Researchers put tiny cameras on house cats to track their travels

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by DOUG RICHARDS / NBC

KING5.com

Posted on May 15, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 15 at 7:17 PM

Amy Watts of Athens, Georgia has three cats who roam outdoors.  She thought she knew them.  Now she knows them much better.

"I knew that Booker T's favorite place to go was down in the storm sewer. And now I know what the storm sewer looks like,” she said.
 
She knows that because UGA researcher Kerri Anne Loyd recruited Booker T for a project to view the secret lives of outdoor house cats.  When Loyd equipped Booker T with a three-ounce video camera attached to a collar.
 
The cat obliged with an infrared tour of the neighborhood storm sewer.
 
"It's kind of frightening...I wish he would never go down there again," said Loyd.
 
As part of her cat files project, Loyd says she gathered more than 2,000 hours of kitty-cam footage -- much of it framed on top by the animal's fuzzy chin and wiry whiskers.  

They stalked their neighbors' chickens.  They camped out under automobiles.  They ascended the pitched roofs of their neighbors' homes.  They had unnerving nighttime encounters with opossums and other woodland creatures. 
 
And they stalked prey. Loyd says her cameras documented dozens of encounters between cats and slower-moving critters -- oftentimes resulting in the cat cheerfully relocating its hapless victim.
 
"Most of them left their prey. They would capture it, play with it for a minutes, then leave it close to the site of capture. Rather than bring it home as a gift for the owners,” said Loyd
 
Loyd says the research has a point:  to show cat owners what their cats really do outdoors, and to strongly suggest that indoor cats lead less perilous lives.
 
"We were surprised to see that 85 percent of our sample of 60 cats experienced at least one risk behavior in the course of a week. So that was a pretty high percentage,” she said.

The cameras told stories -- and in the case of Archie, the striped tabby, it exposed a double life beyond Amy Watts' property line.
 
"Got a whole other family," she said. "They held open the door for him, and he walked in...he just hung out in the house. I feel like one of those women on the talk shows - my husband has two wives. My cat has two families."
 
For an eternity, these stealthy animals lived secret lives.  Now the lid is off.  And the cats-- do they look like they care? 

A Seattle cat named Cooper has been photographing his neighborhood for years. More information here: http://www.photographercat.com/

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