Happy New Year

Once again, we apologise for the lack of recent updates. The problem was lack of access to a camera with memory to spare, but this has now been resolved, so expect normal service to resume shortly. The last part of 2011 was eventful for Sioux and it is a shame these events were not recorded and blogged as they happened. In particular, Siouxie was castrated by a vet, and any responsible cat blog would have included before and after photos, as well as blogging the cat’s psychological reactions to testicle-deprivation. Other events include Siouxie getting on Facebook (with Oli’s help), chasing ghost mice, sustaining a leg-wound, and for Christmas getting his first taste of catnip! Sadly we cannot share with you extensive video of these momentous events in the life of a cat. Although some does exist, and this will be shared, much of these experiences live only in the memories of his human staff. Expect written posts about these events over the next week however, which will try to capture the flavour of these experiences in prose.

Siouxie was out all night though, and for now is sleeping peacefully.

sleeping cat

Dream of a Thousand Cats

Apologies for the lack of recent updates; Sioux’s been busy chasing his dreams, and hopes everyone had a great Hallowe’en.

A favourite, slightly spooky story to befit the time of year, from The Sandman comic book, the superlative A Dream of a Thousand Cats, by Neil Gaiman (script), Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III (pencils/inks), Robbie Busch (colour) and Todd Klein (lettering).
a panel from the comic 'dream of a thousand cats'

This is no longer available to read online. A proper printed version should be available in most good bookshops!
Wikipedia synopsis.

Siouxie Bubb’s Beginnings

The origins of this cat are shrouded in intruige. Siouxie Bubbs, like most cats, must have been conceived inside a mother cat, probably some time around Christmas 2010 and born round early February. With the father unknown, there are suspicions the local tabby cat who has established a continuing rivalry with Sioux may be the culprit, owing to their similar looks. But it could be any cat.

early photo of cat
one of the earliest known photographs of Bubbs

The pregnant cat, or ‘Queen’ as they are sometimes known, gave birth to two kittens and it seems this was too much for the humanoids involved. Mother and kittens were abandoned – who by a mystery – on the doorstep of a kindly couple who took them in to foster.

Humanoids Angela and Corv called round, curious as to these cats. The mother, named Tiddles by the kindly fosters, was working flat out to raise the playful kittens. One kitten was roustabout and muscular, while the other tended to be the quieter, smaller and watchful of the siblings, retreating to the kitchen when Corv and Angela called, watching them with interest.

After a month or so in foster care, the boisterous sibling was the first to find a new home. Siouxie Bubbs was left, and the exhausted Tiddles allowed her still small remaining kitten to take Angela and Oliver on as his new staff.

Those early days and nights in Angela and Oliver’s home were stressful, Siouxie separated for the first time from mommy Tiddles (who had remained with the kindly fosters). The cat was named and Siouxie soon settled, finding joy in an old pink cloth mouse, various little rolling plastic cages with bells inside (these didn’t last long, a memorial to early kittenhood), three humanoids to interact with, and a shady garden to play in. Since Corv had agreed to volunteer as the cat’s carer too, Siouxie got to spend time at his place over the road, giving yet another house and garden for the young kitten to to explore…

Transgenic Cats and their afterglow

In this post: Cat Brain Parasite update!
and
New experiments into Feline Immunodeficiency Virus produce publicity friendly glowing kittens –
a genetically engineered cat

I CAN HAZ RETRO-VIRALZ?


But first: Felinology round-up.

Following on from speculation reported last time as to why cats are loved by humans, new research published in Nature Neuroscience suggests an emotional response to animals may have become ‘hard-wired’ in the human right amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotion. This was picked up by ABC News in America, focussing on the cat angle. According to ABC’s Lee Dye, Florian Mormann, the new paper’s lead author said:

Given the amygdala’s prominent role in fear conditioning, we were indeed expecting stronger responses to hazardous animals such as spiders or snakes, but it turned out that all kinds of animals, dangerous and cute, elicit responses in the amygdala

This doesn’t explain why cats in particular evoke such love in humans, however, nor why science writers have used the research to comment on cats in particular. So ABC: a hiss and mild indifference at thee – it ain’t all about cats, it’s about humans and evolution.

Blogger Dan Tandy writes Dogs have masters, cats have staff:

A cat’s affection is almost medicinal in its effects. It’s believed cats can sense moods, fully aware if you’re upset or unwell. They’re very sensitive creatures and like to look after their staff. A cat will rub its head on you to mark its scent, secreted from an odourless sweat gland under its ear, essentially marking you as their property, along with everything else they see of course. This I think is also a sign of affection.

Research published early this year on human/cat dyadic behaviour was also widely reported, with reports focussing on the finding that cats seem to interact more with female than male companions. The research, in its own words, finds other significant factors however: the more ‘extrovert’ and ‘conscientious’ the human, the more complex the pattern of interactions, for example.

In our human–animal research, the effect of personality in dyadic relationships is a central focus…The cat, by its mere presence, may have an edge in this negotiation, at least with contact-seeking owners. The owners’ main asset in motivating the cat to be trustful, devoted and open to contact may be in proving to be a trustworthy and dependable social companion

The upshot of this is that the relationship is social and more than just a functional ‘you give me food, I catch mice’ trade-off:

human–cat companionship is not overtly operational in the sense that the partners go places and do things together. In many modern households, cats that get their food from their owners do not reciprocate by catching mice. But human–cat dyads are surely functional in a social sense. The cats in our dyads were regarded by their owners as valuable social companions and social supporters (Kotrschal et al. unpublished data). The social significance of this companionship is less clear on the cats’ side, although well-socialized cats do actively seek human contact (Leyhausen, 1988 and Turner, 2000). It is unlikely that cats do this just for the sake of obtaining food. Cats are clearly capable of attaching socially to “their” humans. In general, attachment in higher vertebrates is basically contingent upon, but not caused, by the provision of food (Bowlby, 1972 and Curley and Keverne, 2005).

Ever heard that high-pitched noise come from a cat, a cry and purr combined when the cat wants something really badly?Cats may have learned this to control humans, mimicking the noise made by a hungry infant.

All of this lends support to the idea that the solitary cat is a myth, and cats are indeed social animals.

Cat intelligence, meanwhile, seems to be the standard which humans attempting to create Artificial Intelligence aim for.

OK, back to the glowing cats. Yeah yeah, cats fluoresce now. Unsurprisingly, news of genetically engineered cats that glow under UV light, a cliché of genetically engineered animals, has been widely reported both in the mainstream and the blogosphere. A key issue is FIV, the feline equivalent of HIV, which this particular colony of cats are testing in the name of human and -as the reprots empahsise – cat health. Big up to the sans science blog for a quick and interesting post on the story, with good links and a sharp hiss at the clinic’s press release, described as ‘nauseating‘.
Maia Szalavitz, resident felinology wonk at TIME has written
an informative piece focusing on FIV, the technique and the prognosis for future research. Maia points out these are not the first UV sensitive cats ever produced, and passes on the reassurances of the human experimenter Dr. Eric Poeschla:

Three kittens, two males and one female, were born. “The kittens are completely normal — frisky, happy, healthy and interactive,” says Poeschla, adding that they seem completely unfazed by their ability to glow.

Meee-ouch! meanwhile reports that

after 22 attempts, the first cat to successfully have its DNA altered, bore a litter of 5 kittens, 3 survived and 2 went on to have litters of their own, carrying on the modified DNA. All cats were able to fight the FIV virus better than that of a normal domestic cat.

No word as to what happened to the 22 ‘unsuccessful’ cats or whether the humans infected them with FIV too. It’s interesting how the reports focussed on the florescence of the cats, rather than their FIV infection. Is it possible to use cats found and diagnosed with FIV, instead of infecting healthy cats with the virus? Too expensive to control the variables perhaps?

The only fly in the ointment as it were comes from the Dolly the Sheep people, who are quoted as suggesting, bizarrely, that feline test subjects may be less suitable than ‘more common’ lab animals like rats or mice. Siouxie has no comment as to these creatures lot, but suggests no animals are no substitute for human experience in human disease.
As for FIV+ catkind, if some can be treated they should – if they are made to glow under UV light in the process so be it, but this should not be forced on any cat.

Toxoplasmosis gondii updateLast time it was promised this blog would report on the risks associated with T. gondii. The brain-altering parasite with cats as its primary host may have first evolved in either Africa (like the tabby cat) or South America.

The issue of prevention raises a dilemma for those cats interested in a raw diet, since raw meat is one of the main risks of toxoplasmosis.

Siouxie’s diet is now at least 87 per cent meat, consisting of around 65% canned meat, 35% dry biscuits (which are 96 percent meat and mere 4% grain). This is supplemented with bits of cooked fresh meat, crushed eggshell (boiled first) and membrane, and the occasional cream or cheese crumb. No raw meat as yet, as far as anyone is aware.

On this issue, certainly for humans raw untrusted untested meat is the main risk here, but cats are evolved to eat raw meat, and it is widely assumed amongst raw cat food advocates that cats fed on a raw diet are, in the long run, healthier, happier and longer living cats. Moreover, “odd as it may seem, a healthy cat that tests positive is probably safer than a cat that tests negative”.

A theme which constantly emerges is that cats often get the blame for Toxoplasmosis, being the definite host, while people are far more likely to catch it from undercooked meat. An infected cat can only pass it on for two weeks, and is unlikely to do so anyway since the cat will clean the oocytes from it’s fur. There is an increased severity risk for pregnant woman – and their embryonic human child – from T. gondii for those two weeks, and this risk is well advised to be guarded against. The only real risk would appear to be from humans cleaning the cat’s toilet – but for a roaming, or garden cat, a dedicated patch in the garden would be the obvious way to avoid cleaning the litter tray, any subsequent gardening requiring a quarantine and heavy mulch time.

Despite simple ways to avoid infection, the symbiote is being used as a reason to advise people not to allow cats to roam freely, or to eat raw meat. Furthermore, it seems the effects on humans have been overstated.

Siouxie’s advice: don’t panic!

The Moon When Leaves Dry

sioux on the garden path
Hunting in the afternoon

The last days of Summer, and Sioux’s been having a fine old time this week, in a playful mood, true to himself; there has been more play, more adventure, more growth. Sioux’s muscularity is becoming more defined, jumps are becoming more spectacular, and feats of daring more common and frankly brazen. It has been a strange old week, including a more meaty diet.

full moon from taiwanA couple of fights have not depressed him and his spirit is good.
Monday's Moon by photographer Chih-Hao Tsai

Becoming very confident crossing the road, a necessary commute between the two yards. It was usual to be carried across, but a few weeks ago Sioux disappeared from Angela’s back-yard and turned up in Corv’s. Now, if the cat wants to cross, he just does when he’s let out, following one or both of the humanoids crossing from house to house; sometimes straight to the target front door, sometimes he takes a more…leisurely route, hiding under cars, and mooching in gardens. Oliver won’t permit Siouxie Bubbs such freedom of movement however, and insists on carrying him over.
One of Sioux’s new tricks when let out the front of Angela’s yard is to dash over the road and up the gated alleyway a few doors down, only to return after a brief nose around, no doubt to fly up his tree.
On one such occasion recently, Corv, who had shut the door, appeared from a top window to check on Siouxie’s progress and reacted swiftly to the hissing yoowling cat fight happening just outside the front door.  Siouxie was under tabby attack, attempting to blend in with the undergrowth, bravely resisting the attack of one of the older tabbys in the area, who have seemed to treat his arrival in the area as a minor scandal. The adult cat beat it as soon as the door was opened and Siouxie, a little shaken, crept inside, needing a bit of encouragement. Here he is afterwards, wired and bristled ; he’s looking at the electric light, probably intrigued by a moth –

sioux in room
after the fight

After Siouxie’s nights when, his bluff called, he was left out all night, he tends towards returning when called now. Corv kept him in however for a night. Sioux was as you can see, slightly spooked. A good night in was required.
cat
There are many toys, games and insects over there, as well as Corv to attack and play with, and Sioux was in a particularly playful mood.

It wasn’t till the following day Sioux ventured into the back yard.

Siouxie Bubbs cleaning in yard
Chillin
sioux chilling in the yard
Yard time

After a day or two of this, including the merciless torment and slaughter of a spider – video evidence soon – Siouxie had some time back at Angela’s but tonight has come over back to Corv’s. After a good two and a half hours out in the full moonlit night, Sioux’s in, on his green chair after a meaty snack. Expect chaos and compassion.

Sioux once more stepped out into the night air to play. After another hour or so. Corv opened the door, and after half an hour Sioux stuck his head round the door, but darted back out again as soon as Corv made eye contact. Sioux was up for a game. After a few minutes of chase round the garden, Sioux finally retired.

August Photographs

Suzie’s not that keen on being photographed, and prefers pictures taken by stealth to those by direct confrontation. He is however feeling increasingly handsome:

Sioux's Hero Pose
Sioux's Hero Pose

Suzie allowed these photos to be taken as he relaxed in Corv’s room after a second all-nighter outside, and feels they capture the beginning of the transition from kitten to cat.

kitten
Looking Kitten

Reacts to camera
Sioux vs. camera

Looking Away
Looking away

profile
fully aware

closeup
Close-up

Sioux ‘Suzie’ Bubbs: an explanation

Sioux, like the Sphinx, expects many questions. Answers are rare.

Why such a long and complicated name? Why the girly nickname? Exactly what is going on with the cat’s gender? Why the funny spelling? Why Bubbs, or Bubbles?

Well, like Sioux himself, his name has an excellent if roundabout pedigree. When Suzie was a baby kitten, and first arrived at his new home from his original nursery, the humans involved had no idea if he was female or male. Humans almost never know a young kitten’s gender, finding it difficult to determine. This is because the openings under young kittens tails appear very similar, since a male kitten’s testicles have not yet descended to fill the scrotal sac.

Oliy chose ‘Bubbs’ as a name, and said it was because the kitten has a bubbly personality. Fair enough, thought Bubbs; after all, he did.

With Bubbs’ gender still fluid, Angela decided to call her ‘Suzie’, because the kitten reminded her of

Siouxsie Sioux
Siouxsie Sioux
Sioux Suzie
Sioux Suzie

Siouxsie Sioux, the great punk singer, real name Susan Ballion.

Ballion? Never heard that name before, but a little digging reveals a Scottish word, meaning a knapsack, a tinker’s box, or any box you can carry on your back. But we can go further back in time: the Egyptian word B3h, meaning ‘foreskin or phallus’, it has been suggested, may be traced to an indo-european root word ‘b-l’. Meanwhile, the Greek word phallus was replaced in later Ionian with Ballion.

When it became obvious he was dropping testicles, not ballions,  at the appointed time, it was felt a cat need not conform to human genders, so the names stuck. Suzie was a good name as was Bubbs. Put together they make Suzie Bubbs. Alternatively, Sioux sounds exactly the same as Sue, but the spelling isn’t a girl’s name, so that seemed like a good idea. Hence: Sioux ‘Suzie’ Bubbs.

But what a complicated identity! Let’s see if we can unpick the name any more for the history of its ideas, like we did with ‘Ballion’.

Sioux
Most people know this name for a particular nation or group of Native American peoples, native since before early modern Europeans came to colonise in the late 15th century. What many do not know is that the Sioux called themselves the Dakota people, or Lakota in some transliterations. The name Dakota means the Allies. The word Sioux, not a Dakota word at all, was what the Dakota were called by the Anishinabe people. When the Anishinabe wanted to refer to the Dakota, they would say ‘Sioux’, just as we might say ‘Yank’ when we refer to an American. Suzie’s not sure how friendly the Anishinabe were with the Dakota, but the word Sioux does not mean ‘the Allies’. It means ‘Little Snakes’.

Suzie
Like Susan amongst human names, Suzie is short for Susanna, a fine old name from Hebrew via Greek. It means ‘lily’, which is toxic to cats, but may come from the Egyptian name Sšn, meaning ‘lotus’.

Bubbs
Short for bubbles, a much younger word, noted from the early 14th century, and may come from the Dutch word bobble. According to a google translation from the Dutch wikipedia, ‘Bobble’ means a bump or lump on the body, and “in sexual terms: visibility of masculinity”.

How ironic, in the midst of all this confusion, Angela chose a name which traces to an ancient word for lotus, after Siouxsie Sioux (or Little snake), while Oliy chose a name which means testicles.
Putting all this together, one unavoidable conclusion presents itself. The true academic/mythological meaning of Suzie’s name is:

                       Little-snake Lotus Testicles

That’s the etymological translation of ‘Sioux Suzie Bubbles’. Suzie Bubbs shares the decree of this deeper name for educational purposes in good faith, and will not be responsible for the consequences if it is used a form of address.
More posts in this category, History of Suzie Bubbs coming soon.