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Cat PDA Vs. Human PDA, And Other Animal Behavior Explained


Veterinarian Vint Virga says that animals in zoos, like this lion, need to have a bit of control over their environment. Photo: iStockphoto / via NPR

Fresh Air Interview July 23, 2014

From feisty kittens to pacing cheetahs, Vint Virga knows animal behavior.

A veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, Virga has treated many household pets in his clinic. But for the past five years he has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks. He deals with such issues as appetites, anxiety and obsessive behavior.

“I’m always trying to provide every single animal I come into contact with … with the opportunity to invent and think and discover on their own,” Virga tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

“Probably the most important thing I stress to all my clients is to think about what the cat would do if they were living in nature. They would have to actually hunt for food.”

Virga’s book, The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human, was recently published in paperback. It explains how animals demonstrate mindfulness, forgiveness and adaptability — and what we can learn from them.

Virga talks about how house cats, like lions, are more fulfilled when they forage for food — and how animals express affection differently than we might think.

Vint Virga, a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks for the past five years. Photo: Meg Bradbury Stowe/Courtesy of Crown Publishers

Vint Virga, a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks for the past five years. Photo: Meg Bradbury Stowe/Courtesy of Crown Publishers

Interview Highlights

On making cats forage for food

Probably the most important thing I stress to all my clients is to think about what the cat would do if they were living in nature. They would have to actually hunt for food. While we can’t put out lizards and mice to run around in our house, we can portion out the food and make it more challenging and interesting for the cat to actually find.

I take my clients through a program of actually teaching their cats to forage for their food. Yeah, it isn’t live, but they’ve got to go on the hunt or the prowl throughout the house, and the locations in which they’re going to find the meal scattered about in the house … are going to be different every day. And cats find that very stimulating and very interesting — it adds a lot of richness to their lives.

On how cats show affection differently from humans

We need to step out of what we consider are the appropriate behaviors as humans and try to put ourselves in an animal’s footsteps. … Affection is shown by being cuddly and lovey for a lot of us — not necessarily all of us — [so we often think] that our cats would want to be cuddled and loved.

Instead, a lot of cats, if you actually watch their natural behavior when they’re in groups, the most affectionate cats might be sitting near each other. They might sit with their tails intertwined, rear to rear, but they’re not usually face to face, nose to nose, or snuggled up next to each other.

… That says that cats feel comfort and they express their emotions in ways differently than we do. If that’s true, then what behooves us [as] … their caretakers and human family members, is to learn about what it is that cats think and feel rather than [imposing] what we think and feel upon them.

On reading animal behavior at the zoo

Usually I like to spend a fair amount of time sitting outside an animal’s habitat and watching them, without trying to interact with them in any way, so I can understand as much about their behavior as possible — how they relate to other animals in their habitat, what they do in their time.

It’s one thing to see a wolf, for example, pacing alongside the edge of their habitat at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when they’re starting to anticipate that their afternoon meal might be coming. It’s a very different thing if I see a wolf pacing around after their morning meal, before the zoo visitors have started to enter, because they reflect very different behaviors.

One, we’re talking about a wolf that’s anticipating something and starting to get a little bit anxious or excited; and the other, we’re talking about a wolf that even after his appetite and hunger needs have been met, he’s still choosing to pace. That reflects something very different in behavior.

On how zoos have changed to improve the animals’ well-being

I think the most important things that zoos have done in the past 10, 20 years, is that they [have] focused primarily on the animal’s well-being. And, depending on their feedback and responses, looked at their behavior, looked at their overall happiness and contentment, and used that as the gauge for what to do for the animal.

They’ve also applied as much [as] science knows about the animals in nature. What that looks like is providing them with a space that’s a lot more rich and full than just a place that is an exhibit. So it’s really shifting from not a cage, because most zoos don’t even have those anymore, but from an exhibit to a habitat. The environment is much richer and more complex rather than flat and uniform, so that we can see them.

[Zoos are] providing [animals with] opportunities to escape from view of the public — and that can be difficult for a zoo. … Visitors complain to the zoo if they can’t see the leopard, the bear or the lion. But on the other hand, if the lion doesn’t have any choice of getting away from the public at times, particularly if there [are] crowds or noisy visitors, then we’re taking away their sense of control over their environment.

On captive-born zoo animals

It is important to realize … that most animals in zoos nowadays are captive-born. They are not, by and large, taken from the wild. Usually it’s a number of generations that we would have to trace back to any type of direct wild animal.

… It becomes a constant effort by zoos, that is, supervised in a very strict fashion in terms of making sure that these animals are not inbred, to maintain diversity in the population, and yet what we are dealing with [are] … animals that are to some degree different than their wild cousins.

They lose some of those instincts by … not having predators and the pressures of the world that they’re being exposed to — from habitat loss and pollution and so on. They also are gaining other traits in that they’re constantly getting this affiliation or connection to humans. I’m touched by the relationships that I witness every day between keepers and the animals in their care.

Geoff Dyer: ‘Another Great Day at Sea’

Author Geoff Dyer

Author Geoff Dyer

The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (foreground). Photo courtesy of: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/ http://bit.ly/1l1a6wb

The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (foreground). Photo courtesy of: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/ http://bit.ly/1l1a6wb

By Rick Kleffel:

I was intrigued with ‘Another Great Day Day At Sea’ pretty much from the moment it landed in my hands. Geoff Dyer’s prose voice was delightful and the subject seemed so odd and yet so obviously fascinating.

This wasn’t my first experience with Dyer, though. I’d read another odd little book by him titled ‘Zona,’ about one of my favorite movies of all time, Stalker, by Andrei Tarkovsky, based on the novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.


The Poetry Show: Rodger Kamenetz, Guest Poet


08 - rodger-headshot-webPoet and dream worker Rodger Kamenetz joined host Dennis Morton for the Poetry Show on June 8, 2014. Kamenetz was in the middle of a busy few days in Santa Cruz. On Saturday and again earlier on Sunday, he led workshops on Dreams and Poetry. On Tuesday, he’s the featured reader at the regular second-Tuesday event at Bookshop Santa Cruz, sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz. Well-known local poet Stephen Kessler completes the bill for that event.

This was Rodger Kamenetz’s first visit to the poetry show, but he is nationally well-known for his writing, both poetry and non-fiction. His biography informs us that:


Interview with Matt Taibbi

Author Matt Taibbi

Author Matt Taibbi

By Rick Kleffel | The Agony Column

Make no mistake about it. Taibbi is dead serious in his examination of the New American Dystopia, but he and I also managed to laugh, early and often, at his wonderfully tweaked portraits of hell on earth. It’s hard not to laugh at some of the mind-bogglingly outlandish exploits that Taibbi documents.

“… the biggest bank robbery in the history of the world …”

— Matt Taibbi

In our previous interview, he and I discussed material similar to this from ‘Griftopia.’ This time around, we once again were talking about the financial scammers who are real-life Bond villains. It’s all in good fun until somebody steals 45 billion, that’s BILLION with a B, dollars from millions of small investors and pension funds.


Unorthodox Marine Biologist Asha de Vos


From the 7th Avenue Project w/ Robert Pollie – Broadcast May 4, 2014 -

Growing up as an aspiring marine scientist in Sri Lanka, Asha de Vos didn’t have any local role models – other than sci-fi writer/undersea explorer Arthur C. Clarke. At times she’s had to make her own way with a combination of persistence, pig-headedness and duct tape. That hasn’t stopped her from becoming an expert on a population of “unorthodox” blue whales and a noted ocean conservationist.

We talked about Asha’s path to ocean science, her defining moment (involving whale poop), the wonders of cetology, her efforts to protect whales from ship collisions, and how she’s inspiring a new generation of marine biologists.

Learn more about Asha at her website.

Asha was a 2012 TED Fellow and had the honor of being muppetized:

Asha de Vos. photo: Courtesy of http://ashadevos.com/

Asha de Vos. photo: Courtesy of http://ashadevos.com/

On ‘Your Call’: How are Independent Bookstores Surviving and Thriving?


93 independent bookstores in California borrow a theme from record stores – offering special content to draw in customers to local shops.

By Ali Budner | KALW -

On this Your Call we’ll celebrate California Bookstore Day by talking the owners of Green Apple Books, Walden Pond Books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz. Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. What is your favorite bookstore and why?  What does your bookstore add to your community?  And what do we lose when independent book sellers disappear? Join the conversation on the next Your Call with Rose Aguilar and You.


Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco

Paul Curatolo, co-manager of Walden Pond Books in Oakland

Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz


California Bookstore Day

Green Apple Books

Bookshop Santa Cruz

Walden Pond Books

Contra Costa Times: Oakland: Walden Pond Books celebrates 40th year on Grand Avenue

Juan Felipe Herrera, Guest Poet Laureate

20 - JFH

Juan Felipe Herrera

The Poetry Show for April 20, 2014 had a distinguished guest, current California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. Now in the second year of the two-year appointment, Herrera keeps a busy schedule traveling around the state, but found time last Friday afternoon to record an interview at the KUSP studio, and to read a few of his poems.

Author of more than 25 published works, Juan Felipe Herrera is also a proponent of and participant in live performance poetry, and has been a member of several music and poetry performance ensembles. He also contributed poetry to the PBS TV drama series American Family.

20 - S. Kessler

Stephen Kessler

Poetry Show host Dennis Morton was joined by a past host, Stephen Kessler,  who has known Juan Felipe Herrera for many years.  The three-way conversation covered a wide range of topics informed by Herrera’s life and 40+ years in the California Latino poetry scene. During his time as poet laureate, Herrera has initiated a number of projects designed to bring poetry into the lives of California residents, especially school children.

KUSP Captures Two Murrow Awards

2014 Edward R. Murrow AwardsToday the Radio Television Digital News Association announced the regional winners of the 2014 Edward R. Murrow Awards. KUSP, I’m happy to say, has two wins this year!

kusp.org earned an award for best broadcast affiliated Web site. The Water Squeeze, our ongoing series explaining Monterey Bay area water planning, was recognized for continuing audio coverage of a major developing issue.

I’m very pleased the judges recognized what’s been achieved by the community volunteers and professional staff who collaborate on kusp.org –and we are grateful for the high-level peer recognition for The Water Squeeze, one of our many reporting initiatives at KUSP and one we’re especially proud of.

The awards highlight the steady growth of KUSP’s efforts to meet the information needs of the Monterey Bay area and keep up with how Monterey Bay area residents get their news.
“The Murrow Awards honor journalism at its finest,” said Mike Cavender, Executive Director of RTDNA. “Local newsrooms serve their communities 365 days a year, and we’re proud to recognize the great work they do.”


Leon Panetta 2014 Lecture Series


KUSP is proud to broadcast the Leon Panetta 2014 Lecture Series.

Click here to watch past  lectures.

The theme this year is ‘Learning the Lessons of History: Is the Past Prologue to the Future?’

The four announced lectures are:

War and Peace — 100 Years Since World War I
Speakers: Nicolas Burns, Michèle Flournoy, James Stavridis

Role of Government — Depressions, Wars, Equality and Poverty
Speakers: Barney Frank, Alan Simpson

Security Versus Freedom — Sedition to Internment to Surveillance
Speakers: Barton Gellman, Michael Morell, Robert Mueller

How Presidents Make Decisions — Leadership, Crisis, Politics and Trust
Speakers: David Axelrod, Erskine Bowles, Andrew Card, Jr., Kenneth Duberstein
More details on the lectures available here.

Echoes of the Big Bang: Cosmologist Anthony Aguirre on the BICEP2 Experiment


From the 7th Avenue Project w/ Robert Pollie. Broadcast on March 23, 2014.

The BICEP2 was built specifically to detect evidence of gravity waves in the cosmic microwave background radiation. And whaddya know – it worked.

The BICEP2 was built specifically to detect evidence of gravity waves in the cosmic microwave background radiation. And whaddya know – it worked.

By Robert Pollie:

Big physics is on a roll. It seems like only yesterday we were applauding the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. And then this week came word that the BICEP2 microwave telescope at the South Pole had found evidence of gravitational waves from the inflationary epoch – a glimpse of the universe at the time of the Big Bang, or maybe even before. “Holy crap!” was my reaction, but I needed something more for a radio show, so I got in touch with Anthony Aguirre. Cosmic inflation is one of his specialties, and I thought he’d be a great person to explain the new findings. He was. And I stand by my initial assessment: holy crap!

For more background on inflation theory, our 2011 interview with Anthony is an excellent start.