Mysterious cat is mysterious

Our new cat Zola, it appears, has a mysterious past. The computer that knows about the ID chip embedded under his skin thinks he’s a dog.

There’s more to the story. And it makes us think we may have misread Zola’s initial behavior. I’m torn between wishing he could tell us what he’d been through, and maybe being thankful that he can’t. Because if he could, I suspect I might experience an urge to go punch someone’s lights out that would be bad for my karma.

On Zola’s first vet visit, one of the techs did a routine check and discovered that Zola had had an ID chip implanted under his skin. This confirmed our suspicion that he’d been raised by humans rather than being feral or semi-feral. Carol, our contact at PALS (the rescue network we got Zola from) put some more effort into trying to trace his background.

We already knew that PALS rescued Zola from an ASPCA shelter in Cumberland County, New Jersey, just before he would have been euthanized. Further inquiry disclosed that (a) he’d been dumped at the shelter by a human, and (b) he was, in Carol’s words, “alarmingly skinny” – they had to feed him up to a normal weight.

The PALS people didn’t know he was chipped. When we queried Home Again, the chip-tracking outfit, the record for the chip turned out to record the carrier as a dog. The staffer my wife Cathy spoke with at Home Again thought that was distinctly odd. This is not, apparently, a common sort of confusion.

My wife subsequently asked Home Again to contact the person or family who had Zola chipped and request that the record be altered to point to us. (This is a routine procedure for them when an animal changes owners.)

We got a reply informing us that permission for the transfer was refused.

These facts indicate to us that somewhere out there, there is someone who (a) got Zola as a kitten, (b) apparently failed to feed him properly, (c) dumped him at a shelter, and now (d) won’t allow the chip record to be changed to point to his new home.

This does not add up to a happy picture of Zola’s kittenhood. It is causing us to reconsider how we evaluated his behavior when we first met him. We thought he was placid and dignified – friendly but a little reserved.

Now we wonder – because he isn’t “placid” any more. He scampers around in high spirits. He’s very affectionate, even a bit needy sometimes. (He’s started to lick our hands occasionally during play.) Did we misunderstand? Was his reserve a learned fear of mistreatment? We don’t know for sure, but it has become to seem uncomfortably plausible.

There’s never any good reason for mistreating a cat, but it seems like an especially nasty possibility when the cat is as sweet-natured and human-friendly as Zola is. He’s not quite the extraordinarily loving creature Sugar was, but his Coon genes are telling. He thrives on affection and returns it more generously every week.

I don’t know if we’ll ever find out anything more. Nobody at PALs or Home Again or our vet has a plausible theory about why Zola is carrying an ID chip registered to a dog, nor why his former owners owners won’t OK a transfer.

We’re just glad he’s here.

39 thoughts on “Mysterious cat is mysterious

  1. You’re right to think that his reservation may be a fear of mistreatment. Think of your cat like a little like a human with ptsd.

    The present friendlyness may also stem from one of two things. The depressing version would be a need to please, in fear of his attitude being at fault of his past experiences. The uplifting version would be

    I’m freeeeeeeeeee!

    I like the second version.

  2. I remember when I got my cat (which was approximately 7 years old at the time), she used to put on a frightened stare and run under the furniture whenever she did any noise (bumping into objects and the like). She made a conscious effort to be invisible not to disturb anyone, up to the point that our landlord never noticed we had her for the 6 months we stayed there. We were sure that she was beaten and were worried that she might not bond to us. Luckily, when winter came, she started being very affectionate and still is after 7 years.

  3. Nothing to do with PTSD. Please don’t misrepresent the condition further.

    It’s just his personality shaped by childhood. Basing on a cat clinging on me now. He was taken from state shelter at 4 weeks old.

  4. > This entry was posted in “Science”

    Errr….???

    BTW. shouldn’t it be tagged “Zola”?

  5. Poor Zola. “But it’s alright now. In fact, it’s a gas.” He’s found two humans who are loving and responsible. That said, I do hope you find some solution to the chip thing.
    I’m Gorgonzola. It’s a gas, gas, gas.

  6. Can you have the dog chip removed and replaced?

    If something ever happened, I’m guessing you wouldn’t want Zola being returned to the previous owner based on the old chip.

  7. >Can you have the dog chip removed and replaced?

    The Home Again people recommend against that. Puuting in a second one would be less complicated.

  8. What happens if two chips are installed with conflicting information? Is there a timestamp, and the later one controls?

    Then again, if one says the animal is a dog and the other a cat…

  9. Just need to create a mini-EMP to fry the previous chip. Problem solved.

    I’m more of a dog person (please don’t ban me!), and we just adopted a two-year-old Beagle. She’s been doing OK overall after the usual expected initial jitters after being handed around foster homes for a bit, but a few weeks after we had her we got out a flyswatter to handle some flies that had gotten into the house, and she ran away in utter, total fear.

    Honestly up until that point we thought she had simply run away from her first home. She definitely likes to wander, and it was plausible she wandered away and couldn’t get back. But that cast the theory into some doubt.

  10. @esr – Since the previous ‘owners’ don’t want to relinquish their Home Again registration, do you have any concerns that they might try to re-assert that ownership? And do you have any recourse?

  11. I don’t get it. Zola has a chip that identifies the original owners that dropped him off at the shelter. He was received in a very poor condition….and no animal cruelty charges were filed? Nor a precautionary visit to their property to see if any evidence exists of other poorly treated animals?

    Anyhow…Zola has a good home now. I think your dark suspicion regarding his initial placid behavior may well be accurate….but it seems to me that the security and affection that you & Cathy have blanketed Zola with is now paying dividends as he emerges from his ‘shell’.

    Good job :)

  12. Very odd.

    Perhaps previous owner chipped Zola and a dog simultaneously and crossed the chips? Or re-used a chip associated with a deceased dog (but had correct ownership)…

  13. Why does Home Again allow the original owner to have any say in this?

  14. Also…removal of an ID chip that is just under the skin doesn’t seem like it is at all risky to the animal’s health….just a local anesthetic job….what’s the big deal?

  15. Perhaps Zola has been trying to go undercover as a dog, and now realizes his cover may be blown.

  16. Putting in a second one would be less complicated.

    In fact, my ex-wife’s cat Maui has two chips in him. Before she took him with her to Finland, he had to have a new chip implanted that conforms to the ISO standard, which uses a 15-digit code. He had previously been implanted with a chip that used the older 10-digit code standard when we adopted him from the Denver Dumb Friends League. The two chips also use different frequencies when they’re read, so they don’t conflict. Maui doesn’t mind having two chips in him…

  17. I suspect I might experience an urge to go punch someone’s lights out that would be bad for my karma.

    Or it’s their karma coming back to them.

  18. I suspect I might experience an urge to go punch someone’s lights out that would be bad for my karma.

    …bad for your RTC also ;)

  19. Dan, seems to me like it would be a bad idea to go after people who drop mistreated animals off at the shelter. Seems like that would give such louses incentive to just kill the animal outright instead of giving it a chance at a better home…

  20. >@esr – Since the previous ‘owners’ don’t want to relinquish their Home Again registration, do you have any concerns that they might try to re-assert that ownership? And do you have any recourse?

    That does worry us a bit. Not as much as it might, because the terms of the PALS contract require that Zola be an indoor cat anyway. The only bad scenario is one where he gets out, is found, and the chip is misleading.

    We’ll be extra careful.

  21. Paul Brinkley hit the nail right on the head!

    Cats will be dogs and dogs will be cats.
    It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world
    except my Zola,
    Zo-Zo-Zo-Zo-Zola.

  22. >Why does Home Again allow the original owner to have any say in this?

    That’s a very good question. There are some messed-up property rights implications here, at the very least.

  23. Personally, under these circumstances, I would want to get the chip with the previous owners’ address out of Zola no matter what advice I was given to the contrary. It can’t be that hard for a vet to remove it.

  24. There has to be a way to convince HomeAgain to change the info without needing permission. Maybe the shelter you adopted him from can help with that? I’m surprised they didn’t take care of it themselves.

  25. Proof that Eric and Cathy have assumed responsibility for Zola’s care should have been sufficient. I have to believe HomeAgain is satisfied that they have proof, indicated by Cathy’s conversation with that staffer. Therefore, either I am mistaken and they don’t have sufficient proof, or there’s a bug in their process, or there is some policy somehow not under HomeAgain’s control.

  26. A random thought I had after the first time I had a cat chipped: “Now she has a MAC address!”

  27. The PALS people didn’t know he was chipped. When we queried Home Again, the chip-tracking outfit, the record for the chip turned out to record the carrier as a dog. The staffer my wife Cathy spoke with at Home Again thought that was distinctly odd. This is not, apparently, a common sort of confusion.

    Given the typical personality of coons, it seems like a mistake anyone could make :-). You need to get a greyhound in order to bring balance to the force.

  28. esr, any chance that the info HomeAgain retrieved is not actually for Zola? In other words they were either given the wrong ID number or they messed it up while doing research? That would easily explain both the dog thing and the refusal to transfer owner info. The very fact that it’s an uncommon error suggests that a double-check is in order. Occam’s Razor and all that.

  29. Permission from the previous owner? Never heard of it. The last cat I got I just called them up, paid the fee over the phone and it was done.

  30. “esr, any chance that the info HomeAgain retrieved is not actually for Zola? In other words they were either given the wrong ID number or they messed it up while doing research? That would easily explain both the dog thing and the refusal to transfer owner info.”

    That sounds extremely plausible…

  31. >The very fact that it’s an uncommon error suggests that a double-check is in order. Occam’s Razor and all that.

    You are right, and we shall attempt it.

  32. >gets out, is found, and the chip is misleading

    Personally, if I were a vet reading the chips, I would err on the side of the chip that correctly identifies the animal’s *species*. (let alone genus and family)

  33. Personally, if I were a vet reading the chips, I would err on the side of the chip that correctly identifies the animal’s *species*. (let alone genus and family)

    You would if you were a Vet.

    But if you were an unpaid summer intern trying to process a dozen strays before going over to flirt with that MOTAS for a few minutes and just wanted to get this task done…

  34. @jsn:

    That would easily explain both the dog thing and the refusal to transfer owner info. The very fact that it’s an uncommon error suggests that a double-check is in order. Occam’s Razor and all that.

    Where “all that”, of course, includes Hanlon’s Razor — as you imply, there could very well be a very surprised dog owner somewhere who had to go check that Fluffy was still in the back yard, before he went back and picked up the phone and asked “What the fuck do you mean, somebody else claims they own Fluffy?”

    Of course, the system isn’t designed to translate this message verbatim, so all you see is something like “owner transfer refused.”

  35. Eric – were you able to ever definitively ascertain that the info associated with Zola’s chip is wrong? Or is he really just a dog trying to pass in feline drag? :-)

  36. >Eric – were you able to ever definitively ascertain that the info associated with Zola’s chip is wrong? Or is he really just a dog trying to pass in feline drag? :-)

    Haven’t had a chance to chase it down yet. I’ll report when we do.

    Zola is not a dog. Hairballs have occurred. :-)

  37. Well, if it’s true that Maine Coons – along with British Shorthairs and Bombay cats – are the most trainable breed, you could train Zola to bark. :-P

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