We're transporting you to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul for a segment from a recent live show: Cats vs. Dogs. In this very important debate, producers Marc Sanchez and Sanden Totten try to get the bottom of our feline friends' mysterious behavior. Plus: The mystery sound!

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MOLLY BLOOM: You're listening to Brains On from NPR News in Southern California Public Radio. We're serious about being curious. I'm Molly Bloom. Today, we're going to transport you to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul for a segment from a recent live show that we did-- cats versus dogs.

In this very important debate, producers Marc Sanchez and Sanden Totten tried to get to the bottom of our feline friend's mysterious behavior. It's moderated by me, along with co-hosts Alex Marriott and Sophia Chu.

You might remember Alex from our bridges versus tunnels episode, and Sophia was the co-host for our GPS episode. If you haven't heard those, you can find them at brainson.org. Here's the debate.

So as much as we know about cats, we really can't be sure of their motivations. When they scratch up our furniture, are they getting revenge because we left them alone or just blowing off steam? When they rub up against our legs, are they showing love or manipulating us for food?

It leads to an age-old question. Are cats evil or just misunderstood? To answer this, we're staging a debate. Representing the idea that cats are fundamentally good and full of love for humans is Sanden Totten.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Hi. Meow power.

MOLLY BLOOM: And arguing that cats are basically supervillains who use us for food and shelter is Marc Sanchez.

MARC SANCHEZ: Hello there. I've re-spelled the word cat today, and it's spelled E-V-I-L. Thank you very much.

MOLLY BLOOM: Our kid co-hosts, Alex and Sophia, will pick a winner each round. Gentlemen, are you ready?



MOLLY BLOOM: First point, cats have great night vision. Is it used for good or evil? Sanden, let's start with you.

SANDEN TOTTEN: OK. Yes, this is easy. Cats use this for good. First, let me recap how it works. Cats have lots of cells in their eyes, known as rods. We have these two, and these are really good at detecting light. Cats have about seven times more of these rods than we do.

So in a dark room, they can see about seven times better than we can. They use this for good by staying up late at night, hunting mice, cockroaches, bugs, flies, pests, all that stuff you don't want your house. They're basically providing a free extermination service which is good. Case closed.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, Marc, your turn to counter.

MARC SANCHEZ: Yes, Sanden, cats can see great at night, partly because they have something that we don't. It's called the tapetum lucidum. And you know how when you take a picture of a cat with a flash, and they comes out with these tiny little glow eyes, which, by the way, look pretty evil?

Well, that's because of the tapetum lucidum which is a layer of mirror-like cells that reflects light back out at you. And, yeah, the tapetum lucidum can help cats see better in the dark, OK. But mirror eyes? What are they trying to hide? What don't they want us to see? Bottom line-- shiny glow eyes are a sign of pure evil and creepy.

SANDEN TOTTEN: No, no, no. It helps them hunt pests in the dark. Totally good.

MARC SANCHEZ: You mean it helps them throw all night cat parties, running around, hunting pests. More like, waking up the whole house with their cat shenanigans.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, judges, which do you think? Evil or just misunderstood?

ALEX MARIOTT: I think that they are misunderstood.

SOPHIA CHOO: Yeah, same here.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, Sanden took that round.


OK, next topic. Cats have sharp claws, a sign of good or evil? Marc, your turn.

MARC SANCHEZ: Well, this is easy because cat's claws are used for bad things and bad things only. They're extremely sharp and actually connected to their bones, unlike our human fingernails, which sit on the soft cushy flesh.

Has anybody here ever heard of cat scratch fever? Do not Google that. I did it yesterday. It's real, and it is nasty. How do cats typically use their claws? Well, if you ask me, to scratch their owners.

If you pet them the wrong way, guess what? Scratch. If you play too hard with them, guess what? Scratch. And if they're just bored, and you, maybe, look away or something-- say it with me, people-- scratch. Yes.

ALEX MARIOTT: I'm pretty sure that's what they use their teeth for.

MARC SANCHEZ: Well, hey-- also,


MARC SANCHEZ: --and claws? Pure evil. Don't get me started on the way cats use their claws to disrespect your home, tearing apart furniture and that beautiful wallpaper you put up. I mean, come on. Isn't that what a scratching post is for?

SANDEN TOTTEN: OK, Molly, can I--

MOLLY BLOOM: Yes. Yes. Sanden, your response?

SANDEN TOTTEN: OK, first of all, I'd like to address the point Marc just brought up about scratching furniture and stuff. Yeah, it's bad when a cat tears up your couch. Nobody likes that. But there's a reason they do it. Give cats a break.

So first of all, cat's claws don't exactly grow the way our fingernails do. Our fingernails, they grow out. But cat's claws, they actually grow from the inside. There's a sheath, a husk of old material that needs to be shed, so the new claw underneath can reveal itself.

The way snakes-- they have a layer of skin. They need to shed it so that they can have their new skin. And if you have a cat, you've probably seen these little-- looks like your cat lost a claw, and it's just sitting on the ground. Well, that's the old, itchy sheath. And those sheaths bother their claws.

So when they're scratching, they're trying to get that stuff off. You've got to cut them a break. Those sheaths are probably really annoying, and cats are just trying to get some comfort in their life. That's not bad.

MARC SANCHEZ: Cut me a break, Sanden, please. Sheaths? You're skirting the real question. Why do cats scratch their owners?

SANDEN TOTTEN: Love hurts.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, judges, judges, I know you have opinions. Who won that round? Misunderstood or evil?


MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, evil? Evil over here.

SOPHIA CHOO: I still think they're misunderstood.

MOLLY BLOOM: Misunderstood. OK. We have one point for Marc and one for Sanden. Move on to our next point. Cats love to rub up against people's legs. Are they doing it for good reasons or evil reasons? Sanden, go.

SANDEN TOTTEN: This is pure adorable cat goodness. Easy. Not only is it sweet and cute when they rub up against us, they're also marking us. So cats, you may not know this, have scent glands in their faces and in their hindquarters.

So when they rub up against you, they can rub these areas on you, leaving pheromones. And we've mentioned, these are chemical signals that other animals can smell and communicate messages through. So when a cat rubs up against you, it's marking you saying, hey, this is my human, my friend.

It smells familiar to me. And it's saying to other cats-- back off. This is my best friend. You can't have them, which, I think, is adorable. That's affectionate loyalty. That's good behavior.


MARC SANCHEZ: Let me get this straight. How exactly does rubbing up against us and leaving their fur all over our clothes weren't good behavior? Basically, they're making us look like slobs, and that's just a mean trick cats are playing. And speaking of mean tricks, what about when cats rub up against you in totally inappropriate times?

Like when you're carrying a pot of pasta across the kitchen, cat comes up and rubs around your legs. And boom, dinner is ruined. I think cats, when you say that they're marking you, I think they are intentionally trying to trip you. Cats-- evil. Case closed.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, judges, what do you think? Evil or misunderstood behavior?



ALEX MARIOTT: I'll go for misunderstood.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, OK. Another split round. A point for Marc and Sanden.

GROUP: (SINGING) Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, Brains On.

MOLLY BLOOM: Marc and Sanden have a few more points to argue, but what do you think so far? Cats-- are they evil geniuses or just misunderstood? We'll get back to the debate in just a minute. But first, we have another important judgment call for you to make. It's time for the mystery sound.


CHILD: (WHISPERING) Mystery sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: Here it is.


Any guesses? I'll give you a few minutes to think about it. And while you're thinking, do you have any mystery sounds you want to share with us? How about questions you want to hear answered on the show? Or maybe you want to send us a drawing or a digital high five. Email us. We're at brainson@m-- as in Minnesota-- pr.org.

Or if you'd like to send us an actual letter in the actual mail, you can find our mailing address at our website, brainson.org. Just yesterday in the mail, we got an awesome drawing from Samuel from Austin of a taco bean that he invented. You can see a picture of that on our Instagram. We're @brains_on.

Now, it's time to announce the latest group of kids to be added to the Brain's honor roll. These are the awesome kids who keep the show going with their ideas, questions, mystery sounds, and energy. Here they are.


Now let's get back to that mystery sound. Here it is one more time.


Any guesses? Here's a hint. We couldn't let cats have all the fun on this episode. Here's the answer.

JUDE: This is Jude.

SYDNEY: And this is Sydney.

JUDE AND SYDNEY: And we're from Charlottesville, Virginia.

JUDE: The sound is of our dog Maybellene drinking. I like the sound because it's like somebody kicking in a pool, but it's just our dog drinking.

MOLLY BLOOM: Thanks, Jude and Sydney. Now, back to that cat debate. Next point, cats can be stealthy and nearly silent. Good or evil? Marc.

MARC SANCHEZ: Well, it's an interesting fact. Cats are what's known as digitigrade walkers. They don't walk on the heels or balls of their feet, like us humans. Cats mostly walk on their toes.

In other words, they're always tiptoeing around, clearly being sneaky. They don't want us to know what they're up to. Most likely, they are up to mysterious and, probably, evil things. Cats are evil.


SANDEN TOTTEN: First off, have you seen a cat's paw? It's adorable. The little pads look like tiny jellybeans, and they're so cute. That's good. How could cute paws be used for evil? But I will go on, make another case here. Their pads are also full of fatty soft tissue, which helps dampen the sounds from their steps.

That way, they can both sneak up on a prey when they're hunting, and they can walk around your house without making a sound, unlike a dog which sounds like a herd of buffalo playing bowling, running through your house every time they barrel through. Cats, basically, don't want to bother you with those loud thumping sounds. Instead, they creep around on these little paws, and it's so cute and quiet.

MARC SANCHEZ: That's exactly my point, though. Like, when you're trying to work, and a sneaky little cat jumps up out of nowhere and lands on your keyboard. Not only is this scary, but what do they want with my keyboard? I mean, I think they might be trying to send messages and type their little cat words.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Cat words? This is ridiculous. We all know that cats communicate through viral videos. Also, I think we should bear in mind that when your cat throws itself valiantly on your keyboard like that, what it's doing is saying, hey, pal. You've worked really hard. It's time to take a break. Only a true friend would do that.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, judges, is that an evil behavior or a misunderstood behavior?

SOPHIA CHOO: Misunderstood.

ALEX MARIOTT: Misunderstood. It's not their fault they're sneaky.

MOLLY BLOOM: Sanden won that round. OK, this is the last round. Marc, this is your chance to catch up. Cats can sleep up to 16 hours a day. Good or evil? Sanden?

SANDEN TOTTEN: That's good because 16 hours? I got nothing.

MARC SANCHEZ: Yeah, I don't know if this is really a question about good or evil. I think it's lazy. I think cats are lazy.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Yeah. cats are lazy. No debate. That's there.


MOLLY BLOOM: Well, there you have it. I mean, to sum up, cats are misunderstood. Sanden took this debate. Well done, Sanden.


And of course, you don't have to agree with our judges. You can make up your own mind. Thank you very much, everybody. Let's go, guys.


THE DINO BIRDS: (SINGING) You may have heard somebody say, that when you fight like cats and dogs, it's a bad thing. Yes, a rivalry's cliched. There's a torn up house, and it's from our fighting. And everybody knows, Lassie, Snoopy, Scooby-doo, and Shiloh. Garfield, Cruickshank, Puss in Boots, and Milo celebrities, but we're from two different teams.

And everybody knows Cat in the Hat, Cheshire, Hello Kitty, Clifford, Toto, Rin Tin Tin, and Benji. We don't care because we'll never be a pair. And we'll never be roommates. Cats and dogs don't get along. We always fight, and it's because the only thing we share are fun. But we know who's cooler.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's music from our friends, the Dino Bird. You can find out more about them on Facebook. And thanks to audio engineer, Johnny Vince Evans. That's all for this episode of Brains On. If you want to hear more from us, sign up for our newsletter, where we'll tell you about new episodes, events, and other fun stuff. You can do that at brainson.org. We'll be back soon with more answers to your questions. Thanks for listening.

THE DINO BIRDS: (SINGING) Oh, Oh. I took a poo right over there. Excuse me, I have a hair ball.


And we'll never be roommates. Cats and dogs don't get along. We always fight, and it's because the only thing we share is fun, but we know who's cooler. Cats and dogs don't disagree. Baby, it's true. We're from different pedigrees.

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