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When I wrote my last blog about the way dogs perceive things, I said I would give it a go about cats as well, and here we are.

Truthfully, I don’t know as much about cats because I’ve always been a dog person. The little nuggets of wisdom I have I picked up from my coworkers at Healthy Pets NW. (For example, I learned that cats often have learned association with food rather than innate association, and so they might not always recognize something as food. I’ve also watched the family cat struggle with figuring out how to eat a piece of pork I’d given him.)

The family cat, up close and personal

So, though there were many facts about a dog’s life I found interesting, learning about cats for me was more compelling.

Some things I already knew - like that cats can see much better in the dark than can humans. Their degree of vision is slightly wider at 200° versus our range of 180°. But overall, cats have much less capacity for vision than we do. They can see a similar range of colors to dogs, perhaps blues and yellows, or greens and reds. The sources I found weren’t in agreement on that. One article did mention it’s possible cats might also be able to see UV colors - the colors we see under blacklight - but this was just one source. (Side note: I found a fascinating article about human vision and “forbidden colors” where researchers used technology to stabilize the human eye when looking at unbordered panels of blue/yellow and red/green. I’d love to know what the world looks like to those creatures with more vision capacity.) Finally, cats have terrible distance vision. After a point of about 20 feet, objects look blurry to them. Cats also have a harder time distinguishing things moving slowly or slightly - and with human faces, a few studies have shown cats may have a hard time recognizing their owners visually. Your scent or your voice is much more likely to aid in recognition than your appearance.

The second family cat, even more up close and personal

Hearing-wise, I mentioned in my last post that cats can hear so well they can discern the subtle differences between opening a regular cupboard, and the cupboard that has their food behind it. Well, this is because cats can hear a huge variety of pitches (though similarly to us in the lower range). They can also hear a multitude of tones and have similar abilities to dogs in being able to move their ears to catch a specific spot of sound. Cats have this enhanced sense of hearing, as well as the ability to see at night, because they are nocturnal, and depend on hearing their pray to catch it. It’s also because cats prefer to lie in wait for their prey, pouncing once they know it’s close, rather than chasing after it.

Cats are also reportedly much better at smelling than dogs are, due to their 30 variants of a relevant scent receptor protein (compared to a dog’s nine). I found an article that mentioned the Jacobson’s organ (an organ just behind the front teeth that connects to the nasal cavity) that allows cats to breathe more air into the nose and distinguish scents further. It was a bit harder to find some articles on cats and their ability to smell because it seems more often people are asking the question, “why does my cat smell?”

Please keep in mind that cats and taste is heavily related to smell - and they can obtain a lot of details from scent. For example, my family’s cat couldn’t handle the change in his canned pumpkin when my stepmom decided to try a cheaper formula. Smellier foods are often better, but something too pungent may be off-putting. Warming up a food before serving it often makes it appeal more as well.

Our cat, graciously ignoring my attempts at a selfie

I didn’t delve as much into cats and their inner emotional lives because (truthfully) I started getting tired after a point. But! Never fear, because I did pick up a few things. For example, experts believe because cats came into human lives on their own terms, cats didn’t develop as much of an understanding of human differences. For example, a dog will act differently around humans than it does around other dogs, while cats treat humans much the same as they treat other cats. That’s not to say cats don’t realize humans aren’t cats - more that they don’t feel a need to treat humans differently. When a cat rubs against your legs, in that sense, it is greeting you as it would another cat (a cat on the same social level, at that!).

They recognize their names as well, as shown in a separate study. Cats ignored human conversation until their name was said; then they showed interest by some form of body language. This one I already knew, as my cat comes when he’s called, albeit in a very angry, stomping, way!

I do really want to learn more about cats, and so I’ll probably be focusing more blogs on them in the coming days. While I leave you here, tell me, what are some fun facts you know about cats?

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I casually dropped into a previous post that I brought a purple chipmunk back to a friend in Peru. He’s recently got himself a puppy, and my plan was to put myself in the good graces of said puppy.

Well, the puppy isn’t getting the chipmunk until he’s house-trained, but my friend was excited about the chipmunk regardless. He brought it up to me, thrilled, a week later that the chipmunk makes three kinds of noises.

Ulysses the Briard.

And, finally, I’ve met the dog. It’s a Briard sheepdog that needed to be brought down from Lima - they simply don’t have the breed in Arequipa. We took him up to Sogay for the day and let him run free among the grass, bark at farm animals, and goof around for a couple of hours while we caught up. It was also an opportunity for me to get some of my questions answered on raising dogs in Peru.

We talked a bit about life for Ulysses (names for the James Joyce novel, but pronounced according to Spanish convention; the dog couldn’t understand his name through my accent). Dog food here is expensive. Purina is considered the best brand, and its most premium line costs about s/200 a kilo. That’s $60 for roughly two pounds of food. It’s an insane amount of money. I think, truly, if I had a dog here, I’d be making food for it, and it would be eating better and saving money.

Ulysses stalking the yard.

Ulysses leads a pretty charmed life; as I’ve mentioned before, life for pets here is wildly inconsistent from home to home. There are dogs that live on roofs, dogs that are allowed to roam the streets, and dogs that wear harnesses and go for leashed walks with their owners. Ulysses is the last category. He sleeps in the home and is allowed freedom there (when I arrived to meet him, he’d just leapt in the water with some of the laundry), and he has very little contact with street dogs. He likes Sogay because it means freedom.

My friend and I connected during my internship because we’re both a little abnormal for Peruvian - particularly Arequipeñan - standards. And he told me he thinks Ulysses is taking after him.

For example, Ulysses likes to chew on rocks. Sometimes he’ll bark at walls, and, while I was there, he barked at the air for a solid twenty minutes - maybe even longer. He also sticks to the convention of his breed and loves barking at cows, donkeys, or any other kind of farm animal.

Cecilia hanging out with Ulysses

But Ulysses also stands for something I think a lot of pet owners (as well as parents!) relate to: he’s been solidly improving my friend’s mental health. Seeing this puppy excited over discovering the word has made the world itself new and thrilling for my friend. Developing such a strong bond with a creature he cares for allows him to love unconditionally, without fear. Ulysses gives him hope, peace, and humor.

Having pets (or children) isn’t for everyone, but for those who are well-suited to it, I think the world truly becomes a better place.

And there is your quick happy update for the week. How did your first pet change your life?

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Part of how I’m supporting myself in Peru is through teaching English online. It’s a simple format; most of my students like to read daily news articles. I like it because it keeps me abreast of some of the finer things happening in the world (such as the free Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump haircuts offered in Vietnam before their summit there).

One student chose an article about a topic that particularly excited me: an exhibit about life as a dog happening in California. The exhibit allows people to experience the way dogs hear, see, and smell, and has other demonstrations, such as one golden retriever leading blindfolded participants around an obstacle course.

The article finished with another interesting bit of information: when we humans look into a dog’s eyes, our bodies release oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Apparently the dog experiences this release as well. This in contrast to chimpanzees, who just look away.

And so I thought I’d take the time to research and write a little about how dogs’ senses work, and how they’re different from ours.

To begin, I often hear people say dogs can only see in black and white. This actually isn’t true, according to these articles about dogs’ vision. Apparently because dogs have eyesight more evolved to seeing in low light conditions, their ability to see color is lessened - but not so much so that they can’t see it at all. Indeed, scientists theorize that dogs can see on a spectrum of yellow to blue, so any mix with red will not register. Additionally, though dogs can’t see as far as humans can, they do have the ability to detect movement at quite a distance. And, of course, I am envious that they can see well in the dark. It is also due to the setup of cones and rods in their eyes that their eyes glow green in photos while our human eyes glow red.

Another interesting thing to note: studies do show that dogs have the ability to recognize faces, and pay more attention to the eyes for this, as well as when assessing emotions.

So overall, a dog’s sight isn’t as strong as ours, but their hearing abilities make up for it. Obviously we already know dogs can hear in much higher pitches than we can (hence the dog whistle), but they can hear at a much greater distance as well. With more muscles and longer ear canals, dogs have more sensitivity to sound, and they can move their ears to focus better on any given sound. My favorite piece of information is from this article, and is about cats, who can apparently hear so well they can distinguish from another room the sound of a normal cupboard opening, versus the sound of a cupboard opening with their food behind it.

And, of course, there is the matter of how well a dog can smell. This article by PBS details how many more olfactory receptors dogs have than we do - dogs’ ability to smell is so powerful that one drug detecting dog could identify a bag of marijuana in a gas tank filled with gasoline . OK, so we already knew dogs had the ability to smell more than we could, but I didn’t know that dog’s noses separate air between air used for smelling, and air used to breathe. And, furthermore, when dogs breathe out, they have access to scents they couldn’t catch with the first inhale.

Thus, scents are incredibly important for dogs, and it’s why they love stinky treats, and stinky food - seriously, the stinkier the better!

The inner life of dogs is harder to measure, as they don’t have a verbal language we can understand. Instead, a lot of scientific studies focus on physical responses to ascertain dogs’ emotional responses. Thus they’ve seen how the human-dog bond is so important for dogs that a dog’s stress level (in a rescue facility) stays down for days after an interaction from a human.

Overall, dogs are amazing animals. And just so you don’t think I’ve forgotten - I will be doing a version of this for cats as well.

What’s an example of a time you’ve seen a dog’s incredible senses in action?

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