Japan’s Feline Stationmaster Keeps Train Line Alive

Did you know that cats are good for more than being pets, and hunting vermin? We have politicats, including the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska. We have a cat named Limberbutt McCubbins, who’s running for president in 2016. We also have cats that work in libraries and small businesses. In Japan, we have an actual feline stationmaster.

“Stationmaster NITAMA and TAMA 20110105” by Takobou – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The new feline stationmaster has impressive credentials

Kishi Station, in the rural Wakayama Prefecture in Japan, has had a cat named Tama as its feline stationmaster for years, according to CNN. Sadly, Tama passed away earlier this year. After a waiting period of 50 days (the traditional mourning period according to Japanese Shinto beliefs), Tama’s assistant, Nitama, was appointed.

CNN reports that Nitama has an impressive resume, which qualifies her to be feline stationmaster. She beat out several other candidates for the position. In addition to serving as Kishi Station’s assistant stationmaster for the last three years, she also served as stationmaster of Idakiso Station, farther down the track.

Nitama also recently graduated from Cat Stationmaster Training School. There, she had to demonstrate a relaxed attitude with people, and a willingness to wear the required hat. People consider her a “beauty cat,” compared with Tama, however, she was not promoted for her looks.

Kishi Station has had a feline stationmaster for a long time

Tama served as feline stationmaster of Kishi Station for eight years, after Wakayama Electric Railway took over the line. Back then, the station wasn’t used much, and they were thinking about closing it down altogether. They appointed Tama the stationmaster in an attempt to revitalize it.

Image “Station-Master Tama” by Sanpei at Japanese Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

And revitalize it, they did. The feline stationmaster quickly became famous throughout the area. She began pulling in crowds of people who wanted to see her, which enabled the line to keep the station open. In 2013, the station had a Tama-themed café inside, and a souvenir shop that carries everything from pens to station uniforms.

Nitama didn’t just serve as deputy feline stationmaster there; she also ran the station on the weekends, and helped out while Tama napped.

3,000 people attended Tama’s funeral, and officials are working on a monument in her honor. Nitama, meanwhile, is prepared to assume her new role as head feline stationmaster of Kishi Station.

Cat Videos may Actually be Useful to us

Cats rule the Internet, which, by now, is common knowledge. Many people look at cat pictures online, and watch cat videos, even if they’re not cat people. It’s such an interesting phenomenon that Tim Berners-Lee, the Internet’s (real) inventor, found himself surprised by how prevalent cats are. Why do people love LOLcats, and cat videos, so much?

Cat videos are my own personal haven

I personally love cat videos, and I honestly wish I was able to catch more of my own cats’ silly antics on video. I am pretty good at getting funny pictures of them, and I’ve gotten decent at turning them into LOLcats. Videos, though? It’s a little harder; by the time I actually get set up, they’re done doing whatever it is I wanted to catch.

I’m like millions of other Internet users, though; I can get my video fix by watching other cats. An article in The Huffington Post describes a study that shows watching cat videos helps to elevate people’s moods. The study was based on questionnaires, in which people described their moods both before and after watching the videos.

Cat videos may be therapeutic

The people who participated reported fewer instances of sadness, guilt, or anxiety, after watching cat videos. Because the study was based on self-reporting, there’s a large degree of subjectivity. However, it does suggest that cat videos are actually useful in real life.

The concept is called “mood management,” and this supports a larger idea that people consume media to help regulate their moods. The people in the study reported results similar to what happens after playing with a therapy animal. Even cats that aren’t specifically meant to be therapy animals are often therapeutic for us.

Researchers speculated about the possible reasons why cats are the Internet’s “anointed ones,” as HuffPo put it. It’s because introverts both tend to prefer cats more, and tend to spend more time online, than extroverts. However, it may also be because cats’ can appear so human-like that they’re impossible to resist.

Whatever the reason, if you love watching cat videos, then keep watching. There’s some budding science to explain your fascination (and mine), and they can help you when you’re feeling stressed and unhappy.

Why you Should Think About Adopting Senior Cats

If you’re considering adopting a cat, you’re probably wondering what type of cat you should get. Shelter cat, or purebred? Adult cat, kitten, or senior cat? One, two, or more? These are all questions that are best answered by determining what your budget is, what your home situation is like, and what kind of cat would best fit all of that. However, if you’re in a situation where multiple types of cats would be a good fit, adopting senior cats might be the way to go.

Adopting senior cats gives them a much-needed shot at happiness

People tend to prefer kittens over grown cats when they go to shelters and breeders. The biggest reason is a simple one: Kittens are cute, cuddly, and impossibly difficult to resist. This can be a good thing during what’s known as kitten season, because shelters have so many kittens that they need high demand for them.

What of the rest of the cats, though? Kitten season is a double-edged sword. In no-kill shelters, these cats, especially senior cats, tend to languish. In a kill shelter, they get euthanized. Kitten season makes that worse, because there are so many more kittens available for adoption that adopting senior cats out is nearly impossible. Those cats are virtually overlooked when tons of kittens are available.

Some good reasons for adopting senior cats

Why would anybody want to adopt senior cats, though? They might be old enough to have to worry about health problems. They won’t be around nearly as long. These reasons might make adopting senior cats seem pointless, but there are good reasons to do it. One particularly good one, according to Dr. Karen Becker, is that senior pets are well beyond the “search and destroy” phases of their lives. They’ve also probably already learned to live with a family, and their personalities are established, so you know what you’re getting.

You can also search for cats with clean medical histories, or, if you’re interested in adopting a special-needs kitty, you’ll know when you adopt him what his needs are, how to meet them, and possibly, how often you might have to take him to the vet for care. All of this is much more difficult when adopting kittens, versus adopting senior cats.

One thing that Dr. Becker says is that senior pets seem to know that you gave them what may be their last chance for a loving home. This can make it easy to form a close bond with your cat than adopting a kitten would. We don’t really know if this quiet gratitude is actually part of the nature of a senior pet, and they just seem grateful, or if they are, somehow, actually grateful. Regardless, this can possibly be one of the strongest reasons for adopting senior cats instead of kittens.

Basically, while adopting kittens is very tempting, adopting senior cats brings its own perks. There are many, many reasons to adopt a senior cat; we’ve listed just a few of them.

Cats Scratch. It’s Natural. Why?

Every cat scratches things; it’s a natural behavior for them, and we can’t stop them from doing it. The problem comes when they scratch things up that we don’t want them scratching. Perhaps you’ve bought scratching posts, and other surfaces, and you just can’t get your cat to use them. Why do cats do this, and how do you make cats scratch where you want them to?

Science may help us learn why cats scratch where they do

New research suggests that cats scratch surfaces where feline pheromones tend to be. We think that they scratch to sharpen their claws, but one of the main reasons cats scratch is actually to deposit scent and mark territory. A research team, led by Professor John McGlone of Texas Tech University, studied kittens and their scratching behavior, according to Science Daily.

They bought different scratchers for the kittens, because knowing what type of scratcher a kitten prefers would help people buy scratchers that their kittens will use. What they found was that these kittens seemed to prefer an “S” shaped, flat, cardboard scratcher. Something of particular note, though, was that the kittens seemed to prefer scratchers that had more pheromones on them.

According to McGlone, cat fur contains more pheromones than anything else, and those pheromones stick to fur. Cat fur makes cats scratch more than even catnip. Once the kittens were placed into a controlled environment, they seemed to prefer older “S” scratchers to newer ones, which supports the hypothesis that it’s pheromones that make cats scratch.

How this applies to where cats scratch in your home

What this tells us is that, when a cat rubs its body, its face, or scratches, on your furniture, it’s depositing pheromones, which may draw it back to that spot later. There might not be much you can do about that, except to try to keep the area free of fur. However, you can train cats to scratch where you want them.

The first thing you can do is put something like sticky tape on the areas you want to protect from your cat. This is a situation where you want your furniture to train your cat, rather than doing it yourself. If you tap your cat’s nose, or squirt her with a bottle, or make a loud sound, when she scratches, you’ll just teach her to do it when you’re not around. She won’t understand punishment after the fact, either. Punishing her later for something will just make her afraid of you.

Training cats to scratch where we want

The researchers haven’t conclusively determined whether cats scratch more because of pheromones; they only have evidence pointing in that direction. However, you can use this to see if you can teach your cat to scratch her scratchers more with the following steps (make sure you’ve got good treats handy):

  • Carry her to her scratcher, and gently place her on it.
  • Very gently press her paw pads against it.
  • Avoid playing with her toes while you do this, unless you know she likes that.
  • Slowly and gently rub her paws on the scratchers.
  • Give her a treat both before, and after, each training session

The goal is to create a positive experience while helping her deposit her scent, so she’ll not only be attracted to her scratchers, but going to them will make her feel happy, not anxious. Since cats scratch because it’s natural to them, you want her to know that you approve of her doing it on her scratchers. The last thing you want to do is make her feel anxious about a natural behavior.

McGlone and his team want to continue their research into why cats scratch, and why they do it where they do it. The next step, according to the Science Daily piece, is to determine which pheromones control which behavior. The bottom line is, however, that cats scratch because it’s natural to them. Knowing why can help us better teach our cats to scratch where we want them to.

Huge Breakthrough in Diagnosing Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

It’s a disease that those of us who have older cats dread. Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, affects at least one in three aging cats, and is the most common condition that aging cats suffer. Cat parents often don’t know their cats have it until their kidneys are badly compromised, because early symptoms are very easy to mistake for something else. Worse, diagnosing chronic kidney disease in cats has been limited to blood tests and urinalyses, until now.

Major diagnostic breakthrough for chronic kidney disease in cats

By the time traditional diagnostic methods can detect chronic kidney disease in cats, about 75 percent of their kidney function is gone, according to a story in Chicago Now. This means putting the cat on a special diet and medicine, and hoping she doesn’t lose more kidney function. It also often means a reduced quality of life for her.

A new test, which is supposed to be far more sensitive than current methods, can detect chronic kidney disease in cats far sooner – ideally, when there is only a 40 percent loss of kidney function. Symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA), paired with the more traditional tests, may very well be a game changer in the way CKD is managed.

Dr. Kate Pietsch, who spoke to Chicago Now, says that cats can generally live a normal life with a loss of up to 50 percent of their kidney function. That isn’t true for cats with a 75 percent loss or more. She said that the cats she’s seen, where diagnosis was sooner, didn’t seem to be suffering at all.

Chronic kidney disease in cats is on the rise

Between 1980 and 2000, incidence of chronic kidney disease in cats increased nine-fold, according to The American Association of Feline Practitioners. It now affects roughly 2 million cats in the U.S. 49 percent of those cases occur in cats over the age of 15. Symptoms of CKD include increased drinking and increased urination, along with weight loss, loss of appetite, and increased vomiting.

Anything that’s out of the ordinary for your cat may be a symptom of illness, so if you see any of these signs, or anything else that isn’t normal, you should call your vet to schedule an appointment.

We’ve been fortunate with our cats, as they don’t show any signs of CKD right now. However, one of our cats, Gizmo, is approaching 15 years of age. We’re starting to worry about her health, even though she still seems just fine, and downright kittenish at times. When I was a kid, though, we had several cats put down due to advanced CKD. We’d done all we could, and there was nothing left that could help them.

Even with this new testing, there is still no cure for chronic kidney disease in cats. What this will do is improve the quality of life, and possibly, life expectancy, for cats with this disease, according to Chicago Now. If you suspect your cat may be ill, with CKD or anything else, contact your veterinarian.

Getting Cats off your Lap the Loving Way

Every cat parent has experienced this: You’re at your desk, on your sofa, or even in bed, and you have your cat on your lap. You really need to get up, but you don’t want to hurt your cat’s feelings. The simple answer is, obviously, to stay put, because you don’t ever disturb a comfortable cat. However, what if staying put just isn’t an option? How do you go about getting cats off your lap, while loving them and making them think it was their idea?

Getting cats off your lap might actually be easier than you think, even if your cat is really good at that sad-cat look that makes you feel so guilty, you’ll offer your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and first-born child to him if he asks. You simply have to get super-affectionate with him.

Hug him

The first step towards getting cats off your lap is to hug them. Gently pick your cat up and wrap your arms around him, while supporting his back feet. Cats generally don’t like being hugged, so you don’t want squeeze him too hard or be too rough with him. The idea isn’t to scare him, it’s just to get him off your lap.

Kiss him

While you’re holding him, gently give him tiny kisses on his cheeks and the top of his head. If you don’t fancy the idea of kissing your cat, you can just keep him in his gentle hug, and rock back and forth with him slightly.

Put him back down

Slowly stand up, and gently put your cat back down where he was, in a comfortable position for him. This is the most important, and crucial, step to getting cats off your lap, and making them think it was their idea. The reason is that this method isn’t intended to stress him and make him run away. It’s meant to make it so you can get up, while doing things that build his trust in you and strengthen your bond with him.

Way of Cats says that one mistake we make with hugging our cats is that we tend to carry them around. While many cats don’t like even being hugged, some of those cats might be okay with hugging if we just wouldn’t carry them around.

If you pick your cat up, hug him, and then put him back down in the exact same place (minus your lap) this helps to combine love and respect for your cat. He might not be getting your lap back yet, but you show respect for his boundaries when you don’t carry him to a new spot while he can’t understand what you’re doing.

Getting cats off your lap doesn’t have to be heartbreaking

Some cats don’t mind getting hugged, and some don’t mind getting picked up and carried around. This method, however, can help in getting cats off your lap without you feeling like you’re just dumping your cat on the floor, when he was warm, cozy, comfy, and happy. If you do it right, you can build your relationship, your trust, and strengthen your bond with him.

This method can also make your cat think getting off of your lap was his idea. It might make him just uncomfortable enough to think that he made you move, or he decided to get up on his own. Getting cats off your lap this way is the best way to do it, when you literally can’t stay put any longer.

Cat language: Learn it, and Make Friends with Cats

Have you ever wondered how to speak cat? Knowing how to speak cat can help you become friends with strange cats, provided they aren’t feral cats (feral cats will fear you pretty much no matter what). Contrary to human-speak, cat-speak isn’t vocal. Yes, cats do use their voices to communicate with us, but that’s not normal in their world. Cats speak in much more subtle ways, and if you want to make friends with them, it’s a good idea to learn cat language.

There’s a reason cats like people who don’t like them. It’s because people who don’t like them leave them alone, which frees them to approach, rub, and generally be affectionate. Those people might briefly meet the cat’s gaze, and then look away. In cat language, that’s an invitation, not a deterrent, like it is in human language.

The various forms of cat language

Eye contact is huge in the cat world. Dianne Meriwether says, in The Huffington Post, that all feline aggression starts with eye contact. A polite cat is demure. An aggressive cat stares. Be polite. Next time you want to meet a strange cat, meet her gaze briefly, and then look away. See what happens.

If that works, and the cat decides to approach you, you can move onto the next level of cat language: Smell. Cats identify each other, and things, by scent, more so than they do by sight. Meriwether says that it’s best to offer the cat your hand, or even just a knuckle, to let her sniff and get your scent. Let the cat rub against you first, to mingle scents. This is the cat “claiming” you; she has decided that you’re worthy of becoming part of her territory.

Once she does this, then you can move onto petting her. Stick to the top of her head and her back. Don’t try to touch her belly, her paws, or her chin. Just give her long, full strokes from the top her head, down her back, and up her tail.

At this point, Meriwether says not to start another stroke, because the cat will expect that. The cat, if she really likes you, will pretty much demand that you pet her again. Wait a minute or two, and then pet her again. When she’s asking you to pet her, you’ve become acquaintances with her.

The two biggest pieces of cat language you should know

You’re not friends yet, though. There are two more pieces of cat language you must learn before you can consider yourself friends with any cat. Meriwether says that, when you see her a second time, gently nod your head at her. This is a greeting, and chances are, she’ll nod back.

The final, and perhaps the most powerful, piece of cat language you will ever learn, though, is the long, slow blink. This, in cat language, is a type of kiss. Cats use it to convey friendship and familiarity; it says that they have enough trust in you to actually close their eyes in your presence. Make sure you make it a very slow blink, though, so the cat knows it’s not just a normal blink. If she’s used to this kind of communication, she’ll blink back.

Now you’re friends.

Cat Scratch Laptop Aims to Keep Kitty off your Computer

In the world of cat toys, creators and builders know no bounds. CNet is reporting on a new cat toy, which they believe might help replace your laptop as your cat’s favorite spot. Called the Cat Scratch Laptop, this toy is made of recycled paper or cardboard, and features corrugated cardboard in place of a keyboard, so your cat has a nice place to scratch. It even has a fuzzy mouse, as the “computer’s” mouse, attached.

Image by Suck UK.

CNet writer Bonnie Burton says, at the end of her piece:

But think of all the furniture and real laptops you’ll be saving from getting clawed up by bored cats wondering when you’re going to get off of Twitter and give them treats.

There’s a reason cats like computers, which the Cat Scratch Laptop won’t address

This might help, but then again, there’s a reason that cats like our computers. It seems like it’s a cry for attention – you know, like they’re saying, “Hey! It’s time to pay attention to meeeee!” But that’s not what they’re doing. Our cats like laptop computers because they’re warm spots. Warmth is comforting to a cat. The Cat Scratch Laptop is not going to help that.

What the Cat Scratch Laptop can address

It may, however, give your cat a new scratching surface in a new place. Cats need to engage in scratching behavior, and some cats need a larger number of acceptable scratching surfaces than others. Scratching posts and cat trees help meet this need, but you can only put so many of those in your house.

Cats need to scratch. That’s the bottom line. They love to scratch a variety of surfaces, in a variety of positions. According to CatHealth.com, in the wild, cats scratch tree trunks, roots, branches, and other surfaces. Vertical structures allow cats to stretch out their shoulders and backs, and work their hindquarters as well. Think of it as feline stretching exercises; the vertical surfaces work a lot of muscles cats don’t otherwise work.

Image by Suck UK

Cat trees, scratching posts and condos are usually vertical, and cats do seem to prefer these. But they like horizontal surfaces, too, because those surfaces work muscles in different ways. What the Cat Scratch Laptop provides is a small, horizontal scratching surface that you might be able to put on your desk, or on the coffee table, right next to your real laptop. It’s a new scratching surface in a new place.

The Cat Scratch Laptop goes for about $35, which is, as CNet notes, considerably cheaper than another, real, laptop. You can buy them here, at Suck UK. Just don’t expect this scratching toy to replace your cat’s love for your own laptop!

Tigers’ Roars are Unique, Like our Cats’ Meows

Just as our own cats’ meows are distinctive enough for us to identify them, so too are tigers’ roars, according to the Prusten Project. The founder of the project, Courtney Dunn, says that they can hear the differences in tigers’ roars, and they wondered if software could see it, too. Apparently, it can, which is a major breakthrough in identifying individual tigers in the wild.

One key difference in tigers’ roars

The project looked at recordings of different tigers’ roars in zoos and sanctuaries around the U.S., and found that there are a number of differences. For instance, female tigers tend to have higher frequency roars than male tigers. Because of that, the researchers were able to tell which tigers’ roars came from a male, and which ones came from a female.

This actually is not terribly surprising, given the similarities between tigers and our own furry feline friends. My four cats have four very distinctive meows. As such, I can generally tell who’s meowing, even from all the way across the house, or on different floors.

Chase’s voice is unusually high-pitched for a male cat, and has an almost metallic timber to it. Kali’s voice is quieter, and more rich than her brother’s. Aria’s got a very high-pitched squeak that used to sound like she was singing, but we believe age has rusted her singing voice. Gizmo’s mew is a little lower-pitched, almost sad, and very smooth, despite her age.

Tigers and domestic cats share a lot of DNA, making the differences in tigers’ roars seem natural

Genetic research shows that the domestic cat and the tiger diverged some ten million years ago. Tigers and domestic house cats share 95.6 percent of their DNA, making them strikingly similar despite all the obvious differences. I imagine that the reason we have trouble thinking about tigers’ roars as being unique from one another is because, compared to our own cats at home, we so rarely actually hear tigers’ roars.

Listen to your cats’ meows carefully. Chances are, you can already identify each of your cats by its meow. If you listened to tigers’ roars as carefully as the Prusten Project does, you might start to hear the differences, too. In the meantime, scientists are hoping to expand their research beyond zoos and sanctuaries, and into the wild. This has the potential to help with tracking individual tigers, which, in turn, can help with conservation efforts.

How Cats Comfort us, Even when Things seem Hopeless

Cats are remarkable creatures, and not just for their agility, their hunting prowess, or their self-healing purrs. They’re remarkable creatures because they possess the unique ability to bring us out of our own darkness, even if it’s only temporarily. There is just something about the way they look at us, the way they curl up with us, and the way they always seem to know when something’s wrong, that makes it so cats comfort us so well.

How cats comfort us

A story in The New York Times discusses one woman’s odyssey with a severely depressed man in her life, and is a great example of how cats comfort us. Eventually, writer Hannah Poston learned that the best way of dealing with his depression was to do things for herself. One thing she wanted was a kitten, so, over his implied objection, she adopted a kitten. She braced herself for everything from his wrath to just plain indifference. Instead, he fell head over heels in love with the kitten.

The kitten grew into a cat, and had the power to pull him out of his holes. While he stressed, and she understood, that the cat was not a cure for depression (cats aren’t), the change was so dramatic that she felt it was important to share. His love for the kitten even helped him take his therapist’s suggestion to try medication to help his depression.

How my cats comfort me

I, too, suffer from a depression I suspect would be considerably worse if it wasn’t for my four cats. My husband helps considerably, too, but when he’s at work, and I’m at home, working and getting frustrated, and headed down that black spiral I hate so much, a cat that jumps up onto my lap, and kneads, or rubs, or just settles down and purrs quietly, always seems to help. I’ve been in and out of therapy for my depression, and through it all, have been my husband, and my cats.

I wholly believe that one reason cats comfort us is because they’re just there. They don’t judge us, they don’t give us unsolicited, unwanted advice, and they don’t even interrupt us. They give us unconditional love regardless of whether our problems are acute and definitely our own fault, or chronic and absolutely not our fault, or anything in between.

Cats comfort us because we live in a world where people use other people’s problems to feel better about themselves. My cats, on the other hand, look at me and know that, even if I’m hating myself with a passion because of something terrible I’ve done (whether real or perceived), I’m still me and I’m still their person. They don’t beat me up at a time when I’ve got a corner on beating myself up.

Poston says that her cat has become, more or less, a rock of love and stability in her tumultuous relationship. She’s very clear that both she and her boyfriend know that cats aren’t a cure for depression, and they’re very right. Depression is a serious illness that requires therapy, and possibly medication.

While it’s true that cats comfort us, it’s absolutely necessary that you seek help for depression

If you think you might suffer from depression, it’s absolutely vital that you reach out to professionals for help. Having a cat is not an alternative to treatment, no matter how well cats comfort us. What cats do is similar to what an empathetic, non-judging friend or family member can do for us. It’s not therapy.

When it comes to bad days, or stressful times, though, cats comfort us in numerous ways. They can give us that quiet, non-judgmental support that we so often have trouble finding elsewhere.