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The Secret World Of Housecats: What They Do When Their Owners Are Away


Sirin Kale couldn't figure out what her grey and white cat, Larry, was getting up to at night when he refused to come home. Larry, it seemed, enjoyed a very active social life, but it got The Guardian writer thinking, what do cats get up to when they head out of sight? She recruited five feline friends all around England and outfitted them with GPS trackers. Bluebell, Pablo, Marina, Zaki and Pisi joined Larry as her unwitting volunteers. She joins me now to unveil their whereabouts. Hello.

SIRIN KALE: Hello. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am excited to have you because I have a cat, and my cat wanders, and this was very interesting (laughter). What did you learn about cat behavior when they're not home cuddling with us?

KALE: You know, what I found out about these cats is that there's really no one thing that they do outside, but they really do have their own lives. They have their schedules. They have their routines. They have their hangout spots. They have their nap spots. They have the places that they go to go hunting. And it really sort of gave me this profound insight into the fact that these cute, adorable, fluffy little pets that sit on our laps and, you know, watch TV with us in the evening actually are creatures very much at their own whims and interests of their own.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your article details, you know, certain cats having an independent streak - not surprising - but some that liked flirting or harassing the human neighbors to get extra meals. Some strayed 4 1/2 miles away. What did these cats get up to?

KALE: So my cat, Larry, he was crossing a railway track behind my house. I mean, and this railway track is, like, 30 feet up from the ground. There's, like, busy freight trains crossing it constantly. And I think quite naively, when I moved into this house, I thought, oh, there's no way he's going to be able to climb up that high. And he'll never cross that train track. It'd be absolutely suicidally dangerous thing to do. But yeah, he is crossing it, which obviously gives me quite a cause for alarm. We had Pablo, who is off hunting in allotments by his house and bringing about dormice every single day. I think my favorite, actually, was one cat that was very routinely getting up to four meals a day. One of my cat guardians said that he confronted his neighbor at the end of the week and said, look. I've seen that my cat's spending a lot of time in your garden. Are you feeding it? And the neighbor was like, yes, I have been secretly feeding it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this led to some uncomfortable conversations with the neighbors.

KALE: Yeah, I think it was good nature. His perspective was, you know, I don't mind if you feed him, but please just tell me (laughter) so that this cat isn't getting four meals a day and sort of gaining quite a lot of weight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. In your article, you do address the legitimate concerns people have about letting their cats roam and what you discovered when you looked into it.

KALE: You know, it's actually - it's a sort of very fraught area. A lot of gardeners really don't like the fact that on the whole, we tend to let our cats out in the U.K. because these cats are defecating on their flowerbeds or they are pulling up their veg. And then on top of that, the birds lobby, as they're referred to by animal researchers, is very powerful. And they don't like cats going out and hunting birds and other small animals but particularly birds. In the U.K., the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says that there isn't actually clear scientific evidence that cats are causing bird populations to decline.

It's a little bit different depending on what country you're in. So in Australia, for example, cats are not a native species. Neither are they in New Zealand. And actually, they are really posing a threat to the natural wildlife there because cats are hunters. You know, these gorgeous, adorable pets that sleep with us in our beds - we often forget that, actually, hunting is a very core part of that DNA. And actually, you know, that's what many cats do and will continue to do if they are allowed to go outside.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I understand you got really addicted to watching your cat on GPS.

KALE: I did. I did. But I sort of had a bit of a kind of moral tussle about this. I felt a bit wrong to be monitoring him like that. You know, I felt a little bit like I'm sort of bugging my teenage son's phone (laughter). I decided to let him have his freedom now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The secret life of cats. Sirin Kale is of the Guardian newspaper.

Thank you very much.

KALE: Thank you for having me.


SCATMAN CROTHERS: (Singing as Scat Cat) Everybody wants to be a cat because a cat's the only cat who knows... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.