THE CAT IN URBAN MYTHOLOGY
Copyright 1995 - 2014 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

Introduction to Urban Myths
How Do Such Urban Myths Get Started
Baby-Killers?
The Saviour Cat
Rescued Cats
A Cat Eat Dog World
The Foot-Licking Cat
Matrimonial Disharmony
The Wrong Sort of Cat Lover
Cat Food Folklore
Toxic Wastes (and the Peed-On Pussy)
Cats and Cars
Tranquilized Travelling Cats
Clumsy Cats
Techno-Cats
The Golden "Gait" Bridge
The Calamityville Horror Cat
The Cat and The Chicken Cannon
The Rabbit Ripper Cat
The Substitute Cat
More Dead Cat Myths
Rest In Peace
Letting The (Wild)Cat Out Of The Bag
The Persian Cat's Nose
Cats That Lose Their Tails Will Die
The Pittsburgh Refrigerator Cat
Are Cats Immune to Scorpion Stings?

FELINE URBAN LEGENDS PART 2 (THIS FILE)

The Cat-Rat Ranch
Recycle Your Unwanted Cats To Malaysia
Vivisection Company Will Pay For Hurricane Victim Pets
Blind Coal Mine Kitties
Moggy On The Menu
Veggie Cat Strikes Back
Chlorophyll Makes Cats' Ears Fall Off
Cat On Heat? Bite Her Ear!
Household Disharmony
The Homing Cat
Politically (In)Correct Cats
Naughty Torties - Agents of Evil!
The Incredible Cabbits
The Giant Mutant Kitty
The Cat In The Garbage Disposal
The Lion Cut Cat (Shaved Kitty)
The Mythical Egyptian Hairless Cat
The Cat Which Feels No Pain
British Woman Has Cat Flu
The Tiger Kittens
The Bonsai Kitten Legend
The Headless Cat Hoax
Catching Catfish - Using Kittens
Animal Activists Poison Cat Show Waterbowls

 

  Footnote and Further Reading

THE CAT-RAT RANCH

The following tale is apparently over 100 years old, but is still doing the rounds in various forms. It apparently began as a hoax business prospectus and has been revived in more recent times as an email hoax or is simply retold as a myth or wind-up.

"Glorious Opportunity To Get Rich!!! We are starting a cat ranch in Lacon with 100,000 cats. Each cat will average 12 kittens a year. The cat skins will sell for 30 cents each. One hundred men can skin 5,000 cats a day. We figure a daily net profit of over $10,000. Now what shall we feed the cats? We will start a rat farm next door with 1,000,000 rats. The rats breed 12 times faster than the cats. So we will have four rats to feed each day to each cat. Now what shall we feed the rats? We will feed the rats the carcasses of the cats after they have been skinned. Now Get This! We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats and get the cat skins for nothing! "

It sounds plausible until you sit down to work it out. For a start, breeding cats and growing kittens need more food than adult cats. And of course you are not guaranteed 12 kittens per year from each cat, especially as some of the cats will have to be males! It takes 5 - 6 months for the kittens to reach breeding age … and you have to house and feed the cats … and who worked out that rats breed 12 times faster than cats, and how big do the rats have to be to make a decent meal. Something doesn't quite add up ….

The Cat-Rat Farm is featured in Dwain Esper's amazing 1930s roadshow movie "Maniac". A neighbour of the film's mad doctor operates just such a farm, leading many viewers to wonder if such facilities really existed in Depression-era America.

On a serious note, cats are farmed for their fur in parts of China and killed in particularly unpleasant ways that avoid damaging the fur. The fur ends up in trinkets and furry figurines which are often sold to cat lovers. Gruesomely, many of the figurines are actually of cute kitties. The cats are tethered on wire leashes and fed on meat scraps, not on rats, though it is not impossible that the cats get recycled back into the food chain and fed to unfortunate cats still awaiting their fate.

THE "RECYCLE YOUR UNWANTED CATS TO MALAYSIA" MYTH

In the 1990s an email circulated about "recycling" unwanted pet cats to Malaysia where they could be used as food. This played on several fears - that of unidentifiable foreign food, fear of strangers (xenophobia) and the fact that while Westerners viewed cats as family members, there had been documentaries showing the cooking of live cats in China and Korea. Unfortunately many Westerners make little or distinction between the various countries and cultures in Asia and the Far East hence the email claimed to be from Malaysia. Although there is a large Chinese population in Malaysia, it is a cat-owning culture, not a cat eating culture and boasts a cat fancy, cat shows and its own indigenous breed(s) of cat.

"To make use of the unwanted animal we can make pleasurable cuisine for the people. Please to arrange air shipment for cats which can be used in our culinary educations program. Will pay for no less than cats in 50 pound lots. Only alive please. Malaysia have many delicacy for eating the cat, only in the most humane way of course. I would like to share our culinary heritage with you in the overseas. In my honorary role with the martial arts, we gain great strength from the eating of the young cats."

This myth also brings several other thoughts to mind - that euthanized cats (and dogs) may be rendered (processed) and the remains turned into fertilizer or even into animal feed and that rendering or consumption would be an economical method of disposing of the remains of a huge pet overpopulation problem, particularly in the USA.

VIVISECTION COMPANY WILL PAY FOR HURRICANE VICTIM PETS

Disasters always spawn stories and in modern times they attract both genuine and fake email appeals. Following the Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, which left people and pets homeless, a fake email purporting to be from the infamous animal research company Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) did the rounds. The missive offered to pay cash for cats and dogs rescued from New Orleans and is reminiscent of the "Send your unwanted cats to Malaysia" email hoax that circulated some years previously. The email suggests that a vivisection company would masquerade as being concerned about animal welfare in an attempt to source animals for experimentation purposes.

"We will pay for rescued Cats and Dogs.

Hello well intentioned people, my company has an immediate need for 300 small dogs and 500 cats. De-clawed cats are fine! The animals need to be fairly healthy animals. They need to be alive for at least 30 days after our intake. The price for these animals are as follows:

If we pickup in Arkansas or Mississippi $5 = cats, $9 = dogs.
If animal is shipped to our home office in New Jersey (address to follow) $25 = cats, $29 = dogs

In addition to this, we are providing an incentive to the person who rescues the most animals for us. At the end of December, we will tally up the rescue efforts. The person who we conclude to be the greatest asset will win an all inclusive trip to Las Vegas, Nevada for two people for 5 days. This will include air transportation from Louisiana, hotel stay at 3 star or better resort, meal tickets for 2 meals per person a day, entertainment coupons including 1 fully paid entertainment concert, and $300 in casino comps spending monies.

We are really concerned about the well being of the cats and dogs after the Hurricane and want to do our part to insure the animals welfare. For more information please contact myself, Carol Auletta, Senior Toxicologist for HLS [Phone & email address removed]
Our website is [Huntingdon's URL removed] and our mailing address is [Huntingdon's New Jersey, USA address removed]"

Huntingdon Life Sciences is infamous for experimentation upon animals and has long been a target of anti-vivisectionists and animal rights campaigners in the USA and UK (Messybeast.com is firmly opposed to animal experimentation). HLS have stated that the email is an animal rights hoax designed to discredit their business by spreading misinformation. In general, laboratories use specially bred animals raised in sterile conditions. In the USA, there is also the distasteful practice of "pound seizure" where unclaimed/unadopted pets and strays in animal pounds are turned over to laboratories for experimentation purposes (due to public pressure, many shelters no longer co-operate with this practice and euthanize unclaimed/unadopted animals). In the UK, recently declassified documents revealed that pet and stray cats were picked up from the streets (i.e. stolen) for laboratory use during the 1950s/1960s. The fear of pet theft for laboratory use remains prevalent in Britain.

THE BLIND COAL MINE KITTIES

There is a leganed that cats were thrown down closed coal mines in England during the Thatcher years by cruel people wanting to dispose of their pets. According to the story, many years later, it was found that the cats had survived the fall and had mutated into a community of blind cats with huge ears. This large-eared, blind cats with good hearing had allegedly adapted to living in the complete darkness of the mine shaft. The same motice is used by Akif Pirinçci in his "Felidae" novels except that the cats are thrown into the sewers. There, they hunt rats, rescue other discarded kittens and evolve into blind cats with exceptional hearing. The problem for both the mine-shaft myth and the sewer-myth is that the evolution of sightless cave-dwelling cats would take many generations unless the original cats had a genetic form of blindness that they passed on to their descendents.

In part, this myth relies on the fact most of us have heard of eyeless animals living in caves. Those animals evolved from sighted individuals over hundreds of generations rather than a mere 30 years (Thatcher's Britain being the late 1970s and the 1980s). There would not be time for the cats to evolve into a whole new species. Secondly, while the sewer cats would have rats and mice to hunt, there is not a lot living in a mineshaft that a cat could hunt. If not too contaminated, they might support ecosystems similar to deep caves - invertebrates, insects - but not enough to support a food chain with a cat at the top of it.

MOGGY ON THE MENU?

Tales of cat-eating are nothing new found in Charles Dickens’ "The Pickwick Papers" (1836/7) where Sam Weller tells Mr. Pickwick that he’s heard about pies made from kittens being sold on the London streets as ordinary meat pies. In 1885 an English newspaper reported the story of a woman convicted of trapping and butchering cats and selling them to people as rabbit meat.

There are frequent myths of British ethnic restaurants and takeaways using the local cat population as a raw material and of "such-and-such a restaurant was raided and the health inspectors found three dead cats and half an Alsatian in the freezer".  This genre of myth illustrates a distrust of foreign people and of foreign cuisine along with a general belief that all persons of Asian origin eat cat and/or dog. A related myth is that of the recent immigrant to Britain who buys tinned food with a depiction of a cat on it and complains either that it does not taste at all like the real thing or that he can readily buy tinned cat, but can never buy fresh or frozen cat and so has to resort to catching his own.

One evening several friends went out to a local Chinese restaurant for a meal. Halfway through the meal, one girl suddenly started to cough and choke. She was rushed to hospital where a small bone was removed from her throat. Doctors did not recognise the type of bone found and sent it off for analysis. The report came back saying that it was a cat's collarbone. The public health department immediately visited the restaurant to inspect the kitchens and in the fridge they found numerous tins of cat food, half an Alsatian dog and several rats all waiting to be served up. In some versions, the choking diner is given the Heimlich manoeuvre by a gentleman at a nearby table. She coughs up a bone and the gentleman, a zoologist, tells her "And that if I'm not mistaken my dear, that is the collarbone of a cat." Except that cats don't have collarbones, just a vestigial bit of floating bone - that is why they are so supple.

Why is it always half an Alsatian (German Shepherd) dog? Presumably so that anyone who ate there has the uncomfortable thought that they may have eaten the other half! It is like finding half a maggot in your apple being worse than finding a whole maggot. It adds a bit more yuck factor to the thought of eating animals which we consider to be family members. In some versions, the choking diner coughs up a pet ID tag, such as the one found by the chap in the next tale.

A chap who was particularly fond of rabbit pies couldn’t resist an offer on The Ultimate Rabbit Pie at a marked-down price in his local supermarket. That evening, excited about digging into the huge pie, he popped it in the oven, fried some chips and got out a few beers. Sitting down to eat, he licked his lips and took his time so that he could savour every mouthful. He had eaten most of the pie, when his teeth hit something hard and obviously metallic. He spat out the half-chewed mouthful and noticed a heart-shaped metallic pet tag bearing the inscription: "If you find our darling Tiddles, please call this number". It was the last time he ever ate meat, becoming a staunch vegetarian for the rest of his life.

An updated form of this urban legend concerns a person who bought chicken pussanda from a takeaway and got something firmly stuck in her teeth. She went to her dentist who removed an animal microchip, the size of a rice grain, from between two teeth. The woman took the microchip to her vet who scanned it and were left with the unhappy task of calling Fluffy's owners about the fate of their pet. During the European horsemeat scandal in 2013, a "Lamb pussanda" bought at a London takeaway was DNA tested for its meat content and the results did not match lamb, beef, chicken, pork, goat, horse. As Islam prohibits the consumption of cat or dog, one suspect is poached deer or donkey meat. In May 2013 a Chinese crime ring was found to have passed off rat, mink, and small mammal meat (e.g. fox carcases from fur farms) as mutton for more than 1 million US$ in Shanghai and Jiangsu province markets. Contaminated mutton may have been exported out of China.

A local Chinese restaurant was suddenly closed down. Everyone wondered why it was closed down since it was a really popular place and always served excellent food. According to a friend who knows a guy who works in the local Public Health Lab, when the health inspectors went to inspect the kitchens, they found cages and cages of cats. The restaurant owner claimed the cats were let out at night to keep the place free of rats. Well then the inspectors checked the freezer and they found it full of frozen cats. In February 1989 the restaurant reviewer of the New Orleans Times-Picayune devoted a column to denying the story that a certain restaurant was closed down because skinned cats had been found in its freezer.

A really popular local Chinese restaurant suddenly closed down. It turns out that a disgruntled employee had started rumours that police had found half a dozen skinned cats, labelled as rabbit, in the restaurant's refrigerator. Just to show that good old British home cooking is not immune to the tale, cats masquerading as rabbits have apparently turned up in village butcher's shops. Due to cat thefts in Britain, some butchers have become worried enough that they only accept wild rabbit from local shooters if the head and feet are left in place to prove it really is bunny.

Related ethnic meal tales suggest that diners at ethnic restaurants became ill after the local council attempted to poison either the stray cats or the rats the cats were living on.  Others suggest that the cats were being fattened on leftovers and then recycled into the following month's Special Set Menu! A version which spread on usenet and by email was that it was common for restaurants in neighbouring Singapore to serve cat meat in a dish called "Mew Goo Guy Ding". The Mew Goo Guy Ding myth is told of Chinese restaurants around the world and is just a variant of the moggy-on-the-menu legend.

Though Chinese restaurants are the usual scene, the tale is sometimes set in Bangladeshi, Indian and Italian restaurants (are you really sure of what is in that lasagne?). Devout Muslims would certainly not eat cat. Korean restaurants are prime candidates for this tale because of the practice of dog and cat eating in Korea. For some odd reason, there are tales that there are no cats in certain Tyrolian towns or villages because Tyrolians (think "Heidi") eat cats baked, boiled, stewed etc. Versions of the tale have been traced to the earliest years of the British Empire in England (where colonials never quite trusted strange foreign cooking habits) and to the 1850s in the US. A few strong rumours and suddenly no-one wants to eat at that particular place any more - except that these days no-one really believes those tales, do they?

The "foreign restaurants serve up cats" myth has led to a couple of student pranks which have themselves become part of urban mythology.  The following tales originate from northern England and fall into the "dead catter" genre of urban legend. In one variation of the prank, a student apparently picks up a dead and very stiff cat from the roadside, takes it into his local Indian restaurant and asks for a discount for providing his own meat.  In the other, the student takes the dead cat into a Chinese takeaway, marches to the front of the queue, plonks the cat down on the counter and announces "And that's the last one I'm getting you tonight!" before walking out, followed by the queuing customers.  The type of restaurant and the prank (discount or donation) are interchangeable. In August 2001 I received first hand accounts of these two pranks (from former students) and several "friend of a friend" urban legend versions which either inspired the prank or were inspired by it.

Actually, Cat Chow Mein is unlikely for plenty of reasons. Cats are expensive to raise and fatten because they eat meat and it is more economical to use that meat in the meal in the first place. Alley cats are far too scrawny to be useful and cats are carnivores so they don't fatten up very well on leftover rice. Supermarkets and butchers don't sell cat. Roadkill is likely to be too mangled and if not mangled it is likely to be reclaimed for burial or cremation by the bereaved owner. Catching cats leads to irate owners who would offer rewards for their pets and alert neighbourhood watch, the RSPCA and the police to the cat thefts. Pet shops charge outrageous prices, would notice if you checked to plumpness of the wares and you can hardly ask for a kilo of cat! Even the most brain-dead animal shelter worker will notice a request for "twenty cats a month for the Greasy Wok Restaurant" or the same person returning week after week to adopt yet another cat. It is theoretically possible to follow up every "Free to good homes" sign on the roadside, in newsagent windows or in the newspapers, but word would soon get around that a person of ethnic origin was snapping up entire litters of three, four or more kittens. It would not be long before the local RSPCA cottoned on to the fact even if it was only the sudden drop in overpopulation which alerted them!

Granted, in parts of China, cats are an expensive delicacy eaten by rich diners. To serve cat in a pork dish would be like hiding caviar in fish fingers and selling it at fish finger prices! If any Chinese restaurant were to serve cat, it would be in secret, after hours to a private party of Chinese diners and at a very high price. The suspicion of cat meat may be based on that unidentifiable red-dyed meat used in some cheap dishes. If it doesn't taste of pork, lamb or beef then the diner assumes it must be cat!

A slightly different twist on the tales of cat-eating from the USA is aimed at the Vietnamese community (and possibly also at the Catholic church): A friend of my mother lives in an inner city Catholic parish which has a Vietnamese priest named Father Phat. Because people rather inconveniently die at all times of the day and night and need last rites, there is always a priest on duty and one night, Father Phat got a call from a man needing last rites for Molly. The good Father drove to the man's home where he was met by a distraught elderly man who told him "I rolled over and found Molly dead, will you perform Last Rites on her?" and pointed towards the bedroom. The priest went into the bedroom but couldn't see anyone in there. Thinking the old man might have woken up in a confused state, he gently explained that the bedroom was empty. "She's under the bedcovers," the old man told him. Still thinking the old man was confused, the priest went back in the bedroom and lifted the bedcovers. Under the blankets was a dead cat. Unfortunately the priest was one who didn't believe in animals having souls. "You called me out here at 3 in the morning or a cat?" he asked. The old man again requested last rites on his pet, explaining that Molly had been his sole companion since his wife died. Father Phat retorted "If you called me out here at 3 in the morning to perform Last Rites on a cat, I'm going to take that cat home and cook it." And apparently the priest did exactly that - as the old man stood there looking stunned, Father Phat picked up the cat, left the house and next day he eat the cat for dinner.

The flaw in this tale, of course, is that even if a religious father was so cruel as to compound the distress of a parishioner, the cat's owner could have prevented him from taking the body. A good religious leader cares for the souls of the living, not just the souls of the departed; these days many will help the owner pray for deceased pets even if Last Rites are considered inappropriate. Some people cherish their pets so dearly that they do request religious blessings, even though religion means nothing to the animals themselves. The cherished cat is the man's only companion (inner cities can be lonely or intimidating places for elderly people) and he wants it given the same respect in death as his wife had been given. Apart from being a racial slur against a culture whose eating habits in their homeland conflict with Western taboos, and perhaps a slur against the Catholic church's view on whether animals have souls, it shows the bond between people and their pets.

There is a story that there are no cats in the town of Solvay (near Syracuse) in the USA. According to people in the area, Solvay is inhabited by cat-eaters, particularly Tyrolians who were reputed to eat cats as snack food. It allegedly dates back to the First World War when Austrians were reduced to eating cats in order to survive food shortages. Solvay has a large population of Austrian immigrants and their descendents and other locals believe that cat-eating continues. It was reputed that Tyrolians had various methods of serving cats - broiled, fried, baked and the secret "Tyrolean/ Europe style" (probably "smoked" - smoked cat is eaten in parts of rural Switzerland). As children, some residents of Solvay were told not to eat a meal at an Austrian, Tyrolese or Piedmontese home if they were having polenta and rabbit because the meat was really cat, not rabbit!

In his 1998 travel diary “From The Holy Mountain”, William Dalrymple gives the following tale of alleged cat-eating in Jerusalem. His guide, Bishop Hagop, points out a tall man called Isa and tells Dalrymple that Isa was formerly a cook who specialized in dainty sandwiches for wedding parties. "He was famous for his special liver sandwiches and soon became the most popular caterer in the Old City. Then someone noticed that the cat population near his house kept declining every time there was a wedding: eight to ten cats went missing whenever a reception was held. News spread about this, but people kept begging him for sandwiches. In the end he couldn’t satisfy demand: the cat population ran too low and he couldn’t produce the goods." At that point Isa apparently left the catering trade. The Bishop considered Isa to have been quite humane with the cats compared to a Cypriot monk who made his cats fast during Lent.

What about inadvertent cat consumption? Some distant relatives, seen only at family weddings and funerals, live in a very rural part of Britain, very isolated from the ways of the modern world. They’re part of an extended family headed by a fearsome matriarch nicknamed Hangdog Hannah, due to her practice of not neutering her dogs or cats and mercilessly dispatching the resultant offspring in the traditional way i.e. drowning. Hannah has four big lads, easily twice her size. On one occasion the lads arrived back to the cottage after working late and set about making a cup of tea. Being as the cottage isn’t supplied with mains water or electricity, this entailed hauling water from the rainwater tubs outside and brewing it in the kettle (actually a cauldron-type pot in which the tea leaves are boiled with the water) on the range. A cup of strong tea is always welcome after a hard day's work, but this brew was especially nice so they decided to have a second cup. Tipping the pot to make sure none got wasted, the bodies of two newly drowned kittens flopped out into their mugs.

Although set in Britain (it could equally well be set in isolated rural areas of other countries) the behaviour of the family is explained by their isolation from the modern world - the tale is at the expense of supposedly backward, underprivileged country folk with an unsophisticated lifestyle; the British analogue of "hillbillies".

VEGGIE CAT STRIKES BACK 

Some people at the other end of the village are well into an organic, vegetarian lifestyle. Even their pets are vegetarian - a black Labrador which farts constantly and a grey tabby cat. It was really funny the other day when some friends of ours went to buy some eggs from those people. "Doesn't your cat miss meat?" they asked the veggie family. "Oh no, she's perfectly adapted to a vegetarian diet now and doesn't miss meat at all," the people replied. Just then, the cat came dashing into the kitchen carrying a half eaten rabbit and the embarrassed owners went totally pale and silent. Last thing I'd heard was that they were buying Whiskas in the village shop and holding it at arm's length like it was radioactive or something!

This piece of folklore is not so much about cats as about suspicion of alternative lifestyles. It suggests that adherents are cranks who impose their beliefs on their pets - a reminder that some people do indeed evangelize one lifestyle over another. The additional motif of a flatulent dog reinforces the theme that a veggie diet (in this case enforced) doesn't suit everyone. In front of guests, the "cranks" get their comeuppance when their cat lets them down by conspicuously eating meat. Ultimately, the owners must accept their cat's preferences (in actual fact its needs, since its digestive system gives it no alternative) and buy cat food for it - even though they are squeamish about handling the stuff.

It also reminds us that cats are obligate carnivores and predators and that they cannot survive on a vegetarian/vegan diet and it is ethically wrong to impose human values and dietary habits on animals. The tale reminds humans that cats will be true to their own natures however much we would like to humanise them. There are specially formulated veggie diets for cats, but it is ethically wrong to impose our own morals system on our pets. This myth reminds us to accept them for what they are and to respect their needs.

I have seen a couple of versions of this in circulation and also received alleged first-hand accounts. Some describe the cat's diet in terms of lentils, once the mainstay of a veggie diet (a famous veggie cookery book was titled "Not Just A Load Of Old Lentils"). Other use stereotypes of vegetarian hippies or mention fads (sic) such as macrobiotic diets or organic food. Organic farmers are a minority in the developed world where intensive farming is the norm; some view organic farming with contempt. Leaving aside those few who literally force their beliefs down their cat's throats in the form of non-meat cat food, in this tale the cat is a plot device used to pour scorn on a vegetarian lifestyle.

CHLOROPHYLL MAKES CATS EARS FALL OFF

According to a Japanese urban legend, if a cat eats abalone or awabi (a similar shellfish) its ears will eventually fall off. This is because abalone/awabi feed on seaweed and accumulate chlorophyll in their livers. Cats can't digest chlorophyll so it gets into their blood vessels. A cat's ears are very thin and the cholorophyll in the blood vessels there get exposed to sunlight, photosynthises and breeds. It chokes up the blood vessels, the ear tissue dies and the cat's ears drop off. That's why you see so many earless cats around Japanese fishing ports.

Most cats eat grass and many eat other green vegetables. Undigested chlorophyll gets excreted in faeces along with other undigestibles. In fact chlorophyll tablets have been marketed for cats and dogs as a way to reduce breath odour and faeces odour! Chlorophyll is manufactured by plant cells rather than breeding on its own.

Why are cats around Japanese fishing ports losing their ears? The cats are most likely feral and unneutered. They fight and the ears get damaged, often causing haematoma (a big blood blister). When the blood is reabsorbed. The ear tissue collapses into a "cauliflower ear" giving the impression of an earless cat. Another possibility is skin cancer which is very common in pale-eared cats whose ears are exposed to lots of sunlight. Frostbite can also cause tissue death and the loss of ears. If the cats are being neutered by a humane society (this is apparently not so common in Japan), the tip of one ear is often removed so it doesn't get sent for surgery again. Lastly, if the cats are from an inbred colony, it is possible for a fold-ear mutation to become common. With the ear flaps folded close to the temples, the cats often appear earless (the Scottish Fold is an example of this mutation).

CAT ON HEAT? BITE HER EAR!

Female cats in oestrus (on heat) become very noisy and wanton. Breeders who keep unspayed females may need a way to bring a female off heat if it isn't convenient to mate her; ditto rescuers because most vets will not spay a female while she is in oestrus. This can be done using a instrument that mimics an unneutered male's scratchy p---s. When the p---s or ovulation-inducing implement is withdrawn, the small barbs on the surface scratch the female's vagina. This induces ovulation and stops her yelling and rolling for a mate. If she isn't pregnant, she starts yelling again a few days later.

I once heard someone state with all confidence that a tomcat bites the female's ear to induce ovulation! I am guessing this was a veterinary joke at the expense of a naïve staff-member who went on to repeat it to others, beginning a feline urban legend. Tomcats bite the females' necks while mating (she raises her rump in response) but she still won't be induced to ovulate until he withdraws his barbed p---s. If ear-biting worked, there would be no need for special implements, hormone injections nor any need for the tom to have p--ile barbs - or risk being swatted by his mate as withdraws! All anyone would need to do is bite her ear.

In the interest of research I visited a friend whose cat cannot be spayed as she wouldn't survive anaesthesia. The cat has contraceptive implants to prevent pregnancy, but she still comes on heat. Nipping Spud's ear (on more than one occasion and not too hard) did not stop her calling which means it didn't induce ovulation. The only effect was that Spud thought ear-nipping was a form of endearment that she was free to reciprocate and unfortunately, her teeth are much sharper than mine!

HOUSEHOLD DISHARMONY

Domestic cats are usually images of domestic bliss and comfort. Perhaps this is why people delight in turning the cat's traditional image around and telling tales of home-wrecking cats. Cats are also proverbially curious creatures and even if curiosity doesn't kill the cat, according to popular tales it can leave it - and the owners - homeless. According to popular legend "A friend of a friend was left homeless after her cat accidentally turned the kitchen tap (faucet) and her whole house got flooded" or even "A friend of a friend was left homeless after her cat accidentally turned the gas cooker on and it set light to the kitchen. By the time firemen got there, the whole house was well alight and all they could do was save neighbouring buildings."

If the cat doesn't cause the home to be wrecked, then it is likely to either imprison its owner such as the "friend of a friend was held hostage in his home when his cat went mad and wouldn't let him out. Eventually he had to climb out of the window" or .attack delivery roundsmen "Mailmen will no longer deliver to my friend's aunt's house because her cat kept on attacking them. She now has to drive 2 miles into town to collect her mail from the sorting office. "

There have been several reported cases of misadventure-prone moggies flooding or igniting their homes, sometimes making their families homeless in the process. As with cats which stow away under car bonnets, the myth is far more common than the reality hence the story makes headlines. More often than not, the ultimate cause of the disaster is an already dripping tap and all the cat has to do is lodge the plug in the drain hole. In most cases, the cat is the real victim (unable to escape from the steep-sided bath it has unwittingly caused to fill with water) and these cases are found on magazine letters pages rather than front page headlines. Sometimes, however, the cat escapes with 8 lives remaining while its hapless owners are left to bear the cost of its mischief. It's a classic case of "dog bites man" being an everyday event while "man bites dog" is big news.

For example, in April 2003, a couple tackled a flooded bathroom caused by their cat. They forgot that the cooker was switched on and the resulting blaze apparently left them homeless. Some months previously, a cat apparently switched on the gas supply to the cooker and something ignited the gas build up, causing an explosion. In May 2003 , a cat in Germany flooded a block of flats (apartments) when it switched on a shower and then lay down on the plughole. As with the legend of the obese person on a train toilet, the cat was sucked onto the drain and the water overflowed the shower pan. Evidently the shower pan was shallow enough that the cat's face remained above water, but the owner's flat and those below it were flooded.

Another tale of "person trapped by cat" came from Romania in July 2003. A woman was stranded on a fourth floor Bucharest balcony for 3 hours after being attacked by her friend's pet Burmese cat. She had spent the night at a friend's apartment and was feeding the cat after her friend had left in the morning. The cat became protective and aggressive, injuring the woman's hands and legs. The woman was rescued after 3 hours by the fire brigade who then captured the cat by throwing a blanket over it. The cat is believed to have seen the woman as unfamiliar and a threat to its kittens. Unfortunately in protecting its kittens against an unfamiliar person, it prevented the woman from escaping out of the door!

What about the mad cat holding its owner hostage? While some owners may well have climbed out of the window, in one reported case in 2003 the owner took refuge in the bathroom and used his mobile phone to summon help. Every time he tried to leave the bathroom, his cat attacked him. I encountered a cat which had held the owner hostage in one room - Pedro the cat was semi-feral (not fully tamed wild cat) imported from Mexico. Whenever the "owner" tried to open the door to let Pedro out, the cat felt threatened and attacked him. The owner ended up in bandages and Pedro ended up at a cat rescue centre where it was rehomed as a farm cat. I have dealt with feral cats for a cat shelter and on more than one occasion I have been unable to leave a cat pen because a very annoyed feline occupant was between me and the door. usually the cat quickly backs down, Tetley, a large feral tom who had just been neutered and was on antibiotics, remained between me and the exit for around 10 minutes. Silver, a temperamental domestic cat, managed similar feats.

Even outside of the popular Garfield comic strip, there have been several cases where cats have attacked mailmen or postmen (or other delivery men). Although less common than territorial dogs attacking postmen, the urban legend is based on fact. In some countries, delivery men are given pepper sprays for use against territorial pets. As you read this, there are several households in Britain (where post is put straight through the door) who are obliged to collect their post from the Post Office or from an American style mailbox at the end of the path - all because their overly territorial cat harbours a grudge against the postman.

POLITICALLY (IN)CORRECT CATS

A friend of my sister bought the Disney DVD "The Lady and the Tramp" for her kid. It was a film she had fond memories of from her own childhood, especially the Siamese twin cats who get Lady into trouble. They reminded her of her mother's two mischievous seal-point Siamese cats which got into almost as many scrapes as their screen counterparts. When she sat down to watch it with her kid, she was surprised to find the scenes with the Siamese cats were missing - they had been edited out completely. She contacted the store where she'd bought the DVD. They told her that Disney cartoons were being politically corrected in the latest home video and DVD versions. The Siamese cats apparently portrayed a negative racial stereotype of Asian people; for a start, Siam is now called Thailand and secondly the exaggerated sing-song accent in "We are Si-a-me-ese if you ple-ease. We are Si-a-me-ese if you don't please" was liable to cause offence.

I haven't been able to confirm or disprove this tale - there may indeed be sanitised versions in existence in overly politically correct America although I haven't seen them in Britain. For those unfamiliar with the cartoon, "The Lady and the Tramp" depicts two caricatured Siamese cats with exaggerated oriental looks, accents and mannerisms. In addition they are Siamese twins, though not in the physically attached sense. However, they are not human. Siamese cats are extrovert, have distinct vocalisations unlike the meow of other shorthaired breeds, slanted eyes and some owners would add that their Siamese cats have a wicked sense of humour. Have there really been objections to caricatured Siamese cats as depicting human racial stereotypes?

I suspected this was a foaf-tale or another Disney myth at the expense of political correctness. The truth is even more worrying. According to correspondent Ian Roberts: "There is a rental company who do this, plus they cut out all violence, swearing, kissing, etc. Must reduce many films to less than 90% original length if they even stock them." It's surprising that Disney allow their films to be altered in this way. While reports of edited versions are true, it is down to a rental company rather than Disney. It demonstrates that political correctness has been taken to laughable extremes - kids' cartoons are sanitised, but attempts to curb gun ownership are resisted. Perhaps the confusion over whether or not this is an urban legend reflects the fact that we need to reassess our priorities!

On a historical note, this is reminiscent of earlier linguistic sanitisation which substituted "acceptable" words for those with "sexual connotations": ass was replaced by donkey, cock by rooster etc. Not even Shakespeare was immune - my first copy of Romeo & Juliet was the sanitised version with some couplets edited out (more recently some episodes of the Tom & Jerry cartoon series have apparently been redubbed).

THE HOMING CAT

Cats are known to have incredible homing powers. Or do they? How many of the cats which turn up on an owner's doorstep tens of miles away, sometimes in a place the cat has never seen, are really homing cats and how many are freeloaders with a close enough resemblance to the owner's former cat that it manages to pass itself off as the original cat? Though a few cats do make their way some distance from a new home back to an old home (and I have encountered one or two such cats in the course of cat rescue work) many others get well and truly lost. The myth of the homing cat, however, persists. Sometimes someone gives it a bit of a twist in the tail as the following version shows.

A friend of a friend of mine in Chelmsford, Essex was fed up with his cat spraying and messing in the house. He finally persuaded a friend on the other side of town to take the cat. All seemed to be well, with the cat behaving itself in its new home and its new owner besotted with her new pet. One winter evening, a few weeks later, the chap arrived home from work to see the cat shivering on his doorstep. Moved by the way the cat had made its way back to him across busy roads and also a river, he let it in and promised it that he would not "abandon" it again. A few days later, a friend dropped by to see him. "I see you found your cat then," the friend said, "Only I was visiting someone on the other side of town and saw it sitting on a garden wall looking lost. I recognised it immediately and though it was hissing and biting, I carried it back home to you."

In the second tale, one wonders what the other owner was thinking about the cat suddenly going missing from its new home. Maybe s/he assumed it had simply decided to walk back to its old home.

NAUGHTY TORTIES - AGENTS OF EVIL!

Although a link between cat colour and cat temperament is unproven, tortie cats are frequently described as "naughty torties" or temperamental. I've certainly met a few naughty torties in my time, but I've met an equal number of very gentle and loving torties too.

Late in 2001, American Attorney General John Ashcroft gave a whole new dimension to the naughty tortie belief when he reportedly said that tortie-and-white cats (known as calico in the USA) are a sign of the devil. If the tale is to be believed, Ashcroft's aides were checking out accommodation at the US Embassy in Den Haag (The Hague, The Netherlands) to ensure nothing offended Mr Ashcroft's religious sensibilities. Among other things, they were apparently to ensure there were no calico cats there because the deeply religious Mr Ashcroft believed calico cats to be signs of the devil. When questioned later, Ashcroft apparently laughed at the tale - which may be the best reaction since vehement denials made by a public figure would lead the public to conclude he was hiding something.

In good urban folklore fashion, the reporter of this tale apparently got his story from people who "were in a position to know" which isn't too far removed from a "friend of a friend" tale. Whatever his feelings towards cats, especially tortie-and-white cats, Attorney General John Ashcroft will probably be remembered for this tale long after everything else about him has been forgotten.

Tortoiseshell and calico (tortie-and-white) cats are almost always female. There are several conditions which can result in tortie or calico tomcats and all but a few of these tortie tomcats are sterile. Because of the relative rarity, some people believe tortie tomcats are worth a lot of money, but this isn't true. They are valuable as curiosities, but not valuable in monetary terms because they can't be bred. Even the minority of fertile tortie tomcats are not valuable in money terms because they can't pass on their tortie colour and don't breed true. So next time you see someone advertising a "rare tortie male" on Ebay, usenet or a bulletin board, you can wonder who is more gullible - the person expecting to make a fortune or the person who pays over-the-odds because they think the cat is going to make them a fortune!

There is also a long-standing myth that if an owner takes a calico cat to be spayed and it turns out to be a male calico which the vet then castrates, the owner is entitled to get the money back from the vet for an unnecessary neutering. This isn't true - even though the male calico is likely to be sterile, he probably still has the male hormones which make him spray.

THE INCREDIBLE CABBIT

There is a long-standing myth that cats and rabbits can produce offspring which are half-cat, half-rabbit and which are therefore called cabbits. The classic version of the myth goes thus:

Anyone who owns rabbits will know that they are incredibly cute, but not exactly exciting or affectionate and their housetraining can leave much to be desired. A company in America has developed a hybrid animal which, they claim, combines the best qualities of both the rabbit and the cat: cute, affectionate, active and very, very clean. Male rabbits are famed for their willingness to attempt sex with any female animal of approximately the same size, regardless of whether it is a rabbit or not. By coincidence, cats and rabbits share the same number of chromosomes and a similar gestation period. In addition, female cats will happily raise the young of other species alongside their own kittens. All of these factors have combined to help animal breeders develop a brand new pet. Called a "racat" (although some breeders are pushing for the more attractive term of "cabbit") the animal can be ordered from almost any large pet store but may take some time to arrive in stock due to the almost legendary laid-back natures of both the cat and the rabbit.

"If you spoke to my grandfather he would tell you his story about working at the local gasworks where he saw a cat that had the body of a rabbit. He swears to this day(in fact is quite passionate about his story) that he saw a half rabbit half cat. I have been hearing this since I was young and he was too(40's maybe?) so he wasn't senile and he's not a drinker."

Most cabbits are misidentified Manx cats. Other supposed cabbits are the result of a deformity of the tail and the skin between the belly and haunches. I gathered together evidence and analyses about cabbits and published it. But the myth persists and I received the following..

"In response to the VERY uninformed evaluation "Cabbits-What Are They?". In 1991,my own cat showed ALL the symptoms of pregnancy. She would eat only tomatoes, green beans and lettuce. Her belly grew larger as weeks went by and she sought out dark spaces for solitude. She exhibited all the signs of pregnancy, yet we could not figure out why. She was a COMPLETELY indoor cat and aside from our male bunny had NO sexual activity. However, she and Bruno had sex on a regular basis! We thought it was "Cute" and "Funny" at first. I mean, who would think a cat and a rabbit would go at it! I was in college at the time and I asked my bio professor about the likelihood of such a thing and he said however improbable it may be, the chromosomes are linked, and if they are not in a prey/predator environment, but domesticated together and there are no other sexual partners of the appropriate species available, propagation is possible. She had a baby. It was breech. We tried to help her with the delivery, however, unlike a "kitten", what she had was a good size larger and we had to actually pull it out. It suffocated, and the vet upon evaluating the situation, stated if any further pregnancies ensued, a caesarian would be required. For the record, the baby had folded lop ears like the father, a bunny nose, back legs like a rabbit and a tail that was very short (maybe half an inch) that curled up to it's back. So why don't you explain that know-it-all? I saw it. And better than that plenty of others did as well."

Unfortunately, there were no photos and no DNA evidence. I contacted several vets and cat breeders for information. Any vet (or biology professor) encountering a genuine cat/rabbit offspring would have taken photographs, a blood sample (for DNA) and written articles for scientific journals. It would be worth a great deal of money. The dead offspring would have been examined, dissected and preserved for scientific study - no vet would miss an opportunity like that.

The experts contacted pointed out that several factors show this to be a mistake or a hoax. It does sound far fetched and as far as genetics doesn't make sense at all. It is not possible. You can only breed between species if there is some degree of genetic compatibility. Rabbits and cats are not only different species they are different genera as well. Rabbits are lagomorphs (often mistakenly called rodents) and I think rabbit kittens are born without fur. The idea that eating only vegetables is a "normal cat pregnancy" is ridiculous since cats are obligatory carnivores. Cats fed on unsupplemented vegetables first go blind and later die.

One breeder came up with a plausible explanation for the events witnessed by the writer. A family member may accidentally have let the cat out and she got pregnant. The resulting kitten was deformed. A vegetarian diet might led to any other foetuses being reabsorbed before birth and to the remaining kitten being deformed. The family member would have been in big trouble about letting the cat out so they kept quiet and blamed the male rabbit instead. I would call this a hoax. If it actually happened - you can bet the vet would have had the foetus on display with papers written, studies done and lots of publicity. And if the mythical cabbit isn't an odd enough myth, there are always "squittens" - squirrel-cat hybrids.

THE GIANT MUTANT KITTY

Tales of giant cats surface from time to time, sometimes accompanied by photographs. In the past, edited photographs or imaginative uses of angle were relatively easy to spot, but digital technology has made them far more convincing. The following legend was doing the rounds by email during April and May 2001, accompanied by a photograph. Although convincing, a current employee of the company named can find no record of this "former employee" at her company. The photo shows a cat approximately the size of a Rottweiler dog, but the relative size of the owner's hand in the photo indicates that a section of picture has been selectively enlarged (or added later) or that the cat was being held at arm's length and nearer to the lens than the owner's body. The e-lore goes:

This is amazing! Rodger Degagne, a former employee with AECL in Chalk River, may be embarking on a new career as Feline Breeder. Relaxing in his spacious home on the shores of the Ottawa River, Mr. Degagne recalls how 15 years ago he befriended two stray young cats on the old AECL research facility at Chalk River. The kittens had appeared in late summer and apparently had gotten under a security fence around the old labs abandoned since the late 50's. With the help of his tuna sandwich, Mr.Degagne was able to coax the kitties close enough so that he could pick them up. A self described animal lover, he did not want to place the kittens in the local Human [sic] Society. In this largely rural area, cats of all stripes and ages largely go unwanted and are humanely disposed of after a few days. Later that evening his wife Louise and their two children, Nicole and Kelly came to a family decision to keep the kittens which they named Lost and Found. Lost turned out to be female and Found a male. When nature finally took it's course, a litter of kittens was born 6 years later. One of the litter was a big white female with a unique black markings on her side and tail. Something about the kitten captured the hearts of the family and while her siblings eventually found homes elsewhere, Snowball stayed with the Degagne's.

While Lost and Found are no longer with us, their progeny live on. In her 9 years Snowball's size has seemed to snowball. Put simply, Snowball is no ordinary cat, she measures 69 inches from nose to tail and weighs in at 87 Ibs. She started out a big kitty and she just seemed to keep growing. She always meowed for more food and would climb up on the food which I forgot to cover. Chicken is her favorite.

'Once I left a cooked chicken on the table that I was going to use for a boat picnic, an hour later the chicken was gone', Louise said. We knew that snowball wasn't your average cat when the neighbor's German Shepherd ran yelping away from his first encounter with her. She just isn't afraid of any animals. After we found a half eaten raccoon out by the garage, we decided that maybe Snowball should be kept fenced in. We soon discovered that while we can keep snowball in the yard, we couldn't keep raccoons from Snowball. At least it kept the food bills down Rodger laughed 'Like all female cats she is very territorial, but with us she is just a big ole kitten' he said.

So what does a 87 pound cat eat? Snowball goes through about 3lbs of cat food a day, supplemented with deer and moose that Rodger hunts in the fall. She likes Pike a lot, so I don't throw them back any more. Snowball often accompanies Rodger fishing on the Ottawa, eagerly peering over the side of the boat as soon as his line goes tight. So what do the Degagne's attribute Snowball's size to? Rodger says 'Well, the vet thinks it could be her thyroid, but she isn't fat, she's just a real big cat. I think maybe her parents got into something at Chalk River that they shouldn't have'.

The reality is very different. To amuse his daughter, Cordell Hauglie used Photoshop program to turn a picture of himself and his cat Jumper, into the illusion of a giant cat. He emailed the photo to friends as a joke and thought no more of it. He had no intention of creating a hoax and was amazed when the "Snowball" story began circulating with the picture a year after the picture was originally emailed. Hauglie has no idea where the Snowball story came from and has discovered that once a photo or email is let loose, it is no longer under your control. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, in March 2001, people were seeking the fictional Rodger Degagne and his giant cat.

Chalk River, where the fictional Degagne and Snowball supposedly live, is the site of a nuclear research facility run by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and Snowball was supposedly the giant mutant offspring of stray cats exposed to radiation from the facility. A current employee of AECL contacted me to say there was no record of "former employee" Degagne. In another inaccuracy, the "old labs" at Chalk River were never abandoned - in fact they are being expanded. Another clue showing it to be a hoax is that Degagne is lifting the cat easily despite its 80+ lbs weight; Snowball's legs are not drooping and the cat looks like a stuffed cat mounted in a "standing position". Detailed analysis revealed the image manipulation.

1997: Snowbie

 

2005: Circulated Giant Maine Coon Photo

 

In 2005, another giant cat photo started circulating, albeit without any attached story. The photo appears to be genuine - a large, fluffy Maine Coon in the arms of a petite woman. A few Maine Coons exceed 20 lb weight and their long fur makes them look even larger. Combine this with a petite human and the impression of a giant cat is even more convincing. For the record, the Guinness World Record holder giant cat is Snowbie of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In 1997, 4 year old Snowbie measured 103 cm (40.8 inches) from nose to tail-tip compared to Snowball's claimed 69 inches. He was 33 cm. (13 inches) tall with a 31 cm (12 inch) tail. So far no enterprising soul has come up with a combined tale about radioactive cat litter turning kittens into giant mutant kitties.

GARBAGE KITTY!

In 2002, the internet yielded a long farcical account a cat which apparently had to be rescued from the garbage disposal. Practically unknown in Britain, garbage disposals allow Americans get rid of garbage in the kitchen sink by grinding it up. American apartment dwellers don't have access to compost heaps and don't want to have meat scraps hanging round in their kitchens. The cat's owner, Patti Schroeder of Pennsylvania, wrote up the account for friends and has since ended up in thousands of cat lovers' inboxes. Although the construction of most garbage disposals means that the units can either be lifted out or dropped through a sink, the tale seems destined to become an urban legend.

According to installation expert Nick Simicich, whose knowledge of these devices is impressive to say the least, the details given in the story simply do not correlate with the actual way that garbage disposals are installed (either "lift-out" or "drop-through"), to the point that, according to Simicich, the story would be viewed as fiction by people familiar with the details of garbage disposal installation. On the other hand, there are different makes and models of garbage disposal and the installation might not have been a typical "lift-out" or "drop-through"). Whether truth, exaggeration or otherwise, the story ended up in newspapers.

"This is the story of the night my ten-year-old cat, Rudy, got his head stuck in the garbage disposal. I knew at the time that the experience would be funny if the cat survived, so let me tell you right up front that he's fine. Getting him out wasn't easy, though, and the process included numerous home remedies, a plumber, two cops, an emergency overnight veterinary clinic, a case of mistaken identity, five hours of panic, and fifteen minutes of fame.

First, some background. My husband, Rich, and I had just returned from a 5 day spring-break vacation in the Cayman Islands, where I had been sick as a dog the whole time, trying to convince myself that if I had to feel lousy, it was better to do it in paradise. We had arrived home at 9 p.m., a day and a half later than we had planned because of airline problems. I still had illness-related vertigo and because of the flight delays had not been able to prepare the class I was supposed to teach at 8:40 the next morning. I sat down at my desk to think about William Carlos Williams, and around 10 o'clock I heard Rich hollering something indecipherable from the kitchen. As I raced out to see what was wrong, I saw Rich frantically rooting around under the kitchen sink, and Rudy - or, rather, Rudy's headless body - scrambling around in the sink, his claws clicking in panic on the metal. Rich had just ground up the skin of some smoked salmon in the garbage disposal, and when he left the room, Rudy (whom we always did call a pinhead) had gone in after it.

It is very disturbing to see the headless body of your cat in the sink. This is an animal that I have slept with nightly for ten years, who burrows under the covers and purrs against my side, and who now looked like a desperate, fur-covered turkey carcass, set to defrost in the sink while it's still alive and kicking. It was also disturbing to see Rich, Mr. Calm-in-an-Emergency, at his wits end, trying to soothe Rudy, trying to undo the garbage disposal, failing at both, and basically freaking out. Adding to the chaos was Rudy's twin brother Lowell, also upset, racing around in circles, jumping onto the kitchen counter and alternately licking Rudy's butt for comfort and biting it out of fear. Clearly, I had to do something.

First we tried to ease Rudy out of the disposal by lubricating his head and neck. We tried Johnson's baby shampoo (kept on hand for my nieces' visits) and butter-flavoured Crisco [a cooking fat]: both failed, and a now-greasy Rudy kept struggling. Rich then decided to take apart the garbage disposal, which was a good idea, but he couldn't do it. Turns out, the thing is constructed like a metal onion: you peel off one layer and another one appears, with Rudy's head still buried deep inside, stuck in a hard plastic collar. My job during this process was to sit on the kitchen counter petting Rudy, trying to calm him, with the room spinning (vertigo), Lowell howling (he's part Siamese), and Rich clattering around with tools.

When all our efforts failed, we sought professional help. I called our regular plumber, who actually called me back quickly, even at 11 o'clock at night (thanks, Dave). He talked Rich through further layers of disposal dismantling, but still we couldn't reach Rudy. I called the 1-800 number for Insinkerator (no response), a pest removal service that advertises 24-hour service (no response), an all-night emergency veterinary clinic (who had no experience in this matter, and so, no advice), and finally, in desperation, 911. I could see that Rudy's normally pink paw pads were turning blue. The fire department, I figured, gets cats out of trees; maybe they could get one out of a garbage disposal. The dispatcher had other ideas and offered to send over two policemen. This suggestion gave me pause. I'm from the sixties, and even if I am currently a fine upstanding citizen, I had never considered calling the cops and asking them to come to my house, on purpose. I resisted the suggestion, but the dispatcher was adamant: "They'll help you out," he said.

The cops arrived close to midnight and turned out to be quite nice. More importantly, they were also able to think rationally, which we were not. They were, of course, quite astonished by the situation: "I've never seen anything like this," Officer Mike kept saying. (The unusual circumstances helped us get quickly on a first-name basis with our cops.) Officer Tom, who expressed immediate sympathy for our plight -- "I've had cats all my life," he said, comfortingly -- also had an idea. Evidently we needed a certain tool, a tiny, circular rotating saw, that could cut through the heavy plastic flange encircling Rudy's neck without hurting Rudy, and Officer Tom happened to own one. "I live just five minutes from here," he said; "I'll go get it." He soon returned, and the three of them -- Rich and the two policemen -- got under the sink together to cut through the garbage disposal. I sat on the counter, holding Rudy and trying not to succumb to the surrealness of the scene, with the weird middle-of-the-night lighting, the room's occasional spinning, Lowell's spooky sound effects, an apparently headless cat in my sink and six disembodied legs poking out from under it. One good thing came of this: the guys did manage to get the bottom off of the disposal, so we could now see Rudy's face and knew he could breathe. But they couldn't cut the flange without risking the cat. Stumped.

Officer Tom had another idea. "You know," he said, "I think the reason we can't get him out is the angle of his head and body. If we could just get the sink out and lay it on its side, Ill bet we could slip him out." That sounded like a good idea at this point. ANYTHING would have sounded like a good idea, and as it turned out, Officer Mike runs a plumbing business on weekends; he knew how to take out the sink! Again they went to work, the three pairs of legs sticking out from under the sink surrounded by an ever-increasing pile of tools and sink parts. They cut the electrical supply, capped off the plumbing lines, unfastened the metal clamps, unscrewed all the pipes, and about an hour later, voila! the sink was lifted gently out of the countertop, with one guy holding the garbage disposal (which contained Rudy's head) up close to the sink (which contained Rudy's body). We laid the sink on its side, but even at this more favourable removal angle, Rudy stayed stuck.

Officer Tom's radio beeped, calling him away on some kind of real police business. As he was leaving, though, he had another good idea: "You know," he said, "I don't think we can get him out while he's struggling so much. We need to get the cat sedated. If he were limp, we could slide him out." And off he went, regretfully, a cat lover still worried about Rudy. The remaining three of us decided that getting Rudy sedated was a good idea, but Rich and I were new to the area. We knew that the overnight emergency veterinary clinic was only a few minutes away, but we didn't know exactly how to get there. "I know where it is!" declared Officer Mike. "Follow me!" So Mike got into his patrol car, Rich got into the driver's seat of our car, and I got into the back, carrying the kitchen sink, what was left of the garbage disposal, and Rudy. It was now about 2:00 a.m. We followed Officer Mike for a few blocks when I decided to put my hand into the garbage disposal to pet Rudy's face, hoping I could comfort him. Instead, my sweet, gentle bedfellow chomped down on my finger hard, really hard, and wouldn't let go. My scream reflex kicked into gear, and I couldn't stop the noise. Rich slammed on the brakes, hollering "What? What happened? Should I stop?", checking us out in the rear-view mirror. "No," I managed to get out between screams, "just keep driving. Rudy's biting me, but we've got to get to the vet. Just go!" Rich turned his attention back to the road, where Officer Mike took a turn we hadn't expected, and we followed. After a few minutes Rudy let go, and as I stopped screaming, I looked up to discover that we were wandering aimlessly through an industrial park, in and out of empty parking lots, past little streets that didn't look at all familiar. "Where's he taking us?" I asked. "We should have been there ten minutes ago!" Rich was as mystified as I was, but all we knew to do was follow the police car until, finally, he pulled into a church parking lot and we pulled up next to him. As Rich rolled down the window to ask, "Mike, where are we going?", the cop, who was not Mike, rolled down his window and asked, "Why are you following me?" Once Rich and I recovered from our shock at having tailed the wrong cop car and the policeman from his pique at being stalked, he led us quickly to the emergency vet, where Mike greeted us by holding open the door, exclaiming "Where were you guys???"

It was lucky that Mike got to the vet's ahead of us, because we hadn't thought to call and warn them about what was coming. (Clearly, by this time we weren't really thinking at all.) We brought in the kitchen sink containing Rudy and the garbage disposal containing his head, and the clinic staff was ready. They took his temperature (which was down 10 degrees) and his oxygen level (which was half of normal), and the vet declared: "This cat is in serious shock. We've got to sedate him and get him out of there immediately." When I asked if it was OK to sedate a cat in shock, the vet said grimly, "We don't have a choice." With that, he injected the cat; Rudy went limp; and the vet squeezed about half a tube of K-Y jelly onto the cat's neck and pulled him free. Then the whole team jumped into "code blue" mode. (I know this from watching a lot of ER.) They laid Rudy on a cart, where one person hooked up IV fluids, another put little socks on his paws ("You'd be amazed how much heat they lose through their pads," she said), one covered him with hot water bottles and a blanket, and another took a blow-dryer to warm up Rudy's now very gunky head. The fur on his head dried in stiff little spikes, making him look rather pathetically punk as he lay there, limp and motionless. At this point they sent Rich, Mike, and me to sit in the waiting room while they tried to bring Rudy back to life. I told Mike he didn't have to stay, but he just stood there, shaking his head. "I've never seen anything like this," he said again. At about 3 a.m, the vet came in to tell us that the prognosis was good for a full recovery. They needed to keep Rudy overnight to re-hydrate him and give him something for the brain swelling they assumed he had, but if all went well, we could take him home the following night. Just in time to hear the good news, Officer Tom rushed in, finished with his real police work and concerned about Rudy. I figured that once this ordeal was over and Rudy was home safely, I would have to re-think my position on the police.

Rich and I got back home about 3:30. We hadn't unpacked from our trip, I was still intermittently dizzy, and I still hadn't prepared my 8:40 class. "I need a vacation," I said, and while I called the office to leave a message cancelling my class, Rich made us a pitcher of martinis. I slept late the next day and then badgered the vet about Rudy's condition until he said that Rudy could come home later that day. I was working on the suitcases when the phone rang. "Hi, this is Steve Huskey from the Norristown Times-Herald," a voice told me. "Listen, I was just going through the police blotter from last night. Mostly it's the usual stuff breaking and entering, petty theft but there's this one item. Um, do you have a cat?" So I told Steve the whole story, which interested him. A couple hours later he called back to say that his editor was interested, too; did I have a picture of Rudy? The next day Rudy was front-page news, under the ridiculous headline "Catch of the Day Lands Cat in Hot Water."

There were some noteworthy repercussions to the newspaper article. Mr. Huskey had somehow inferred that I called 911 because I thought Rich, my husband, was going into shock, although how he concluded this from my comment that "his pads were turning blue," I don't quite understand. So the first thing I had to do was call Rich at work Rich, who had worked tirelessly to free Rudy -- and swear that I had been misquoted. When I arrived at work myself, I was famous; people had been calling my secretary all morning to inquire about Rudy's health. When I called our regular vet (whom I had met only once) to make a follow-up appointment for Rudy, the receptionist asked, "Is this the famous Rudy's mother?" When I brought my car in for routine maintenance a few days later, Dave, my mechanic, said, "We read about your cat. Is he OK?" When I called a tree surgeon about my dying red oak, he asked if I knew the person on that street whose cat had been in the garbage disposal. And when I went to get my hair cut, the shampoo person told me the funny story her grandma had read in the paper, about a cat who got stuck in the garbage disposal. Even today, over a year later, people ask about Rudy, whom a 9-year-old neighbour had always called "the Adventure Cat" because he used to climb on the roof of her house and peer in the second-story window at her.

I don't know what the moral of this story is, but I do know that this "adventure" cost me $1100 [£700-ish] in emergency vet bills, follow-up vet care, new sink, new plumbing, new electrical wiring, and new garbage disposal, one with a cover. The vet can no longer say he's seen everything but the kitchen sink. I wanted to thank Officers Tom and Mike by giving them gift certificates to the local hardware store, but was told that they couldn't accept gifts, that I would put them in a bad position if I tried. So I wrote a letter to the Police Chief praising their good deeds and sent individual thank-you notes to Tom and Mike, complete with pictures of Rudy, so they could see what he looks like with his head on. And Rudy, whom we originally got for free (or so we thought), still sleeps with me under the covers on cold nights and unaccountably, he still sometimes prowls the sink, hoping for fish."

On a sadder note, cats and kittens have sometimes been deliberately disposed of in garbage disposals. In some cases a child has fed kitty into the unit. In one case several newborn kittens were disposed of this way by a prison official. While Rudy and Patti's names may be forgotten in the course of time, the Garbage Disposal Cat, regardless of plausibility or otherwise, seems set to evolve into legend. Folk singer/songwriter Cindy Mangsen released a CD, "Cat Tales", and one of the songs is “Rudy’s Big Adventure”. Rudy's owner asserts that the story is not a myth.

THE LION CUT CAT

The following tale and photos have been doing the rounds of internet cat lovers. The photos have appeared on websites to be debunked. Having been taken in by "Snowball the Giant Mutant Kitty" and faked photos of "Bonsai Kittens", many cat lovers immediately said "fake", "internet hoax" or "urban myth". The story goes:-

"You won't believe this story. My sister-in law is from Oklahoma and has a slight accent. She has cats and when she lived in the south she would take them to the groomers and have what is called a Line Cut. To her a line cut is when all of the fur hanging down below the cat's tummy is taken off (because it gets matted or snarled). When she moved to Chicago with my brother, one of the cats fur got all tangled up during the move so she took it in for a line cut. She was quite surprised when she heard the price as it was twice as much as it was down south. She confirmed with the groomer that he understood what a line cut was and he said "yes, I know what a LION cut is." It seems her accent came out sounding like LION not LINE and this is how her cat was returned to her. She cried for a week...but not as much as the cat. It was November in Chicago and the cat needed all the fur it had. My brother, not a cat lover by any means, just laughed."

Many people have suggested that the photos show the head and paws of a Persian cat grafted onto the body of a Sphynx (hairless) cat. Some claim they can see a join where the photos have been edited. Others point out that the head is out of proportion to the body; although this seems to be due to perspective - the cat is leaning towards the camera, making its head appear larger. If you look at the photos closely, you can see the pile of the fur (like the pile of a carpet) on the cat's legs indicating that the cat has indeed been partially shaved in a style more often seen on Poodle dogs!

 

Anyone who has ever seen a shaved cat will know just how much of a cat's bulk is due to fur. Under all that fur, most cats are surprisingly skinny creatures. It is also quite feasible to have cats clipped or shaved by a vet or a groomer. Cats may be shaved because they have skin parasites or a skin condition which is more easily treated if the fur is removed, or because they have become badly matted or tangled or contaminated with grease etc and is safer to remove the contaminant entirely. In hot regions, longhaired cats are sometimes clipped in the hottest weather for their own comfort - long fur is, after all, a cold weather adaptation - fur is usually left on the legs, tail and head.

Cats with long belly fur are prone to picking up burrs and caked mud; usually only the belly is trimmed/shaved, sometimes the belly and part-way up the sides are trimmed/shaved. The other photos here are of a de-matted Persian with shaved belly and flanks, for comparison. Personally I've never heard a belly trim being called a "line cut", though I'm familiar with the canine version of the "lion clip". The groomer's confusion, combined with the owner's unfamiliar accent, is quite understandable!

THE MYTHICAL EGYPTIAN HAIRLESS CAT

As all cat loving "Friends" fans know, allergy sufferers can go get a hypoallergenic Egyptian Hairless Cat just like one of the TV characters did. It was on TV so it must be true! I've had plenty of people asking me where to find one and most don't believe me when I tell them they can't. "But it was on TV, it must be true!" The Egyptian Hairless Cat is a TV fiction which was accepted as fact and is now part of feline urban myth. Everyone knows someone who has one or has heard where to find one, but it seems that no-one can get hold of one first hand. A few people have been looking for the now-garbled version of this myth - the equally non-existent Chinese Hairless Cat. The only way you're likely to find a hairless cat in China is a skinned one - either cooked in Cantonese cuisine or from a cat fur farm (which supplies the fur used in some of those novelty fur-covered figurines and trinkets).

The fictional Egyptian Hairless was invented by the TV show Friends for one its episodes. It seems they didn't bother to announce that there was no such breed before or after the show. Maybe the writers just assumed that a cat called the "Sphynx" was an Egyptian cat. A fictional cat-allergy sufferer in the show gets a hypoallergenic Egyptian Hairless Cat. The TV show has high viewing figures so the idea of an Egyptian breed of hairless cat reached a lot of people. Most viewers would are not cat experts so they accepted it as fact. Some began looking for an Egyptian hairless for themselves or passed the "information" on to cat-allergic friends. It was quickly reported as fact by people (including vets) who did not bother to check facts, it has resulted in cat allergy sufferers searching in vain for a non-existent cat breed. Or two non-existent breeds thanks to the myth transmission errors which created the Chinese version!

Though many people believe that hairless cats are hypoallergenic and some people advertise hypoallergenic hairless cats, this is also a myth. For the vast majority of cat allergy sufferers, it is the dander (dried saliva and/or skin flakes) which contains the allergen and causes the allergic reaction, not the actual hair. Hairless cats may produce less dander, but they still produce enough to trigger a reaction in many people.

Anyone genuinely interested in a bald cat need not resort to the use of a shaver. The bald and wrinkly Sphynx (Canadian Hairless) is the best known and most common of the hairless cat breeds and was featured in the Austin Powers film. Two hairless Russian breeds exist: the Don Sphynx (Donsky) and Peterbald (St Petersburg Hairless) as there is also a Hawaiian Cat (Kohana Kat). In case anyone thinks this is a recent novelty, there have been reports of hairless cats in the past. The oldest hairless breed was the Mexican Hairless Cat which finally became extinct early in the 20th Century.. The French Sphynx appeared as a chance mutation a little before the Canadian Sphynx, but was not developed as a breed.

THE CAT WHICH FEELS NO PAIN

This tale usually goes something like: "There's this breed of cat in America which flops like a ragdoll and doesn't feel pain. The breeder calls the breed a Ragdoll and you can even toss it around like a cushion. And they are huge!"

The Ragdoll breed is still surrounded by early marketing hype created by its originator. Among other things, she claimed her cats were so floppy they can be tossed about; they didn't feel fear or pain; the floppiness was caused by the mother cat being in a road accident; they were genetically engineered and they had skunk or human genes! These tales have been repeated by gullible reporters over the years. The mother cat was indeed injured in a car accident, but this would not have affected any kittens conceived later on; or to put it another way, "it's about as likely as kittens being born with wheels". At the time the Ragdoll was first bred, there was no genetic engineering of cats so its genes are all cat genes; and in any case, any introduced genes would have affected the engineered cat and wouldn't be inherited by her kittens.

Most Ragdolls are very docile and laid back cats. Some, but not all, will relax to the point of floppiness when picked up by someone they trust. Many other cats "go flop" when picked up by their owners, just so long as they feel secure. The Ragdoll is bred for its good temperament as well as its looks, so this laid back attitude is "fixed" in the breed as a whole. The original breeder was indeed shown tossing one of her cats around. Again, some owners and their cats develop such a rapport that the cat trusts the owner to handle it in this way. I knew a Siamese cat who loved being tossed in the air and caught, just like a baby. Ragdolls are certainly substantial cats and among the largest of the breeds although this is not "huge"; their long fur makes them look larger still.

Finally there is the question of the cats not feeling pain or fear. A lack of pain response would have led to the breed being barred by cat registries in some countries, so vets were called upon to investigate the claim. Vets have stated that the cat has a normal response to pain. However, Ragdolls have quiet voices and may not cry out as loudly as other cats if their toe or tail is trodden on. Some give a "silent miaow" and a few don't seem to cry out at all. This is nothing to do with not feeling pain and everything to do with not yelling about it!

Page 126 of "The Definitive Guide to Ragdolls" (Lorna Wallace, Robin Pickering & David Pollard) carries an examination of certain behavioural and clinical characteristics of Ragdoll cats by Dr. Andrew S. Nash of the University of Glasgow Veterinary School in the UK. He notes "The assertion that Ragdoll cats do not perceive pain would appear to be totally false. [...] it would appear that these animals are quite normal members of the cat family and that claims for, or allegations of, any unique characteristics have most probably been over-stated and are without substantive foundation."

BRITISH WOMAN HAS CAT FLU
From our English Correspondent

A woman from Berkshire, England has made medical and veterinary history by being the first human being to get cat flu. Maureen Pitcairn went to her doctor complaining of respiratory problems. When her illness didn't respond to medication she underwent some hospital tests. She was stunned when, instead of telling her to stay in bed for a few days, Dr Andreo Huntley referred her to a veterinarian because she had cat flu!

"He told me I must have caught the cat flu from one of my five cats. But I knew that was impossible because my cats have had regular flu shots since they were kittens."

Dr Huntley referred Ms Pitcairn to her regular vet, David Caspian, DVM. Dr Caspian was astounded to have his client visit the clinic on her own behalf. "At first I thought this was some kind of a joke. She has five cats of her own and brings them for their flu shots each year. It is possible that she caught the cat flu from a friend's unvaccinated cat which was harboring the virus. I guess she'll be coming in for her own booster next time she brings the cats for their shots."

Ms Pitcairn is now recovering at home. As a precaution she is getting distemper shots as well.

Several factors indicate that this is a hoax or a joke. Cat flu (feline upper respiratory disease) is caused by viruses which cannot be caught by humans. Cat flu is the common British term for these ailments and cats can be vaccinated against these viruses. The term 'distemper' is not used in Britain; this illness is called Feline Infectious Enteritis. Distemper is the name of a dog disease in the UK. The qualifications DVM are not used in Britain. DVM (and less commonly DMV) are American qualifications. British vets are not called 'Dr'.

This newspaper cutting is from sometime in the 1980s. I have no details as to its authenticity - it certainly looks like a myth to me. It plays upon human gullibility and fear of catching diseases from our pets (as in 'The Foot-Licking Cat' and the tales about eating from the same plate as a cat). However, in this myth the owner's love for her cats overcomes any fear or disgust at contracting a cat-borne disease and she opts to suffer injections rather than give up her cats. In real life, there are many allergy sufferers who prefer to suffer shots or symptoms rather than live without their cat. That says a great deal for the cat-human relationship.

THE TIGER KITTENS

A friend of my hairdresser wanted to get into cat breeding, specifically she wanted to develop a completely new cat breed. When she saw adverts for Bengal x Siberian crosses she was very interested - most people would view these as moggies, but she thought there was potential for a whole new breed so she bought a male and a female kitten, both gorgeous golden tabbies. She was a little surprised at how big the kittens were, but put this down to the fact that Bengals are part wildcat and the Siberian is a big fluffy breed. However the kittens kept on growing, far bigger than any cat she was used to. They preferred raw meat to normal cat food and they were becoming more aggressive as they got bigger. They also didn't look anything like either a Bengal or a Siberian. Her vet was totally foxed by the way the cats kept on growing and referred her to an specialist in hormonal disorders. The specialist couldn't find anything wrong and he referred her to a behaviourist. The behaviourist had some experience with zoo animals and the moment he saw the oversized cats he knew what was wrong with them. They were certainly Bengal x Siberian hybrids, that is they were Bengal white tiger crossed with Siberian tiger! When the woman tried to contact the breeder, the number had been discontinued. The animal control agency told her there had been at least five similar cases in different parts of the country and the cubs had probably been bred by a travelling circus.

There is an unfortunate misunderstanding that the Bengal cat breed is a cross between a cat and a leopard. This misunderstanding has even been perpetuated on TV by a British breeder of Bengals. The Bengal cat breed is not related to the leopard. It is derived from crossing domestic cats and a small spotted wildcat species called the Asian Leopard Cat. To claim them to be a cross with a leopard is either a mistake or is dishonest.

A related canine version of this tale refers to a man who thought he'd bough a white German Shepherd puppy, but turned out to have a pure timber wolf! It was perfectly fine with his family, but the people in the next apartment complained that it kept howling at night.

THE BONSAI KITTEN LEGEND

I have to thank Folklorist Bill Ellis for his critique of this relatively new Internet legend about cats. It is a warning email which exists almost symbiotically with the target of its wrath. Paradoxically, the warning email may help keep the 'sick and obscene' website active. American readers will class it as a sick and cruel joke. British readers will recognise it as a "big wind-up" (a traditional form of deadpan humour involving satire, sarcasm and a vaguely plausible story). In Britain, there is an old joke list of "college courses" containing a course entitled "Bonsai Your Pet". I am British and can see the humorous content, but you have been warned. A chain email asks:

"Do you think it is nice to have an innocent kitty in a flask as an ornament? The bonsai-kitten website promotes the "art" of putting a kitten inside a flask and selling it as an ornament! The method is to put a newborn cat inside the flask so that the growing kitten's bones adopt the flask's shape. Bonsai kittens in flasks are already popular ornaments in Japan and Thailand. Complain to the webmaster at <email snipped>. Write to protest against this degrading act of idiots and sick people. Help put an end to this savage act. Instead of wasting your time in chat rooms or forwarding chain emails, co-operate to stop this cruel and stupid thing and forward this message to all the people you know. If you can do it with stupid mails, why not to do it with the important ones? I translated this mail from a Spanish one, so correct any mistakes because I'm not really a good translator. I don't know if sending him a mail will make him stop this sick and obscene thing, but at least it could make him (and all the ones that support this kind of things) think about it."

The United States Humane Society (USHS) website gives the result of an official investigation into the bonsai kitten story. The bonsai kitten website, though credited to a "Dr. Michael Wong Chang" of New York, was apparently an MIT student joke. The reference to a "Dr. Chang" (anti-Chinese slur) links this story to older ones that suggest that Orientals use cats (and dogs) for food. In fact the cats are eaten (and bred for their fur) in rural China, but not in Chinese restaurants in America or Britain, despite the regular scare stories about vanishing cats or finding half a German Shepherd Dog in the restaurant kitchen. Responding to many complaints, MIT shut the site down in December.

Meanwhile, the warning email has been translated into other European languages e.g. Italian (Micini bonsai: ORRORE!) and French (Les chatons "bonsai"!) and the intensity of the protest actually helped keep the site in existence through copies of the original site in other places. The USHS asked its patrons NOT to send email complaints as "the negative attention [the site's originator] has received has fueled the posting of the site in three separate locations and the formation of a group of supporters."

Although American in origin (comparable to the Scan Your Cat site which was received with great appreciation by British cat lovers with a good sense of humour) it is in the vein of a classic "British Wind-up". These are improbable tales delivered in a plausible manner to wind-up the listener like a key winding a watch-spring until it (the spring or the listener's credulity) snaps; for example a parody documentary. Wind-ups rely on satire and sarcasm, two modes of humour not common in America. There seems to be no equivalent of the wind-up in American culture and many Americans have problems appreciating that there is normally nothing inherently malicious about wind-ups. What cynical Brits saw as a wind-up which no-one would actually believe, Americans saw as a sick joke. Outraged emails are still doing the rounds in 2003.

THE HEADLESS CAT HOAX

A photo recently did the rounds of an apparently headless tabby cat held by a veterinarian sometime in 2000. According to accompanying text, the cat was found on a roadside in Lynchburg, Virginia, USA by a council employee whose job was to collect and dispose of corpses animals which had been run over. Half an hour after picking up the cat's body, he apparently noticed it was still breathing, albeit with difficulty. A rasping sound was coming from the cat's severed windpipe. He took it straight to an emergency vet. The headless cat, named Mags, became a local celebrity and was nursed back to health with an intravenous diet and a drinking straw to help her breathe. Mags supposedly survived because her central nervous took over all autonomic functions in the absence of the brain. She was adopted by an anonymous person, but was being studied by medical scientists including "renowned British veterinarian" Kenneth Hubsteed who wrote a medical book about "Mags the Amazing Headless Cat."

Sounds phoney? It is. The photo is a fake, with the cat's head digitally replaced by a section of sweater, giving a fuzzy area at the cat's shoulders. In higher animals, such as cats and ourselves, the central nervous system can't take control of functions such as breathing or temperature regulation. If it could, there would be dozens of French Guillotine survivors. In addition, if the carotid artery and jugular vein had been severed, the body would lost all of its blood. Even if some body functions could be taken over by the central nervous system, the lack of sensory organs (ears, eyes, nose, whiskers) and cerebrum (the "thinking" part of the brain) would have meant the animal remained in a persistent vegetative state, body-alive but brain-dead. Finally, there is no renowned British vet called Kenneth Hubsteed ... and a British medical book would never have the word "amazing" in the title; it would have been called something like "Case of post-decapitation survival in a domestic cat."

Mags the headless cat is a feline re-write of the famous "Mike the Headless Chicken". This unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) chicken survived decapitation because enough of the hind-brain was left for body systems to function and enough of the chicken's system is controlled by its hind-brain to make this possible. Mike's forebrain had gone, so the chicken itself wasn't able to appreciate its unusual mode of survival.

CATCHING CATFISH - USING KITTENS

This, unfortunately, is not entirely a myth. In July 2003, Italian fishermen were reported as using live kittens as bait for a huge sheat-fish. It is also not an uncommon practice. The fish (some of which can apparently reach over 1000 lb) are attracted to the thrashing kitten and gulp down the unfortunate kitten whole. Puppies and kittens have also been used as live bait in shark fishing, resulting in cruelty prosecutions by the French government.

However, a Save Our Cats and Kittens From Fishermen (SOCKFF) video circulating on the web was found to be a money-making fake. The video shows black cats supposedly dangling from a hook, and a gloved man supposedly putting a hook through a kitten's scruff. The camera shot is blocked at the last moment and the dangling kitten's skin is not stretched, indicating the kitten's weight is not being suspended from a hook through the skin. The owner of the website turned out to be Grady Warren who uses the video to peddle t-shirts, claiming to benefit charities. In fact the charities (PETA, US's SPCA, World Wildlife Fund, Humane Society of the US) may receive little or nothing as the site's disclaimer says "We are a for-profit Florida Corporation. We are promoting awareness of animal abuse ...." PETA, a notoriously radical group that has even opposed the keeping of pets, was so taken in by the video it proposed the term "sea kitten." However, the abuse depicted in the videos is fake. Or is it intended to be a re-enactment of the types of activities investigated in Europe? Such re-enactments are part and parcel of legitimate charity appeals; in the UK, Dogs Trust (National Canine Defence League) and the RSPCA both use actors and animal actors to represent the type of situation they deal with ... to the point of undermining their own credibility: viewers have wondered how on earth the same same grey and white do, can claim to be a Dogs Trust unfortunate at the same time as advertising Baker's dog food products!

However, also in July 2003, another cat was helping to catch fish in a very different way. Russian police battling fish smugglers are using a cat to sniff out contraband, including the caviar-producing Caspian Sea sturgeon. "Rusik" helps police in Stavropol conduct spot checks on vehicles and has distinguished himself with an outstanding nose for smuggled fish. This time, it is the cat who gets to eat (some of) the fish, although his effectiveness resulted in him being deliberately targeted and killed.

ANIMAL ACTIVISTS POISON CAT SHOW WATER BOWLS

This tale does the rounds from time to time on lists frequented by cat or dog breeders/exhibitors. Usually there's a covering note that the person who originally sent out the warning was at a show and confirmed the contents. Dog owners can substitute "dog" in place of "cat" in the below and there are variations in regional terminology, but the circulating emails are similar.

Warning to all who are showing (breed) at the (name of show)! PETA terrorists are putting antifreeze in water dishes when cats were out being shown in the ring. The handlers noticed the pink colour (they said it looked like Kool-Aid) and changed the water, discovering by the odd smell what it was. There was a warning over the loudspeaker not to put your cats into their pens without checking their water dishes first. Lots of people immediately took their cats out and locked them in their vehicles. We just decided that one of us would be guarding the pens at all times from now on. I am furious about it. This is what they consider Ethical Treatment of Animals? These are sick people!

Firstly, PETA would not want to risk its reputation by poisoning exhibited animals, but there are probably plenty of people who want to discredit PETA by using its name either in scaremongering emails or in real actions. PETA's reputation for making outrageous comments to get media attention can make it hard to separate fact from fiction. It is also the sort of organisation that attracts radical elements and may try to use the PETA name, but who do not follow the groups official policies. Many people associate PETA with "Keeping Pets is Slavery" type campaigns to outlaw pet ownership and this is still widely repeated on the internet today. I'm not a PETA supporter and I asked the same question on a cat-breeder mailing list in the mid-1990s - aren't PETA opposed to pet ownership, full-stop? The gist of the explanation follows. Apparently "pets = slavery" was apparently due to a single individual who became highly placed in PETA, using the organisation to promote her personal agenda. After she left, the organisation tried to dissociate themselves from the "pets = slavery" angle. PETA are anti-bad-ownership and have produced some pet-care magazines - hardly the actions of a group completely opposed to companion animals - but they have been unsuccessful in ridding themselves of the "keep pets is slavery" image (it's still recited over social networks by people). It's a case of one bad apple spoiling the whole barrel. Propagating the image, while ignoring that the organisation was subverted from within, is also very convenient for animal exploiters who want to discredit the organisation.

The claims of poisoning cats at cat shows has been recorded back in the late 19th century. It probably has a similarly long pedigree among dog exhibitors. Sadly it hasn't always been just a story and it's much the same as attempting to "nobble" greyhounds or racehorses so they don't win. Sometimes large sums of money are resting on a certain animal winning and there are efforts to eliminate the competition in order to get the desired result. In accounts of early cat shows (late 19th century) there are stories of unscrupulous exhibitors tainting the water of their competitors' cats or offering cats tainted meat. The idea was probably just to make the cats sick rather than kill them. In fact many cases of cats sickening during or after cat shows were due to diseases spread amongst the cats. Exhibitors were told to look out for suspicious people, especially people trying to put meat into the cages of exhibits. There were even reports of cats at shows being stabbed with hat-pins to remove them from competition. Sometimes there were rumours of which breeder was involved in getting rid of the competition; in fact such rumours still go round cat shows.

Apart from gamblers and other exhibitors, some radical animal activists might be interested in making show animals sick. They could then blame the show itself for stressing animals into being ill or simply scare exhibitors off showing cats. An "activist" who makes an animal suffer obviously doesn't put animals' interests foremost. Sadly there are a few people around who do like to harm animals. Some have even paid to get into cat shows in order to do so. At Kensington Olympia in the 1990s, exhibitors were warned that objects were being thrown from the balcony onto the exhibition pens below.

The "Animal Activist Group Poisons Show Animals" version sounds like another variant of the show-fixing reports dating back to at least the late 19th century. And while the animal welfare groups named in variations of the email aren't going to poison the animals they aim to protect from abuse, there will always be people who'd like to discredit them by passing such stories around.

FOOTNOTE

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.

FURTHER READING

Cabbits - What Are They?
Horned Cats
Kangaroo Cats and Squittens Revealed
Winged Cats - What Are They
Green Cats
Moggycat's Cat Pages - Folklore, fairy-tales and stories
Old Cat Fairy Story - Fairy tale referring to cats sucking infants' breath:

 

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