Atlantic writer attempts to demystify why some cats purr and others do not — and what purrs mean, exactly

Exactly how and why cats purr is still mostly a mystery. The cats I’ve loved have done it when they’re happy. But that’s not the only time domesticated cats do it, according to this informative article in The Atlantic by Katherine J. Wu.

On the not-so-infrequent nights when I’m plagued by insomnia, no combination of melatonin, weighted blankets, and white noise will do. Just one cure for my affliction exists: my cat Calvin, lying atop my shoulder, lulling me to sleep with his purrs.

For veteran members of Club Purr, the reasons are clear. A purr is warm tea, a roaring fire, and fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies, all rolled into a fleece-lined hug; it is the auditory salve of a babbling brook; it is coffee brewing at dawn. It is emotional gratification incarnate—a sign that “we’ve made our pets happy,” which just feels darn good, says Wailani Sung, a veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA.

But purrs—one of the most recognizable sounds in the animal kingdom—are also one of the most mysterious. “No one, still, knows how purring is actually done,” says Robert Eklund, a phonetician and linguist at Linköping University, in Sweden. Nor can experts say, exactly, what purring means. Cats purr when they’re happy—but also sometimes when they’re anxious or afraid, when they’re in labor, even when they’re about to die. Cats are perhaps the most inscrutable creatures humans welcome into our homes, and purring might be the most inscrutable sound they make.

There is, at least, some consensus on what purring is. In the strictest sense, the sound is a rhythmic, rumbly percolation that’s produced during both exhales—as is the case with most typical animal vocalizations—and inhales, with no interruptions between. Purrers also run their motor with their mouths entirely closed, like little feline ventriloquists; the sound simply springs out of the body at a frequency that roughly spans the range between 20 and 150 Hertz. Back in the 1960s, one scientist posited that purring was the product of blood percolating through the vena cava, a vessel that returns the body’s blood to the heart; that notion was later disproved. Now it’s generally understood that the source is the voice box: The brain pings electric signals to the vocal folds, prompting them to flutter open and shut like little muscular doors.

I did not know that there have also been some efforts toward trying to find out if the specific sounds produced by purring cats might have healing properties. After all, many of us have been sick and have discovered the sound of our purring cat next to us actually made us feel and sleep better.

Wu notes in this article that there have been no breakthroughs in research on whether purring has palliative properties based on the tone, resonance, etc. of cat purrs. It might be simply that cat purring makes us feel loved, and in doing so has positive psychosomatic effects that are still difficult to quantify — i.e., to be able to say, as one scientist puts it in the article, “I sat with a purring cat on my broken leg for 15 minutes a day; I healed more rapidly than someone else.”

It’s National Dog Day

I know some people are annoyed at the prevalence of dog pictures and videos on social media, and I get it. I used to be one of them.

But now that I have a dog and truly understand what the fuss is all about, I think dog pictures and videos are among the highest best uses of the internet. Dogs make the world a better, bearable place for too many people to ever discount their place in the world.

Anyway, I’m marking National Dog Day with Otto the Rescue Pittie, my special needs guy whose only trick is that he soaks up hugs, kisses and cuddles in whatever amounts you are willing to give him.

Otto the Rescue Pittie, looking for love in all the right places.

Otto just had the latest of his horrible butterfly encounters

Otto the Rescue Pittie just had another one of his terrifying butterfly encounters in the backyard this morning.

Fortunately, I am taking a vacation day today and I am currently talking him down from his near-death experience.

For a dog who is fearless in his encounters with real-life bad guys — he’s chased off two would-be burglars in the house — he is scared of the most harmless things the rest of the time.

Otto immediately post-attack by a butterfly, giving me a look like, “Where WERE you when I was being assaulted?”

Should cats be allowed to run free outdoors?

The New York Times has an interesting piece up by Maria Cramer that asks the question: Is it OK to let your pet cats roam free in your neighborhood?

You’ve seen them out there — well-fed cats, sometimes with collars on, stalking the streets like they own them or collapsing on a warm sidewalk to loll in the sun.

Cat lovers find them charming. Wildlife conservationists and bird lovers see furry killers and blame them for a decline in the bird population and the deaths of untold numbers of voles, chipmunks and other small animals.

How you feel about outdoor cats may also depend on where you are in the world. In the United States, about 81 percent of domestic cats are kept inside, according to a 2021 demographic study of pet cats. But elsewhere, it can be far more common to let them roam. In Denmark, only 17 percent of cats are strictly indoor pets, according to the same study. In Turkey, it is so common for feral cats to walk freely in and out of cafes, restaurants and markets that a documentary was made about the phenomenon. In Poland, they’ve recently been called an “invasive alien species.”

And in Britain, where the 2021 study said that 74 percent of cat owners let their felines roam outside, many cat charities advise pet owners on the best ways to keep cats safe outdoors. The idea might be shocking to their American counterparts, which often refuse to adopt cats to people who want to keep their pets outside.

“We’ve always done it that way,” said Nicky Trevorrow, a cat behaviorist at Cats Protection in Britain, which encourages owners to bring cats in at night and feed them high-quality diets to deter predatory behavior.

The subhed of the article: “To some, letting cats roam is unthinkable. To others, so is keeping them inside.”

If I had a cat, it would depend largely on the cat. Some cats are indoor cats ill-suited to the dangers of running free. Other cats will stand at the door and wail until they are let out.

Let’s not forget there are people out there who feel strongly that keeping pets is in itself an act of cruelty and no animal should be “forced” to live a domestic life.

I disagree, but they are out there ready to add their fervor to any debate about domesticated animals.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

PetSmart sued over alleged form of servitude it requires if you train as part of its “Grooming Academy”

PetSmart uses the term “Grooming Academy” to describe its grooming service employee training program, which makes it sound a lot more glamourous and pedagogical than it is. In reality, it’s just a run-of-the-mill training program like employers everywhere provide to employees as a normal business operating expense.

Except PetSmart then expects employees to stay at the company a minimum amount of time or pay thousands of dollars.

Now it’s being sued in California.

BreAnn Scally, who previously worked for PetSmart as a pet groomer, filed a class action lawsuit in California on Thursday alleging that the company forces its trainees to sign oppressive contracts that unfairly burden workers with debt.

“[PetSmart] is engaged in a scheme to trap trainee pet groomers in their low-wage jobs by levying thousands of dollars in abusive and unenforceable debts against them,” legal organization Towards Justice said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, PetSmart promises potential employees and would-be pet groomers “free, paid training where they will receive exclusive instruction from a dedicated teacher in a classroom setting as well as a supervised, hands-on grooming experience.”

The reality of that training — which PetSmart reportedly calls its “Grooming Academy” — is allegedly nowhere near as rosy as PetSmart would make it seem.

“Prospective groomers quickly find themselves grooming dogs for paying customers and may have to struggle for attention from overextended trainers or salon managers,” the complaint says. “Despite its academic-sounding name, Grooming Academy does not provide employees with a recognized degree or credentialing. And once groomers complete Grooming Academy, they are thrust into a demanding and sometimes dangerous job, often working for barely above minimum wage.”

If a PetSmart employee who has gone through the groomer training decides it isn’t the job for them, the complaint alleges, they are not free to leave.

“PetSmart requires that all employees who enroll in Grooming Academy sign a Training Repayment Agreement Provision (‘TRAP’),” the complaint says. “The TRAP requires PetSmart groomers to take on $5,000 of debt to PetSmart in exchange for Grooming Academy training. PetSmart forgives that debt only if the worker stays at their job for two years after they begin training, no matter how little they are paid or how poorly they are treated.”

That debt still holds even if an employee is fired or laid off, the complaint says.

This is crazy, but it’s a growing movement in corporate America to transfer the cost of training employees back onto employees themselves.

PetSmart doesn’t pay enough money to its hourly workers to expect that kind of loyalty.

Employees taking their on-the-job training to another job where it can benefit them more is a practice as old as employment itself.

If you don’t want them to do that, pay more money and provide better working conditions. It’s really that simple.

You can read the rest of Marisa Sarnoff’s Law & Crime article at this link.

The NY Times “ethicist” tackles questions of how much we should spend on elderly pets’ health

Man, I’ll bet they get tons of email about this.

The question comes from a retired women of modest means who wants to know how much she should ethically spend on her dog who may be nearing the end of his life.

The answer was nuanced, but leans toward the “animals are not people” end of things:

What you owe your dog is a life worth living by the standards that are appropriate to a canine existence, attentive to what matters to a dog. So you shouldn’t organize treatments that will simply extend a period of suffering, even if you can afford to do so without jeopardizing your own quality of life. Some people, hoping against hope, subject their animals to excruciating courses of radiation and chemotherapy in an effort to buy a few more months of companionship. They ought to do what human beings are capable of doing but often fail to do: reflect on their actions. They should think about whom they’re really helping, about whether this costly form of care amounts to cruelty.

If your dog is entering a final decline, marked by debility and suffering, and, out of concern for his welfare, you choose euthanasia, you will not be letting him down. He has no expectations to disappoint. There are no promises you have made to him. His loss will matter a great deal to you. Don’t make the experience worse by thinking that you have done him wrong.

You can read the rest here.

I think about this a lot.

My dog (Otto, the rescue pittie) is only around eight years old. He seems healthy, but I spend a lot on high-end pet health insurance because I live in fear of him getting sick or injured and me either not having enough money to treat him, or having to go into deep debt to do so.

I’ve even pondered whether, if I am not sure that I will have the money to treat illnesses that accompany old age, I should try to find a good well-to-do family while he is still young who will not have to possibly choose between getting him the best health care or letting him suffer for lack of funds.

But I can’t possibly put him (or me) through that kind of separation. We are both so devoted to one another. And he only eats special food I make for him fresh because I don’t trust commercial pet food suppliers. He will not eat dry or wet dog food.

How could I possibly find anyone who will love him and take care of him the way I do?

So it’s a chance I will have to take.

Otto the rescue pittie.

Massive effort begins to find home for 4,000 beagles saved from filthy research breeding facility

How do you find homes for 4,000 beagles? The Humane Society of the United States is finding out:

The first group of the roughly 4,000 beagles in the custody of a research facility in Virginia have been brought to their new, temporary homes.

More than a dozen beagles arrived at the facility of the Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Virginia on Thursday. It was the first of many deliveries as hundreds of rescue groups across the country are mobilizing in the coming weeks to rehome the beagles.

The Humane Society of the United States is spearheading the effort to transfer these dogs from their current home at the Envigo facility in Cumberland, Va., to shelters. The organization has just a few weeks to get this done.

Earlier this year the Envigo facility, which bred these beagles for pharmaceutical research and testing, was found to be in violation of several federal regulations. A federal judge ordered the dogs to be released within 60 days.

You can read the rest of the news story here.

You can find out how you can help HSUS with this gargantuan effort here.

A story about senior dogs that helped my psyche wounded by the drumbeat of terrible news

It’s a question that many of we non-rich people have asked ourselves before: What would you do if you suddenly came into $1 million?

The first thing I’d do is buy a small house so could have that security for myself.

But the next thing I’d do is plan and open a senior dog sanctuary and spend the rest of my life giving all of them the comfortable, carefree and loved final days all dogs (and humans BTW) deserve.

So this story that just went up on The New Yorker web site really struck a chord with me. What a wonderful gift of journalism, and a beautiful counterpoint to all the terrible news lately:

Greig hadn’t exactly set out to run a hospice for the wretched refuse of the canine universe. What propelled him was the unexpected loss, through vehicular accident, in 2012, of his dog Wolfgang, with whom he was extremely close. He was undone by his grief and decided he had to do something to make Wolfgang’s loss feel purposeful. “I went to a shelter and said, ‘Give me the oldest dog you have,’ ” Greig said.

It turned out to be a twelve-year-old Chihuahua with four bad knees and a heart murmur, a dead-ender if there ever was one. Greig was buoyed by the thought that the Chihuahua, whom he named Eeyore, got to live because Wolfgang had died. “The feeling that came over me—all my pain was lifted, my burden was lifted,” he said. “Eeyore was so happy. He was a great little dog.”

After the success with Eeyore, Greig took stock of his house (large) and decided that he was able to take on another senior. “Phyllis was one of the most horrific-looking dogs I’d ever seen. She was blind and had lost all her hair and had sores on her snout. No way was she getting adopted.” He adopted her. He told me that what he does isn’t just charity: senior dogs, by his accounting, are mature, easygoing, self-assured, and make wonderful companions. Greig reckons that dogs, like (most) people, become the best versions of themselves as they grow old.

Since Eeyore, he estimates he has taken in nineteen seniors. He tries to cap his dog total at any one time at nine, although, as he acknowledged, a bit sheepishly, his current number is ten.

But there is constant turnover, as one might find in any golden-age community. I wondered whether adopting dogs so close to their likely expiration dates meant being in a constant state of mourning. He started to answer, but his voice was drowned out by Melvin, who was demanding some attention. Melvin is nineteen and blind, but still vociferous. “I’ve turned into his butler,” Greig said with a sigh. “He’s letting me know he needs to go out, or eat, or drink, or he’s cold.”

But back to the topic of his regular goodbyes. “The joy I get out of it far outweighs the pain,” he said. “It’s hard knowing that it’s a short time, but that’s what the purpose is. I remind myself that it’s not about me; it’s about what I’m doing for them. It’s about giving them a good life. The first thing you do is grieve, but then there is that sense of satisfaction. It makes me happy, not sad.”

This story (by writer Susan Orlean) made my heart sing.

You can read the rest here.

An amazing photo from an amazing story.

In Mansfield (MA) they’re not tolerating owners who leave their dogs in hot cars

On Thursday there was a Phish concert and at least three dog owners thought it was a fine idea to leave their dogs in cars on a hot summer evening.

Local law enforcement took action:

Several pet owners will be facing animal cruelty charges after Mansfield police officers removed three dogs from “hot cars” Thursday night during the Phish concert at the Xfinity Center, the police department said.

Officers removed three dogs from cars in the Xfinity Center’s parking lot after receiving complaints from people passing by the cars, the Mansfield Police Department wrote on Facebook.

“Thanks to alert and compassionate passers-by, officers were able to respond quickly, remove the distressed animals from hot cars that did not have water or adequate ventilation, and transport them to Tufts in Walpole for evaluation after receiving water and a seat in front of our cooling fans in the public safety compound,” the department wrote.

This is as it should be.

You can read the rest here.