Cats in Space

Cats in Space. It may sound like it could have been a skit on the original Muppet Show, but along with dogs, chimps, monkeys and a variety of other species cats were part of early space programs. The contributions of our feline friends, along with other animals  who made the ultimate sacrifice, have often gone unnoticed as they became unwilling victims to the advancement of space exploration and human curiosity.

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The U.S while never actually sending cats into space did subject them to a ride on the “Vomit Comet”. Weightlessness, cats and pigeons.

Animals were used in early space programs to gain understanding of biological processes and the effects of space flight and gravity so that human injuries and loss could be reduced. Many countries used animals in early space programs including the U.S. Russia, China and Japan, but France included cats. Among the cats that the French used, who were subjected to a battery of tests including compression chambers, centrifuges and rocket-propelled sleds, a male named Felix and female named Félicette were chosen to be part of the first mission in 1963. Felix however had other plans and went missing just before the mission. Smart Cat.

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Félicette, who was found on the streets of Paris, stepped in to replace Felix as the first cat in space and, on On October 18, 1963 she was launched on the Véronique AG1 rocket from Algerian Sahara desert rocket base. After a 15 minute flight reaching an altitude of 130 miles Félicette made it back safely to Earth – alive. She had electrodes implanted in her brain so that they could measure brain activity and to register any changes that may have happened during the flight. Although Félicette did not actually orbit the Earth she came back a hero and was celebrated for her “valuable contribution to research” however, her celebrity did not last long. Not much is documented about her fate but it was noted in one blog that she was put to sleep not long after so that the electrodes could be studied. The not so glamorous side to the story and the reality of what happens to the majority of cats used in research.

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Cats in simulated spacesuits [NASA archive]

Félicette wasn’t the last cat to go to space, and on October 24 France launched another cat who did not make it back alive. There were problems with the recovery and the delay cost the unknown ‘astrocat’ his or her life.

The story of Félicette and the other cats used in the French space program appear to have quietly slipped away into history, but it’s an important story to be told and one that should not be forgotten.

What does the future hold for cats in space? At the time there doesn’t seem to be any plans for these experiments to be repeated, however recently the Iranian Space Agency announced plans to send a Persian Cat into space. The announcement met with backlash and rightfully so, but whether or not the unlucky feline will make it to orbit is unclear.

Here’s hoping we keep cats, and all other animals, grounded and the only time we see our feline friends visit space is in a video like this.

A Year In Review

Today marks the one year anniversary of Purr and Roar, and what a year it has been! I can best describe it as being a fun, challenging and ongoing learning experience, one that I have been fortunate enough to share with a great community of people.  A special thanks to all who have read, shared and supported this blog!

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In honor of this day I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate by listing a few highlights starting with the first post on March 15 2014. The date is significant as it happened to coincide with a very important cause that I am actively involved in supporting.

The Global March For Lions

For anyone wishing to know more about this issue and the status of the African Lion check under the category of Lions or Global March For Lions on my home page.

Let’s Talk About Your Cat

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I love the stories that come along with cat adoption, and I love sharing them. This past year I have had some pretty interesting cats featured, but one of my favorites Xander the rescued lab cat was extra special. If you would like to have your cats story included in an edition of Let’s Talk About Your Cat be sure to leave me a message.

On The Trail of Big Cats

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Going to see award-winning photographer Steve Winter at a National Geographic Live Lecture series last October was a major highlight. Later I wrote On The Trail of Big Cats and had it picked up by Nat Geo Live on Facebook, and then by Steve Winter on Twitter. I was extremely honored by the acknowledgment and made sure to grab this screen shot.

10 Years Hundreds of Cats

cats, kittens, volunteer, cat cuddler, Toronto Animal Services, foster, cat rescue, cat adoptions, donateCelebrating my 10 year anniversary as a cat volunteer with Toronto Animal Services and receiving a special feature on their site was pretty awesome and a reminder of how time sure does fly when you are around cats!

Lanai’s Little Lions

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Time for Treats aka cat herding at Lanai Animal Rescue Center

Visiting the Lanai Animal Rescue Center in Hawaii where I met some wonderful people and saw first hand how this amazing organization helps the many homeless, stray and abandoned cats on the island.

Grumpy Cat

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Frown? No!

Meeting Grumpy Cat on her North American Book Tour here in Toronto was loads of fun, but also awful.

World Lion Day

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Image – Rob Janisch – World Lion Day

Honoring World Lion Day by interviewing my friend, extraordinary African safari guide and lover of Lions Rob Janisch to get the home perspective on this iconic species.

My Name is Bob

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And, last but not least, being asked by the publisher to write a review for the children’s book, and one of my favorites, My Name is Bob.

Thanks again to everyone and be sure to check out Purr and Roar on  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where you will find lots more on all cats, both big and small.

Let’s Talk About Your Cat! Special Edition

I am very excited to feature a cat named Xander for this extended and special edition of Let’s Talk About Your Cat.

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A huge thank you goes out to Xander’s pet mom Rachel Gruen for allowing me to share his inspiring story with others.

Q What are your cats/names/age/color/breed

Joey male buff tabby 3 years old; Delilah female tortoiseshell calico 5 years old; Xander male black 4 years old; and Skyler male gray tabby 2 years old – all domestic short hairs.

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Delilah, Joey, Skyler and Xander – a family portrait

Q What is your first memory or experience with cats?

RG My family had cats throughout my young childhood, then had to stop because I developed a cat allergy. Fortunately I just take allergy medicine now to manage it, and I’m fine!

Q Describe your cats personalities

RG  Joey is Xander’s mentor, he looks to him for everything and is his shadow! Delilah is Joey’s biological mom and the adoptive mom of the other two. Xander spent his first three years in a research lab, he has been free since January 2014 and is so resilient and such a love. Skylar was the first one to make friends with Xander, his best friend and main play-wrestling opponent.

Xander looks out an open window for the first time

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Q How did your cats come into your life?

RG  In 2011 I finally got an apartment where I could have cats! I walked around the cat room at the Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia (ACCT) open-intake shelter, and Delilah was there with Joey. Skyler was a feral kitten who got trapped on my sunken-in patio in fall 2012, he was terrified of people but the vet I took him to taught me how to wrap him in a towel to make him feel safe. I found Xander when I was on a vegetarian recipe site and saw a link to Beagle Freedom Project’s (BFP) most recent beagle rescue. I was not looking for another cat, but when I saw that this rescue was five cats, which is VERY unusual, I just had to click the story.

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Once I saw Xander’s handsome black fur and yellow eyes, I just fell in love with him. I filled out an adoption application, and even though they have rescues all over the country, he happened to be just two hours away! It was fate. I met him at his foster home in March 2014, and he climbed onto my lap, the only time he has ever done that…he chose me too.

Q How was it to watch the video of Xander taking his first steps of freedom after the lab?

RG Honestly, watching that video and seeing him slink out of the carrier, nervous and unsure, is what really grabbed my heart. I just knew that I was meant to be his mom and ensure that he never had to be scared like that again. Xander was named Jax, but I changed it to Xander because it means “defender of all,” and I consider him a defender of all lab animals. It made me more determined to make every second of his free life the best that it can be.

Xander and his foster-sister Shira, another BFP rescue from his lab. Very sadly, Shira passed away in the summer from a sudden and unexpected seizure

Q What if any issues does Xander have as a result of his former life?

RG When Xander first came home with me, I noticed that he spent a lot of time staring into his water dish and at blank spaces on the wall. He also cocked his head in this adorable but very un-cat-like way whenever I came into the room—like a puppy putting its head to the side, which I have never seen a cat do before. Because of these behaviors, I think he may have been used for neurological research. However, it is also possible that those are just some unique mannerisms that he picked up because he lived for three years in a restrictive lab environment. Interestingly, both of those behaviors have since greatly decreased, so either his brain has recovered from the trauma done to it or he has learned that he does not have to act that way and can just be a normal, calm house cat in a very safe place.

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“Thousands of lab animals lives mirror Xander’s life, minus the happy ending, tragically most cats are euthanized after experimentation.”

He also did not wash his face after he ate—a sign that he was taken away from his mom when he was too young, fortunately he has an awesome cat family that taught him about normal cat hygiene, and he was a very quick study! Also, his paw pads became cracked after a few days, and I had to find a cruelty-free paw butter to use which worked like magic. This could be a result of what was done to him in the lab or because he was not used to running and playing so much, and his paws had to toughen up…I think it’s probably the latter. Fortunately he has great house cat paw pads now. 🙂

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Q What have been some of the best moments with Xander?

RG Honestly, the best moments are the little ones—when I first held him in my arms, and then the first time that he pushed away from me to be put down…I know that might sound strange, but he was so used to being manhandled and used for experimentation that at first he was not a normal cat, as he would just go limp in my arms as if resigned to whatever was going to happen to him. The first time he told me that he was ready to be put down, I was THRILLED! It has been amazing to see his true independent cat streak emerge. I love how playful he is—he is kittenish even though he turned four; he has a lot of time to make up for! I adore when we are having a quiet night at home and he is snuggling with his brothers, grooming them, and/or play-fighting with them. I also love walking around the house, just cuddling him, hearing his purrs, being SO thankful that he is free and that he is mine. He has truly brought so much to all of our lives.

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Q After all Xander has been through, to see him trust a human shows the capacity that animals have to forgive. What have these qualities taught you?

RG I am so humbled by it. The fact that for his entire life he was used and abused by humans for their own means, never given a choice in the matter, and yet he is still the most loving of all of my cats toward visitors to the house…it truly shows how intelligent, resilient, and good-natured cats are, especially him. He also teaches me to be present in each moment, because he is—he does not even think about his bad days, he is so focused on his good life now. I have also learned in running his Facebook page that there are SO many compassionate people in the world. It truly restores your faith in humanity!

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Q If people reading this only take two things away from Xander’s story what would you like them to be? 

RG To always choose education and awareness over ignorance, particularly when it comes to animal testing. Buying cruelty-free items and sharing Xander’s story really does make a true and genuine difference. I have always loved all animals, not just cats, which is a big part of why I have been a vegetarian for a decade and vegan since this summer. Deciding to live a completely humane and compassionate lifestyle has been a great choice for me.

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Xander asks you to choose Cruelty Free products

Finally, the depths of forgiveness, gentleness, love, curiosity, and hope that I have seen in Xander and learned from him have been astounding. He never looks back, I know that he does not live with regret, fear, or pain, even when he remembers what happened to him in the lab. That only makes him appreciate his free life more. He is a survivor in the truest sense of the word, and not only that, he is thriving in his new life, enriching the lives of his cat family, me, and everyone whose heart he touches with his story.

For more Xander be sure to follow Xander the Rescued Lab Cat on Facebook

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“Knowledge is power – everyone can make a difference”

Xander’s story is not unique, it is estimated that between “20,000 and 25,000 cats are used in research labs in the US every year.” Source American Anit-Vivisection Society

In 2011 in Canada it is estimated that “6,220 cats were reported used in research”  Source Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)

Suggested resources on the  topic