This is Herding Humans, Courtney Ives' weblog-- or as you humans say, 'blog'.

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I’m already at the age when I actually can’t remember my age. I usually just ask my husband. He’s better with numbers than I am. He does the quick arithmetic in his head: ‘okay, you were born part way through 1989, so 2013 minus 1989 is… carry the one and…’ (Presto!) ‘You’re 23!’

Puh-thetic, isn’t it?

I probably don’t want to think about the number of years I am. All I need to tell me that I’m not 18 anymore is that the people at the liquor store let me buy stuff, oh, and my metabolism is slowing to the pace of a particularly unmotivated turtle.

So.. I’ve been trying to do more cardiovascular exercises and I also started using My Fitness Pal yesterday. It lets me track my food intake and my physical activity and calculates things like calories, protein, & sodium. It went fine until the end of the day when I was almost out of my allotted calories for the day. Being unused to only 1200 calories per day, I turned into a major grump and was fantasizing about eating all the cake I could fit in my stomach.

My husband, who was on the receiving end of my mood, suggested that I work my way down to 1200 calories instead of going cold turkey. Is food an addiction like any other? Food sends happy signals to my brain and helps me feel better if I am depressed. By reducing my food intake and eating less carbohydrate-packed foods, I’ll be reducing my exposure to a drug of sorts.

Boy. Now I want a baked potato something fierce.

*sigh* Cottage cheese and a hard boiled egg it is.

Courtney and Alex-071

Alex and I had our wedding almost six months ago already. We were warned by plenty of people that things were about to change when we were preparing for the wedding, but all I’ve noticed that’s changed is that I don’t have a damn wedding to worry about anymore.

As wonderful as the day was, I was absolute crap at dealing with the whole thing. Planning for one day that was months away, trying to imagine everything we would need, budgeting for everything… it was all worth it, but it was very stressful and I’m delighted that we never have to do it again.

As I was also warned, the day went by unbelievably quickly– except, of course, for the entire morning! Once I was having my hair and makeup done, though, I could hardly catch my breath and realize what was happening. Everything was so gorgeous. I’m so grateful to our family and friends for being there and for helping us put it together. I had never experienced so much love and goodwill before we went through this, and it meant the world to me.

One of my favorite moments happened after the cake cutting and our guests had had plenty to drink. A bunch of us were in a big circle on the dance floor acting as silly as possible and having a blast. One of the many gems in my meticulously planned playlist was ‘Timewarp’, which meant that we were all doing the obscene dance that goes with it in front of everyone. Some great pictures came from that dance…

Courtney and Alex-191

At the end of the night, when the groom traditionally carries the bride away, Alex really did have to pick me up to get me to leave the party. It took several people telling me that the staff was, in fact, cleaning up and kicking us out of the venue. Everyone lined up and blew bubbles at us as Alex carried me out. It was absolutely beautiful. In the picture, you’ll see the goofy looks on our faces and perhaps you’ll also notice that I’m barefoot.

At this particular moment, I had lost track of all of my possessions, including my shoes. My phone was somewhere in the building, I thought… so was my computer, my watch, my wallet, and keys… but it was hopeless. I was powerless to do anything about it and had to spend the entire weekend tracking everything down with the help of our close family and the wedding party. I’m usually so obsessive about those things. It’s an amazing feeling to be so swept up in a moment that you forget where your shoes are.



There seems to be an abundance of information about why cats purr, but discovering how cats purr was more tricky. With both topics came an air of mystery and uncertainty, because, perhaps, cats have not been as thoroughly studied as primates or rodents. And while I’m on this tangent, I’ll complain about the disproportionate amount of cat books compared to the dog books at the library. Two measly shelves was all I had to draw from for cat information, and what was there seemed to be different versions a book entitled something like I just got a Kitty! What should I do with it? One of the cat books was even written by a dog trainer (an obnoxiously self-obsessed one, at that)! It was pretty horrifying.

So, returning to the question, how do cats purr

The sound is produced by triggering the glottis (or vocal folds) to open and close using the larynx and diaphragm muscles, that is, the muscles surrounding the lung cavity and in the area colloquially known as the voice box. This muscular “tremor” occurs at a frequency of 25 to 150 Hertz, and appears to be a behavior that the cat can voluntarily trigger and cease.

Some research has been done to determine what members of the felid group, other than the domestic cat, make such noises. Because of the physiology and behavioral patterns of each feloidea being so different, in addition to the sparse availability of data on the subject, it is really only safe to say that most felids make some kind of purr-like noise for some reason.

What sources do agree upon is that purring in domestic cats normally occurs during relaxed or pleasurable moments, for example, during grooming, suckling, or receiving affection from humans, but that there are also occasional incidences of purring in painful situations. And that fact has lead many to suggest some interesting ideas on the purpose of purring, especially the idea that it is a recovery or recuperation response. In other words, purring may have a healing (or at least soothing) effect on the afflicted cat.

Another intriguing theory is that purring may have evolved to prevent muscle atrophy during a cat’s long sleep periods (but this theory, perhaps, falsely assumes that cats purr while sleeping), and purring may also serve to strengthen bone density. Several articles have also suggested that purring is used as a means of communication not only between the mother and her kittens, but between a domestic cat and a human. When my Harry wakes me up every morning, for example, he does so using his feed me purr, which seems to me to be very forced and urgent. Harry has a separate and distinct purr that is a far more relaxed and happy signal. Similarly, there is research suggesting that the frequency of the feed me purr is similar to the frequency of a baby’s cry and is therefore highly perturbing to humans.

Works Consulted

Gary, Stuart, and Vanessa Barrs. “How Do Cats Purr?”ABC Science. 31 May 2011. <http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/05/31/3231616.htm>.

Lyons, Leslie A. “Why Do Cats Purr?: Scientific American.” Scientific American. 7 Jan. 2003. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr>.

Peters, G. “Purring and Similar Vocalizations in Mammals.” Mammal Rev. 32.4 (2002): 245-71. Print.

Image by Cofaru Alexandru

The following story is a submission for Trupanion’s “Pawliday Blog Contest”.

We had just pulled into our driveway one night in September when I heard the heartbreaking distress call of a cat somewhere in the bushes near our neighbor’s house. We went inside our apartment hoping our neighbor would let the poor thing in when he got home, if the little creature even belonged to him.

We soon began to hear the cat calling outside of our front door. Clearly she had noticed us and thought she’d give us a try. We went to the door and saw a young, malnourished, ordinary-looking tabby cat. Despite her obvious hunger, she seemed friendly and highly interested in us. Before we could inspect her for signs of  disease or signs that she had an owner, she slipped inside and cried at us while circling our legs, purring, and rubbing on things.

We managed to calm the desperately hungry creature with some sandwich meat and cheese, which she gratefully devoured, purring all the while.  Once her hunger had subsided she made herself at home. That first night, to our surprise, the place she most wanted to be was between us on the bed. We didn’t have the heart to move her, let alone put her back outside. So she stayed.

A couple of weeks passed and our search for her family produced no results. Selfishly, we were happy to have the uncommonly cuddly house guest and had hoped no one would speak up. She routinely curled up between us at night and made our little apartment so much more lovely to come home to. It seemed to me that she, too, wanted to stay with us rather than go back to wherever she came from. We hated to think about how she ended up in such a state. Did she escape or was she abandoned? I couldn’t fathom why someone would abandon such a uniquely sweet girl.

We brought her to the vet to get the usual tests and some much-needed flea treatment. The examination confirmed that she had no microchip, making it less likely someone was out there looking for her. The vet guessed that she was between 6 months and a year old. It was then that we also learned about the disease that took her less than a year later, feline leukemia. Somehow, though, it made her more special to us. We promised to take the best care of her until her time came, hoping it never would.


Words can’t adequately describe our affection for Samantha, nor the affection she seemed to have for us. Her playful youth was infectious and her fondness of being held and petted was a delightful little trait. She enjoyed giving what we began to call “kitty hugs,” when she would place a leg on each shoulder and burrow her face into our necks while her back legs carelessly dangled.

It seemed to me that Samantha was a gift to us. An unknown force brought her to us, knowing how much we needed her, even if we didn’t know it yet, because she did, without a doubt, need us. She fit so nicely into our lives that when she was gone, there was an unfathomable feeling of emptiness.

Samantha was the first cat that my fiancee and I had together, and I know we will never be catless again. Soon after she died, we adopted Eve and  then Harry, both of whom I wrote about in another post. Samantha is a good example of a reason why it is important to adopt pets, rather than breed them. There are so many loving creatures out there that have been abandoned and mistreated who need homes. You can’t ask for a more perfect and mutually beneficial arrangement. I can’t think of a better gift than the love from the cat that arrived on our front doorstep one night.

Trupanion Pet Insurance

I suspect that there is a deeply rooted mammalian instinct to respond to babies in a gentle way, even in a cross-species interaction. My mother shared a You Tube video with me a few weeks ago that got me curious about baby/adult socializations. It involves a “Sheltie” dog and a pre-linguistic human child interacting in what seems like a playful way, especially at the end when the dog repeatedly licks the child’s face. I am willing to bet that there is a specific kind of behavior which, we’ll say, a dog employs when in the presence of a youngling, especially neonate. Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty finding research on this topic.

I was going to do some reading and write a post with answers on this topic that I’m so curious about, but either it doesn’t exist yet or it will require some digging. For now watch these adorable videos and tell us if you think these dogs would behave this way to just any person, or in the case of the 2nd video, just any old dog. Also tell us if you have witnessed a change in an animal’s behavior when he encountered a baby of some kind.

[Jan 2013 update — it looks like the video has disappeared. Very sad. I’ll keep looking for it, though!

Also, I keep changing my mind about what I want to do with my life, so just roll your eyes every time I declare I know what it is.]

This video on National Geographic’s web site is a fascinating look at the possible origins of the domesticated dog. It features Dr. Kathryn Lord, a Hampshire College graduate whose Behavior and Evolution of Dogs course I had the pleasure of taking in the spring of 2010. She’s the one in the light blue DVPHS sweatshirt. When I registered for her course I had been thinking Oh, this will be cute and fun without suspecting that it would be the introduction to what I want to do for the rest of my life, work with domesticated animals and their human companions.

But I digress! This video and Dr. Lord’s PhD work discusses the differences in the neonatal period of dogs and wolves: the order and at what point each of the senses develop in dog and wolf pups. This research shows us that the very differing rates of sense development in dogs and wolves cause the pups to react to stimuli in different ways.

It is important to recognize that there is very little known about dogs’ origins and evolution when coupled with the fact that 39% of US households consist of one or more dogs (HSUS). How did we go from the wolf, the domesticated dog’s closest relative, to the Dalmatian, the Dachshund, the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Newfoundland dog, the Pitbull, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (so cute!) and so forth and so on?

This is Harry. We adopted him in his kittenhood from the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. It became apparent that he, and no other, would be coming home with us that day when he refused to be placed back in his cage.Getting Harry at such a young age has allowed us to help his personality develop in certain ways. For example, frequently holding him on his back when he was only three months old helped him overcome the normal cat’s fear of feeling vulnerable and out of control in such positions. He is, as a result, quite trusting, friendly, and rag-doll docile.

Eve came to us with a very different story. We got her as a two-year-old from the humane society knowing little about her previous life. We know she is a mother of at least one litter and that someone found her surrounded by kittens in a basement. 

We have seen many improvements, but she is a very skittish girl. It is pretty clear that humans were not her friends before she met us. I’ve seen her spook herself and jump unnaturally high to escape whatever it was. She will sometimes allow us to pick her up but the operation requires some finesse.

We believe that introducing Harry the kitten to Eve was probably the smoothest course we could have taken, as we wanted her to have a friend. I have also seen in many cases that bringing young blood into a household brings out healthy play behavior in the older individuals. This goes for us bipeds, too!

Eve was no exception. There was, of course, some hissing at first but once the two had come to some real estate agreements, they started wrestling and chasing each other more frequently than we had even hoped. And what we had not expected begun happening: absolutely picturesque cuddling and grooming moments.

If you have an interesting story involving introducing your animals to one another, please do share it in a comment.

I’m naked!

Come back when I’ve put some clothes on. This is a very new blog. It will be changing daily and I hope you’ll come back often to witness it! Don’t be surprised if you see computer guts strewn everywhere. I’m working on it!