Sunday, March 1, 2015

Looking for answers in all the wrong places

Sunday morning dawned way too early, at least in Rudy’s estimation.  She was getting too old to sit in the same position at a computer for hours on end.  She vaguely remembered the yarn lady coming over last night.  She’d left squishy food and for once had to refill the crunchy food bowl.  She’d commented that the Daddy was falling down on the job as he usually left the large bowl filled to the brim and it was almost empty.  Rudy feigned sleep, not wanting to let a guilty expression betray that the crunchy food had been eaten by the Cat Club.  She awakened enough to accept cat treats, as you can never been too tired for cat treats, but then quickly went back to sleep.

Rudy doubted that anyone would come over today to watch her on the computer.  Sparky had remarked to the assembled cats that the Daddy would be home sometime today, and she was sure it would be bright and early.  Rudy had her doubts about that, but wasn’t about to say anything that would discourage her onlookers from coming over to, well, look on.  Personally, Rudy hoped she’d find a definitive email response today and that would be the end of it.  She’d find a patch of sunlight in the living room and bake her aching bones.

After a leisurely breakfast Rudy turned on the computer, grousing to herself again about its slow performance.  Sparky came in and commented that if she didn’t like it, why not use the time to have a nice bath.   Rudy snorted and continued fuming at the computer.  Finally everything loaded and she logged into her email.  How many responses would she have?  She’d sent at least eight requests for information…there would have to be at least four.

She groaned as she realized there were only two responses to her inquiries.  Well, it didn’t take more than one to provide an answer, did it?  She opened the first one to find, “Thank you for your inquiry to our site.  Unfortunately we are not able to provide individualized responses to all inquiries, but please find below some excellent resources on caring for your feline friend.”   And yes, there were a bunch of websites listed, all of which she’d visited yesterday.

The next one would be her definitive answer.  Rudy was sure of it.  “Thank you for your interesting inquiry, but the link you followed was for technical problems with our website.  We are not able to answer any questions about feline health or care, as we’re just a bunch of computer nerds.  Sincerely, The Computer Nerds.”

This was a problem, a real problem.  If Rudy couldn’t come up with an authoritative answer on the ethical or moral principles surrounding what she’d come to think of as ‘The Issue’ she’d be sunk.  They’d vote her out of her presidency of The Cat Club.  No one would respect her anymore.  What could she do?  In despair she typed in to her browser search box ‘I need an answer’.  And what to her wondering eyes should appear but a website called Yahoo Answers.  There was a box to enter a question and a list of questions that various people had answered.  Some looked quite silly, but there were also some serious questions.  Things like, “Why are humans, individually and collectively, egocentric, self-serving and hard-hearted towards their fellow human beings?”  And the answers to these questions were just as serious.  She looked further into the lists of questions and came to a decision.  She’d post a question to the site – it said that most questions were answered within minutes.  Good.  She could deal with that timeframe.  She’d have an answer before the Daddy got home.

Carefully she composed her question: “Under what circumstances, if any would it be acceptable for parents to eat their offspring?”  After she entered it, there was a place to explain the question and any relevant background.  She thought for a moment, looked back at some of the other posts and then typed in her paragraph.  “Some friends and I were discussing the incident where a man accidentally killed his infant son when a coffee cup thrown at his wife’s head hit and killed the infant.  I believe intention should play a big part in assigning punishment for a misdeed, and further wondered how or if it would ever be acceptable for adult(s) to eat their offspring?  My friends and I couldn’t agree, so our group, TCC, conducted a poll of New Jersey residents and it turned out that 50% responded that it would be acceptable under some circumstances for an adult to eat offspring.  Well, that still doesn’t address whether or not it would be right to do so.  I am interested in others’ viewpoints on this issue, and even more any definitive expert information on this topic.  Thank you.”  Rudy hit submit and went off to take a nap while she waited for answers.

Rudy awoke to the sound of the back door opening and panicked.  Had she turned off the computer? As she braced for a mad dash into the office she remembered she had.  What a relief, but if the Daddy were home how would she check to see her answers?  She stretched and as her vertebrae settled back into place she heard the Yarn Lady’s voice.  “Well, hello, Sparky.  The Daddy called me and asked if I could feed you all this afternoon, as he’s held up by some bad weather in Mary Land.  He might be back late tonight, but just in case I wanted to make sure you all were set for food.”  Rudy sashayed into the kitchen and was given a warm greeting and some cat treats.  Well, that solved two problems.  She’d have time to use the computer after the yarn lady left, and her cat treat cravings were satisfied for the moment.  The yarn lady snuggled with Sparky for a few minutes, respectfully scratched Rudy’s head and left after putting out plenty of squishy food and distributing a few more cat treats.  She wasn’t as generous with treats as the Mommy, but the yarn lady was okay for a human.

For once Rudy thought ahead and decided to turn on the computer before she headed out to the poo field.  That way she wouldn’t have to watch its glacial loading processes.  By the time she returned she was set to go.  Open her browser, log into Yahoo, click on her profile then Answers and good grief she had 28 replies to her question.  She was in like Flint.  Now all she needed to do was find the best reply, hopefully one with reputable sources.

If Rudy had been human she would be picking her jaw up off the floor after reading a few of the replies.  These people were crazy.  Not a single one addressed the ethics of cats eating kittens.  There were answers that referred to the Donner party, which was starving humans eating each other, and another that discussed the Roman Catholic doctrine to sacrifice the mother to save the baby.  And one, believe it or not wanted to meet Rudy and the friends who supported the eating of other humans.  This bizarre answer even had a web link.  Out of sheer curiosity she clicked on it and found herself on a website called Cannibal CafĂ©.

And yes, it was a site for people who considered themselves cannibals.  Human people.  She clicked briefly on a few of the tabs and shuddered at the contents.  The News Tab did catch her eye, as the first entry had the name of a nearby town.  She read it and wished she could go somewhere warm and far away and never have to think about this problem again.  Her post hadn’t been about humans, it was written about cats.  Didn’t they see her photo?  Hadn’t they read her profile that said she was a cat living in central New Jersey?  She turned off the computer and vowed to try to forget this whole mess, at least for the rest of the day.


Rudy had been awake since long before dawn this morning, waiting for the Daddy to leave.  After everyone had left the Cat Club meeting last night she had started to panic.  She’d given herself only three days to find the best expert information about cats eating their own young.  That wasn’t a lot of time, especially since she could only use the computer when the Daddy wasn’t home.  Occasionally she did try some overnight use, but after the last time the Daddy had been awakened by a loud display ad, she’d avoided nocturnal web surfing.  He was still wondering if he’d gotten up in his sleep and loaded the I Can Haz Cheezburger website.

Finally the Daddy came out with an overnight bag and said good-bye to Rudy and Sparky.  He told them the yarn lady would be over later to give them squishy food and cat treats and headed out the door.  Sparky sat on the gas fireplace and watched the pick-up drive to the street and turn left.  She called out that the coast was clear and Rudy turned on the computer.  It was so slow…why didn’t he get a new computer with an eight core processor?

So, where would be the best places to find information?  She knew lots of very good websites about cat health and nutrition, but cats devouring their young was probably not a common topic.  Rudy decided she’d do the best she could.  First the Cornell Feline Health Center.  Cornell had one of the top veterinary schools in the country, and Feline Health Center was the place to go with your ailing cat if no one else knew what to do.  She browsed the health resources, finding only one possible topic under behavioral issues – ‘Help, My Cat’s a Killer; What Can I Do?’  It turned out to be an article for pet owners who thought it was a problem that their cats hunted things like birds, mice and lizards.  That was no help, although it was interesting that a study showed that belled cats did have significantly lower hunting success.

She looked for a FAQ on kitten parenting or perhaps a way to contact the Center.  There was the Camuti Consultation Service, but it cost $55 and involved a phone conversation with a vet.  She could pull off being a human via email, but it would never work over the phone.  She giggled, picturing it.  “Hello, Camuti Feline Consultation Service. To who am I speaking?”  “Meow.”  Yeah, that wouldn’t help. Ah, but there was a ‘Contact Us’ button that led to an email address.  Rudy composed an email and sent it off.  Hopefully someone would get back to her in an hour or two.  She expected company later this morning.  The five cats who did not live in this house wanted in on the research, as long as Rudy did the typing.  Well, hopefully they wouldn’t all come at once.
Throughout the day she surfed one website after another.  Several addressed the issue to some degree, saying that very young mothers might eat their kittens, or that mothers might eat a sick kitten to maximize milk supply for the remaining kittens.  A couple even said that intact male cats occasionally killed kittens to stimulate breeding in the female, but that usually didn’t involve consumption of said kittens.  Fine, that was good information, but it didn’t address the central issue of whether or not it was *right* for a cat to do it.  Although it was completely obvious to Rudy and from their facial expressions of the other cats that the male cat thing was not acceptable to any of them.  

For the most part the other cats sat and watched or listened as Rudy did her research.  As any cat arrived she repeated what she’d said last night about not discussing it amongst themselves, other than suggesting possible websites to visit or search terms to use.  Even with that stipulation there were some tense moments.  One cat or another suggested avenues of research that were clearly slanted, for example ‘cat cannibalism’ and ‘kittens as food source’.  She was pretty sure the last one was supposed to be a joke, but no one thought it was funny.
Even though Rudy had declared a couple nap breaks during the day, by sunset her paws were cramping and her shoulders sore.  They had visited countless websites, most of them useless in Rudy’s estimation.  She limped into the kitchen and jumped up to her favorite spot where the Daddy left her stuffed fox and a little quilt and settled down for a well-earned nap.  Hopefully tomorrow she’d hear back from Cornell or one of the other websites where she had left inquiries.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The poll results are in

It had been a busy week for the Cat Club.  Rudy had emailed every cat she knew with the opinion poll on the acceptability of cats eating their own young, and surprisingly had received a reply from almost all of them.  She’d realized there was no way she’d be able to remember all of this information and spent all of Wednesday and part of Thursday teaching herself how to use spreadsheet software.  She entered in the responses for each question for the cats who had emailed replies, using the three point scale she’d devised.  As she did this she mentally sent a thank you to Peep for learning how to count and teaching Miss Rudy about numbers.  The spreadsheet, unfortunately, did not work in base cat, but she could muddle along in base ten. 

Everycat was on time for Friday night’s Cat Club meeting, and in the moments leading up to the meeting she realized that they needed to get an answer on this fast or the fur would fly.  After quickly completing the opening business Rudy invited the members into the house, explaining that she would be inputting the data onto the Daddy’s computer.  One by one the cats listed who they had spoken to and their responses.  Rudy was glad she’d decided to list each cat’s name in her spreadsheet, as it quickly became evident that some cats had been polled more than once.  She decided if there were multiple interviews with a cat she’d list each one and compare the answers.  Any with discrepant answers would be discarded, as this was just standard practice for research.  She’d discovered in her own research in how to figure out what to do with research poll data. 

Finally all the results were in the computer, and Rudy shooed the other cats outside, saying she’d need to concentrate on the data to remove duplicate entries quickly.  She alphabetized the entries by name and quickly eliminated what she considered to be tainted data and then looked at her results.  Twenty-six cats had been polled and some results were definitive.  No cats felt that an adult cat should ever eat another adult cat.  All cats felt that birds and small rodents were acceptable food for cats.  But the main question?  It was a thirteen/thirteen split.  Half the cats felt that under some circumstance it would be acceptable for a hypothetical cat to eat its kitten.  Belatedly, Rudy realized she should have been a bit more specific with the questions.
She saved her work and slowly walked to the cat door.  She could hear just outside a heated argument, each side espousing its point of view loudly and with wild exaggerations.  When the flap opened and she emerged there was silence and everycat looked at her.  

Taking a deep breath, Rudy began to speak.  She started with the easy stuff – yes, everycat thinks it’s okay to eat mice.  No one thinks it’s okay to eat other adult cats.  Sparky broke in and demanded she get to the main question.  Rudy sighed and reported the results.  “The poll indicates that precisely half of the cats we asked felt that under some circumstance it would be acceptable for a cat to eat its kitten.”  She rushed on to say, “I may not have made the questions specific enough.  This doesn’t account for the age of the cat, the health of the kitten, the health of the adult or any environmental conditions.” 

Mayhem ensued.  First the cats verbally attacked Rudy.  How could she design such a vague poll?  Why didn’t she ensure that there were not an even number of respondents?  Some were more personal.  Snoogums insinuated that she’d manipulated the results since she herself had not taken a particularly strong stand on the issue.  Sparky (who happened to hold the opposite viewpoint from Snoogums) jumped to Rudy’s defense, getting right into the older cat’s face.  She insisted that Rudy was the most ethical, responsible cat in the club and if he felt that way maybe he should take his views somewhere else.  

That was the cue for the cats to begin criticizing each other for their beliefs on the issue.  Rudy sat, dumbfounded as she watched her friends turn into cat-shaped monsters.  They started with simple assertions that the other viewpoint was obviously wrong and that anycat should be able to see it, and moved on to more personal attacks that referred to their opponent’s upbringing and lineage.  Finally Rudy had enough.  These were normally sane and friendly cats, no matter what the circumstance.  As Snoogums reached out to claw Sparky, Rudy puffed her fur out until she looked like a black and white pillow and waded in to the fray, hissing and yowling.  She got right up in Snoogums face and he backed up.  So did all the other cats until they were evenly spaced against the rails of the deck.  

“That is ENOUGH, Cat Club members!  We are not savages, asserting our views with force of claws.  We are reasonable felines, or at least I thought we were.  I demand, as Cat Club President that you all drop this issue and refrain from discussing it with one another until we can do some more research on this.  Obviously, public opinion is not the answer here.  What is important is not the force of numbers, but rather what is right.   I propose to research this issue, and invite you all to do the same.  I will visit pet care and health websites and ask the experts about this.  All of you are welcome to do the same, so that it can be shown that I am not slanting my research.  And if you don’t have a computer to use, I can even find some times when the Daddy is not home so some of you can watch me do my research.  But until we meet again I must insist that we put aside this issue, lest it destroy our club and our friendship.” 

Six pairs of eyes blinked at her in total silence.  It stretched to thirty seconds, then forty-five seconds.  Finally Greymalkin broke the silence.  “Good grief, you’d think we were all a bunch of humans on one of those political shows on television.  What got into us?  You’re right, Rudy.  No matter how strong my views, I’m willing to leave this be until we can get some expert information on this.”

Bunny, Snoogums, Ladybug and Mr. Snuggles stared warily at each other.  They were split two to two on the issue and they shared a house.  Would they be able to keep their thoughts to themselves?  Bunny spoke what they were all feeling.  “Rudy, we’ll try, but it will be hard since we’re together all the time.  Is there any chance we can do this sooner, though?  A week is a long time for a cat to hold her tongue.”  

Thoughts raced through Rudy’s mind.  Well, the Daddy was going to Mary Land to visit the Mommy for a day or two this weekend, so she’d have pretty much unlimited computer time.  It would mean giving up a few naps, but this was important.  These were her friends, and she owed it to them.  With a little more discussion, they agreed to meet in three days.  

Photo courtesy of Heather (Absinthe Green) -