ATHENS, Ga. -- Amy Watts of Athens has three cats who roam outdoors. She thought she knew them. Now she knows them much better.
"I knew that Booker T's favorite place to go was down in the storm sewer," Watts said. "And now I know what the storm sewer looks like."
She knows that because University of Georgia researcher Kerri Anne Loyd recruited Booker T for a project to expose the secret lives of outdoor house cats. When Loyd equipped Booker T with a three-ounce video camera attached to a collar, the cat obliged with an infrared tour of the neighborhood storm sewer.
"It's kind of frightening," Watts laughed. "I wish he would never go down there again."
As part of her project, Loyd said she gathered more than 2,000 hours of kitty-cam footage -- much of it framed on top by the animal's fuzzy chin and wiry whiskers. She partnered with National Geographic Remote Imaging to equip the cats with cameras.
The cats stalked their neighbors' chickens. They camped out under automobiles. They ascended the pitched roofs of their neighbors' homes. They had unnerving nighttime on-camera encounters with opossums and other woodland creatures.
And they stalked prey. Loyd said her cameras documented dozens of encounters between cats and slower-moving critters -- oftentimes resulting in the cat cheerfully relocating its hapless victim -- but more often, not.
"Most of them left their prey," Loyd said. "They would capture it, play with it for a few minutes, then leave it close to the site of capture -- rather than bring it home as a gift for the owners."
Loyd said the research has a point: To show cat owners what their cats really do outdoors, and to strongly suggest that indoor cats lead less perilous lives.
"We were surprised to see that 85 percent of our sample of 60 cats experienced at least one risk behavior in the course of a week. So that was a pretty high percentage," Loyd said.
The cameras told stories. In the case of Archie, a striped tabby, it exposed a double life beyond Amy Watts' property line.
"Got a whole other family," Watts said. When she viewed the video, "They held open the door for him, and he walked in. He just hung out in the house."
"I feel like one of those women on the talk shows: 'My husband has two wives.' My cat has two families," Watts said.
For an eternity, these stealthy animals lived secret lives. Now the lid is off.
And the cats -- do they look like they care?