head
or ears in response to hearing their name. The results, researchers said,
showed that the cats could identify their own names among other similar
"We conclude that cats can discriminate the content of human utterances
based on phonemic differences," the researchers wrote. "This is the
first experimental evidence showing cats' ability to understand human verbal
Do the cats actually understand that the name represents their identity?
That part is unclear, lead study author Atsuko Saito of Sophia University
in Tokyo told the Associated Press. What is clear is that the cat's name
is "salient stimulus," the researchers said, "and may
be associated with rewards, such as food, petting, and play."
So whether or not Sprinkles identifies herself as Sprinkles, she knows
that the word carries a special meaning.
Jennifer Vonk, a professor at Oakland University specializing in animal
cognition, told NPR via email that she loved the study's methodology,
which didn't require extensive training and could be done in an environment
where the cats were comfortable. "I agree with the authors that
it cannot tell us if cats represent their names as a label that identifies
them, but it is interesting that they do attend to it as a special signal,
probably associated with rewards such as food and petting," said
Vonk, who was not involved in the study.
The study found one minor exception to cats recognizing their name: cats
who lived with others in a cat cafe. Those cats could distinguish their
name from random nouns, but not from the names of the other cats. Researchers
offered multiple possible explanations — maybe different cafe customers
call their names with different intonation, or maybe customers say a
cat's name without offering a reward. "For example, if a visitor
calls cat A, but cat B approaches to the visitor and cat B gets petting
and treats instead of cat A," that would "make name discrimination
less relevant for these cats," researchers wrote.
Peter Pongracz, a professor specializing in the study of animal behavior
at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, said by email
that the study was "very smartly designed," while noting that
the sample that actually demonstrated the "interesting results" was
Pongracz defended the tendency of cats to not respond when called, compared
to the obedience of dogs. Dogs have been bred for millennia to be easy-to-train
and responsive to humans, he said. Although cats were also domesticated
long ago, humans didn't put as much of a premium on training them to
respond. "Most cats fare really well with humans by simply being
cute," Pongracz said.
If a cat is less effusive in its affection, that doesn't necessarily
mean they are individualistic or antisocial, he said; cats respond in
their own way. "As the Japanese study showed, cats respond to their
name with not necessarily a quick run to their owner, but maybe with
a simple, subtle twitch of their ears."
So cat lovers, take note. Even if your cat doesn't greet you with the
same ardor as a dog, he loves you just the same.