Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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July 9, 2012
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Why fascinating felines are No. 1 in America

The cat has endured worship and persecution, myth and legend. Although cats were elevated to No. 1 status as the most popular pet in America in the late 1980s, attitudes about the rewards of feline companionship are just now changing. While the surplus cat population continues to challenge the animal welfare world, cats as house pets are being treated better and are being included in more family activity. With education comes appreciation and respect, and hopefully the realization that shelter adoption, along with spay and neuter of porch pets, will save deserving homeless felines from needless suffering.

Contrary to popular belief, the cat is a social animal. A pet cat will respond and answer to speech and seeks human companionship. Nosing is friendliness. Pawing and kneading demonstrate pleasure, trust and love, as well as mark territory, including humans. When a cat pushes his or her face or head against your head, it is a sign of acceptance and affection. On land and sea, cats have been valued and beloved help mates to humans for hundreds of thousands of years.

Cats are capable of 100 different chirp and meow vocalizations, compared to about 10 for dogs. They meow in pain, in greeting and for attention. If talked to, a cat will become more vocal. Tail talk includes a twitch at the tip for hunting concentration or anger. A larger tail swing signals displeasure. Tails are held high when cats are happy. Puffed tails indicate fear, surprise, or defensive stature. Cat eyes also speak. In addition to reacting to more or less available light, large round pupils can indicate fear or excitement. Narrow pupils can indicate anger. Purring can signal pain as well as pleasure. It is thought that purring is a self-calming and self-healing device. The frequency of the vibration of rhythmic impulses to the cat's larynx may promote healing of bones and organs in injured cats.

Pet products feature a whole new category for cat travel safety and comfort. Cats can travel easily, specially when introduced to the sounds and movement of a vehicle at an early age. A gentle and incremental sensitization turns older cats into road warriors. Including cats in family activity extends to daily walks. Equipment and videos are readily available for leash-walk training. On their own, cats are capable of finding their way home if lost reasonably close. They use a biological clock, the angle of the sun, and the Earth's magnetic field to find both people and place. However, only 2 percent of found cats are returned to owners. Microchip ID is critical.

Cat agility is one of the fastest-growing sports in the animal world. It can be done in the living room or on a world competition stage. The key to training is simple: cat treats and plenty of them. A cat can jump up to seven times as high as it is tall. Cats can walk precisely because they "directly register," placing each hind paw almost directly in the print of the corresponding forepaw to provide sure footing. A cat also uses its tail for balance. Of all the wild and domestic cats, the pet cat is the only species able to hold its tail vertically while walking. Cats do have a "righting reflex." If there is time, a lucky cat can twist its body and right itself using an acute sense of balance and flexibility. Cats without a tail are not able to save themselves. Declawing, which is inhumane and illegal in many states, also impairs a cat's ability to balance on surfaces such as railings and fence tops, leading to injury from falls. Declawing also creates insecurity and a subsequent tendency to bite.

There are many reasons to adopt a cat from the streets or from a shelter. The rewards are lower blood pressure, fulfillment from loving and being loved, and discovering endless feline fascinations.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jul 9, 2012 06:17PM Published Jul 9, 2012 06:16PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.