Chronicles of Athena – 39 Weeks

After what’s been a rough few weeks, we’re in need of some family time. So I’ve packed Athena up and brought her to mum’s. The rest of my family is distinctly more theatrical than me so I’ll be spending tonight dressed in forties gear watching their production of Allo Allo, which is very exciting.

Athena is coping very well with the temporary change in venue (and was even extremely well behaved in the car). An ulterior motive for this little bit of family time is to get Athena used to other people looking after her. It’s not outside the realms of possibility that she might have to come here for a week if I’m off at a conference (or, unlikely having just bought a flat, an actual holiday).

It’s a sign of how I overthink every little part of Athena’s care that I very carefully weighed up the pros and cons of taking Athena (who has been here before as a kitten, who has moved house three times, and who has never shown much in the way of nervousness around new environments), before I agreed to the plan. While I’m much more confident with her than I was thirty weeks ago, I still find myself second guessing sometimes.

Is she happy?

Does she have everything she needs?

Am I doing a good job?

When we arrived last night, she found herself a high spot in the kitchen to perch. When I came over she gave me a big kitty kiss, rubbing her jaw over cheek, and after five minutes she was off exploring. As ever, Athena is much more confident about life than I am.

So I take that as a compliment. Over the last thirty weeks IĀ still haven’t irreparably broken the little life I have taken responsibility for. Gold star for me. And for Athena.

Chronicles of Athena – 30 Weeks

Those of you who have been following Athena from the beginning will remember she has a strong predilection for chewing wires. I used to be one of these pinterest addicts with fairy lights everywhere, the mood lighting in my life has been considerably reduced in the last twenty one weeks of my life.

Well no longer! View below my newest attempt to reintroduce fairy lights into my life, this time without the scent of lemon and pepper cat deterrent.


Not the small Yankee Candle currently being used a dead match repository to keep kitten from eating them all. She does love the taste of charcoal . . .

In the grand scheme of things, my life hasn’t changed so much since getting Athena. I’m less likely to stay late at work (a very good thing, really!) and more likely to catch up with work in the evenings (wait …), and I can no longer leave food lying out in the open. Oh, and I’m covered in scratches. The little things though, like the fact she’s sneaked up behind me to steal half the blanket and is kneading both it and my cardigan with a very smug purr, are very different.

She doesn’t change much from week to week any more, although she is firmly establishing her fussiness for food. So I may post more Fluffy Fridays vs Chronicles of Athena in the next few months. Rest assured, she’s still doing well.

Check out our MOOC’s hangout this week . . .

Chronicles of Athena – 25 Weeks

My poor, beautiful kitten has been wearing a cone of shame and skulking around the flat keeping as low to the ground as possible, occasionally getting stuck as he cone catches something and she refuses to lift her head enough to fix it.

Yes, on Friday she got spayed. It was a very stressful experience for both of us. From the moment she got in the carrier she was on her best behaviour, until she realised where we were, then cried plaintively. We met a nice new (attractive) vet who was very patient with my imagined list of possible complications and reassured me that she was healthy enough to undergo the GA, and then Athena popped back into her carrier expecting to go home.

Oh kitten.

When I phoned after her op I was told all had gone well and aside from the usual grogginess, she was fine. When I went to pick her up I cautiously asked how she’d been. Apparently she’d behaved very well, they said with only a moment’s hesitation which I can only imagine means she told them in no uncertain terms how displeased she was with them. Instead of sitting in her hidey box in the recovery cage, she perched on top of it and watched the nurses, only coming down for cuddles. We were sent away with metacam and the nurse said that since she hadn’t shown much interest in the wound we’d try without a collar.

At this point a little voice said in my head “I don’t believe my orally fascinated kitten, who has destroyed carpets and is currently peeling wallpaper off a corner the wall in the kitchen, will be able to leave that fascinating incision alone”, but foolishly I said that was fine and we went home. Athena was full of cuddles when we got back, if a little bit spaced out, but within minutes she was grooming her wound and biting at the join. I rushed back to the vets for a collar. Which she hates. She even had a couple of bolts up and down the room trying to escape it (“prevent Athena from jumping or excessive exercise” said the vets).

Poor Athena had a bit of a bad come down from the ketamine and spent the rest of Friday night on my lap, purring softly to herself as she lamented her collared state. This morning she managed to remove it so after trying to reapply it (kitten knows she can take it off, kitten is not so easily fooled again) I’ve decided to leave it off and keep a very close eye on her. We’ll have friends over tonight which should keep her attention off grooming. And right now we’re playing games which is keeping her busy (and always a sign of a happy animal feeling better!).

Being an ethologist, keeping an eye out for something called ‘excessive licking’ is hard. An ethogram is something we use, and it allows us to record behaviour in unambiguous terms. We often say to students that an ethogram would allow a martian to record behaviour the same way you would. So I’ve decided to describe ‘excessive licking’ thusly: a grooming bout focussed on the incision area (or within a fifty pence diameter of the area) for longer than three seconds, or biting on the incision line. We’ve had a few, but I’m trying to let her explore it without damaging the incision.

The internet is full of conflicting advice here. Even my own veterinary surgeons, much as I like them, recommended a completely unnecessary blood work up that I felt obliged to take because what if it showed something up? Although my veterinary colleagues advised against it, as a customer you lose rationality. Perhaps we should provide more comprehensive and generalised advice post surgery. Or perhaps a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. People who don’t know about ethograms trust their instincts. Perhaps people who have kittens less destructive than Athena don’t even worry.

If we can make it through the day without any ‘excessive’ biting we might abandon the collar entirely. We’ve given up entirely with the whole “no jumping” thing. Considering she was just hanging off her climbing tree on her incision side, I think that’s for the best. Wish us luck!

From Butter to Feliway

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! As you know, Athena and I moved house just before the Christmas break. We now live in our very own four walls, and it’s very exciting.

Athena, to her credit, was exceptionally well behaved during and after the house move. She gets a bit anxious every time I move a chair, so it certainly wasn’t an enjoyable experience for her – but as kittens go she did very well.

I contribute a lot of this success to my liberal usage of Feliway, the cat feline facial hormone (fraction 3, if that’s relevant). Feliway is one of those cool little body hacks that I love. You’ve seen cats rub their cheeks over people and objects, usually when they’re happy, or trying to greet someone. (I bumped into a cat outside Edinburgh Uni’s geosciences building on Monday who was so keen to rub her cheeks on my new riding boots she fell over twice. I understand, kitty, my new boots are beautiful). They’re expressing the feline facial pheromone while they’re doing this, specifically the part of the pheromone which says “this is mine” (and in Athena’s case it probably also say “and this is mine, and this is mine, and also that thing over there”).

There are a lot of interesting studies out there about Feliway – it is very good at reducing behavioural signs of stress in cats, particularly non-sexual spraying. But you have to think about the behavioural reasons behind this.

The Year in Review

FluffySciences is now just over a year old! It feels much older for some reason. We average 13 views a day and July was the biggest month. Most people find us on google by searching ‘FluffyScience Blog’ so if that’s you, come likeĀ us on Facebook and never get lost again!

(One person found us by googling “i want a small fluffy animal which is easy to look after and id tame what would you recommend“. The answer to that question is really “No animal is really easy to look after, they all require the appropriate food, shelter, care, etc., and I would do a considerable amount of research prior to buying or adopting any animal. With that being said, with a little bit of financial outlay fish can be extremely rewarding (you must get an appropriate tank though, no bowls), and if you can devote the space to them guinea pigs are very fun.”)

The most popular tag is the companion animals tag, with Athena following along behind. I’m surprised at how popular Chronicles of Athena is! I will try to keep it up.

The most popular post, interestingly enough, was Badger Fortnight: TB which totalled 183 visitors. Followed by The Black Dog at 178 and Ritual Slaughter & Animal Welfare at 150. This is quite gratifying as they were all posts which took a lot of work – and all posts which are talking about real animal welfare science. In fact all the posts which broke 100 visitors were what I would consider to be animal welfare science posts. That’s encouraging, even if they are more difficult to write!

We usually get about 4 comments per month – and I’d love to hear more about what you think and what you want from the blog. So do comment, do like us on Facebook, and I wish you all a very happy festive season. We’ll be back after Hogmanay with more.

Chronicles of Athena – 18 Weeks

In the name of small anniversaries, Athena has now lived with me more than half of her life.

Which might explain why she’s such a cheeky little madam. I can’t crouch down in the kitchen without having her leap up onto my back and onto the counter (which is verboten). She also watches carefully for any evidence of the Forbidden Linen Cupboard of Mysteries being opened, and cries in anguish when it gets closed in front of her little nose.

Athena’s greatest discovery this week has been the bath. The bath is a great big slidey toy filled with interesting smells, sensations, and occasionally spiders. It is truly an exciting place to be. The bath does have some downsides in that when you are done with the bath, your paws are still wet, but so far Athena is testing out a theory that if she cries at her human long enough, her paws will magically become dry and happy again. Seeing as she cries long enough for them to dry on her own, it sort of works.

Seeing as we’re moving house in three weeks, updates will be sporadic in the coming month. Athena promises she’ll cause plenty of havoc for you to hear about.

Chronicles of Athena – 17 Weeks

My little baby is almost a grown up cat these days, everyone who sees her comments on how big she’s getting, which is very gratifying considering how skinny malinky she was for so long.

It has been a crazily busy week, so apologies for the lack of a lengthy post. Suffice to say FluffySciences will be moving headquarters next month and so books are being packed into bags, boxes are appearing, and Athena is exploring hitherto unknown parts of the world, such as the top of the wardrobe and the empty bookcase.

She has been terribly mischievous this week too, and is only quiet right now because she has her Cat Alone app playing on the phone. While I’m terribly critical of people who treat their pets like actual babies, I have no qualms at all about giving the kitten my phone for a moment of peace. She is undoubtedly spoiled.

As I don’t have much time or energy, I’ll just leave you with an outtake from a failed Christmas themed photoshoot (I found the tinsel box as I packed – don’t worry, she wasn’t left alone with the tinsel at all)

It was both the fault of the model and the photographer.
It was both the fault of the model and the photographer.

Chronicles of Athena – 16 Weeks

Our little Athena is reaching the cusp of four months old, and is testing all of her boundaries as only preteens can do. This week she has been showing a distinct predilection for fussiness, eschewing all tuna and cod meals and only deigning to sample her turkey and chicken. Unfortunately, other cats haven’t told her that she’s supposed to disdain the dry food as well, but that she’s still quite happy to eat up.

She’d been very clingy and generally needy towards the start of this week (so much so an internal voice started to wonder if I shouldn’t get her a companion . . . but then I’m really not convinced the space I have is big enough for two, the trials and tribulations of having a pet!), but I wonder how much of this reflects my general excitement as Athena and I will be moving house next month. Time to crack the Feliway out again!

Athena also mightily impressed me in the last few weeks with a few odd little traits. This week I was revisiting one of my favourite topics: the human-animal bond, particularly the mutualism vs social parasite theories. This is one of my favourite lectures and I love giving it, so I cheekily sneaked a modified version into one of our MSc courses.

If, in the terms of mutualism, the human-animal relationship is a beneficial one, we have to wonder how we benefit from feeding, sheltering and loving little the bags of disease and farts that are our pets. Well recently Athena’s been trying to prove why she’s good to keep around.

One of my neighbours has a learning disability and was being taken to the respite care home. I noticed first Athena’s very frazzled attitude, running about from window to window, before I heard the poor man screaming. He was deeply distressed by the move and screaming down in the street below. Athena was fascinated, her fur all on end, her whiskers pricked forward, and generally quite alert, but not distressed. She seemed more intrigued than frightened of what was a very upsetting noise.

This might be explained away by her general good confidence and experience with people, but just a few days prior, my friend Claire was robbed. She came to stay with us for a night and Athena stuck to her like glue, cuddling up to her and purring, not asking to be played with. While she’s very fond of her Aunty Claire, she rarely naps on anyone else’s lap and I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew Claire was upset. Of course, she was mightily perplexed to find Aunty Claire still in the living room the next morning and didn’t quite dare go in by herself. When she did find Aunty Claire on the couch with a duvet it was as if a whole new realm of delight was opened up for her and I think she’d petition for the duvet’s return to the sofa if she thought it would make a difference.

While Poor Aunty Claire probably does not take much solace in my pride for Athena, I’m convinced this is evidence of her ability to adapt her behaviour based on the cues of the people around her. She’s turning into a proper little lady.

Though she still likes to fart in peoples’ faces.

The STEM Pipe

Our wonderful and talented communications officer, Sarah, has been working hard to promote the image of women in the STEM fields. We’ve been going round schools and encouraging people to ask us about our Women In Science posters at all of our events, and at our Barony College open day she really outdid herself with our ‘Women in STEM’ fields stall. We had a ‘dress the scientist’ event, which was a huge amount of fun, two jars of couscous (well, one jar, one bucket) representing the difference in the numbers of female and male professors in the UK, and a ‘vote’ on what words accurately described scientists.

What does a scientist wear anyway?
What does a scientist wear anyway?


The irony is, I’d recently applied for a communication job myself (working with the STEM fields but out of research), and I’d been tempted by another industry R & D job. While this economic climate makes applying for jobs an exercise in cover letter writing days, it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that I might leak from the STEM pipeline.

So while I had lots of little girls announcing they wanted to put a labcoat in the dressing up box alongside their princess outfits (I particularly loved the girls who picked up my high heels and paired that with the labcoat to be a ‘fashion scientist‘) I was also answering the questions from the mums and dads: why do women leave STEM?

I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you what tempts me to apply for these other jobs:

  1. Money. I have a good wage right now, and postdocs are paid well in general, but industry pays us really well. Now I did apply for a communications job a few years ago where they said I was asking for too much money, but that was more of an indication to me about the way they treated their employees. STEM graduates are worth paying for, even in this economic climate, and what’s more, that money often comes with a permanent contract . . .
  2. Permanency. I’ve no real right to complain about this as I have been very lucky. My bosses have kept me around and that wasn’t easy. But I think this one is particularly hard for the women who have never left academia. We’ve thought our entire lives in 2, 3, 4 year blocks of time, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.
  3. Skills. I think I’m really good at science communication. I love doing it. A science communication job would be really enjoyable. I’ve developed a lot of skills in STEM, and some of them I want to make more use of.
  4. Opportunity. This might be more specific to the animal welfare field, but there is so little funding and so many research ideas that it feels like I’d have more luck trying to get funding from a raffle prize sometimes. It would be nice not to have to fight every single day.
  5. Values. In the last few years I have realised my core values can be satisfied without world domination – I mean I would still like to dominate the world, but in the every day, there are other things I enjoy doing. Perhaps, whisper it, my career isn’t the most important thing in my life any more.
  6. Satisfaction. What, recently, has given me the most satisfaction in my work? Is it the constant criticism and destruction of the scientific process?

Of course there is also a multitude of reasons for loving my work in the STEM fields, and I don’t expect I’ll be leaving any time soon, but it’s important to recognise that women don’t leave STEM to have babies. Academia is, in many ways, a friendly environment for that. We leave for a whole host of reasons.

What did the kids and parents think about scientists? Well, we were most often described with the words smart and silly, with interesting following along behind. Great news I think – science is fun, and I really hope girls and boys can recognise that.

Smart and silly? Better than boring!
Smart and silly? Better than boring!