Cat religion

July 11, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More

Over at Mother Jones, Kiera Butler didn’t like the answer she got when she asked whether cats were bad for the environment. Here’s a bit of what she discovered:

Domestic cats, officially considered an invasive species, kill at least a hundred million birds in the US every year—dwarfing the number killed by wind turbines … They’re also responsible for at least 33 avian extinctions worldwide. A recent Smithsonian Institution study found that cats caused 79 percent of deaths of juvenile catbirds in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Bad news, since birds are key to protecting ecosystems from the stresses of climate change—a 2010 study found that they save plants from marauding insects that proliferate as the world warms. What’s more, feral cats can carry some heinous people diseases, including rabies, hookworm, and toxoplasmosis, an infection known to cause miscarriages and birth defects.

What’s the solution? Some people advocate for trap-neuter-return (TNR). Butler listens to scientists who have concluded that this is an illusory solution. Real solutions include A) don’t feed strays and B) don’t let your own cat outside.

Butler’s article (and video) touch on the emotion and misinformation rampant among cat-lovers. I’ve experienced this attitude found in cat people, both in the comments to this post and with regard to a string of neighbors who have lived next door to me.   Perhaps I originally chose to read  Butler’s article because I’m highly allergic to cats–they have caused me significant medical woes. I’m also not keen about cats, generally–I don’t know why. I’ve had dogs much of my life, and I’ve enjoyed having them around, so I’m not anti-pet. I confess that for me, the unceasing allegedly cute cat YouTubes make me even more wary of cat owners.

About 15 years ago, I got into a cat-battle with next-door neighbors who insisted that there was nothing wrong with having 12 indoor cats, one of them being a 55 pound African serval that ate one of their siamese cats (I saw the serval with my own eyes). I didn’t agree with their assessment–I thought it was bizarre to own so many pets, and it was also against the municipal code where I live (you are allowed to have only up to four animals in St. Louis). But what really peeved me is that these neighbors insisted on also feeding the outside strays, of which there were about fifteen or twenty. Our lots are small, only about 1/5 acre, and this led to lots of problems for me:  stinking cat poop, loud noises well into the night (cats making more cats), disease potential and cats constantly setting off my security lights.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

I confronted these neighbors. At the end of a long conversation, the wife insisted that the outside strays were “not mine . . . All I do is feed them, keep them in heated shelters outside and take them to the vet.” That one sentence sums up the insanity I find in many (not all) cat lovers.

Here’s the epilogue regarding my neighbors. After a couple years of harsh words about the cats, they put up a for sale sign my family celebrated. New couple moves in.  We explain that we are glad to have them move in because the previous neighbors were pains in the ass with regard to their high number of cats.

Husband says, “Don’t worry about cats, because my wife is allergic to cats. In fact, I’m spending lots of money trying to restore the house to make it safe for her, because it stinks to high hell.”

So for, so good. Six months later, the house is de-catted enough (chemically treated and repeatedly cleaned) that his wife moves in. A month later, they invite us over to visit. In the backyard, I noticed three big bowls of cat food on the ground.

“What are those?” I ask.

“Cat food. We need the stray cats around here, or else we’ll have mice,” he said.

“I’ve never had a problem with mice,” I stated.

[Frustrated conversation follows, leading up to harsh words months later, when there are now 15 stray cats all over the neighborhood, all of them being fed next door.]

[Fast forward two years, when the new couple’s for sale sign goes up. My family dances for joy.]

The same house is sold to a another new couple. My wife and I explain our concern.

The husband says, “Don’t worry. I’m a professional exterminator. I kill things for a living.”

So far, so good with the current neighbor.

One more thing. We’ve had other stray cats occasionally. On one such occasion, my wife was approached by a woman who claimed to be a cat expert. She had a solution that she unrelentingly pushed on my wife: “Feed the strays.” Her expert theory was that by feeding the strays, they supposedly “occupied” a given territory, making sure that more cats don’t move in, because cats are “territorial.” You couldn’t believe the vigor with which this woman hawked this insane theory.  Essentially, she was telling us to feed the cats, a method that had been repeatedly proven effective for increasing the local feral cat populations until there would essentially be at least one cat anywhere you looked on your property.  Her “theory” goes against one of the most basic rules of animal population control (deprive the animals of food and they’ll go somewhere else).  The woman repeatedly made clear that we shouldn’t “murder the stray kitties.”  We ignored this cat “expert” and set out traps, sending feral cats to city animal control for either adoption or a quick death. I’m quite aware that most of them weren’t adopted. Over the past 15 years, I admit that I have sent about 20 cats to animal control in order to get rid of cat stench and cat noise on my small property.  I’m also aware that the previous paragraph will horrify many cat owners, and it will make complete sense to most people who don’t own cats.   This is yet more evidence that cat ownership can often take the form of a religion.

Here’s more evidence that cat ownership can become a religion.  When I’m invited to someone’s home, I always ask: “Do you have cats?”  If they say yes, I explain that I’m highly allergic to cats and that I would lapse into allergy, and often have an asthmatic reaction if I spent more than a few minutes in the house.  When I say this, cat owners will often tell me the following:  “That’s no problem.   Our cat won’t cause you problems.”   Or “We’ll throw the cat outside while you’re here.”  or “The cat doesn’t really live in the house, except for one room.”    It’s like they think I’m superstitious about cats, rather than allergic to their dander, which spreads throughout the house, no matter where the cat lives (and I’ve never believed the story about the cat supposedly living in only one room).   And since when did all of these cat owners become allergists? The kind of “medical advice” most cat owners give is guaranteed to rob me of the ability to freely breathe for a week or more.

It’s one thing to love a cat. Many normal people love their cats, and they do so without dragging their neighbors into it, and they do so without spouting endless bullshit about how to supposedly manage cat populations. There are many other cat owners, however (it seems that most of them who don’t have any human children), who happily ignore overwhelming evidence in their pursuit of what they call “cat loving.”  I’m convinced that many of them are truly irrational when it comes to cats.  It’s not even worth exploring the topic of cat ownership with them, even when their is ample evidence that their cat ownership affects me detrimentally.

When cat people inflict their cats and their cat-attitudes on others, as described above, It starts looking a lot less than responsible pet ownership and a lot more like a religion.

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Category: nature, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Jim Razinha says:

    Substitute "dog-lovers" for "cat-lovers" and I submit you have a different flavor of the same religion. I also submit that pets, like religion, should be a personal and not public thing – unless someone expresses genuine interest in yours, keep them/it to themselves.

    I grew up with dogs – and hay fever. It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered that my "hay fever" was allergies to my own dogs. It also wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered that dogs irritate the hell out of me. Cats used to, but less so now. (Qualifier: our cats; other cats, like other people's kids….)

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    I'm sorry for your cat woes, truly.

    And I know that my betters here will decry my scientific incoherence but, it is theoretically possible that a cat is god.

    I remember reading about the Aspect experiments at the University of Paris in the mid-80's. Apparently, a sub-atomic particle was split and the two residual particles sped away from each other at the speed of light. Aspect contrived to halt one of the particles. I understand that the other particle stopped its momentum at the same instant. One of the implications of the result of the experiment (other than FTL is possible ala Star Trek!)is that one of the subjective perspectives of the universe is correct. The perpsective could be that of a cat, ergo the cat is god.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    The anti-spam word was "dog!" How ironic!

    Apparently I am as incoherent in my spelling as my particle physics; it's "residual particles" in the post!

  4. charlotte says:

    (my anti-spam word was “bird”)

    Tim, does this have anything to do with Schroedinger’s cat? I’m not sure if that makes the cat God, but it is interesting that cats have always been associated with magic, quantum-shit-i-clearly-don’t-understand, multiple dimensions and religion. They also might be space aliens.

    Here are some facts: toxoplasmosis infects humans and rats to make them like cats more (this is possibly the cause of “crazy cat lady” syndrome). House-cats meow in a tonal range similar to human baby cries. House-cats are descended from African Wild Cats which evolved their unique features (needle teeth, slit pupils) as a mimicry of snakes…

    Cats are creepy, magical or not.

    Oh yeah, I originally commented to point out that “not feeding strays” does nothing to stop them from hunting birds. I suppose the thought process is: feeding strays = more cats alive = more bird deaths, but I can’t imagine a faster way to kill all of the birds in a certain area than by letting all of the neighborhood cats go hungry…

    My cat was just attacked by birds the other day and they left a nasty scrape on him; he wasn’t even hunting, he was just minding his own business. Birds suck. Or else I’m infected by the cats’ obviously bio-engineered love-insanity-bacteria.

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    It was “dog,” gain! I have four cats, they are fixed and don’t go outside. I also feed the birds and use them to control carpenter bees as suggested by others at this site.

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