[General] Playing with cats

I sort of wish I had the time to build a prototype robotic stimulant for the cats I'm currently living with.

A cat, napping
My concept on pets is that they're often a bad idea, because many people's lives don't really allow them to attend and stimulate the cats as much as they deserve.  They're living creatures originating from a state of freedom, and to circumscribe their existence to confines of one safe house and one consistent routine sadly limits the extent of their experience.  I generally think that as intelligent, emotional creatures, they deserve comparable attention to, say, children, in that both are living entities that deserve a degree of respect but who are dependent on their owner/parent to provide many things for them.  We don't let them be self-sufficient, because we don't trust that they'll behave in a way that's acceptable by society (dogs that run into your yard and chase your cats and bark and bite) and we don't want them to risk their lives (cats getting into fights with raccoon). (I thought my browser didn't know the plural of raccoon had an -s.  It turns out "raccoon" is an acceptable plural, though.  Procyon Lotor, you old raccoon.)  I would generally approve of life styles that integrate a pet more deeply than my family ever did.  Take them out with you whenever possible, inconvenience yourself for their benefit (they're generally not the ones who chose this existence, so you owe them a bit to give them a good existence, even if you have to compromise what you'd want a bit), try to ensure their life is worthwhile and interesting (perhaps cook for them, rather than just giving them kibble; in theory you could eat a kibble-like diet and be healthy, but would you want to?  (well, maybe)), make sure their litter box is clean or that you don't make them wait on your TV show to go outside when they need to go (what if your bathroom experience was dependent on the whim of others? Yikes!).
Twinkle Toes and Buzz

I am currently living with two cats and sometimes a dog.  Also, a fish and a bird, but I rarely see those (though I used to babysit them at my old apartment).  I wouldn't elect to have such pets myself right now, because I'm currently barely able to take care of myself (I'm doing fine), let alone another living creature, especially the way I'd want to take care of them.  Still, I'd like to do what I can to contribute to these cats' lives.  So far, that's meant being very prompt in dealing with their litter and providing them with some pets.

I feel a bit bad, though, as I'm not willing to take steps to make their nourishment more interesting, as they're carnivores and I'm a vegan.  Also, I don't provide very much stimulation at all.  Hence my desire for a robotic friend.

About two years ago I had aspired to get a Roomba for my household.  I thought my then-partner and I could also treat it a bit like a pet and enjoy some materialistic technology.  I never got one, but I still think it would be useful, and I think it's a neat basis for a robotic companion for a cat.  It's cool because it's autonomous and moves around and reacts to its environment.  It's also useful, and cute.  There's a lot of cat hair that accrues here (oh, my next plan is to get a cat brush and in the mornings brush down the cats to prevent uncontrolled shedding throughout the day!), so that would help the floor situation a bit.

Ultimately, though, I'd want a bit more from the robot.  I'd want it to have more meaningful interactions with the cat, have a concept of play.  Be willing to at times chase the cat, and at times flee and hide from it.  Importantly, it would want to make noises as reactive feedback, and not just randomly.  It would be cool if it had something like a laser pointer to distract the cats with.  I know such a robot would be a poor substitute for a human companion in most ways, because it would be relatively stupid, predictable, and meaningless, but at least it would be something that I can't provide right now myself.

Technology isn't perfect, it's not even great; it's all quite awful, even when it does what it intends well, but given that I'm fairly invested in it future-wise, I might as well try to make the best of it.


  1. Don't feel bad about not enhancing their diets. In my experience, animals can eat little but kibble indefinitely, with no appearance of diminishing enjoyment. On the other hand, giving them finer foods is a good way to ruin their enjoyment of kibble. And likely their health, as well, since kibble is designed to be nutritious in a way that most tasty foods aren't.

    Your idea of "the good life" for animals is interesting, but I wonder how much you're imposing your own views on the animals.

  2. That's no consolation.

    I agree that it's possible for animals to eat a kibble indefinitely. I look forward to more human kibble.

    If you can provide a finer food experience for someone that they'd enjoy more, would you still think it preferable to limit them to something less enjoyable? Do you avoid treating yourself to nice things for fear of rendering yourself discontent with more common things?

    The idea would be to plan meals for the pet in question that were not less healthy than the kibble. Kibble is a very cheap and streamlined experience, and removes another opportunity for variable stimulus in.

    Maximising convenience and minimising cost are not the same as maximising enjoyment and nutrition. Prioritising personal expense and convenience over the animal's constrained experience is what I'm questioning.

    "Your idea of 'the good life' for animals is interesting, but I wonder how much you're imposing your own views on the animals"
    As in my own views on what I'd want in that situation, or my views on what animals could want in that situation? If the latter, I suppose everyone responsible for a pet does. If it's the former, I'd agree that I let my experience as an animal raise considerations for other animals.

    I can observe that animals react differently to different degrees of stimulation, like me. I can observe that animals react different to different food sources, like me.

  3. We have kibble for humans. Most people refer to it as junk food. Allowing the consumer to influence its composition results in it being very unhealthy in most cases.

    I avoid treating myself to many pleasurable things, as I think there is evidence that they are detrimental to my long term health and happiness.

    Individual humans frequently make poor judgments of what will make them happy, and even worse judgments of what will make other humans happy. Trying to predict what will make another species happy is no easier.

    If an animal is happy with kibble, I think that's something to be happy about. I think being capable of happiness with less is the safer route to happiness.

  4. The kibble for animals is purportedly meeting or exceeding minimum nutritional requirements, and I don't think most human junk food does, so I wouldn't treat it as kibble. I think the closest thing to human kibble is cocoa puffs breakfast cereal: it's fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals and served in a bath containing some protein. And it looks the part.

    I agree that restraint in treating oneself has many benefits and I hope not to spoil myself or others. While we often make suboptimal judgments for ourselves and worse for others, I don't think we always do, and that with a little effort, trial, and error, we can still improve a situation without perfect judgment.

    I'm happy if an animal is happy with kibble. I'm not very happy if an animal seems under-stimulated, and I think food as an important part of life is a good opportunity for stimulation. Being happy with less is great, but it's better when you you get to make that choice than when it's made for you. I'm concerned of when people deprive pets of stimulation more due to personal inconvenience, because the animal is dependent on them for a lot of their stimulation. But I don't want to recklessly spoil an animal.

  5. Cereal is quite kibble-like. Processed, bite-sized, and hard to get tired of.

    Freedom to choose is over-rated. It's important from time to time, but generally I find I'm happiest when I submit to the decrees of The To-Do App, rather than doing what I think or feel I should be doing at the time. I'm doubtful that animals would fare any better if given a more options.

  6. Haha. I think if they could add protein, a few other ingredients, and reduce the sugar, it might be perfect.

    I think it's easier to dismiss choice when you already have choice. I enjoyed wearing dress shirts through much of my undergrad, but when I worked at that financial service software firm and had to, I started to almost resent them.

    Perhaps I require this To-Do App you speak of, though. :)

  7. Both having and not having choice are problems. It is true that I my concern with the former situation is related to rarely encountering the latter.

  8. Yes. I find having many alternatives painful. I feel like there are only a few meaningful differences between various phones and computers, and that a lot of the selection is just distracting.

    I am going to make a quick post about which computer I would like, since I did a recent search of various options.



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