1946: Carolyn Swanson of Hermosa Beach, California made headlines on account of Baby, her "seeing-eye cat." Somehow she had trained him to assist her as she walked around town.
Mrs. Swanson lives at 1029 Bayview Dr. in Hermosa Beach. Any day when she goes down the street "Baby" quickly moves along the fence ahead of her, jumps to the top of the first step and slowly waves his full tail, brushing her ankle. He does not move until she begins to count out loud the first of the seven steps down. Then lightly he moves on to the bottom step, meows to tell her the path is clear and out to the sidewalk and curb he moves, and again awaits his beloved mistress. Waving that beautiful tail and brushing her ankle, he without sound tells her of the curb step, and not until the traffic is clear does he stop waving his tail so that she may know to cross. Slowly they both cross, she having confidence in her steps because "Baby" is at her side, brushing her ankle with his tail, keeping her path straight. As they approach the curb he stops, announces the curb, and after she is safely upon it they move on.
— The Redondo Reflex - Dec 13, 1946
The artwork Infinity Kisses, by Carolee Schneeman, consists of multiple self-shot photos of her kissing her cat. (See video below). She worked on it from 1982-1988.
After she completed this work, it evidently didn't receive much attention from the art world, because in a 1991 essay, published in Art Journal (Winter 1991), she complained of its neglect:
Is the critical neglect of my current work a form of censorship? For instance, is the lack of attention to two of my recent works, the 1988 installation, Venus Vectors, in which the unraveling of two (menstrual) dream symbols situates a visual morphology of vulvic form, and Infinity Kisses, a recent photo series of my cat, Cluny, and me that raises the issue of "appropriate eroticism" and interspecies communication, an act of censorship?
Desmond Slattery (1914-1977) claimed to be a naturalist. But I'm not sure how much scientific training he actually had. I suspect that's just how he rebranded himself after his career in Hollywood fizzled.
His 'Songbird Saver,' which he debuted in 1968, was designed to stop cats from attacking birds by conditioning them to think that, if they did so, the birds would explode. As explained in the LA Times (Jan 23, 1969):
Basically, the Songbird Saver consists of a small dummy bird which, when nudged by a cat for any reason, explodes.
Slattery's own news release describes its effectiveness perhaps more vividly:
"Slipping out of the house, the trainee-cat will make its stealthily stalking approach... Seeing it (the Songbird Saver), apparently frozen with terror, the trainee-cat will pounce upon it, and with the resulting explosion, that cat will go about 9 feet in the air and take off for the high timber before its feet touch the ground."
It is with this simple device that Slattery hopes to save civilization "as we know it."
"Songbirds are vital to our ecology of life," he explained. "Our society could not exist without them. Frankly, in six years we'd be up to our neck in insects."
Slattery emphasized his device is harmless to cats and uses merely the same sort of exploding caps used in cap pistols. It is based on common theories of preconditioning and some stuff he read by Mark Twain on a cat's ability to learn.
"It's based, actually, on a combination of Pavlov and Mark Twain. If both those guys are wrong, I'm wrong."
The dapper 54-year-old promoter denied he was "anti-cat" and said that in fact his invention would allow cats and birds to live together in harmony.
The Calvin Klein fragrance Obsession for Men has the odd distinction of being known to be an aphrodisiac for cats. And not just house cats. The larger, wild variety as well. The NY Times explains:
This fragrance for men includes civetone, a compound originally derived from the scent glands of a civet though now often made synthetically. Obsession has been billed as irresistible to women. But because of the civetone, it is also scientifically proven to make wild cats go gaga. They roll around it, they take huge sniffs, they luxuriate in the smell for several minutes.
They don’t react to all perfumes - with some of them they’re like, “meh,” just like us I guess, some of them they’re not real keen on. But others, like the Calvin Klein one, whatever is in that, cats love it. They really, really roll and cheek-rub and they just look to be in heaven.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.