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Horizon: The Secret Life Of The Cat

Catherine Edwards

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I've got six cats and am officially mad about them, so as soon as I heard about Horizon's plans to make The Secret Life Of The Cat in our village, Shamley Green in Surrey, I was keen to be involved. 

My background is in animal behaviour and I work professionally in natural animal health care, so you would expect me to be fascinated by this programme which uses GPS on collars to follow domestic cats outdoors.

For one week 50 cats in a Surrey village are put under 24 hour surveillance.

I have always talked about wanting to track the cats (and children - not interested in tracking my husband!) as I do worry a lot, having had two beloved cats run over on our country lane.

What we were really intrigued to know was the extent of their territory, how active they are at night and where they actually go.

Daisy, Fluffy, Duffy, Patch, Coco, Ralph and baby Pumpkin are all from a rescue home. What is unusual about our cats (three boys, three girls), is that none of them are related, they were introduced at different times, yet they all get on well.

Initially all the cat owners from Shamley Green were invited to our village hall (renamed as Cat HQ) to be given a full brief on how the cats would be tracked, and how to introduce the GPS collars to our cats to avoid any stress for the cats wearing them.

All of our cats are used to wearing normal collars with tags, so we had little difficulty introducing them to the training collars, and then eventually the real thing.

The exception to this was Coco who found many ingenious ways to get the tracking collars off. Maybe she was picking up on the electro-magnetic signals that animals are so sensitive to?

Luckily by the final two days of tracking she managed to keep the collar on, so we were eager to see the results of where she had been. 

The Horizon team were knowledgeable and organised and what surprised me about being part of a TV show was how quickly you forget there are cameras there!

My son, 13 and daughter, 11, have loved finding out more about our cats. They both have an excellent understanding of animal behaviour and having the opportunity to see the camera men and technical experts at work has been an inspiring experience for them.

When Dr Sarah Ellis, one of the cat experts on the project, showed us the GPS data on a laptop in our kitchen, it was such a treat.

To actually see where our cats are going, how they largely use the same territory, how active they are at night was amazing.

Cat HQ: Prof Alan Wilson, Dr John Bradshaw and Dr Sarah Ellis track 50 cats’ movements

I was delighted to see that they very rarely crossed the road, my main fear. The highlight of the week was to find out that Patch, our shyest cat, has the largest territory at night.

When we go to bed he is asleep on our bed, when we get up at 6am he is still asleep on our bed, yet overnight he has been miles! I was sure I had a pretty good grasp on what my cats get up to but that was a real revelation and shows just how much his confidence has grown over the past year.

I was pleased that our cats’ behaviour surprised the experts.

They were expecting a lot more tension between six cats in one household, and I hope that we have shown that, when you take each cat’s needs into consideration, they can live harmoniously together.

Hopefully this knowledge will help many of the lovely cats in rescue homes get loving homes, giving owners confidence that if they introduce a new cat correctly all will be well.

The cat owners in the village were delighted to have this rare opportunity to find out more about their beloved family members. It really added to the village spirit.

We all really love our cats (who are part of our extended family with horses, dogs, guinea pigs, fish etc).

Our six all have distinct personalities and are very sensitive to the family’s needs. What makes it even more special is they could leave home if they wanted to, yet they honour us with their graceful presence. 

The research is over now but I would love to keep tracking the cats. My poor husband would be extremely relieved not to keep being sent out in the dark to search for one!

Catherine Edwards is one of the cat-owners on The Secret Life Of The Cat.

The Secret Life Of The Cat is part of Horizon on BBC Two and BBC Two HD at 9pm on Thursday, 13 June at 9pm except in Scotland. For full details of programme times please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

More on The Secret Life Of The Cat
BBC News: Watch the tracking cameras and follow the roaming ranges of 10 cats
BBC News: The science of tracking our pets
BBC Internet blog: The secret life of the cat: Interactive infographics

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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