Feeding Frenzy

Thanks to a whole lot of snow in Colorado I was pretty much housebound this week.  I was also reminded of the number of mouths I’m expected to feed. That total is nine… if I count the four horses, two cats, and one dog besides my wife & me. Now that I think about it, a horse eats enough for two so let’s bump the number to eleven mouths. And nine of those belong to animals.

A year or so ago I wrote a post called Sign Me Up!, where I marveled at the rapidly growing world of subscription-based services.  Among my own subscriptions I listed a magazine, a newspaper, and digital music, I also included Chewy, the online pet food supplier whose mission is “to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere.”  At the time I was just trying Chewy out, not willing to go all-in with a subscription.  Today?  I’m fully on board and wondering why I didn’t sign up sooner.

Even the U.S. Post Office celebrates “fur babies”

Every time a Chewy pet food box shows up at my front door my first thought is, “Why didn’t I come up with this idea?”  Chewy’s concept is wonderfully simple… and wildly successful.  First, create a list of the world’s major suppliers of dog and cat food.  Second, negotiate bulk purchases of their products at a discount.  Third, set up a small network of fulfillment centers.  Finally, sell to customers with some of the discount, keeping the rest for your own operation and profit.  It’s a middleman’s recipe for millions.  Er, make that billions.

If you think this post is a plug for Chewy you’re darned tootin’ it is.  Chewy offers over 2,000 brands of pet food to 15 million subscribed customers.  97% say they’re satisfied.  Chewy’s net sales in 2019 were $4.8 billion dollars.  Nosh on that impressive number for a second.  $4.8 billion sounds like the GDP of a small country.  A small country with a lot of pets.

Foresight is everything here.  Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed there were 200 brands of pet food, let alone 2,000.  If I go back to my childhood (way more than ten years ago) I can name exactly four pet food brands or products of the day: Purina, Friskies, Alpo, and a curious General Mills creation called Gaines Burgers (“The canned dog food… without the can!”)  Well, I also remember a variety box of dog biscuits called “Fives”, but that’s because I snacked on them every now and then when there wasn’t anything else in the pantry.  Fives were fit for human consumption.  At least, I think they were.

The pet food demand of the 1970s wouldn’t have sustained a subscription service like Chewy.  On the other hand, today’s market is a feeding frenzy, especially with more people opting for “fur babies” over children.  And don’t think Chewy hasn’t noticed all the doggy daycare and emotional support.  Now they also deliver food for your fish, your bird, your snake, and all those farm animals grazing on your backyard lawn (alpacas, anyone?)  Chewy even offers a pharmacy of over-the-counter meds when your pet is in some way under the weather.

Hello, “Chewy”!

I was going to wrap up this plug by smugly suggesting Chewy cater to our horses, but of course they already do.  I can’t subscribe to hay bales yet (I’m sure they’re working on that) but I can buy grain, treats, blankets, tack, and fly spray.  So instead, let me speculate it probably won’t be long before Chewy gets into the “human” food delivery business as well, to compete with Amazon, Wal*Mart, and Target.  With Chewy’s millions of subscribed customers, the new offering would take off like a bull in a china shop.  Or better, like a big, furry bad boy in a Star Wars movie.

Raining Cats and… More Cats

Google “cat”, and you’ll get a return of 6.4 billion hits. Spend five seconds per hit and you’ll need a millennium to get through ’em all. That’s a thousand years on everything there is to know about cats. Your dog will think you’re nuts. Your cat, on the other hand, will wonder why you didn’t start your search sooner. Felis catus, after all, is more manipulative than we humans want to believe.

Something in the cosmos moved me to write about cats this week.  When I started this post (last week), the calendar just closed on National Black Cat Day (10/27) as well as National Cat Day (10/29).  Then my daughter relocated to Seattle, which involved two cars, her cat, and a whole lot of packing.  (Pretty sure half the packing was for the cat.)  Then Monday Night Football happened, and the video of a black cat eluding officials during the Giants-Cowboys game went viral.  Finally, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) spiced up its headlines with a piece called, “Should Your Cat Be Vegan?”

I think this cat-aclysm of events caused all other blog topics to step aside this week (again with the manipulation).  Maybe it was my daughter’s cat, a little upset I hadn’t written about her after several hundred posts.  More likely it was another WSJ article I’ve been saving from last April: “There Is Now Scientific Proof Your Cat Is Ignoring You”.  Now there’s a headline.  Talk about manipulation.  Assuming a little obedience school and training, you probably have your dog right where you want him.  Your cat?  Obedient?  Never.

Per the WSJ article, cats hear and recognize their names; they just choose to show no response.  When they do show a response it’s not for affection, but for potential reward, like petting or playing or food.  Jennifer Vonk, an animal cognition psychologist, says, “…we (humans) sort of reward them for doing what they want to do… they’re better at manipulating our behavior than vice versa.”  In other words, your dog wants to please you while your cat just wants to please itself.

Aside from persistent clawing (which can take down an upholstered chair faster than an army of serrated knives) I rather enjoy the company of cats.  They’re quiet.  They’re soft.  They’re cute when they’re little fluff balls rolling around the carpet playing with toys.  And they’re low maintenance, preferring to catnap or full-on sleep while you dutifully attend to their litter box and food bowl.  So it’s a wonder to learn (“…Scientific Proof…”) – despite their outward laziness – cats have the cognitive ability to do everything dogs can.  They just choose not to.  A little disturbing, no?

Dogs make six distinctive sounds: barking, whining, whimpering, and so on.  Cats – as if to one-up their canine competition – make seven, and they all mean different things.  Cats meow, purr, trill, chatter, yowl, hiss, and growl.  (Listen to every one of them here.)  If you’ve ever heard a cat chatter, it’s mildly disturbing, as if he’s on the verge of a paws-to-the-walls freak-out.  But if you ever hear a cat growl, it’s one of the most unsettling bass-voice attention-getters ever emitted from a small, carnivorous mammal.  My daughter’s cat growled while sitting on my lap once.  Small wonder I didn’t wet my pants.

Domesticated cats have a long history, dating back to 3000 years BC in Egypt or something like that.  They fare well whether “house” (dependent), “farm” (semi-dependent) or “feral” (fully independent).  They also have an impressive list of trivia bits.  A few of my favorites:

  • Cats spend up to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves.  Maybe humans should too.  Grooming tones down their scent to avoid predators, cools them down, and promotes blood flow.  Smart.
  • A group of kittens is called a kindle.  I’ll never look at my e-reader the same way again.  Also, a group of full-grown cats is called a clowder (hold the clams).
  • The average running feline can clock around 30 mph.  No wonder I’ll never catch my daughter’s cat after she “autographs” the upholstery.
  • Cats can’t taste sweets.  In other words, keep an eye on the steak but don’t worry about the big cake in the middle of the table.  Your cat doesn’t care.
  • Your cat has more bones than you do: 244 vs. 206.  No wonder they’re so nimble.
  • Cats sweat.  Through their paws, in fact.  They also pant, which should be the eighth distinctive (and disturbing) sound they make.
  • Disneyland hosts approximately 200 feral cats.  Their job, of course, is to control the amusement park’s rodent population.  Think about that the next time you’re deep inside the Haunted Mansion.

I learned a lot about cats as I prepared for this post.  I realize the whole “nine lives” concept simply means cats are smart enough to cheat death more than most animals. Including humans.  Maybe that’s why they ignore us.  We’re less intelligent.  And easier to manipulate.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.