THE CAT IN URBAN MYTHOLOGY
Copyright 1995 - 2009 Sarah Hartwell
Society has an ambivalent attitude towards cats, they are either loved or hated with few people being truly indifferent to them. While cats are often glorified in paint and prose, the darker side of our relationship with them is often reflected in Urban Mythology; those sting-in-the-tail tales and the range of myths known as"dead-catters". Have you stopped to consider what these tales tell us about ourselves, our cats and our relationship with cats? Though this piece is primarily interested in what myths tell us about our relationship with cats, I have debunked a few myths at the end of the article and included some recently circulated e-lore.
The continuing additions to urban legend has led to the original Feline Urban Legends page being split into separate articles to aid loading time.
FELINE URBAN LEGENDS INDEX
FELINE URBAN LEGENDS PART 1 (THIS PAGE) Introduction to Urban Myths
Introduction to Urban Myths
FELINE URBAN LEGENDS PART 2 The Cat-Rat Ranch
The Cat-Rat Ranch
Footnote and Further Reading
AN INTRODUCTION TO URBAN MYTHS
Most urban myths are pure fiction though they are often reported as true. Over time they are exaggerated, distorted and reinvented. Some contain a grain of truth e.g. the "machine-washed kitten" and "car-engine cat" though these occur less often than cheap newspapers would have us believe. Others are based on misconceptions: Ragdolls getting their placid disposition due to a car accident (breeders' hype), Maine Coons being a cross between cats and raccoons (because of their ringed tail), and Bengals liking to eat day old chicks (a reporter's invention). Some reflect attitudes towards "freakish" breeds e.g. the animal welfare worker who euthanased a "mangy stray", only to discover it was someone's escaped pedigree Devon Rex, Sphynx or Munchkin (a tale also maliciously told to discredit certain welfare groups). The chick-eating Bengal tale reflects a deep-rooted suspicion of anything new ("neophobia"), in this case a cat breed with wild-cat genes.
Although many urban legends seem inherently anti-cat, they are often enjoyed by cat-lovers. They are recounted for the same reason that we tell scary stories - we enjoy being scared by something we know is fiction, but which has the ring of truth about it. Many myths are based on feline attributes identifiable in our own cats. "It could happen to Tiddles" we say, knowing that it couldn't possibly happen to dear old Tiddles, but we take extra precautions anyway.
According to myth all cats can navigate across whole continents to rejoin their owners. While there are authenticated cases, there are many more cats which remain lost. Yet folklore suggests that ALL cats have an unerring homing instinct - a comforting belief, but one which fuels false hopes. It is a popular belief is that cats always land on their feet. Cats have an instinctive self-righting reflex, but a short distance fall means there isn't time for the cat to be the right way up when it hits the ground. Cats that fall further usually land the right way up, but can still be injured by the force of impact. Some cats are less proficient at self-righting than others - I've come across cats that would land on their rumps even if they fell feet first! The keyword is "always" when we really mean "usually" and this has carried through into the metaphor that "so-and-so always lands on his feet" meaning that so-and-so always ends up in a favourable situation, even if it is the result of mishap.
Another common myth ingredient is the "dotty female owner", because a disproportionate number of cat lovers are female. This image has been with us for many centuries. The image of elderly women owning cats, often as their sole companion, meant that Middle Ages witches were usually old crones with feline familiars. Some myths are old wives tales revisited: a pregnant woman allowed her cat to sleep on her lap despite her superstitious mother-in-law's frantic exhortations that the baby would be born with a cat's face (hare lip), but when the baby was born it was perfectly normal - don't ask me 'ow!
In more recent years, urban myths have spread through email, newsgroups and forums ("e-lore"). Instead of repeating tales of "a friend of a friend", the text is simply forwarded intact. This often preserves the first person narration. Instead of being condensed into short forms, long tales are transmitted verbatim. Having been compiled over a the last decade, this page reflects that change. Later entries are presented in their entirety from emails, compared to earlier entries transcribed from orally transmitted tales. Will email preserve tales in their original form for longer, compared to the fast "mutation rate" of spoken tales? The answer seems to be "possibly" because there are plenty of people who like to edit or "improve" a story before emailing it onwards.
HOW DO SUCH URBAN MYTHS GET STARTED?
Some urban myths begin as half-remembered events while others are pure imagination. Kitty Goodwin wrote to me about the latter type. A bus driver who knew Kitty loves cats, maliciously spread the rumour that she owned 50 cats and that her house smelled bad. The driver kept on asking Kitty how many cats she had. Kitty got fed up with being asked the same question and kept changing the number, growing more and more ridiculous each journey. When she got to 100 cats, the bus driver finally gave up. Then for reasons known only to herself, the bus driver began to regale the other local bus drivers with a malicious tale along these lines:
When Kitty got married, her husband owned a parrot and she owned a cat. Her husband hated cats, but said he would try to tolerate his wife's pet. Then one night, the cat sneaked into the room where the parrot was perched. He caught the parrot and ate him. Kitty's husband came in and found only the feathers. He grabbed the cat, put him up on the kitchen counter, took a big knife and slit the cat open from one end to the other. Then he removed the parrot, laid it next to the cat on the counter, and said to his wife "Now take them both out to the trash can" and walked out of the room.
Passengers and other bus drivers listened to this story with exclamations of horror and disgust each time it was told. The driver who told the story always fixed Kitty with a stare to see if she was upset. In fact Kitty never let on to the fact that she could barely keep from laughing: "How did the cat swallow the parrot whole, so that the husband could remove the parrot from the cat and lay it out on the counter beside him?" Kitty told me that it took even more of a mental stretch to imagine the cat allowing itself to be vivisected on a kitchen countertop - it would result in about a hundred stitches for the husband and an escaped cat. Despite the number of people who heard, and passed on, this tale Kitty never got a visit from the SPCA who obviously recognized an emergent urban legend. Personally I'm just amazed that Kitty put up with the verbal victimization for so long.
Some innocent jokes cross into urban legend seemingly of their own accord, for example Snowball,The Giant Mutant Kitty An example of a true tale simply begging top be made into a myth is that of Rudy, The Cat In The Garbage Disposal. There are individuals who delight in concocting legends to amuse their friends, family, newsgroups etc and sometimes their tales make it into the wider world of urban folklore. Existing myths sometimes get kicked into renewed life. For example, a disgruntled employee of a Chinese restaurant starts malicious rumours about his employer having a freezer full of cat which is being passed off as rabbit.
Possibly the oldest and most persistent myth still in current circulation is that of a jealous cat sucking a baby's breath or smothering the baby. While most cats are repelled by the human breath, they may be attracted to the smell of milk on a baby's lips and may even try to clean away any milk still there. Although milk isn't a natural food for adult cats, the equally pervasive belief that cats and milk go together like love and marriage has ensured that many cats become accustomed to milk at an early age. In addition, cats may instinctively clear up milk on a baby's face just as they would wash kittens - it stops the milk from going rancid and attracting predators. Cats also like to snuggle in warm places and may try to sleep alongside the baby in a warm crib. Mostly they tuck in alongside junior, but parents are obviously concerned that they may end up on top of the baby, accidentally suffocating it. In the past, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or Cot Death) wasn't recognised and many a household cat was blamed by distraught parents who found their child dead one morning and the cat in the vicinity of the "crime".
The belief in breath-sucking comes from superstition which is several centuries old. It has appeared in print in 1607 and 1708. In 1791, a coroner's court in Plymouth, England delivered a verdict that a baby had been killed by a cat sucking out its breath. By then, the superstition had turned into "common knowledge". In Nebraska in 1929, a doctor reportedly witnessed a cat in the act of sucking a child's breath. The cat was lying on the baby's breast with paws either side of the child's mouth. The cat's muzzle was pressed to the child's lips and the infant was pale and had cyanosis (blue colour caused by oxygen starvation). Quite possibly, the much maligned moggy was perplexed that the infant was no longer breathing. In December 2000, 6 week old Kieran Payne was reportedly smothered by a cat when his mother found the cat lying on her dead baby's face. However, a post mortem recorded Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The only case where a cat may have been responsible was around the same time, but in that case cat hairs were found in the baby's airways.
How did such a superstition arise? Cats were once believed to be witches' familiars who would steal a baby's soul. Many old wives' tales evolved from simple hygiene messages. In the days before good health care or veterinary care, zoonoses (disease spread from animal to man) were a hazard and keeping a animals away from newborn was a sensible precaution. Although associated with witch-craft, "sucking out the breath" may have been intended to mean suffocation.
Another form of the cat/baby superstition is that a kitten and a baby must not be raised together else the cat will thrive while the child wastes away. This suggests that the cat is magically stealing the child's vitality (yet again, a form of "sucking the breath"). Once more, this may relate to hygiene - cats carry tapeworm (intestinal parasites) and can be infected with consumption (tuberculosis), both of which will cause wasting. In modern times, most cats are wormed regularly while TB is far less common in the developed world.
THE SAVIOUR CAT
The following makes such a regular appearance in magazines (told in the first person as ‘it happened to me’ or ‘my cat saved my baby’s life’) and in identical form in both the US and UK, that it should be considered an Urban Myth. It is possible that such events have happened. Cats may alert their owners to a distressing or unusual situation. However, the events appear to be far more common on letters pages than in real life. The classic form goes:
"When my friend had her first baby, she was concerned about the cat being jealous or sleeping on the baby’s face or whatever. She never left the cat and baby together unsupervised, even though the cat seemed to have accepted the baby as though it was its own kitten. One night, my friend was asleep in bed when her cat started pawing at her face. She told it to go away since it wasn’t breakfast-time but the cat was insistent and started scratching her gently, biting her nose and meowing loudly. Finally she decided something might be wrong so she got up. The cat started running between her and the baby’s room, meowing urgently. Still half-asleep she followed it into the baby’s room. Her baby was having trouble breathing and its lips were starting to go blue. If the cat hadn’t alerted her, the baby would have been another cot-death statistic. My friend says her cat is a special guardian angel who saved her baby’s life and she no longer supervises them when they play together."
It is unusual among Urban Myths in that it is most usually told in the first person i.e. ‘When I had my first baby ….’ This is points to it being "e-lore" where the original text is passed along intact. It appears to be the opposite of the 'cat suffocates baby' theme and an attempt to illustrate the positive aspects of cat ownership and a beneficial relationship between our human kids and our 'furry kids' (for example, scientists have found that children who grow up with pets tend to have better immune systems). The first person narration ensures it a place on the letters page along with a few moments of fame for the writer (and maybe a small reward if it is printed).
There is an old chestnut about a cat rescued from a tree by the Fire Brigade. As the heroic firemen drove off they ran over the cat. Suddenly our husky heroes are reduced to mere fallible humans. During a British firemen's strike it was told at the expense of the Army in their Green Goddesses, implying that the Army was less competent than the "real" Fire Brigade.
Cats can get stuck in trees and a currently popular tale is that of the vicar's cat stuck up a tree. Unable to reach it, the vicar lassooed the tree branch, tied the rope to his car bumper and reversed the car up the driveway to drag the branch down to arm's reach. Sadly the rope snapped, catapulting kitty across the rooftops, never to be seen again. Weeks later, the vicar saw a parishioner buying cat food and remarked that he didn't know she had a cat. "We were having a barbecue and my little lad was saying how much he'd like a cat when one dropped out of nowhere into his lap," she replied. "It's a really dopey creature - has a sort of phobia about trees. It must have been an act of God."
This myth has been seen around the world in various guises (I have seen versions from the UK, USA and South Africa). Not all have a religious element. For example a cat shelter newsletter reported the tale as being found in another shelter's newsletter.
According to an animal shelter newsletter, a Californian woman adopted a kitten. Some weeks later, the woman was doing some gardening, when she heard the kitten miaowing. She saw that it had climbed to the highest branch of a tree and no manner of coaxing could persuade it to climb down. The woman tried looping a rope around the end of the branch, hoping to pull it down so that she could reach the kitten. The plan seemed to work and the kitten was soon within arm's reach. Unfortunately the rope snapped under the strain and the branch sprang back, launching the still miaowing kitten into the air. The woman searched all over the place but couldn’t find it. She spent days knocking on peoples’ doors in the area with no luck until one morning, an old man answered her knock. The woman explained what bad happened to her kitten and asked if the man had seen it. The man smiled and said, "So that’s where the little bugger came from. I was minding my own business, sitting in the back garden, when this kitten drops out of the sky and into my lap! Gave me the fright of my life!" The man went back into his house and returned with the miaowing kitten.
What happens when the wrong cat is "rescued"? A breeder of Persian cats was selling up her house so she could move into a bigger property. Since she was at work all day, she arranged for the estate agents to show prospective buyers around her house. Since two of her Persian queens (queen being the name used for unspayed female cats) had come on heat, the woman pinned a note to the door saying "Please do not let cat out." Returning home one night, the woman fund a big ginger tomcat inside the house and in the act of mating with one of the queens (the other wearing the self-satisfied look of a cat which has already been serviced). The estate agent (realtor) negotiator had appended a note to the one tacked on the door: "One of my colleagues must have let your big tomcat out, because he was waiting on the doorstep when I showed people round the house so I let him back in."
A CAT EAT DOG WORLD?
Many folktales include our cats' arch-enemies, dogs. Urban folklore abounds with tales of tiny dogs being mistaken as prey by a cat. In straightforward tales of dog vs cat only the relationship between dog owner and cat owner (newlyweds, neighbours, the same person adopting a new pet), or the breeds involved, seem to change. Tring Zoological Museum (England) has taxidermy specimens of lapdogs little bigger than hamsters (see photo) - any cat could be excused for considering such dogs prey.
A common tale is that of the couple who smuggle a sick Chihuahua home from Mexico and their cat attacks it. The distraught pair take their new pet to the vets only to discover it is a giant, rabid rat! In this case the cat is a hero, but in similar myths the cat mistakes a Chihuahua puppy for a rat, which reflects a common attitude towards tiny dogs as much as any view of cats as bloodthirsty predators. A variation tells of a woman who bought a Teacup Poodles after seeing one on Crufts. She had it clipped into that pom-pom effect and made it wear little bootees and a coat whenever the weather was wet. Unfortunately for her, next door's cat thought the yappy mutt was some sort of fluffy rat and killed it! It isn't the dog's fault that it ends up looking like beribboned canine topiary - the myth is also a dig at over-indulgent owners and over-dependent dogs. Meanwhile the cat is depicted as a robust and independent creature.
Sometimes the theme of cat vs tiny dog is combined with that of uneasy neighbours. My old primary school teacher's friend has a big grey fluffy cat which is basically a dozy old thing and very inoffensive. However her neighbour didn't like the cat, especially its habit of messing in her flower-beds. After years of a long-running dispute over the cat's defecatory habits, the neighbour bought a dog with the intent that the dog would scare the cat out of the garden. Since she didn't want some great shambling, smelly hound in her house, she got one of those small Japanese breeds. My teacher's friend couldn't believe it - the dog pooped in the garden worse than the old cat. The old cat was a bit put out at being denied access to next door's garden. One day it evidently decided the miniature canine was just a rat with a good hairdresser and an attitude problem and deposited the dog, quite dead, on my teacher's friend's back doorstep!
This time, the undersized dog is an unfamiliar Japanese breed rather than the now familiar Mexican Chihuahua. We are surrounded by miniature gadgets of Japanese/Asian origin so it seems logical that the miniature dog should be a Japanese breed. Cats messing in other people's gardens is a common cause of dispute and the "wronged" neighbour acquires a dog to deter the trespassing cat. In its turn, the cat (previously a dozy and inoffensive old thing) gets its own back. It ends with the dead dog being brought home as prey, illustrating contempt for undersized dogs and maybe an element of racial contempt or envy.
The "resurrected rabbit" and its feline variants is a simple farce and comedy of errors, timing and misunderstanding. The most common form is the "hare-drier", "hare restorer" or "resurrected rabbit" myth where a "night-prowling cat brings home the neighbour's rabbit all matted with mud and blood. The panicking owner gives bunny a wash and blow dry and puts it back into the hutch before daybreak. The rabbit's owner cannot believe that some sicko has resurrected the bunny who died a day or so earlier and put him back into the hutch like some returned from the grave undead creature." Sometimes the cat's owner rushes bunny to the emergency vet clinic where it is pronounced dead; this leaves the owner to find a dead-ringer for the rabbit in time for daybreak.
In another dog/cat myth (the "undead cat" or "substitute cat"), "a dog-owning woman is feeding a neighbour's cats while the neighbour is on holiday. She is horrified to discover that her dog has apparently killed one of the cats shortly before the owner is due back. She rushes the poor animal, which is matted with mud, to her vet who pronounces it dead so in desperation, she shampoos and blow-dries the deceased and places it on the sofa so it appears to have died in its sleep. When the owner returns, there are hysterical screams. Poor Fluffy had died and been buried just before the holiday; but some sick prankster has placed his mortal remains on the sofa." Occasionally, the dog owner buys a replacement cat and the shocked owner finds a bewildered cat on the sofa. Sometimes the owner "dies of shock" thinking Fluffy had been buried alive or has returned from the grave. Sometimes the bewildered replacement cat panics and acts "like some demonic undead creature". This tale also falls in the "substitute cat" section further on.
Although there are genuine reports of antipathy between neighbours who own conflicting pets, the dog in the tale is more a victim of circumstance than a real villain and any vet would recognise a several-days dead cat, surely? This tale appears in many forms, sometimes the deceased is a rabbit or racing pigeon "killed" by the neighbour's cat. Urban myths are constantly updated and the "undead cat" tale received a new lease of life following the British "hurricane" in 1987 - the feline victim had been renowned for teasing the dog from the top of a tall fence and the less-than-miraculous resurrection took place after the fence blew down.
"A friend of a friend recently adopted a Maine Coon from a shelter. I told him not to as everyone knows they are half-lynx and really quite vicious and at 25 lb they are not ideal pets at all. He reckoned he knew better, but he obviously didn't reckon on the thing attacking and killing his neighbour's Maltese Terrier. He had to have it put down when it tried to do the same to a small child." Several Maine Coon myths are commandeered into a basic cat vs dog legend. The first is that "everyone knows" the Maine Coon is half-lynx even though it isn't, nor is it part-bobcat or part-raccoon - it is wholly domestic cat. The second is that Maine Coons are vicious, when in fact they are generally an even-tempered (although any breed can produce cranky individuals). The third is the huge size, a myth perpetuated by the media (especially when the breed first arrived in Britain) and which led to some very overfed and obese cats. Most Maine Coons do not exceed 18 lb. In addition to being a variation on a standard theme, this version tarnishes the image of a long established breed which is more of a gentle giant than a monstrous moggy. We often equate size with viciousness, in humans as well as in animals. As a tale of misconceptions about breeds, this half-lynx Maine Coon ranks alongside Ragdolls being the result of a car accident, Bengals liking nothing better than to eat day old chicks for dinner and Manx cabbits.
Another version of the cat-eat-dog myth and a failed cover-up once more concerns the Chihuahua: A family in the next village entrusted their pampered Chihuahua, to friendly neighbours while they visited their daughter for a few days. The obliging neighbours were concerned about how their huge cauliflower-eared ginger torn might react. The cat had a fearsome reputation from one end of the village to the other and even the postman left the mail in a box at the end of the driveway. On the first day, the couple let the dog out to do its business in the back garden and it went yapping about, only too pleased to be outside. A short while later, they thought things were a bit too quiet and went to have a look. To their horror, their monster moggy was prancing around with the half-eaten Chihuahua in its paws. The neighbours quickly retrieved Peppi's carcass from the cat’s claws, put some bonfire ashes into a vase and invented a story to steer the blame away from their pet. When the dog's owners returned, the neighbours caught them before they went inside and explained in hushed tones that the poor nervous dog had become ill, unable to cope with being separated from them. They’d rushed it straight to the vet, who was unable to save it and had arranged for its cremation. The sorrowful dog owners choked back their sobs, thanked their neighbours for taking care of poor Peppi's mortal remains and went home. An hour later, the man returned in a less charitable mood. "Are you sure our little dog died suddenly?" he asked, sternly. The couple nodded sheepishly. "Only I found this on our back door step." And he held up the bloody, half-chewed head of his cherished Chihuahua.
THE FOOT-LICKING CAT
This alarmist ailurophobic myth received publicity on Saturday 15th July 2000 on the BBC Radio 4 morning show 'Home Truths'. Listeners had written in about cats which enjoyed licking feet. One listener left a phone message telling them to get rid of the cats - someone once had a cat which licked her feet and one day it bit her and she died! Unfortunately the radio show chose to air this myth, causing consternation among cat owners and cat charity workers whose shelters are already overwhelmed with unwanted cats and kittens. The last thing shelters needed was a revival of a killer-cat urban myth. 'The Foot-Licking Cat' or 'Vampire Cat' urban myth runs like this:
A friend's mother-in-law had a very affectionate cat which loved to lick her feet. It licked and groomed her feet just like it would groom another cat. Sometimes when she was dozing by the fire, the cat would knock her slippers off and lick the soles of her feet. The rasping of its rough little tongue soon woke her up - especially at pussy-cat feeding times when it gently nibbled her toes to remind her of the time. One evening, she was slow to wake and the cat became impatient. Having licked the soles of her feet and nibbled her toes to no avail, it bit her ankle hard enough to draw blood. Unfortunately it punctured a major blood vessel and the owner bled to death right there in front of the fire. And the real scary thing about it, when my friend's husband found the body, the cat was still licking the blood from the mother-in-law's feet!
In some versions, in case the thought of a Cat Dracula is too far-fetched, the woman gets an infection from the cat bite and dies of blood poisoning. As everyone knows, cats' carry all sorts of diseases. Although the infection scenario is slightly more plausible it is still unlikely. The tale is set in England which is rabies-free hence the horror-value of being killed by a cat bite. Cats do have more bacteria in their mouths than do dogs, but cat bites and scratches rarely cause anything worse than localised infections. A few people are susceptible to 'cat scratch disease', have serious allergies or compromised immune systems, but the tale doesn't mention any underlying causes - the cause of death is the cat.
Regardless of ending used, this myth suggests that cats can't be trusted. Even when being affectionate, they have ulterior motives - cupboard love. In this case, not only did the cat have an ulterior motive for its affection, it showed its untrustworthiness by biting the owner and causing her death. The fact that the cat didn't intend to kill her is, of course, immaterial; the untrustworthy nature of felines is the 'moral' of the tale.
In the UK there is only one documented case of a cat causing its owner to bleed to death and there were contributory factors such as an elderly owner, weak blood vessels and failure of blood to clot (our ability to heal ourselves deteriorates with age). A cat greeted its elderly owner by standing and patting her leg, as cats often do. One of its claws caught in her nylons and caused a scratch deep enough to open a weak blood vessel. The owner lost a considerable amount of blood and died, but the cat was not wholly to blame as, in this isolated case, any serious scratch might have had the same result.
One response to the cat-licks-feet myth is to suggest that owners get rid of their cats if they develop a foot-licking habit since sooner or later the cat will bite the appendage and the owner will die a horrible death from either blood poisoning or loss of blood. In reality, cats lick feet (and skin in general) because of the salt taste of sweat. It is also a mutual grooming activity; the cat grooms its owner as though grooming another cat or kittens. Sometimes the cat nibbles very gently at the skin as though tackling knotted fur. Certain skin creams can trigger licking because of the taste. I had one cat who loved Body Shop Peppermint Foot Lotion and Body Shop Cocoa Butter. I had to stop using these as there was a danger of the cat ingesting them and of my feet being licked raw!
Another tale of foot licking relates to an old granny who lived in a poorly heated flat. The circulation in her feet was not very good, but in the winter it got so that she couldn't feel her toes at all. One morning, she woke up to find the bedsheets rucked up to her ankles and her beloved cat licking her feet. How sweet, she thought, my cat is trying to lick some life back into my poor old toes. The she noticed the bloody stains on the sheet - during the night, her cat had gnawed away three of the old woman's unfeeling toes.
Cats have been known to cause marital stress due to jealousy and sometimes only the intervention of a pet shrink has restored normal relations in a cat-centric household. Some owners are devoted to their pet to the exclusion of their family, a situation reflected in the tale of a wife who reached breaking point because her husband paid more attention to the cat than to her. In an attempt to get his attention, she cooked him a delicious casserole. "That was delicious," her husband commented, before commenting that he hadn't seen Tiddles all evening. In reply, the wife pointed silently at the bones on the side of his plate. This tale of revenge is a comment on the English taboo regarding the eating of cats (and dogs). Our pets are often child-substitutes and to eat them is tantamount to cannibalism. It would receive a "so what" reaction in countries where cats form an acceptable part of the human diet.
In a tale of matrimonial disharmony, a woman fed up with her beer-swilling husband falling asleep on the sofa every Saturday night waited for him to start snoring then tucked a chicken neck into his flies. The poor man awoke to find the family cat chewing on his wedding tackle - and he hadn't felt a thing. Naturally he never touched another drop. Here the opportunist cat isn't victim, villain or hero, but an instrument of revenge (much as in the casserole tale) and the drunken husband is the real victim.
Elsewhere, the cat is merely a device which precipitates chaos, as in the tale of the poor chap dragged out of the shower to unblock the kitchen sink. As he lay starkers under the sink, the family cat decided to investigate the open cupboard - typical feline curiosity. As Puss walked across the poor chap, its claws snagged a delicate part of male anatomy and the man shot bolt upright, banging his head on the pipework and causing the cat to hang on even tighter. The embarrassed wife is left to explain to paramedics (who suspect matrimonial violence) why her unconscious husband is bleeding in two such diverse places! In the best tradition of farce, the tale relies on bad timing, human embarrassment at nudity, and misunderstanding for its humour.
If a poorly trained cat can wreck a relationship, what about the over-trained cat in the cautionary myth about a lonely bachelor who had trained his Siamese cat to leap affectionately onto his shoulders as he walked in the door? One day he invited a girlfriend home. He ushered her through the door in gentlemanly fashion, but forgot to tell her of his cat's welcoming trick. The poor woman screamed and bolted as the apparently rabidly jealous cat leapt at her throat. Is this to do with a cat's supposed jealousy or is there something sinister about the intelligent Siamese cat? Maybe it's just a warning to those of us who try to train our cats.
A more recent addition to the matrimonial section of feline folktales appears to be based on real events. The man of the house informed his wife that the new breakfast cereal was a bit crunchy, though okay with milk, and maybe she could buy something different next time. When he indicated the tub from which he had served the offending meal she informed him that he had just eaten dry cat food which was stored in an identical tub. Later that day she asked him if he was feeling any ill-effects from his breakfast. The poor chap just looked at her and pathetically said "meow". Most of us are repelled at the thought of eating cat food even if it looks and smells good enough for human consumption (Spillers adopted this theme in their "Purrfect" adverts).
The following e-lore item is a more elaborate variant of the cat/sink/manhood tale set in the US where garbage disposal units are common. The role of the cat - to precipitate chaos - remains the same, but the tale-spinner has added a greater level of detail which makes it even more plausible, plus (as a nice touch) a cat-related catchphrase at the end.
Calling in sick to work makes my drinking buddy uncomfortable. No matter how legitimate his illness, he always senses his boss thinks he is lying or suffering a hangover. On one occasion, he had a valid reason, but lied anyway because the truth was far too humiliating. he simply mentioned that he had sustained a head injury and hoped he would feel up to coming in the next day. By then, he would have thought up a story to explain the bandage on his head. The accident occurred mainly because he and his wife had adopted a cute little kitty. Initially the kitty was no problem, but one morning my buddy was showering after breakfast when he heard his wife call out from the kitchen that the garbage disposal unit was dead and could he please go and reset it? My buddy protested that his wife knew where the reset button was and could press it herself. She protested that she was scared - what if it started going and sucked her in? besides, she reasoned at the top of her voice, it would only take a second. So out he got, dripping wet and stark b*ll*ck naked, making statements about her cowardly behaviour as he traipsed dripping into the kitchen. He crouched down and stuck his head under the sink to find the button. It was the last conscious action he remembered.
It struck without warning, without respect to his circumstances. Not some cursed disposal unit drawing him into its gnashing metal teeth, but the new kitty, clawing playfully at the dangling objects she spied between his legs. She had been poised around the corner and stalked her unfamiliarly naked owner as he took the bait under the sink. At precisely the second he was most vulnerable, she leapt at the toys he unwittingly offered and snagged them with her needle-like claws. At that point, he lost all rational thought to control orderly bodily movements, while rising upwardly at a violent rate of speed, with the full weight of a kitten hanging from his masculine parts. Wild animals are sometimes faced with a "fight or flight" syndrome. Men, in this predicament, choose only the "flight" option. Fleeing straight up, the sink and cabinet bluntly impeded his ascent; the impact knocking my buddy out cold.
When he awoke, his wife and the paramedics stood over him. At first the paramedics had regarded the lacerated pate and equally lacerated wedding tackle and suspected some form of matrimonial dispute. After being fully briefed by his wife (who was trying to suppress her laughter at my buddy's plight), the paramedics snorted as they tried to conduct their work while suppressing their own hysterical laughter. A few days later at the office, head bandaged and wearing loose-fitting trousers on account of "the others not being back from the dry cleaners", his colleagues tried to coax an explanation out of him. He kept silent, claiming it was too painful to talk about. "What's the matter," his boss asked, "Cat got your tongue?" If he had only known.
THE WRONG SORT OF CAT LOVER
Only loosely fitting into matrimonial disharmony is the following tale of one man and his cat. Some members of the human race like to indulge in sexual relations with non-humans - a condition known clinically as zoophilia (sexual love of animals) which is a very different thing from ailurophilia (being a cat lover). Dogs seem to be the preferred partner. Cats have far too many claws and are on the small side. For many years there has been a tale in the UK about a chap found travelling on the London Underground (Subway system) with a grey tabby cat on his lap. It was late night and he was the only person in the carriage when the train pulled into the station. The automatic doors opened and some people on the platform were surprised to see a grey tabby cat launch itself off of the man's lap and out of the train as they got onto the train. A brief glance at the man's unzipped trousers indicated that he had been having sexual relations with the now vanished cat. In other versions, he is caught in the middle of the act, taking care to keep the cat facing away from him to avoid its raking claws (presumably his upper legs were impervious to its claws?). Note to American readers: in the UK, cats have claws - declawing is illegal.
As an aside to the zoophilia tale, there is a real case of a Russian woman who smeared valerian onto her private parts (it would be far too confusing to refer to her pussy at this point) and persuaded her cat to lick it off. Valerian acts much like catnip and affected cats often scratch and bite in response to it. The woman ended up in a hospital casualty department with painful lacerations. It almost begs to be made into a legend.
CAT FOOD FOLKLORE
Interestingly, cat food varieties are designed to appeal to human taste preferences and to our own senses of sight and smell and are reputedly sampled by human tasters. During overseas travels, I noticed that cat food flavours mirror the human diet and not merely because cat food is a by-product of the human food industry. In countries which import cat food (the ubiquitous Whiskas) it may also be due to religious observations, these being applied to the family cat's diet in order to keep the household free of taint.
There is a told-as-true tale of the would-be cat food salesman who demonstrates his sales technique at an interview by tucking into a foil tray of gourmet cat food and announcing "tastes good to me" as he finished his meal. Cat food manufacturers are welcome to enlighten me as to the veracity of this tale. Seriously though, at one of 1994's big cat shows, the "Max Cat" representative demonstrated Max Cat dry cat food by eating it himself and favourably comparing it to party snacks (actually it tasted okay) and a Hills rep admitted to eating a sachet of "Science Diet" when her lunchtime relief failed to show! A casual acquaintance admitted using seafood-in-aspic cat foods, suitably disguised, as cheap starters at his student parties. He hasn't (yet) admitted this to those who attended the parties. I myself have taken doggy treats to a party for the hostesses dog, only to see them being offered around with other savoury nibbles during the course of the evening. Since the guests seemed to enjoy them I simply kept quiet and thought of the Max Cat rep.
Mistaken consumption of cat food has a long tradition in truth and legend. In the earliest days of tinned cat food, when the meat had a solid pate consistency, many a person has apparently made sandwiches out of leftover "meat roll" they found on a saucer in the pantry and reported it to be quite tasty. The current chunks-in-gravy foods positively lend themselves to tales of being accidentally used for meat pie fillings. In Britain at least, cat food comes from animals passed fit for human consumption and is therefore not dangerous for humans to eat. However, tales about people who have cooked and/or eaten cat food, for whatever reason, invariably make us go "ugh" at the mere thought of eating food intended for our pets.
A version of the urban myth did the rounds in 1957 and was reported in the Daily Mirror. It involved a man who worked at a big factory where there were many Italian workers. One of the Italian men shared his sandwiches with the Englishman. He thoroughly enjoyed the meal and thinking he had enjoyed some new improve sandwich filling he managed to convey to the Italian that he would like to obtain some cans for himself. A few days later, the Italian obliged, but the Englishman's smile soon faded when he saw he had been handed tins of cat food! Of course, this leads one to wonder if the man had indeed eaten cat food, or whether the Italian colleague was having a joke at making him think he had.
Regardless of all the gourmet cat foods available, most cats will scavenge unattended human food if given a chance and you've surely about the hostess who found Puss nibbling the trout quiche (or salmon sandwiches, prawn vol-au-vents etc) destined for that evening's party. She disguised the damage, but after the guests had gone she found Puss unconscious on the doorstep. She rang the guests telling them to get their stomachs pumped since Puss - who had sampled the quiche earlier - appeared to have been poisoned. Next day her milkman called to say he had dropped a crate on Puss's head. He had rung the doorbell but no-one had heard him over the noise of a party in full swing so he'd placed the dazed cat by the back step to recover. On learning that they'd eaten cat-tainted food, her friends never visited again. However much we love our cats, we seem unwilling to eat from the same plate!
A variation on this is the tale of the woman who cooks chicken for dinner party. Worried that the chicken breast might be "off" she gives the cat a piece and is relieved that the cat finds it acceptable. The dinner party proceeds without a hitch and the guests enjoy their meal. The woman goes to fetch dessert only to find her cat retching and choking in the kitchen. In a panic, she tells her guest that the cat - on whom she tested the chicken for freshness - has acute food poisoning and that they should make haste to hospital to have their stomachs pumped before they too become ill. Then, without a thought for her own wellbeing, she rushes the cat to the emergency vet who diagnoses a hairball!
I have always classed this as a myth. In January 2001 I received a first hand account of the cat-and-milkman tale from our Computer Services area: When Paul from Computer Services was a lad, his dad was the village milkman and Paul often helped out on Saturdays. One day Paul was catching up with him and he was chatting to a lady on her step. Paul's dad asked "How is your cat" The woman answered that the vet couldn't find anything wrong with it but the cat continued to vomit. The lady then went on to say that she assumed it was food poisoning and the only possible cause of this was the left-over Fish pie that she had made for dinner the previous night. To prevent a possible illness she had herself and her husband force-vomit and this made him so ill he ended up in hospital with a stomach muscle problem. She finished off with "The cat seems OK to-day". To which Paul's dad said "I only asked because yesterday morning he rubbed against my ankles and I accidentally dropped a pint of Red Top on his head."
Another variation on the "sick cat and the stomach pump" genre features a French mushroom collector who made a quiche with locally collected mushrooms. He assured his guests that the mushrooms had been identified as safe and they all enjoy the feast. What little remains of the quiche was given to his cat. A short while later, while the guests were enjoying dessert, the cat began mewling, panting and pacing and showing sign of distress. Figuring that the mushrooms were not as safe as supposed, the diners went straight to hospital to have their stomach pumps. When they returned some hours later, the cat had given birth to three kittens - far from being poisoned by the mushroom quiche, she had gone into labour!
In the following tale, the cat's scavenging habits make it the ideal scapegoat for a human crime. A friend's mother was renowned for her heavenly apple and bramble pies. One day, her husband and son arrived home from the game to find an apple and bramble pie cooling on the kitchen counter. The note next it said 'Don't touch! This is for the school bake sale.' However, they couldn't resist it and before they knew it, they'd eaten the whole pie. Just as they were wondering what to say to the cook, they heard her key in the front door. Thinking quickly, the son grabbed the family cat and smeared its face in apple and bramble leftovers. The bewildered cat trotted up to meet mother who took one look at its pie covered face and booted the perplexed creature out the front door ... straight under a passing bus. (In kinder versions it merely ends up in the rain.)
A friend of a friend refuses to feed fish to her cats. She believes the fish will cause their eyes to change colour. Cats' eye colour is set by genes, not by diet. If diet could change the colour, breeders and exhibitors would be onto a winner - just dose a cat with wishy-washy eye colour with whatever food was necessary to produce a prize-winning hue! It's possible the person who concocted the myth had fed kittens fish around the time their eye colour changed naturally. Maybe s/he didn't know kittens' eyes are blue at birth and change at 6-7 weeks and s/he thought it was due to eating fish.
There are a plethora of nasty tales, all in very poor taste, about cats (or cat food) being served up by unscrupulous restauranteurs. However, this tale combines coincidence with our reservations about unfamiliar cuisine. Unknown to its employers, a factory cat led a double life, alternating between industrial ratter and pampered pet at a house nearby. Eventually, Fang opted for the good life. His absence from work was noticed on the same day the factory canteen became very adventurous with its cuisine and offered a 'meat curry' on the menu. The staff searched the curry for signs of ginger fur, fearing that their skinflint bosses had recycled the ageing ratter. Some time later, the ex-ratter visited his old haunts, fit and fat and sporting a natty cat-collar. He was immediately dismissed on grounds of dereliction of duty and staff were informed that Fang had been 'retired'. Unfortunately that was the very day the canteen offered its latest gourmet dish - chilli con carne - and once again set the worried staff to looking for ginger fur in the suspect meal.
The following is only loosely "cat food" and is perhaps a tale of cats getting their revenge and of a bad-tempered miser getting his comeuppance. An elderly miser "Old Fred" was well known for hating the stray cats which frequented his garden. Far from putting out food, he did everything he could to scare the scrawny scavengers away including calling the police out at various hours of the day and night. One spring, the neighbours realised that they had not seen Old Fred for some time. Finding his door locked and the milk deliveries accumulating on his doorstep, they called the police. The first thing the police found was about 15 fat and happy cats lounging about the place. This intrigued them - had Old Fred finally made peace with the visiting strays? In the bedroom they discovered the horrible truth - the cats had gained entrance through a broken window which Old Fred had been too miserly to repair. Looking at the well-nibbled remains of the elderly miser they reported that Old Fred may not have fed any cats in his lifetime, but right now he was feeding 15 strays!
In reality, some cats have resorted to dining on their dead owners. Distasteful as this sounds, a cat trapped in a locked house or apartment with a dead owner soon runs out of food and must resort to eating whatever is available - other pets which have already died of starvation or dehydration or the corpse of the owner. For the cat, it is simply a matter of survival.
TOXIC WASTES (AND THE PEED-ON PUSSY)
What goes in must come out, and this function also has some myths attached. In 1997, a rumour spread that some brands of cat litter were radioactive. This caused immediate health scares. The scare began when an American news report skimped on its research and instead of reporting that cats on radiation therapy for tumours or thyroid problems produced radioactive faeces, it ended up reporting that the cat litter itself was radioactive. While cats on radiation treatment are isolated, what about the contents of their litter trays? In the early 1991, a cat in Berkeley caused a radiation scare when its faeces triggered radioactivity alarms at a rubbish dump. In 1994 a similar thing happened in New Mexico causing a Haz-Mat team to investigate.
The fallout (pun intended) still continues. The question of radioactive cat litter is still asked so often that it appears in newsgroup FAQs. In one of those peculiarly circular routes taken by urban myths, the 1997 news scare may begun when somebody mis-read the FAQ which debunked the earlier myth! In a knock-on effect, there were rumours that the radioactivity was not due to the cat litter, but due to irradiation of food to preserve it (something treated with suspicion by many consumers).
In October 2002, a Rochester, Massacussetts man was fined almost $3000 for ignoring a vet's order to flush his cat's radioactive waste down the toilet. His 11 year old cat, Mitzi, had been treated with radio-iodine injections for a thyroid complaint. The treatment makes the cat radioactive for weeks - it must be kept away from children and pregnant women. Its used litter must be flushed down the toilet. Mitzi's owner had thrown the litter in his regular bin because it risked clogging his septic tank. Mitzi's radioactive bodily wastes were discovered at an incinerator, when alarms detected radioactivity. The owner was traced from envelopes in the same waste container.
Another tale is that of super-absorbent clumping cat litter suffocating kittens by clogging their noses and mouths or causing intestinal blockage. Kittens and adult cats sometimes try to eat things they shouldn't, resulting in surgery to remove foreign objects from the gut. There may well be a number of kitten deaths caused by litter ingestion (not restricted to one type of litter), but folklore has exaggerated these numbers and would have us believe that the stuff is killing kittens by the hundred. In fact many owners use these clumping litters without mishap and litter manufacturers have spent time and money countering the adverse publicity.
According to an email doing the rounds in 2009, cat litter can spontaneously combust. A fire marshal allegedly traced the cause of a house fire to cat litter in a dustbin (presumably one kept indoors). The fire investigator, hired by the householder's insurance company, confirmed the fire was caused by spontaneous combusion of the kitty-litter and advised the householder to use a metal waste bin with a lid, and keep used cat litter separate from the rest of the rubbish. Wood-based and paper-based litters are flammable when dry, but if they were prone to spontaneous combustion a lot of supermarkets would have burnt down by now! Clay based litter is not flammable. If a flammable litter type was used to soak up a chemical spillage or cooking oil there is a slight chance the saturated litter might spontaneously combust. It's likely the fire began in the rubbish bin and that the rubbish bin contained used cat litter. The investigator would have elimianted obvious causes such as discarded cigarettes, hot ashes etc. However, this does not mean the cat litter caused the fire. Other things in the rubbish might have caused the fire e.g. rags soaked with solvents in an enclosed container in a warm place or a damaged lithium ion battery (lithium is highly reactive with air and with moisture).
Personally, I wrap used clay cat litter in nappy disposal bags and store these in a plastic bin until the dustmen collect it. My plastic rubbish bin gets direct sunlight. I've never had the contents of the bin ignite. Possibly the investigators noticed fumes coming from the used cat litter - it can develop a strong ammonia smell. However, the combustion of ammonia in air is very difficult and normally requires a catalyst (e.g. platinum gauze) and 16% - 25% ammonia. A few things can cause ammonia to ignite e.g. chlorine gas. If excessive ammonia is present, this produces the highly explosive nitrogen trichloride as well as nitrogen gas and hydrogen chloride. Could chlorine bleach have been present and giving off gas? Urea (found in urine) decomposes when heated above melting point (around 132 centigrade) and reacts violently with strong oxidants, nitrites, inorganic chlorides, chlorites and perchlorates, causing fire and explosion hazard. A mixture of nitric acid and urine is explosive while ammonium nitrate is used as a blasting agent. The likelihood of having cat pee turn into an explosive in your rubbish bin is still pretty remote.
Is it possible the contents of the bin simply heated up through decomposition until they smouldered and something caught light - much as piles of stable manure (horse manure/straw mixes) smoulder when the pile gets big enough? Could pee-soaked wood/paper pellet litter do the same and set light to tissues or paper in the bin? At the cat shelter where I've worked, we accumulated huge amounts of used cat litter - both clay-based and wood-based - and stored this in bin-bags piled in a cage. None of the bags caught light or exploded. Later on the bags were stored in a large rubbish bin (with locked lid) and again, these never caught light. In both case they were exposed to hot sunlight. The householder in the account may have suffered a house fire traceable to the bin where s/he disposed of cat litter, but the big question is what else was in that bin!
While considering product scare stories - there was once a huge and unfounded scare that Febreze (a spray on fabric deodoriser) was toxic to cats. However, sometimes the waste in question is human waste - and the cat is on the receiving end ....
A friend of a friend of mine was at a busy party one summer night and hoping to make a favourable impression on the hostess, an attractive female colleague. Noticing that the queue for the bathroom was rather long (and wishing he hadn't drunk so much and waited so long to join the queue), the chap sneaked behind a bush in the hostess's garden. Unknown to him, the hostess's cat was dozing peacefully in that bush out of the way of party-goers. A few moments later, a soggy pee-smelling moggy dashed into the house. Suspicion naturally fell on the chap nonchalantly returning from the same part of the garden. "My cat seems to be wet," accused the hostess. "I, er, think it fell in the pond," explained the flustered guest. "I don't have a pond," retorted the cat's owner. By this time, several of the guests had turned to stare at the poor chap ... in his flustered state he had entirely forgotten to do up his flies. Needless to say, the impression he made was not what he'd hoped.
Tales of accidental exposure, being "caught short" and losing face in front of family, friends or colleagues are all common themes in urban myths. The cat is just an incidental extra. Had he not forgotten to zip himself up, or had expressed surprise rather than suggest a reason for the cat being wet, he might have gotten away with performing his natural functions in the hostess's flower border! The little tale above may have its roots in real life. I know of a real-life version of the peed-on pussy. A colleague's cat has a habit of following him closely around the house, to the point of sitting on the toilet seat when he went to the bathroom. In fact she accompanies many visitors to the bathroom - cats seem fascinated by human bodily functions. On one occasion, she became a bit too fascinated by the yellow stream he was producing, peered down into the toilet bowl, leaned a little too far and ended up in the firing line before he could adjust his aim or stop the flow. On one such occasion. some guests were treated to a wet, smelly kitty arriving at high speed in their midst. Guests visiting him for the first time are bemused by instructions "try not to pee on the cat".
And since we're on the theme of toilets .... According to a circulating email and video clip, a young couple kept getting huge water bills despite conserving water. They had checked for a faulty meter and for leaks indoors and outdoors and could find no reason for their huge bills. One day, the man of the house was ill at home and unexpectedly heard the sound of running water. He finally discovered the cause of the high water bills - during the day when they were normally out, their cat entertained itself by flushing the lavatory and watching the water swirl down the pan. It repeated this over and over. He videoed the cat in the act as proof before the couple made sure to always shut the bathroom door. This myth plays on both the ease of operation of modern household fittings and the cat's love-hate relationship with water. Despite their famed aversion to getting wet, many cats are fascinated by running water and will risk wet paws in order to play with running taps. Hybrid breeds and Turkish Vans seem especially attracted to water. There are videos on the web of cats that have learnt to flush the toilet so they can watch the water swirl away. While some cats' toilet-flushing abilities may have surprised their owners, none have managed to run up huge bills before being discovered. However, the newsletters of the Long Island Ocelot Club (LIOC) report cases where a pet ocelot turned on kitchen or bathroom taps and caused floods and some online newsfeeds have also reported domestic cats that have flooded their homes.
CATS AND CARS
It is a sad fact of life that many cats fall foul of traffic. While many motorists are considered callous people who enjoy running down cats, there are a good many who have been devastated following an accident involving a cat. One such devastated person was the lorry driver who hit an animal which had dashed across the road. He got out to see if he could aid the unfortunate animal and to his distress found a cat writhing about on the verge. Knowing it would never survive a trip to the vet he did the most humane thing he could think of and dispatched it with a single blow from a shovel. Halfway up the M1 he was pulled over by the police. An old lady had let Tiddles out to roll about in the grass when a nasty cat-hating lorry driver stopped and attacked Tiddles with a shovel then drove off. When the driver checked his wheel arches he found the sorry remains of the real accident victim. On the face of it this seems to be a sick tale at the expense of the cat, but the compassionate driver is the real victim.
I have always dismissed the sleeping cat/lorry driver tale as a myth. In January 2001 I finally received a first hand account of a similar tale from colleagues at our Brough, UK site. Nick was driving home when he heard a terrific bang. Looking back, he saw a cat laying outstretched at the side of the road. Walking back to it he noticed that though it wasn't moving it was still breathing. Being a kind considerate animal lover and without a sadistic side to his nature, he looked around for a large brick with which to humanely finish it off. Hoisting the rock above his head to smash down with great force he was startled to hear a woman screaming at him. Amid a tirade of words he had never heard in the bible, he was left dumbly holding the rock aloft as the lady, gently stroking her just awoken pussy, ran back into the house.
A blackly humourous and completely impossible tale is told of a haulage firm which kept a colony of ratters. The cats liked to snuggle up against the warm tyres of the returning lorries and frequently sustained crushed paws or tails if the vehicles moved. An arrangement with the local vet meant that drivers could whisk an injured cat to the vets. When one driver duly reported an accident, the boss asked if he had taken "Fang" to the vets. "Oh yes, but the vet wasn't in," the driver replied "So I slipped him under the door with a note." Whether this implausible tale is an extension of the compassionate driver motif or a comment on human stupidity I haven't yet worked out.
Akin to the above is that of the woman who unfortunately runs over a cat late at night despite all attempts to avoid it. She thoughtfully checked the corpse for a collar and finds the cat has a tag with a phone number on. Using her mobile phone, she calls the number and tells the voice at the end that she has sadly run over "Tiddles". "Are you sure it was my cat?" asked the shocked voice at the other end, "What did he look like?" Showing either literal-mindedness or exasperation (or perhaps not being too quick on the uptake), the driver says "mottled brown, very bloody and flat as a pancake." The voice at the other end simply said, "Oh no, you must be mistaken, my cat doesn't look like that at all," and the person hung up.
There is also the tale about the woman whose pet meets an untimely end on a busy road nearby. A kindly neighbour puts the sorry remains into a carrier bag so it can be taken home for burial, but the owner cannot resist a last peek at Tiddles. She faints at the sight and an ambulance is called. Before it whisks her away, a passer-by hands the paramedics a carrier bag, saying "I think this belongs to her; she was looking at it before she collapsed." Curiosity may have killed the cat, but we humans have a morbid curiosity which can prove to be our own downfall. When a beloved cat dies, very few of us can resist a last look in the vain hope that we are mistaken about its state, even though we may regret that last look.
The following is a cat-and-car tale with a difference. The joke is on the good samaritan who tries to rescue a cat apparently in distress. This illustrates the other side of our relationship with cats - the nurturing side: A woman walking through a shopping mall car park saw a cat shut in a car on a sunny day. The poor creature was prostrate through heat so she used her mobile phone to call the SPCA who contacted the mall's Chief Security Officer. The Mall's security department broke into the car to save the cat's life ... only to discover a life-like, life-size cat toy. I heard that they gave the car driver free parking for life and $500 of shopping vouchers for use in the mall.
In some versions the cat is a ceramic cat which the driver has put on the back seat so she doesn't have to carry it around. In British versions, the car is sometimes parked in the street outside a shop or house or the ceramic cat is released from a locked porch (British porches are generally glass fronted as protection against the weather; in summer they become stiflingly hot) by a 'well-meaning passer-by'. Most shopping malls offer free parking to mall customers so 'free parking for life' would not have been much compensation for damage to the car. Would-be good samaritans sometimes fall foul of their own desire to help. I have come across one real-life instance where a woman threw food onto a neighbour's garage roof for a trapped cat seen 'cowering' under overhanging branches. The neighbour eventually pointed out that the cat was a law ornament placed there to deter birds from nesting in the branches. Far from being deterred, the birds were enjoying daily cat food banquets.
The moral of these tales is clear - unless faced with an obviously genuine emergency, check your facts before damaging property. Mercifully for the cats which do get trapped, there are still good samaritans willing to take the risk in a crisis situation. Cats bring out the best in us as well as the worst. The cat in the following tale could have done with a good samaritan to rescue it.
A friend of a friend was in the habit of leaving his company car sunroof slid open a wee bit to let the fresh air in. Since he had high-grade security fencing and electronically operated gates, it was quite safe for him to leave the car like this during weekends while he was off in his VW camper van. One Friday during a baking hot summer, he arranged for the neighbours to feed his cat, locked the place up and set off for a week's vacation by the sea. Shortly afterwards, he dopey cat decided to sunbathe on the top of the car. It trotted across the roof, failed to notice the open sunroof and fell in. Unable to jump back up through the sunroof, the poor creature's fate was sealed.
The cat-lover's version tells that poor Fluffy was stuck in the car overnight or for a weekend and the executive, who was driver of a carpool, found a very pungent car and a very hungry cat the next morning. One of my own cats, Motley, spent a night shut in our car in the garage. She is in the habit of spending warm summer nights on the garage roof so her absence wasn't too alarming. Luckily we get up early and when we opened the car door, a very desperate cat made a dash for the flower-bed for a pee. And if you don't believe that cats accidentally fall through open sunroofs - well neither did I until my parents watched our Affy trot across the top of their car and fell through the open sunroof onto the driver's seat. Affy was used to cars which didn't have gaping holes in the roof and wasn't paying attention to where she put her feet.
Finally, what of those cats which travel long distances under a car bonnet? If all the myths are to be believed, this is a favourite mode of travel for cats, though I only encountered three genuine cases in mid-Essex in a 5 year period which goes to show the amount of exaggeration involved in modern folklore.
TRANQUILIZED TRAVELLING CATS
Following on from cats an cars is the tale of the cat which is such a bad traveller that its owners are obliged to have it sedated when it is necessary to travel. This urban legend appears to be a veterinary teaching tale which has now entered the mainstream of urban folklore. I've heard it numerous times from vets who heard it at vet school and from cat workers who heard it from their vets (who heard it at vet school). It concerns morphine, a common tranquilliser in humans and some other animals, but which makes cats excitable (dosage must be calculated carefully if it is used for cats).
The usual version heard in Britain regards a person - perhaps a cat worker - who needed to take a cat on a long car journey to its new home. Knowing that the cat turned into the devil incarnate when travelling by car he asked his vet to prescribe a kitty tranquilliser. The vet, a junior vet at the practice, prescribed a morphine tablet which was to be given to the cat 30 minutes before the journey began. The owner dosed the cat in accordance with instructions. A few minutes into the journey it turned into a total maniac - screaming, clawing the carrier and generally turning into a wild thing. He reached his destination much shaken and with shattered nerves. Meanwhile, the senior partner of the practice was delivering a stern lecture to his junior, "What on earth do they teach you in vet school? You should have learned that morphine doesn't sedate cats, it makes them highly excitable!" A while later, the cat worker was back at the vets. The young vet tentatively asked how the journey had been. The owner replied, "I was a total wreck by the end of it, the cat turned into an absolute nutcase," but before the vet could own up to his error, the man continued, "But it's thanks to you - just think how much worse it would have been if I hadn't sedate him."
The American version of this tale replaces the motorcar with an aeroplane due to travel over greater distances in that country. Many American airlines will carry animals in the cabin on domestic flights, whereas they must be carried in the hold in Britain or on international flights. A typical version concerns a woman who planned to take her cat with her on a plane trip. While at the doctor's clinic she mentioned that her cat was a bad traveller and asked if the doctor could give her something to keep it calm. The doctor cut a tranquilliser tablet into what appeared to be cat-dosage size and told her to dose the cat about an hour before takeoff. In the bar that evening, the doctor joked about his feline "patient" to a veterinarian friend. The vet exclaimed, "Surely not! That drug has completely the opposite effect on a cat than on a human. I pity the poor woman, it will turn her cat into a maniac." Some time later, the doctor saw his patient again and asked her how the journey had been and his patient replied, "I did what you said and gave Tiddles the pill an hour before we took off. He was a total nightmare - he was completely berserk all the way and didn't calm down for ages afterwards." Before the doctor could own up to his error, the woman said, " So I really can't thank you enough for that pill. Just think what the journey would have been like without it!"
No longer a veterinary lecturer's illustrative anecdote to remind students that different drugs affect different animals in different ways, the revised interpretation of this myth is the danger of giving human medication to pets. For example, the commonly used human drug Aspirin is highly toxic to cats.
A more terminal version of the tale involves the owner who asks the vet to give Tiddles an injection to make him go to sleep. Her usual vet was on holiday, but the locum duly euthanised Tiddles. The owner thanked him and, to his horror, said "He's such a devil when we travel that he always has to be knocked out for the 3 hour journey to our holiday cottage."
Cats are generally considered to be agile creatures and not particularly accident-prone, facts which can cause a certain amount of jealousy in their human companions. Perhaps this is why there are tales based on accident-prone moggies. For example there is the dotty cat which climbed curtains, but had the unfortunate to fall off. The vet was well used repairing minor wounds, but one day Puss fell off the bathroom blind onto the toothbrush holder and arrived at the surgery with a toothbrush stuck somewhere very uncomfortable. The astonished vet could only exclaim "I know that cats are fastidiously clean, but this is ridiculous!" Pride comes before a fall and it seems that even cat-lovers are secretly amused to hear of a smug cat tripping over its own paws.
A lad my boyfriend apparently used to hang out with borrowed his dad's car without permission and crashed it. As a suitable punishment, he was made to paint the family's lounge room - a task which would take some days. Armed with Sunshine Yellow paint and a selection of brushes, the lad tackled the task with surprising On the day that the last brush stroke was made, he stepped back to admire the work, but kicked the still half-full paint can all over a priceless Persian rug. He knew that he would be in an enormous amount of trouble. Looking around for something to blame the mess on, he noticed the family's grey Persian cat. He grabbed the cat and dropped her in the middle of the spilt paint while shouting loudly, "Oh, no! You bad, bad cat!" He got away with the deed, but the cat was punished by being banished to the garden for several weeks.
Another less-than-agile cat was in the doghouse for walking along a shelf and accidentally smashing a vase. The owners were secretly delighted, but the relative who'd given them the vase bought them a replacement. Clumsy Puss contrived to smash that one as well. The suspicious relative bought yet a third vase and threatened to visit a few weeks later as she was sure the couple were disposing of her gifts and blaming the cat. While she was there, she watched the cat walk along the shelf and very deliberately paw at the vase, knocking it onto the floor where it smashed. Unfortunately the base of the vase landed at her feet and she noticed a piece of kipper which had been carefully blu-tacked to the underside to persuade Puss to demonstrate his 'accident-prone' tendencies in her presence.
Another ingredient in many urban myths is modern technology. Everybody uses modern gadgets, but no-one seems to trust them; myths rely on the misconception that new-fangled gadgets always malfunction in some way. In this instance the poor cats suffer the consequences of such a malfunction.
An affluent couple who had recently adopted two fluffy kittens also invested in a state-of-the-art magnetically operated cat flap so that their darlings could come and go as they wished while marauding neighbourhood cats were denied entry. One night the couple were awoken by a great commotion and rushed downstairs to see what was wrong. The collar-mounted magnets were evidently too strong for the kittens since both were firmly stuck to the fridge door, looking for all the world like fluffy animated fridge magnets. Though kittens being firmly stuck to household appliances i folklore, correspondent Melanie Armstrong pointed out that one of her female cats, Spooky, managed to stick herself to the fridge with her collar magnet, although she was large enough to free herself before her owners had stopped laughing and gone to her rescue. Both Spooky and her sister Fairwood regularly got cutlery stuck on their magnets and usually managed to get the offending fork or knife off by themselves within a few paces, but sometimes had to be helped as they wouldn't have made it through the cat flap with a fork. They, and Melanies other cats, also arrived home with nails and other small bits of metal stuck to their magnets.
Of course the weight of a kitten, the strength of the magnet and the elasticated safety insert of the collar makes this an extremely unlikely tale. Only slightly less unlikely are the tales of cats returning home trailing cutlery and scrap iron from their magnetic collars. Here the cat is once again a storytelling device used to highlight the technophobes distrust of such gadgets.
Another technophobic cat myth (which came to me from Australia) is told of the man who was enjoying the sunshine when his neighbour's cat popped over the fence carrying something flesh-coloured in its mouth. Concerned that the cat was about to maul a helpless baby bird the man ran to the rescue only to discover that the plaything was a severed finger; the result of his neighbour's attempts to use a hedge-trimmer. I know one actual instance of a cat eating a severed digit. A friend (and fellow cat rescuer) accidentally severed his thumb while cutting wood with a powerful circular saw. He tried to find the severed digit to wrap in ice (a bag of frozen peas) for reattachment. Unfortunately his tomcat had reached the severed thumb first. Ironically, my friend had been cutting wood to build a cat run to make his garden safer for the cat.
There are many tales of the cat owner who is used to popping her Persian into an open oven for a few minutes just to dry its fur after it has been outdoors in the rain. The woman is given a new-fangled microwave by her daughter and not understanding how the device works, she puts a bedraggled Fluffy in there to dry off. Fluffy is cooked rather than dried. All recorded instances of microwaved pets have been acts of cruelty such as the horrific incident in 2001 when a British woman deliberately microwaved her cat to death after being bitten by a cat flea. There have been similar cases of cruelty in the USA.
Another source of feline mishap in modern folklore is the vacuum cleaner. One of my dad's drinking apparently buddies bought his wife a new Dyson vacuum cleaner, one of those multiple vortex jobbies. It's so strong you can pick up a bowling ball with the nozzle. She was vacuuming their living room when her cat got a little too close to the nozzle, which attached to the poor thing's rear end. The suction of the vacuum cleaner was so powerful that it sucked the insides out of the cat through its rectum and the cat died. My dad's buddy swears this is the absolute truth. Any cleaner that can pick up a bowling ball is probably strong enough to suck the insides out of a cat. His wife phoned the company who made it and they're going to put a notice in the instruction leaflet so it doesn't happen again, something like "Keep away from pet rectums" .
While the suction of a vacuum cleaner could conceivably eviscerate a small animal, it is most unlikely. I received this version which spoke of the Dyson, a popular vacuum cleaner in the UK. After a little digging around I discovered it to have its origins in a tale about an American vacuum cleaner called the "Oreck". The suction power of the Oreck has apparently been demonstrated on TV advert by using its nozzle to pick up a bowling ball. On the face of it this is a "distrust of technology" tale. The Dyson has a revolutionary design using vortices and unlike many cleaners, it doesn't have a bag inside. It is different enough from other vacuum cleaners to attract folklore. The "sucking the innards out" element is straight out of folklore surrounding aeroplane or train toilets which use suction instead of a flush of a water and which have sucked out the bowels of their users. Again, this is distrust of technology. Most cats will steer clear of noisy vacuum cleaners rather than stick around. Even if the nozzle latches onto the cat there is usually a slider on the side of the tube to regulate the suction, open the slider and the suction is minimal. In addition, the bowel is long and firmly anchored inside the abdominal cavity as anyone who has prepared game will attest. In a "crazy cat" competition run a few years back by the now defunct "All About Cats" magazine, there was a cat who actually enjoyed having his fur vacuumed - and whose bowel remains intact.
It seems that not only do we distrust gadgets, we also don't trust ourselves to use them safely and are apparently concerned for our pet's wellbeing in the face of our incompetence. The comment about the manufacturer putting a warning in the instructions shows our low opinion for the intelligence of our fellow humans. Alternatively, some would consider this "warning on the packet" to be a manufacturer's attempt to prevent litigation resulting from misuse of a product. The myth is not so much about our relationship with cats, but about our relationship with modern gadgets and our worries over our own competence to use them ... or to use them safely.
Here's another techno-tale: You don't want to get one of those cat videos for your cat - you know, the sort which play footage of birds and squirrels. According to my sister's co-worker, her daughter got one of those for her cat to keep him company while she was at work. She set it to play on continuous, but when she got there was a terrible smell of burning fur. The poor cat had tried to get inside the TV to get at the squirrels and had been electrocuted! (She was relatively lucky - in some versions the whole house had gone up in flames and the insurance company traced it to the cat).
As well as being "domestic disaster" folklore, the tale illustrates the point that we don't like to credit animals with imagination or intelligence. While cats don't understand what TV is, they soon realise that the images remain out of reach though they might half-heartedly check behind the TV just in case. Many cats ignore the TV altogether. Others are fascinated by wildlife programs. The noise and motion attracts their interest and might trigger hunting games. Although their hearing, vision and intelligence differ from ours, they probably fit TV representations into broad mental categories such as "prey", "enemy", "human" or "moving thing". One of my kittens loved horseracing - the on screen horses were mouse-sized and moved in a way that put them in the "animal" category. It is unlikely she could make the connection between a life-size horse and horses on TV, so the small images of running things became "prey" in her mind.
Could a cat get into a TV and start a fire though? Some chew electrical leads with deadly consequences (electrocution or fire), but the mythical cat got inside the television itself. Modern televisions are simply not that easy to get into. The folklore is a tale of domestic disaster (some versions end in the house burning down) and the belief that cats are stupid. Electrical appliances have cooling vents and cockroaches and other insects have managed to get inside, cause electrical shorts and even cause fires. The tale is also a warning that it may be unsafe to leave electrical appliances running unattended and that a cat's curiosity can have deadly effects if we aren't careful.
The vacuum cleaner and television have been around a long while, but the mobile phone is a newer arrival. They are indispensable to many and irritating to those who must suffer mobile phone users nearby. Mobile phones are getting smaller, but not so small that they can be swallowed by a cat (maybe by a large dog). The following tale has elements of Captain Hook's nemesis the crocodile which had swallowed an alarm clock. Thus we have the "swallowed phone": While in the doctor's waiting room, I heard a man apologising for missing an appointment. He'd set a reminder on his mobile phone, but it hadn't bleeped to remind him. It wasn't till later that he got this niggling thought that he should have been to the doctor's. He would have phoned, but only then did he realise his phone wasn't in his jacket pocket. When he got back from work he set about looking for his phone - even using the house phone to call his mobile number. He thought he could hear a muffled ring-tone, but couldn't work out where it was coming from. He then noticed that his cat looked distinctly uncomfortable every time he rang the number. Thinking it was impossible, he set the cat on his lap and phoned again. Sure enough he heard a muffled ring-tone, and moreover the cat vibrated! Luckily the vet managed to extract the phone undamaged and the chap could finally check his reminders.
Vibrating mobile phones have allegedly been retrieved from certain human orifices and cats have indeed swallowed foreign objects (tinsel, yarn etc), but there is no way a cat can swallow a mobile phone intact. The tale cautions us against our increasing reliance on technology to organise our lives. Why a cat? Perhaps it adds a sense of the absurd to the tale or perhaps a vibrating phone reminded the original author (these tales have to come from somewhere!) of a loudly purring cat. On the topic of techno-cats and buzzing objects, some cats are intrigued by the buzzing and others recoil in fear when faced with an electric toothbrush. Brian Thomas notes that his X-box game controllers vibrate in response to input from the game to heighten realism and his cats find the vibrations so attractive that Brian gets swarmed while playing and has to stop until the cat-storm dissipates!
Another recent technophobe urban myth relates to high tech laser pointer and LED pointer toys; some of which are marketed as cat toys. According to the myth, a very common ailment for cats is a broken back due to playing to vigorously with a laser/LED pointer. A laser/LED pointer uses a high power light source and is dangerous if shone into the eyes, but the cause of a broken back? The idea is for the cat to chase the light dot, in exactly the same way it would chase a fishing-pole type toy. An over-excited cat could get injured due to leaping onto an unsafe surface, off of a high surface, but sprains and strains (and collisions with other cats) are more likely. Cats have flexible spines and are very agile. A broken back is more likely if a heavy object (ladder, shelf etc) falls on the cat rather than the cat making athletic leaps to catch a toy. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility for such an injury to occur, especially if the owner entices an over-excited cat to make dangerous jumps, but it would be very unlikely rather than a "common ailment" as the myth suggests.
Cases of men having sexual mishaps with large machinery have been documented in urology journals and at least one cat consumed a severed digit following a power tool mishap ... combine the two tales and the following results: There was a chap who was in the habit of using a power tool for sexual gratification. The powerful vibrating motion of the moving power belt in his home workshop produced a most desirable effect. On several occasions, he had been so lost in personal ecstasy that his scrotum had been pulled between the machinery's cogs and he had been lucky to avoid serious injury. Not so one night! He was indulging in a spot of DIY when his scrotum was pulled right inside the machine. Unable to reaching the power switch, he watched in horror as the stuck part bulged alarmingly, tore sickeningly and then shot out his testicle across the workroom ... straight at the family cat! At that point the man was released from his agonising predicament and the recoil sent him several feet across the room; meanwhile the cat eyed the severed testicle for several long moments before gulping the morsel down before its rightful owner could retrieve it. Ignoring his own pain, the chap scooped up the startled cat and managed to drive to the vet surgery where he asked an equally startled vet to retrieve the testicle from the cat's stomach. Of course the question remains as to whether the testicle could be retrieved intact or whether the cat's digestive processes would have damaged it beyond salvation.
THE GOLDEN "GAIT" BRIDGE
There is a legend that if a cat walked across the Golden Gate Bridge while nothing else was crossing it (no vehicles of people) the bridge would collapse due to the rhythm of the cat's paws setting up a resonant frequency in the cables of the bridge. While bridges such as Albert Bridge in London tell marching troops to break step when crossing the bridge and the Millennium Footbridge developed alarming vibrations when people crossed it, a cat's weight and gait is not sufficient to cause destructive vibrations in a structure as large as the Golden Gate Bridge. In the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse (Galloping Gertie), the wind created an external periodic frequency that matched the natural structural frequency and caused the bridge to vibrate, buck and finally tear itself apart in 1940.
THE CALAMITYVILLE HORROR CAT
Another myth which may well be rooted in reality is that of the family whose dream home resembled something from the Amityville horror, complete with strange footsteps, scratching sounds under the floorboards, noxious smells, banshee-like night-time wailing and liquid trickling down the walls, none of which had been mentioned by the previous occupant. Finally a letter arrived from the former occupant asking if they had seen her Siamese cat which had gone missing before the move. When the floorboards were lifted a thin and miserable Siamese emerged from inside the structure of the house where it had been living on mice and 'going about its business' between floors after getting into the loft when the owner was fetching packing boxes. From there it had worked its way around the various cavities trying to escape. Woven into this myth is the cat's natural curiosity and its ability to get itself into tight places, but not necessarily out again. A friend of mine swears that her Siamese cat crossed from her loft into her neighbour's loft where it scared the living daylights out of them with its eerie wailing. This myth usually concerns a Siamese cat, probably due to that unearthly wail.
Also relying on the cat's love of investigating nooks and crannies, and its supposed love of fish dinners, is the tale of the lady who rewired her home by attaching the cable to her cat's collar and popping it under the floorboards. A plate of coley by a lifted floorboard elsewhere in the house brought the cat - and cable - to its destination. Of course, the electricity board cannot understand how she managed to do the job without damaging any carpets.
I suppose a curse counts as a calamity and the following story also has a jokey punchline (although it works just as well as a creepy legend). Much as many of us love cats, how would we feel about being pursued by dozens of cats. It would be like Hitchock's "Birds" but with tabby fur.
One day, a man walked into a junk shop in town looking for a bargain. In the corner of the shop, he noticed a life-sized bronze sculpture of a cat in a dark corner. Being a cat lover, the sculpture appealed to him and he offered the shop assistant £10 for it. "The sculpture is yours for £10," the shopkeeper told him, "and for £100 I will remove the curse." Thinking this is a way of getting more money than the sculpture is worth, the man declined the curse-removal offer and left the store with the bronze cat under his arm. As he crossed the street in front of the store, two cats emerged from an alley and fall into step behind him. Nervously looking over his shoulder, he began to walk faster, but every time he passed another alley, more cats came out and followed him. Soon he was feeling like the Pied Piper with at least a hundred cats of all shapes and sizes at his heels. Worse yet, people were pointing and shouting at him, and there is nothing worse than having people point and shout at you.
Soon he was jogging along, hoping to outpace the cats, but multitudes of hissing cats swarmed from alleys, basements and abandoned cars. Terrified that he turned into some sort of human catnip mouse, he noticed the river running through the town centre and began to run full pelt towards it, figuring that cats don't like water. At the river bank, the man made a huge leap into the very centre of the river and is amazed to find the cats swimming in pursuit of him. The bronze statue was dragging him down so he let go of it and it sank to the muddy bottom of the river. Amazed, he watched the cats dive after it, never to be seen again as they drown. Climbing wetly from the river, he made his way back to the junk shop with half a mind to complain about the ill-starred sculpture. Then another thought struck him. He arrived at the shop to be greeted by the assistant asking if he had returned to have the curse removed. "Actually," the man said, "I was wondering if he happened to have a cursed sculpture of a tax collector?"
THE CAT AND THE CHICKEN-CANNON
This is another tale of feline curiosity being the cat's downfall. A chicken cannon fires an oven-ready chicken into a stationary airplane engine, cockpit window or train windshield, giving the same effect and damage pattern as a bird flying into the speeding aircraft or train. This helps designers build more damage resistant engines etc. The chickens are delivered in frozen form, usually as rejects from the food chain and there's a widespread tale of busted engines due to novice testers forgetting to defrost the chickens beforehand. There is also this tale from aerospace engineer David Gillon:
The guys from Rolls are setting up the chicken cannon for a bird-strike test on their latest airplane engine. The guys load the chicken into the barrel, even remembering to thaw the bird first. By the time the cannon is set up, it's almost lunchtime so the team decide to go for lunch and run the test afterwards. An hour later they come back from the canteen, prime the gun, start the airplane engine and fire the chicken into it. That done, they start to examine the gunked-up engine and realise two things. Firstly, there are scraps of tabby fur amongst the feathers, minced chicken and secondly, no one has seen the works cat since before lunch ...
Just as tales about dead cats in bags are known generically as "dead catters", the growing genre of chicken cannon tales has been dubbed "catapoultry" and the chicken cannon cat "puts the cat into catapoultry". In the following example, the chicken (frozen or otherwise) has mutated into a flock of day old chicks (these are the male chicks which are culled and sold in frozen form while their sisters end up as battery hens). Once again, the cat discovers there is no such thing as a free lunch:
Not all bird strikes are high flying Canada geese. Flocks of starlings are also a big problem so instead of firing a single oven-ready chicken, some tests involve firing a dozens of defrosted day old chicks at a jet engine to simulate a flock of small birds. While setting up for testing, the testers noted that they hadn't thawed out enough day old chicks so they got another sack of frozen chicks from the freezer, tipped them into the cannon and left them to thaw in situ while the testers went to lunch. After lunch, when the chicks had had time to thaw, the test was finally conducted. The engine was fired up and the flock of now-defrosted chicks was shot into it. Despite the calculations of its designers, the engine suffered severe damage and miserably failed the test. This meant analysing the high speed film frame by frame. The high speed film of the intake view shed light on the matter. One of the facility's numerous stray cats had sniffed out the defrosting chicks and found its way into the breech of the chicken cannon. This had evidently happened while the device was attended and everyone was at lunch. The cat must have been either celebrating its good fortune of finding a free lunch, or had been sleeping off the feast when the test was started up. From the cat's point of view its meal, or post-meal nap, was followed by noise, confusion, a sharp acceleration, a blast of air and then nothing. A cartoon of a spread-eagled cat inches in front of a compressor face now warns testers not to leave loaded chicken cannons unattended - not because of concerns over feline safety, but to avoid wasting time, resources and jet engines on bodged tests.
Another aerospace worker, Robin Hill, first heard a version of this tale from BAe Hamble. According to the tale, they were doing birdstrike testing on Harrier windshields and a test that the windshield was expected to survive actually failed. The tests used oven-ready chickens from the local Sainsbury supermarket because they could get consistent sizes of bird for repeatability of test conditions. The frozen chickens were defrosted in a microwave, and the feral moggies on site were attracted to the smell of defrosted chicken. When the high-speed camera film of the failed windshield test was checked, a large, black and extremely surprised cat was seen to impact the windscreen. The gun in question was later moved to Brough. Though the scenario sounds plausible, according to Robin, the big problem with this story is that the chicken cannon has a long and very slender barrel. It would take a particularly skinny (not to mention incredibly stupid) cat to get down the barrel of the gun - and it's hard enough to get a cat to go into a reasonable spacious cat carrier with the promise of chicken at the far end. Also, there wouldn't be any feathers on the oven-ready chickens. There are still plenty of cats at the Brough site.
These gruesome tale of curiosity killing the cat are circulated among former British Aerospace employees who have visited airplane test facilities. Quite probably, train windshield testers have their own chicken-gun cat versions involving the station cat.
In 2002 I received my only first hand witness account of the "Chicken Cannon Cat". Defence worker Bob Baker was involved in qualification testing of military aircraft. This included the chicken cannon bird-strike test. The loaded chicken cannon was left briefly unattended during test set-up. The chicken was fired. There was excessive damage to the plane windshield (a large hole). On investigation (witnessed by Bob) the hole in the windshield was fringed with fur. The damage was commensurate with the weight of a chicken combined with an additional same-weight object. The cat had evidently impacted first (by a fraction of a second). The debris indicated that a cat had formed part of the cannon's payload.
Anyone who has tried to get a cat into a front opening solid-sided cat carrier will know that cats don't like going into tunnels (they will go into spaces) - unlike terrier dogs which are bred to go down tunnels into rabbit burrows and fox earths and which regularly get stuck in tunnels. However, stray terrier dogs aren't as common as stray or feral cats hence the lack of chicken cannon tales with a canine motif.
THE RABBIT RIPPER CAT
A country-living friend of a friend has a cat that regularly hunts rabbits and brings them home. As all country-living owners of rabbit-hunting cats will know, rabbits have a blood-curdling scream and this annoys the cat when it is playing with or eating rabbit prey. To stop the rabbit screaming, the cat bites off its lower jaw. This friend in the country is forever finding live rabbits in his home, unable to so much as whimper because the cat has bitten off the rabbits lower jaw to silence it.
The big flaw in this rural myth is that removing the lower jaw won't silence a rabbit. Screaming doesn't involve using the jaw or tongue, it comes from the throat. To silence its prey, the cat has to crush the larynx and in doing so would probably crush the windpipe and suffocate the prey. It's more likely the rabbits were mutilates as the the cat tried to carry them home, probably by gripping the throat (the easiest place to get its jaws round). But that's not half as interesting or horrifying as everyone knowing that cats rip the jaws off shrieking bunnies.
THE SUBSTITUTE CAT
To their owners, cats are individuals with easily recognisable personality traits. To non-owners, cats tend to look very much the same and non-cat-people find it hard to distinguish individual cats by their personalities. Some variants have a lot in common with the feline version of "resurrected rabbit" myths. The following tale uses this 'all cats are alike' premise as its plot.
A friend of a friend of mine was asked to cat-sit for a neighbour's doddery old tabby cat while they were working abroad for three months. It wasn't hard work - just pop in twice a day to feed it, scoop the litter box and unlock the cat flap in the morning then lock it up at night. Two weeks into the cat-sitting the cat died peacefully in its sleep and the cat-sitter panicked about how to tell her neighbours that their dearly beloved old feline had died. They'd think she'd neglected it or something. So she quietly buried its body and went round some local cat shelters to see if they had any old tabby female cats. Finally she found a really friendly tabby cat that was several years younger, but otherwise a dead ringer for the deceased kitty so she installed it in her neighbour's home. By the time the neighbours returned home, the cat had settled in as though it had lived there all its life. Naturally it didn't recognise its 'owners' at first and they were a little upset by this. The cat-sitter reassured them that they'd been away for three months so the cat was bound to ignore them and sulk a little at first. The owners did remark on how lively it was. Last I heard they were planning to go to New Zealand for four months and my friend's friend was praying that the substitute cat wouldn't die in their absence!
Sadly, some owners have returned from holiday and collected the wrong cat from the cattery (this cannot happen at well-organised catteries). For some reason they didn't notice that it was the wrong cat until they opened the back door and the cat vanished never to be seen again. In only a few cases the mistake was noticed before the cat vanished into alien territory and the cat was returned to the shelter. First-hand accounts of getting the wrong cats back have appeared in cat magazines.
A very valuable special breed stud cat that was to be shipped from a breeder in the USA to a breeder in South America via Havana. The priceless feline had to remain overnight in the Havana freight terminal, and a Cuban employee let it out of its shipping crate for some exercise and to use a litter tray. Terrified in the unfamiliar and noisy surroundings, the cat vanished into the warehouses, never to be seen again. Worried about being sued by litigious Americans for the loss of such a valuable pet the poor chap wondered what to do. He could drop the crate a few times and claim it had been damaged and the cat had escaped, but then the airline would be sued. Figuring that one cat looks very much like another he substituted a Havana alley cat in the shipping crate and sent it onward the next morning. The ruse evidently worked as there were no complaints.
The following tale of a substitute cat also has elements of the resurrected cat from the "cat eat dog" section. A baggage handier at Heathrow Airport, was horrified to discover a dead cat in a crate bound for Berlin. Worried that he would be blamed for neglecting the animal, he frantically rushed around the city hunting through the pet shops for an identical cat. He finally found a cat of the same size and colour skulking outside an restaurant and thinking the stray would appreciate a change of lifestyle, the relieved baggage handler put the cat in a crate on the next flight to Berlin. The cat’s owner was an old German lady, who was very annoyed when she was informed that her beloved cat had been put on the next flight by mistake. However, when the crate finally arrived a few hours later, the old dear fainted as a feisty stray cat leapt out. It seems that her own cat had died shortly before the family returned from a diplomatic posting in the USA and she was shipping it back to Berlin for burial.
MORE DEAD CAT MYTHS
A whole body of folklore seems to have grown up about the many ways in which a cat may meet its maker. The two presented below are also told of small dogs (e.g. Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers) demonstrating that the myths are not anti-cat but simply tales of misfortune where a small pet is central to the tale.
One day, a missionary decided to visit an elderly lady who was a regular at his church. The old dear made him a cup of tea and they sat down talking about his recent visits to under-privileged areas and all the good work he was doing there. Unfortunately the old lady's cat was making a nuisance of itself, clawing at the missionary's leg and playing with his tie. When the old lady went to fetch another cup of tea, the irritated missionary kicked the cat. Only then did he realise how old the cat was - his kick had killed it instantly. He grabbed the cat's body and lay it on his lap, stroking and petting it and remarking on how animals seemed to instinctively like him. Before he left, he gentle moved the "sleeping" cat onto the chair where he had been sitting. A few days later, the old lady approached him after Sunday service. With tears in her eyes she told him that her cat had passed away in its sleep shortly after his visit. She would not normally have bothered him, but seeing as he and the cat had gotten along so well ….
Another missionary-meets-moggy tale has the missionaries as doorstep callers. Two Missionaries were going door-to-door, selling tracts and spreading the word. Not everyone appreciated their efforts. They knocked on the door of one woman who was most definitely not happy to see them. She told them in no uncertain terms that she did not want to hear their message and slammed the door in their faces. To her surprise, the door did not close and, in fact, bounced back open. She tried again, really putting her back into it, and slamming the door - with the same result; the door bounced back open. Convinced that despite their respectable grey-suited garb, the missionaries were rude young men who were sticking their foot in the door, she reared back to give it a slam that would teach them a lesson, when one of them coughed and politely said: "Ma'am, before you do that again you should probably move your cat."
A Paris woman decided that her cat had earned a luxurious retirement and since she was moving out of the city, she sought out a place suitable for an elderly cat to spend its last years. She finally found a farmhouse in an area free of hazards such as foxes or wild dogs and she and puss settled in well. The day came when puss was let out for the first time. The woman watched her beloved cat amble across the lawn to a sunny patch to sunbathe. She turned her attention elsewhere for a brief moment and heard her cat squeal in pain. Running to the door she was just in time to see poor puss being carried away by a large falcon.
REST IN PEACE
When a cat does die, hopefully of natural causes, there is often a problem of how to dispose of its mortal remains. Not everyone has access to a back garden so the deceased kitty must be transported to a suitable burial place, pet funeral parlour or animal crematorium. These days, many pet funeral parlours/crematoria will collect the body from a veterinary surgery. A number of vets also accept bodies which are disposed of on a weekly basis for mass incineration.
The mistaken package is a standard formula for these tales and there are several variations. An owner might be taking dear, departed Tiddles across town by public transport or car to a pet cemetery or for burial in a friend's garden. Somehow the bag is accidentally switched on the bus or train, stolen from the car or snatched in the street or stolen by a good samaritan offering to help her with her suitcase. Sometimes she ends up with a cooked ham while someone else has ended up with dear departed Tiddles. Sometimes she sees the bag-snatcher further down the road where he has fainted after discovering what he has snatched. Despite the growing number of pet cemeteries and crematoria, it seems that the disposal of a pet's mortal remains is fraught with peril as this collection of myths suggests.
Two elderly women leaving Bluewater Shopping Centre noticed a dead cat in the car park. Being cat lovers, they couldn't bear the thought of leaving the poor waif there and decided to take it home for burial. It may not have been loved in life, but at least it would be treated kindly in death. They rationalised their purchases to free up some Marks & Spencer carrier bags then double wrapped the demised kitty in the spare bags to contain any odours or seepage. Since it was lunchtime and a hot day, they decided to get a cool drink before setting off round the M25. Since it was hot, they didn't want to close the car windows and risk a smelly car so they left the car windows open just a crack. From where they sat, they could see their car … and they saw the woman who reached through the back window and snatched the M&S bag from the back seat. By a twist of fate, the woman is also headed for the restaurant and is seated at the next table to the cat lovers who are, by then, wondering how to exact revenge on the bag-snatcher. Fate comes to the rescue when the thief peers into her ill-gotten gains, jumps up in horror and faints clean away. As the paramedics are wheeling the shocked bag-thief away in a wheelchair, one of the cat lovers places the M&S bag on the woman's lap and says "Don't forget her shopping . . ."
A woman whose beloved cat had died wanted it buried in peaceful undisturbed surroundings. A friend agreed to bury it in her large garden, if the owner could deliver the cat. Unwilling to be seen with a pet carrier because people always asked cutesy things about the pet and she wasn't in the mood to answer every cutesy question with "actually it's a dead cat". Unwilling to be seen with a dead cat, she put the cat in a large handbag and set off across town by bus. Walking to the bus stop, a bag-snatcher grabbed the large handbag. He must have had a surprise when he found out what it contained!
In a very similar tale, the woman must walk through the park carrying an obviously heavy guitar case (the only suitably sized carrier for her over-sized Maine Coon which had died that morning). A young man politely asks if he can carry the case for he as he is headed in the same direction. Grateful for the show of chivalry, she accepts and hands the chap the guitar case. The thief legs it. Luckily he stops at the park exit to check his ill-gotten gains and abandons the unorthodox coffin and its contents. The distraught woman is reunited with her late-lamented cat by park officials.
A man promised his family that he'd dispose of the deceased family cat's remains. They lived on an island off of Scotland and the nearest vet was on the mainland. They carefully wrapped kitty in newspaper and the man boarded the morning ferry. When he arrived on the mainland, he handed the package to the receptionist and got back on the returning ferry. A few days later, the vet phoned to thank him for the gift of a lovely home-cured ham. Someone must have had a surprise when they opened their own package and found not a lovely ham, but a dead cat.
A woman whose twin Persian cats sadly died within hours of each other, one of old age and the other of a broken heart, decided to have them taxidermised. "Would you like them mounted?" asked the taxidermist, envisaging a wooden plinth and glass case. "Good grief no!" the woman said in shocked tones, "They were both neutered!"
A couple sadly lost their beloved Puss to a speeding motorcar and not having anywhere to bury him, they sent him by registered parcel post to the crematorium. Several days later, a small sachet of ashes arrived in the morning post. Intending to put them in a small urn with engraved plaque, the husband put the sachet on top of the fridge and went off to work. Later in the day, his wife saw the sachet of grey powder and mistook it for the spices she'd ordered by mail order. Needless to say, the exotic dish she prepared for hubby that night didn't taste quite as she'd expected. Quite how hubby reacted to the knowledge that he'd eaten Puss's remains is unrecorded.
One tale of dead cats and stolen packages has a nice moral twist. A woman goes to collect her deceased cat from the vets surgery. The vets had thoughtfully placed the deceased in a neatly wrapped box so she could carry it around without being stared at. On the way home, the woman has to buy something in Debenhams department store. While paying for her purchases, she leaves the cat box on a nearby counter. When she looks round for it, the box has gone. Store detectives try to locate the deceased cat and reunite it with the distraught owner. It doesn't take long. The opened box, the deceased cat spilling out of it, is found on the floor of a passport photo booth. Sprawled beside it, equally dead, is a well-known shoplifter whom detectives had failed to "catch in the act" for months. The shoplifter had taken the stolen goods to the photo booth, opened it and had suffered a serious heart attack when the dead cat dropped onto her lap. There are several flaws with this tale of course. Very few distraught owners would stop to do a spot of shopping while actually carrying the deceased Tiddles. The dead cat is a device which brings swift justice to a persistent offender who has so far evaded detectives. Though dead, the cat is the hero of the piece.
Hoaxes and pranks concerning packages containing dead cats have a long history. In his book "Our Cats and All About Them" from the 1880s, Harrison Weir wrote: Lifeless cats have been from time immemorial suggestive of foolish hoaxing, a parcel being made up, or a basket with the legs of a hare projecting, directed to some one at a distance, and on which the charge for carriage comes to a considerable sum, the fortunate recipient ultimately, to his great annoyance, finding "his present" was nothing else but "a dead cat." He goes on to note that dead cats, which were often to be found on the street, might also be placed in (or thrown into) people's drawing rooms or carriages as a prank by vulgar people. The perpetrators tend to be "vulgar" people, suggesting the real object of the story is a distrust of the lower classes, much as cuisine myths rely on a distrust of foreigners.
LETTING THE (WILD)CAT OUT OF THE BAG
From dead cats in the baggage to live ones in the luggage! In urban myths, not all packages contain dead cats. Some contain cats which are not only alive and kicking, but are extremely wild in either the irritated or the non-domesticated sense, and often in both senses simultaneously. In the USA, it is the bobcat which frequently finds itself the device of revenge upon luggage thieves. For those unfamiliar with American fauna, the bobcat is an indigenous lynx-like wildcat somewhat larger than a domestic cat. For students of sayings, the thieves literally are "letting the cat out of the bag" i.e. acquiring something without checking what's inside.
A trapper travelling from Arizona left the bus station then realised he had left behind some baggage. Putting his suitcase on the pavement, he went back to fetch the forgotten bag. Meanwhile, two opportunist thieves snatch the unattended suitcase. They opened it back in their apartment to find an extremely angry wild bobcat which the trapper was taking to a private collector. Naturally the thieves are faced with a dilemma over how to deal with an angry wildcat. Unable to simply let it out the front door, they might have to call the police or SPCA who would ask some very awkward questions about how they ended up with a bobcat in the first place. How they resolve the dilemma is left as an exercise for the reader's imagination. The tale has a neat way of explaining why a trapper is in possession of a live bobcat; trappers generally kill the animals they trap (especially angry animals of the large feline persuasion) even if it isn't what they wanted to catch. The tale gets round this by describing the trapper as procuring the live animal for a private collector or even a zoo.
A similar tale goes: In a street well known for thieves and where the local police were no better, a long-suffering resident decided to take matters into his own hands. He procured a live bobcat from his brother in Arizona. He put the cat into a suitcase which he placed near the kerb while he popped back indoors as though to pick up something he'd forgotten. Sure enough, a car slowly drove past the unattended case, a rear door opened and the case was snatched inside. The car drove off at high speed, but screeched to a halt 50 yards down the street where all four doors open and the occupants jump out. Just how the resident got the bobcat into a suitcase is not detailed. Another version shows some poetic justice in the ending: The trap had been set for thieves who had stolen the man's car. Knowing that the thieves, local teens, can't resist unattended objects the aggrieved car owner sets the trap. Once the teens have fled with the bobcat in pursuit, he reclaims his vehicle.
In other cases, it is a simple practical joke with hillbilly jokesters somehow catching a bobcat, get it into a suitcase without being mauled in the process and placing the suitcase beside a country road while they hid behind bushes to watch the fun. The end result is always a car screeching to a halt and several men plus an angry bobcat flying out of the car. Many versions have racist overtones and describes the thieves as being of a particular ethnicity. As well as making the cat a method of getting revenge, the racist versions try to tell us that persons of particular racial type are dishonest and uses the vehicle of an urban myth to sneak across its prejudiced message.
The bobcat-in-a-bag is a wholly American myth which doesn't seem to have a British equivalent although it could equally well be told of Scottish Wildcats or feral cats. As a cat worker, I've sometimes ended up in sheds with angry feral cats plus a cat basket and gauntlets and somehow had to get the cat into the basket - it can be done! A journey with a securely caged feral cat is unnerving enough, one with an irate bobcat loose in a vehicle would definitely cause the vehicle's occupants to abandon car. In common with the tales of stolen dead cats in packages, the theme is one of thieves getting their just desserts.
THE PERSIAN'S (AND PUG DOG'S) NOSE
In 2006, an outraged individual wrote to a magazine about the cruelty of past generations. Her complaint? That Persians (and Pug dogs) had short noses and compressed nasal passages and tearducts because early breeders strapped up their noses as kittens (and puppies) to make them grow that way! What was astounding, was that the writer not only believed that kittens would allow their noses to be bound in the same way that Chinese women once had their feet bound, but that acquired traits would be passed on to their offspring. The editorial staff pointed out that such traits could only be passed on by selective breeding. The only thing that the survival of this urban legend says about us is that some people are either gullible or skipped biology class. It is akin to the tale of the Ragdoll inheriting a placid temperament because the founding mohter was hit by a car - about as likely as the mother having kittens with wheels instead of legs!
A similar piece of folklore exists in Malaysia and neighbouring Asian countries. The bobtailed cat of those climes got its look because generations of owners amputated kittens' tails and buried the tail under the back doorstep in the belief that the cat would not stray far from home. When an imported Japanese bobtailed cat was rehomed through an Essex, UK, cat shelter, staff at the shelter firmly asserted that the tail had been cruelly amputated in spite of physical evidence to the contrary! Britain also has a comparable legend regarding the Manx Cat. Relegated to the realms of folklore rather than current urban legend, the Manx's lack of tail is due to the Ark door closing on the tardy cat's tail; mother cats biting off their kittens' tails to prevent them being used as decorations by humans or the humans cutting off the tails to pin to clothing or armour.
CATS THAT LOSE THEIR TAILS WILL DIE
Loss of the tail can be inconvenient to a cat as it uses the tail to help it balance. It may end up a bit clumsier, but that's usually all. Sometimes a damaged tail has to be amputated. If it's amputated or accidentally severed at the root, this can affect the nerves and muscles used in emptying the bowel and, sometimes the bladder. It may be incontinent or it may be need the owner to manually express its express bladder or bowel at regular intervals. Unfortunately, retained urine can lead to kidney infection. When a cat defecates, it pumps its tail up and down to squeeze and empty the rectum. A cat lacking those tail muscles may not empty itself in one "sitting" and may leave faeces behind when it moves around. One owner of my acquaintance resolved this by preparing an irresistable earthy area at the bottom of the garden. Her tailless cat used this as a litter tray and any remaining faeces got squeezed out as the cat trotted back towards the house!
Tailless Manx cats have a different issue. If a kitten inherits 2 Manx genes it usually dies in utero and is resorbed by the mother. Those with one copy of the gene range from tailless to part-tailed (some may have spinal or pelvic problems). Breeders generally avoid mating two totally tailless Manxes together to reduce the likelihood of stillbirths or deformities. In the past, unscrupulous cat breeders have sometimes amputated an ordinary cat's tail to manufacture a Manx cat. Even today, some stumpy-tailed Manxes in the USA have the stump removed to reduce the risk of arthritis.
THE PITTSBURGH REFRIGERATOR CAT
The myth of the longhaired "Refrigerator Cat" strain has been repeated as fact in many cat books including those with well-known authors (such the naturalist Lydekker and the writer Desmond Morris) who should know better! In actuality, there was no strain of "Refrigerator Cat", just a single litter of kittens and the family did not thrive. This was turned into a myth by a newspaper at the time and has been repeated ever since. According to myth, cats were turned loose in 19th Century Pittsburgh refrigeration plants to control rats and only the hardiest cats survived and bred, evolving a race of "Eskimo Cats" at home in very low temperatures. After several generations, the descendents were more at home in the cold than in daylight or normal temperatures, having heavily furred coats, thick tails like Persians and tufted, lynx-like ears. According to the fanciful newspaper report, the cats suffered in normal temperatures and were sent to other refrigeration plants to control vermin there as well.
Not only were there no Refrigerator Cats (as a strain), the low temperatures meant there wasn't an appreciable vermin problem. There was a single family of cats in a refrigeration plant, but these were notable for other reasons - they were albinos and suffered in daylight due to their unpigmented eyes. Contrary to the myth of the heavily furred race of Refrigerator Cats, this feline family did not thrive in the conditions.
A version of the Refrigerator Cat myth is told in a 1901 book as "The Fireside Sphinx": Cats play an important role in our great cold-storage warehouses. It was originally hoped that a temperature of six degrees above zero would prove too severe for vermin ; but rats have that singular adaptability of character with which nature loves to endow the least popular of her creatures. In a few months they were as much at home in the freezing atmosphere as if they had been accustomed to it for generations ; and were rearing large families of children, all comfortably clad in coats of double ply. Surrounded by wholesome food, they showed the discretion of their ancient race, scoffed at traps, and avoided poisoned bait. It was then suggested that cats might learn to bear the rigours of this bitter cold ; and a few hardy pioneers were chosen to be forever banished from light and warmth, from sunshine and the joyousness of earth. Four fifths of them pined and died, martyrs to unpitying commercialism ; but the great principle which bids the fittest survive, triumphed once more over cruel conditions. Kittens raised in the icy temperature began to look like little Polar bears, their fur was so thick and warm. By degrees their ears were hidden under furry caps, their tails grew short and bushy, their delicate whiskers, coarse and strong. They preserved their health, and developed incredible activity. At present, cold-storage cats are among the sturdiest of the species; and we are even assured by those who hold them prisoners that they enjoy their dark captivity, and would be wretched if restored to normal conditions. A garden, sweet with June flowers, and flooded with June sunshine, would, it is said, kill them outright. This may or may not be true. It is much the fashion of men to assert that animals like what is done to them.
ARE CATS IMMUNE TO SCORPION STINGS?
According to urban legend in parts of the USA, cats are immune to scorpion venom and keeping a cat will keep scorpions away. Scorpions are common in some populated areas of the USA which makes them a concern to people. Only a few species are dangerous to humans, while others can cause painful stings. It's a myth that cats are immune to scorpion venom, but why don't more cats die from scorpion stings?
Where possible, most scorpions try to escape from danger, but will sting if severely provoked e.g. stepped on. Cats are more attuned to detecting small prey and are better/quicker than humans at noticing scorpions, so they are less likely to accidentally step on one. If they do blunder into a scorpion, cats are also quicker and more agile than humans and can more easily avoid a striking scorpion. Unlike us mostly-hairless, thin-skinned humans, a cat's fur protects it from the scorpion's relatively short stinger. If the stinger gets through the fur, a cat has relatively thick skin that resists the stinger piercing. When a cat does get stung, it tends to be the result of trying to play with the scorpion which means stings are most likely on the paws (usually thick-skinned) or around the lips and nose - the same places they get bee or wasp stings and for the same reasons. A vet visit is advisable, especially if there is a lot of swelling or signs of infection.
On the part of the scorpion, venom is "costly" to make, so it doesn't want to waste it. If posturing in a threatening manner doesn't work, the first sting is often a warning shot using a painful "pre-venom" that is less harmful and gives the scorpion time to get away. If that painful, but less harmful, stings finds its mark, it's usually enough to teach a cat not to mess with scorpions in future ... or to adopt specialist tactics when hunting them!
Will cats keep scorpions away from the home? Cats that hunt bugs (which scorpions prey on) might make the home less attractive to scorpions. Some cats even hunt or play with scorpions, at least until they learn that these particular bugs fight back (and most scorpions prefer to escape). Scorpions are probably still around the house, but keeping a low profile while puss is on patrol.
Most readers will know of other feline folktales and further variations on those mentioned here. Urban myths are more than just twisted tales. Next time someone regales you with a "friend-of-a-friend" cat story take a closer look. Even the most far-fetched tale contains a grain of truth about our relationship with cats.
Cabbits - What Are They?