Ultimate Resource For Cat Lovers
Cats on Road Trips: What Could Go Wrong? Lots of drivers cruise around with their dogs, but the pandemic has more cat owners giving it a try; ‘a car of crazy’. Ultimate Resource For Cat Lovers.
Sarah Schacht, her husband, Guillaume Rosney, and their cat, Effie, took a winter vacation to the Palm Springs area but found their flight home to Seattle postponed by airline disruptions in the coronavirus surge.
So they chose a hairy alternative for the 1,200-mile journey: driving a rental SUV in mid-January, stopping for a hotel stay. With their cat.
Effie, a burly caramel tabby, made some “sad cat sounds” on day one of her first long car excursion, according to her owners, but she really put her paw down when it came time to leave the hotel for the second travel day.
“She saw the luggage moving again, and she was like, ‘Oh no, I have seen this movie before,’ ” said Ms. Schacht, a government-technology consultant.
They chased Effie around, trying to herd her into her cat carrier. They thought they had her, but, nope, scratch that, she escaped, and wedged herself behind the bed. Frustrated humans rolled around on the motor-lodge carpet to claw her out.
“It was 45 minutes of cat chaos,” Ms. Schacht recalled. “We’re just trying to wrestle this cat.”
Lots of drivers cruise around with dogs, which often gleefully stick their snouts out the window. Now, many cat owners are attempting extended road trips with fluffy for the first time, given airline hassles, wariness about flying during a Covid-19 surge, needy quarantine kitties or the rise in relocations during the pandemic.
Some adventurous felines have taken to traveling, but cats tend to lack the canine affinity for the open road. Cats scream, are generally skeptical about moving at unnatural speeds, and don’t like to be told where they can’t go, such as under seats. They also, it turns out, are particular about the radio.
After Ms. Schacht and her husband got going, they streamed harp music for hours because they had read it calms cats. Once Effie relaxed, even seeming to enjoy the scenery, they switched to NPR, a station they say soothes the feline.
“Effie is a fan of ‘All Things Considered,’ ” Ms. Schacht said.
Some relocating cat owners hire pros. Florida-based Blue Collar Pet Transport, which drives pets nationwide, has done some 30 cat transports each of the last two months, about double the usual, said sales manager Laura Szewczyk.
Blue Collar’s driver Crystal Lowe said six or seven cats will meow at once in her minivan.
“I can’t tell them to be quiet,” she said. “They’re not going to do it.”
Chrissy Dalrymple’s family moved from near Pittsburgh to South Carolina in November. Ms. Dalrymple, a shelter volunteer, has six cats.
She researched flying two cats at a time, but fares were up from pandemic bargains she saw before. So she and her daughter Maddie drove six cats for nearly nine hours.
“It was just the worst trip I ever made in my whole life,” Ms. Dalrymple said.
A brown-and-white tabby, Phillip, whined five hours straight while a calico named Moochie roamed up front, growling at the cats in back, two of which were in carriers. Baybay hopped onto a headrest during a stop and refused to get down.
“It was a car of crazy,” Ms. Dalrymple said. “By the time we got here, and got the cats out, put them in the house and sat down, we needed a drink.”
Caitlyn Hammack, a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, sought advice on Twitter before driving home with her orange tabby for winter break for the first time. She considered flying but said driving felt safer in the Omicron surge.
“CAT OWNERS!!!!” she wrote in a December post. “I will be making the 7 hour drive to Kansas on Monday with my little Larry boy and I know he’ll hate the car ride.” Packing Larry’s stuffed elephant helped.
Hunter Kelley regularly drives three hours to visit family and used to take dog Toby and leave cat Ishi home.
Then the Topeka, Kan., resident’s insurance job went remote, and Ishi grew accustomed to constant company, falling into a funk “if Toby and I went someplace without her.”
Ishi, now a fledgling car cat, tested and rejected several carriers. Mx. Kelley, who uses the gender-neutral honorific, resorted to wearing a zip-up sweatshirt and letting Ishi ride inside, jolting an interstate toll taker who was surprised when a cat popped out, “Alien”-style from Mx. Kelley’s jacket.
The roadtrippers are now testing a “cat backpack” purchased on Amazon. (Recent customer reviews include, “Purrito really likes his backpack.”)
In Camano Island, Wash., Bernice Ye and her fiancé, Richardson Reigart, talked about RV travel, someday, once their geriatric cat Mr. Butters was gone.
“Then the pandemic happened and we’re like, ‘life is too short to wait for your cat to die,’ ” said Ms. Ye. They conducted “car training,” or short rides, with Mr. Butters.
“He would just run around inside the car and scream,” Ms. Ye said, but gradually he got curious, and the couple and Mr. Butters left in their new RV in December to travel.
Ms. Ye left her corporate tech job for stand-up comedy; Mr. Reigart works remotely in marketing and Mr. Butters is a roaming retiree, not letting the catnip grow under his feet.
“He’s having his best life,” Ms. Ye said. “Who knew a 14-year-old cat would adapt so quickly?”
West Ham’s Kurt Zouma To Be Prosecuted by RSPCA Over Abuse of Pet Cat
West Ham defender Kurt Zouma and his brother Yoan are being prosecuted by the RSPCA under the Animal Welfare Act, the charity has said.
Kurt Zouma was seen kicking and slapping one of his cats in footage which surfaced on social media in February, with the RSPCA taking the 27-year-old’s two pet cats into care the same month.
Yoan Zouma’s club suspended him last month after saying he had been responsible for filming the incident, and said in a club statement issued earlier on Wednesday afternoon Dagenham said that he had been “charged”.
The RSPCA released its own statement later, which read: “Following a full and thorough investigation, we have started the process of bringing a prosecution against Kurt Zouma and Yoan Zouma under the Animal Welfare Act.”
“The two cats continue to be cared for by the RSPCA. We will be in a position to release more information once a court date is confirmed.”
A further statement from the charity read: “The RSPCA does not have the power to charge people. We will be serving a summons on those involved with the allegations, court venue and date once we have heard back from the court.”
West Ham fined their player the maximum amount possible when the incident came to light, but manager David Moyes has continued to pick Zouma when fit.
The RSPCA described the video as “very upsetting” last month and a Change.org petition was set up calling for Zouma to be prosecuted.
West Ham have been co-operating with the RSPCA’s investigation, and said in a statement on Wednesday: “West Ham United is aware of the RSPCA statement in relation to its investigation involving Kurt Zouma.”
“Kurt continues to co-operate fully, supported by the club. It is our understanding that Kurt’s cats have been checked by a vet, are in good health and have suffered no physical injuries. For legal reasons, neither Kurt or the club will be making any further comment at this time.”
Yoan Zouma was suspended by Dagenham last month over his role in the incident.
However, the National League club said the player would now be considered for selection, stating that any further suspension would be “detrimental” to the player and the club.
The club said they reserved the right to take further action if deemed necessary after conclusion of the court proceedings.
Alexa for Animals: AI Is Teaching Us How Creatures Communicate
New kinds of artificial intelligence are enabling scientists to better understand the sounds of the animal world, from whale songs to mouse squeaks.
Artificial intelligence has already enabled humans to chat with robots like Alexa and Siri that were inspired by science fiction. Some of its newest creations take a page from a hero of children’s literature: Doctor Dolittle.
Researchers are using AI to parse the “speech” of animals, enabling scientists to create systems that, for example, detect and monitor whale songs to alert nearby ships so they can avoid collisions.
It may not yet quite be able to talk to the animals the way the century-old children’s-book character could, but this application of what is known as “deep learning” is helping conservationists protect animals, as well as potentially bridging the gap between human and nonhuman intelligences.
Scientists pursuing this line of inquiry are asking a fundamental question: Is the best way to probe one alien intelligence to use another?
Even asking this question raises all kinds of issues for those who build artificial intelligence, many of whom are eager to point out that what we now call AI isn’t intelligent by any definition recognizable to a layperson.
It also raises issues for the scientists studying animals and their habitats, who are by trade and tradition wary of making claims for animal intelligence that liken it to our own.
That said, both groups are enthusiastic about the enormous potential of applying AI to animal communication, both as a way to learn about our finned, furry and flying friends, and as a way to sharpen the tools of artificial intelligence itself.
Honing cutting-edge AI on a problem as rich and challenging as what animals are thinking, and whether or not they “talk,” challenges researchers to pursue goals with such systems that go beyond simply using them to understand languages humans can already speak.
“It is fascinating that the tools of artificial intelligence, specifically deep learning, which is the hot new thing, do seem to be the natural tools to study this other kind of ‘A.I.’—animal intelligence,” says Oren Etzioni, a longtime AI researcher and head of the Allen Institute for AI, a nonprofit set up by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Researchers on animal communication are using a branch of AI that in recent years has proven effective for handling human language.
Called “self-supervised learning,” it shows promise as a way to process the immense quantities of recordings of animal communication, captured in laboratories as well as natural environments, now flowing into the computers of scientists all over the world, says Aran Mooney, an associate scientist in the sensory and bioacoustics lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Mass.
To understand self-supervised learning, it helps to understand how most of the AI we interact with every day—be it in virtual assistants or the face-unlocking systems of our phones—came about.
For most of the past two decades of development of AI, teaching a computer how to recognize patterns in information, whether it’s transcribing spoken language or recognizing images, required a training phase that involved feeding a powerful array of computers large quantities of sounds, images or other kinds of data that have been labeled by humans.
How, after all, can a computer learn to recognize a cat if it doesn’t have a database of images tagged, by humans, “cat”?
Self-supervised learning is different. Software that employs it can chew through vast quantities of data that no human has ever touched. Self-supervised systems “learn” from patterns inherent in data.
This is something humans are also capable of, though we seem to accomplish it with a variety of strategies unique to us, so it’s important not to ascribe humanlike abilities to such systems.
One example of the power of this kind of algorithm is the bigger-than-ever system for language processing and generation created by OpenAI, a not-for-profit research lab. OpenAI trained this system, known as GPT-3, on 45 terabytes of text scraped from all over the internet—everything from books to Wikipedia.
From this, OpenAI was able to create software that can generate long blocks of text that are almost indistinguishable from prose written by humans, and which is capable of imitating human language abilities in other ways, like answering trivia questions and concocting recipes.
The same kinds of technologies used to build GPT-3, which was unveiled in 2020, are useful for parsing animal communications, for two reasons.
First, self-supervised learning systems don’t require data that is labeled by humans, which is both costly and time-consuming to generate.
Second, researchers often simply don’t know what animals are “saying,” so creating human-labeled data of animal “speech” may be impossible.
Kevin Coffey, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington, studies the vocalizations of lab rats and mice. These animals are capable of a surprising amount of complexity in their “songs,” and the order of the different vocalizations in these songs appears to carry information.
But beyond the most basic information—whether an animal is feeling distressed, territorial or amorous—scientists just don’t know what rodents are saying.
Instead of listening for a ‘wake word’ like ‘Alexa,’ the Whale Safe system listens for ‘Brrrrrrr, gmmmm, awwwwwrrrghgh.’
That’s one reason Dr. Coffey created “DeepSqueak”—the name is a play on “deep learning”—software that makes it easier for researchers to automatically label recordings of animals’ calls. DeepSqueak is versatile enough that the software has also been used on the vocalizations of primates.
In research that has yet to be published, it is also being used to help scientists understand the complicated language of dolphins. (Scientists have found that dolphins are smart enough that they have signature sounds that function like “names” for referring to themselves and others.)
Other AI-based systems for parsing animal communications are focused more on how creatures communicate in the wild, and applications more immediate than understanding what’s on their minds.
Whale Safe, a project of the nonprofit Benioff Ocean Initiative, is deploying buoys—each the size of a small car—off the U.S. West Coast to detect whales and alert ships they are in the area. Ships are then asked to slow down, since collisions between ships and whales are often fatal.
Since deployment of the system in 2020, whale strikes declined significantly in the Santa Barbara Channel, which is both one of the busiest shipping lanes in U.S. waters and one of the most active feeding grounds for humpback and endangered blue whales on the West Coast, says Callie Steffen, who heads the project.
Scientists have been studying whale songs for decades, but didn’t previously have the ability to automatically and remotely detect those sounds in the wild.
Onboard processing of the whales’ calls on AI-powered computers on the buoys is critical to how the system works, since the buoys can’t upload all the data they collect in real time. This kind of “edge computing” is also how systems like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant work.
In this case, instead of the system listening for a “wake word” like “Alexa,” it’s listening for “Brrrrrrr, gmmmm, awwwwwrrrghgh,” which is this columnist’s attempt to transliterate the unexpectedly strange calls of a blue whale.
This listening is no small task. Similar to how a smart assistant must handle the many different accents of the world’s English speakers, Whale Safe’s buoys must recognize a wide variety of calls, determine which species is making them, and filter out all the background noise.
Another AI-based system, called BirdNET, made by researchers at Cornell University and Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, can now recognize the calls of more than 3,000 different species of birds.
A version of the system has been turned into a smartphone app, which functions as something like a birders’ version of the song-recognition app Shazam. This allows a new kind of “citizen science” in which recordings made by BirdNET’s nearly two million active users can be geolocated and used to study phenomena like the migratory routes of birds.
Aside from newer techniques like deep learning, what’s driving the use of AI for processing animal communication is the same thing that is driving an explosion in the use of AI across all industries and commercial applications: It’s easier and cheaper than ever to gather vast quantities of data, and to store and process it, says Dr. Etzioni.
These technology megatrends also include Moore’s law for AI—an idea I call Huang’s Law—and the geographic disbursement of tech talent and know-how.
Sensors are also becoming cheaper and easier to deploy. For example, a company called Wildlife Acoustics sells small, battery-powered outdoor audio recorders that can pick up sounds made by a wide variety of animals.
The recorders are used by conservationists, scientists and educators all over the world, on projects that range from monitoring frogs to protecting bats from being killed by wind turbines.
When Wildlife Acoustics started more than a decade ago, it sold only a few hundred such recorders a year. It now sells more than 20,000, and that number continues to grow quickly, says Sherwood Snyder, director of product management at the company. Part of what’s driving adoption are the falling cost of such sensors; the company’s newest and cheapest one is $250.
These same trends affect ocean researchers like Dr. Mooney of Woods Hole. With the cost of underwater microphones dropping over the past two decades, and the growing accessibility of AI-based systems to process what they record, an interdisciplinary, multi-institution group has launched a project called the Global Library of Underwater Biological Sounds.
The group will attempt to apply techniques like self-supervised learning to the cacophonous sounds of, for example, coral reefs.
At a basic level, self-supervised learning may help scientists upend the way science is done. Rather than coming to a study with a hypothesis in mind, they simply grab all the data they can—drinking the proverbial ocean—and then let the algorithms search for patterns. The result can be results that no human would have anticipated, says Dr. Mooney.
In the past, humans trained AI by first giving it examples of data categorized by humans. In the future, these newer kinds of AI may be teaching us what categories exist in the first place.
“With self-supervised learning,” says Dr. Etzioni, “you can say to the computer: ‘You tell me in the data what structure you see.’”
How Cats Are Winning The Postpandemic Economy
Long ignored by the pet industry, services for felines are starting to pick up.
The cat business is booming, with owners willing to spend on new services and petsitters raising their hands.
While the cat has long been considered a low-maintenance pet, the economy emerging postpandemic is challenging that notion as grooming and sitting for cats become more widespread.
Cat owners are willing to pay for services from daycare to baths and exercise, to social stimulation and even a little time at the spa.
Jacque Opp, owner of Pet Agree Mobile Grooming LLC in Bismarck, N.D., is booked 10 weeks out with a waiting list a dozen pages long. The only certified feline master groomer in North Dakota, Ms. Opp now has 257 clients and stopped accepting new ones about a year ago.
“Cats are where it’s at—it’s a niche industry, and there’s a gajillion dog groomers everywhere,” said Ms. Opp, who started out in dog-grooming but went cats-only in 2017.
It is a new moment for an industry traditionally dominated by dogs. Until recently, the grooming and boarding services that were available for cats were sometimes afterthoughts, tacked on to dog-focused operations. Many petsitting companies are now turning away business, even with dog-walking demand still down in many areas.
The number of catsitting visits recorded by Time to Pet, a petsitting software company, is 51.2% higher so far in 2022 than in the same period in 2019.
Gabrielle Rivera, 37 years old, of Kingstowne, Va., adopted a stray kitten during the pandemic that she and her husband, Ricky, named Peanut. All was well until the couple booked a ski vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in January.
“We love to travel, but it’s stressful leaving her, and we didn’t want to put her in a metal cage next to dogs barking,” she said, noting that the only option for boarding a previous cat was at a veterinary hospital.
Instead, Ms. Rivera took Peanut to the Happy Cat Hotel and Spa in nearby Alexandria, Va. Part of a franchise offshoot of a hotel started in Windsor, Conn., it is one of many luxury cat hotels that are springing up around the country.
Customers can put their cat up in the Weekend in Purris room, with its Eiffel Tower mural, or Nicatgra Falls, which has a barrel and a life preserver. Visits are currently by appointment only. The hotel has been solidly booked since it opened its doors in November 2021.
Cat owners are starting to learn about other feline-focused services, even ones that question a gospel truth about them: that cats clean themselves.
Jen Davis, 44, of Robbinsville, N.J., has a cat named Leo who is part-Maine Coon, a long-haired breed. Leo had surgery in 2019 to remove a hairball from his stomach.
After searching the internet, she stumbled upon Cat Naps Cattery, which provides boarding and grooming services. The owner, Lynn Paolillo, also runs a TikTok account demonstrating her techniques.
Ms. Davis learned that a lion cut—in which the groomer shaves the cat’s body close to the skin, leaving a bit of mane and some hair on the legs and tail—could help. Leo now gets the cut every three months and hasn’t had trouble since.
“It restored my relationship with him,” said Ms. Davis. “He now looks at me as a loving cat mommy instead of someone who tortures him.”
There are only 240 cat groomers nationwide accredited by the National Cat Groomers Institute, which is located in Greer, S.C. But that number, while small, is growing fast.
The number of students enrolled so far in 2022 is up 39.5% from the same period in 2021, said Danelle German, NCGI’s founder.
Around 45.3 million households include at least one cat, compared with 42.7 million a year earlier, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association. That is still far below the number of households that own dogs, estimated at around 69 million by the APPA.
Businesses that also focus on dogs are discovering the upside to providing cat care, too.
“It is underestimated how much people will spend on cats,” said Julie Fredrick, owner of Pet Sitter LLC in Boise, Idaho.
Before the pandemic, her business employed 55 people and was evenly split between dogs and cats. Now, with 40 workers, business is up 50% from 2019 levels, buoyed by Boise’s booming population and pent-up travel demand.
Cats drive two-thirds of that revenue. “We’re shifting our business more toward cat care as it’s easier to staff for cats,” said Ms. Fredrick, who is thinking about expanding into a cat-only boarding facility.
Hybrid work schedules have created a clumping problem, concentrating dog-walking demand on Tuesdays through Thursdays, said Carine Mininni, owner of Urban Tailz in Chicago. To have enough staff for catsitting to balance out the rest of the week, Ms. Mininni said she is now hiring workers solely focused on cats.
“We’re definitely getting way more applications for catsitters,” she said. “I don’t entirely know why. Maybe it’s not having to be outside, especially in Chicago winters. Or maybe there’s a lot more cat people with time on their hands.”
Cat Litter Could Be Antidote For Climate Change, Researchers Say
MIT researchers say a compound they created with zeolite and copper breaks down methane in passing air and could slow warming if added to mine vents.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have found a potent new tool in the fight against global warming. It is basically cat litter.
They soaked an odor-eating clay used in cat boxes in a copper solution to create a compound that they say snatches methane from passing air and turns it into carbon dioxide, a much less harmful greenhouse gas.
The Energy Department gave the researchers $2 million to design devices with the compound that can be attached to vents at coal mines and dairy barns, which are big methane emitters.
The idea is to alter the chemistry of emissions before they hit the open air, like a catalytic converter on a car.
MIT’s researchers say their findings have the potential to greatly reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere and slow warming temperatures on the planet.
The discovery could also create another possible application for zeolite, a clay used to clean up some of humankind’s nastiest messes, from driveway oil spills to the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Zeolite’s magic is in its tiny pores, which enable it to function as a filter or a sponge, depending on the chemistry. It is used to strengthen cement, improve soil, eliminate smells, keep fruit from ripening and soothe cow stomachs. Keeping methane from the atmosphere could be its biggest job yet.
Known commercially as natural gas, methane is many times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, which is the byproduct of burning methane at power plants, on stoves or atop oil wells. A lot of methane wafts into the atmosphere at concentrations that are too low to burn.
Besides coal mines and belching cattle, methane seeps from swamps, landfills, manure lagoons and melting permafrost. It bubbles up from lake bottoms and escapes pipelines and drilling sites. Termites are notorious emitters.
Nature’s ability to process methane has been overwhelmed by human activity, from hot showers to hamburgers. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists recorded the biggest annual increase of atmospheric methane on record last year, to an average concentration about 162% greater than preindustrial levels.
Desirée Plata, an MIT professor leading the work, said that if emissions from the world’s coal mines were filtered through copper zeolite, methane could stop accumulating in the atmosphere.
If methane emissions were reduced by 45% by 2030, projected warming would be reduced by a half-degree Celsius by 2100, according to climate experts.
A half degree is nothing to sniff at. The United Nations’ advisory body on climate change says the difference between average global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and 2 degrees Celsius (a 0.9-degree Fahrenheit gap) equates to ecological mayhem.
Species loss at twice the rate for plants and animals, triple for insects. Crop yields down 7% instead of 3%. Hardly any coral reefs survive.
Emissions-reduction plans are falling short of targets set by 2015’s Paris Agreement on Climate Change, adding urgency to develop technologies that can help slow warming.
The World Meteorological Organization said last week that the odds are even that global average temperatures will temporarily exceed 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels during the next five years.
In an MIT lab crowded with gas cylinders and scientific instruments, jars of cloudy, sky-blue soup sloshed around a mechanized spit, exchanging ions. Nearby, doctoral student Rebecca Brenneis poured the mix—water, copper nitrates and a few grams of zeolite—over a glass-fiber filter. The solids cracked as they dried, like a desert after rain.
Dr. Plata said she was originally pondering a methane-erasing compound that could be used to patch leaky pipelines, which are often neglected due to the expense. Her inspiration was methanotrophs, bacteria that metabolize methane fizzing up from seafloors and lake beds.
Her team sought ways to mimic nature and break down methane without dangerously high temperatures, explosive gases or expensive metal catalysts required in other techniques, she said.
Scientific literature suggested zeolite. So did an MIT adage: “If you want to make something dirt cheap, make it out of dirt.”
Zeolite usually costs between $50 and $300 a ton, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has deemed the mineral abundant enough to not bother estimating reserves.
“It has crazy unique properties, which are potentially incredibly valuable,” said Rob Crangle, the Geological Survey’s acting zeolite specialist.
For now, shipping can cost more than the material, which helps explain why zeolite has lost cat-litter market share to other minerals, shredded corn stalks, walnut shells and old newspapers.
Last year, 87,000 metric tons of zeolite were extracted from nine domestic mines, the Geological Survey estimates. That is consistent with recent years, but up about sixfold from production levels before the 1990s, when more zeolite was added to animal feed and new applications emerged in water filtration and odor control.
Justin Mitchell said he hears loads of researchers as director of sales at KMI Zeolite Inc., which operates a mine near Death Valley, Calif. The Energy Department buys a lot from the mine to soak up liquids in drums of radioactive waste in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico.
Mr. Mitchell is headed to a biogas conference in Las Vegas later this month to pitch zeolite in processes that purify and divert methane fumes from manure lagoons and sewage-treatment plants to the gas grid.
The MIT findings were peer-reviewed and published in December by the American Chemical Society journal ACS Environmental Au.
“Atmospheric- and Low-Level Methane Abatement via an Earth-Abundant Catalyst” describes how, with not much more heat that is needed to cook a pizza, copper-spiked zeolite can zap methane from passing air.
The researchers are headed this summer to South Dakota, where a dairy farmer has volunteered the family herd for field tests. A big question they want to answer is how the compound will handle the dampness of the air that billows from hundreds of ruminants, which is tough to replicate in a lab.
Work is still at the test-tube stage at MIT. Experiments are conducted with a tabletop tangle of electronics, tubes, a block of valves and a reactor the size of a microwave.
A larger reactor is being installed in a mechanical engineering lab across campus for experiments needed to determine the best grain size and configuration of zeolite particles inside the device.
“If you can imagine all the problems when you try to blow lots of air through cat litter, that’s where we are now,” Dr. Plata said.
California Considers A Ban On Declawing Cats
Activists have long said declawing is inhumane when done solely for the benefit of humans.
California lawmakers could soon ban the declawing of cats solely for the convenience of humans, advancing a bill on Thursday to halt what animal rights activists say is a painful procedure used primarily to prevent torn furniture and scratched skin.
Claws on cats grow from the bone, not skin. Removing them sometimes requires amputating bones, while other procedures sever tendons to prevent a cat from extending its claws.
Animal rights activists have long said declawing is inhumane when done solely for the benefit of humans, arguing the procedure is painful, leaves the animal defenseless and can cause other health problems.
The American Veterinary Medical Association “discourages declawing as an elective procedure,” saying it is not medically necessary in most cases.
But the association says it is sometimes necessary “when a cat’s excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior causes an unacceptable risk of injury or remains destructive.”
The bill that passed the state Assembly on Thursday would ban declawing except for a medically necessary purpose of addressing a recurring infection, disease, injury or abnormal condition that affects the cat’s health.
The bill specifically bans declawing “for a cosmetic or aesthetic purpose or to make the cat more convenient to keep or handle.”
The California Veterinary Medical Association says that ignores situations where cat owners are “taking blood thinners, receiving immunosuppression drugs, or other persons whose health would be endangered by a severe scratch.”
In a letter to lawmakers, the association wrote that the veterinary industry has “appropriately regulated itself regarding this procedure over the years, and continues to do so in a thoughtful and compassionate manner.”
The bill now heads to the state Senate.
New York was the first state to ban the procedure in 2019, followed by Maryland earlier this year. This is at least the fourth time California lawmakers have tried to ban declawing since 2018. All of the previous attempts failed.
Eight California cities — including Los Angeles and San Francisco — ban declawing. In 2008, California lawmakers passed a law that would have stopped local governments from banning declawing. But the bill never became law because then Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
Thursday, a majority of lawmakers in the California Assembly appeared eager to ban the procedure statewide. Democratic Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, the author of the bill, quoted primatologist Jane Goodall in saying that “cruelty is the worst of human sins.”
Democratic Assemblymember Alex Lee talked about his cat, Soba, saying it would be “heartbreaking to know cats like her would be declawed.”
“If a cat has essentially their finger bones taken out, their only defense becomes their teeth,” Lee said. “And having had many loving bites from my cat, I would rather be scratched than bitten by my own cat.”
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
To be prepared for the care your pet needs, make a plan today for how you’ll pay for it.
If you’re like the 1 in 5 Americans who welcomed a dog or cat to their household in the first year of the pandemic, you may be wondering if pet insurance is a good idea.
Or perhaps your beloved furry family member is getting up there in years and your veterinary bills are going in the same direction. To determine whether pet insurance is worth it for you, you’ll need to consider your finances and the general health of your pet.
Just the everyday costs of caring for a pet can range from $600 to $2,100 a year, and that doesn’t include the emergency costs of Sparky swallowing a chicken bone. What if Snowball is diagnosed with diabetes?
For a cat with that disease, the yearly average cost was $900 in 2021, according to Nationwide Insurance. At the high end of that scale, “you’re seeing costs north of $10,000,” says Dr. Jules Benson, chief veterinary officer for Nationwide Pet Insurance.
Consider whether pet insurance is right for your situation
If you’re able to cover the everyday expenses of your pet but are concerned about big costs that might lurk around the corner, that’s when pet insurance may make the most sense.
But pet insurance monthly premiums might seem like a big expense if your pet just has regular wellness needs like flea and tick medication.
Plus, there are deductibles and copayments, so no matter what happens, you’ll pay out of pocket for the first several hundred dollars and then some percentage of the ongoing costs.
“I would almost equate it to auto or homeowners insurance,” says Lydia Jilek, a senior director for voluntary benefits at WTW, a consulting firm that studies insurance options for companies. “You’re paying a premium on that, yes, but you’re not unhappy if you don’t have a car accident. And if you do have an accident, you’re happy for the coverage.”
Ask Yourself These Questions To Guide Your Decision:
Is Your Pet A Puppy Or Kitten Or An Older Pet?
Older pets are more expensive to insure, especially if they have pre-existing conditions, and some may not be able to get coverage. If you don’t start them off as puppies and kittens, it might not be worth it.
But older pets can still qualify for accident-only insurance, which is cheaper than insuring accidents and illnesses, says Kristen Lynch, executive director of NAPHIA.
Is Your Breed Of Pet Prone To Certain Conditions Or Illnesses?
When buying insurance, make sure the insurance covers diseases your dog’s or cat’s breed may be predisposed to get later in life. Your poodle may be prone to Cushing’s disease, for example, or your siamese cat to diabetes.
Your vet may be able to describe which are most likely to be covered—or rejected—by insurance companies.
Are You Insuring A Pet Other Than A Cat Or Dog?
Birds and reptiles may also get insured, as well as many other animals like horses, but this makes up less than 1% of insured pets. This so-called “exotics” insurance is offered only by a few providers, such as Pet Assure.
What Pet Insurance Costs
Like with other types of insurance, pet insurance companies charge monthly premiums and reimburse for care costs after a deductible.
The deductible—which you must pay before insurance kicks in—can vary widely, so it’s an important number to factor in when you’re comparing plans. Some products have none, others have $100 or higher, and some deductibles are higher for older pets.
Your total insurance costs will also vary based on what percentage of the cost the policy covers versus what share comes out of your pocket. Typical plans cover 60% to 90%. Again, that’s a wide range, so it’s important to shop around.
Most insurers offer one of two types of plans (or options for both): a plan that covers catastrophic care such as accidents and major illnesses and is typically more expensive, and then a wellness plan that covers routine visits and medications.
The average premium for accident and illness coverage for dogs in 2021 was $48.66 monthly and $28.57 for cats, according to the 2022 State of the Industry Report from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, a trade group.
But plans vary by breed, age of pet and ZIP Code. They range from large insurers like Nationwide and Trupanion to smaller ones like Spot, Fetch, Pets Best, Wagmo, Petplan and ASPCA.
For instance, if you are pricing insurance for a mixed-breed, 6-year-old small dog between 11 and 30 pounds in New York City, here are some of your options:
Nationwide, the largest pet insurance provider, would cost $60 for Major Medical and $90 for Whole Health. Major Medical is for accidents such as a broken bone or illnesses such as cancer. Whole Health includes all that plus flea and tick medication, primary care and other pet wellness needs.
Trupanion, another large provider, would be $106 for a Major Medical plan with a $700 deductible, and there’s no equivalent option for Whole Health. The Trupanion plan covers 90% of veterinary costs without limits.
ASPCA’s insurance plan for the same size and breed dog costs $31 for accident-only coverage and $69 for complete care, which doesn’t include preventive care such as vaccines, according to Travis Reynolds, a spokesperson for ASPCA. The deductible is $500 and the plan covers 90% of costs.
To decide which is best for your pet, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian about expected expenses. Then you can decide if a fee schedule is worth the lower cost or if you might want to pay for more unlimited coverage.
Know What Pet Insurance Covers—And Doesn’t Cover
Pet insurance has a lot of caveats and differences in out-of-pocket costs. For that matter, so do veterinarians. So whether you’re paying directly or using your insurance, make sure to ask about the full spectrum of care for your pet’s accident or illness and not just the first option presented, says Benson.
For example, if a dog has a broken leg, the veterinarian could send the canine to a surgeon or treat them in-house. The surgeon may charge $6,000. The veterinarian may be able to do the surgery for $1,500 or charge $500 for a splint.
See If Your Employer Offers Pet Insurance As Part Of Your Benefits Package
You may be able to find some discounts for pet insurance through your employer, the same way some employers offer access to better pricing on home insurance.
Your employer will negotiate a group rate with one or more providers, and you can choose to participate or not. Some offer payment through payroll deductions, but maybe people choose to pay directly, says WTW’s Jilek.
Almost half of all employers offered pet insurance as a voluntary benefit in 2021, and almost 70% planned to offer it after 2022, according to a survey by WTW of more than 200 employers. About 5% of employees whose companies offer it get pet insurance through their employers.
What Essential Oils Are Safe For Cats?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ASPCA “in their concentrated form (100%), essential oils can absolutely be a danger for pets.”
However, If Used Responsibly And In Diluted Forms, The Following Essential Oils Are Considered Safe:
• Frankincense oil
• Cedarwood oil
• Helichrysum oil
• Rosemary oil
• Copaiba oil
• Roman or German oil
• Sweet pea oil
• Chamomile oil
• Lavender oil
• Valerian oil.
What Essential Oils Are Unsafe For Cats?
As explained, almost all essential oils can be dangerous to cats.
However, some are riskier than others, meaning they are more likely to cause issues even if diluted.
They contain compounds (terpenes, ketones, and phenols) the cat’s liver cannot metabolize.
The compounds accumulate and cause toxicity.
These Essential Oils Are:
• Cinnamon oil
• Sweet birch oil
• Bay oil
• Eucalyptus oil
• Clove oil
• Thyme oil
• Geranium oil
• Juniper oil
• Fir oil
• Citrus oil
• Lime oil
• Lemon oil
• Grapefruit oil
• Citronella oil
• Peppermint oil
• Pine oil
• Ylang-ylang oil
• Bergamot oil
• Wintergreen oil.
With that being said, we should note that some essential oils for cats are directly toxic, even if used in their diluted form.
The most dangerous essential oil is tea tree oil.
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