People who don’t have cats don’t care, and people who do have cats are usually too busy arranging their online photo albums (Mr Spanky, subfolder “Outdoors”, subfolder “Lying on his side”, subfolder “Thursday”, subfolder “10am-11am”) to make much of a fuss.
Still, it’s safe to assume that a few million Americans marked Thursday’s festival with a tin of tuna or a wind-up mouse or a specially commissioned oil painting of cat and human in matching woolen hats, standing on an Alp at sunrise.
Gifts would have been given. Hugs would have been administered – “I wuv you more dan anything in de whole wide world, yes I do! Yes I – aw, why are you wriggling? Stay with me! Why do you always fight me? No! No biting! Bad Mr Spanky! Bad kitty ca – aaa! My eyes! My eyes!”
But even as tempers flared, humans would have been careful to keep their cats away from the internet in case they saw the latest statements by former star Bridget Bardot or singer-cum-novelist Morrissey.
In case you don’t have “cat genocide” set as a Google alert, here’s the story so far. Feral kitties are wiping out vast numbers of indigenous animals in Australia. That country’s government plans to cull about 2million of the critters. It has the backing of environmental groups. What it does not have, however, is the backing of Bardot or Morrissey.
Both have condemned Canberra’s plans. Disappointingly, they haven’t done it through the medium of French film or terrible prose, but they have used words like “genocide” and “idiocy” to describe the cull.
I understand their anger. Kitties are precious fur-people. The trouble is, kitties are also monstrous killing machines that will not stop until they have wiped out all life on Earth. The science is clear: among animals that move on all fours, they are pretty much the worst thing ever. And science includes Miley Cyrus on that list, so that’s saying a lot.
On the day that America celebrated its cats, the little fuckers slaughtered 60 million animals. I’m not making that up. American kitties kill more than 3 billion birds and as many as 20 billion small mammals every year. That’s 730 kills a second. In the time it’s taken you to read this far, American cats have filled your living room to the ceiling with carnage. And that’s just in the US.
In the rest of the world, Mr Spanky has made dozens of species extinct for no other reason than that he felt like it.
Sometimes all it takes is one kitty with lots of time on its hands. At the end of the 19th century, Stephens Island off New Zealand got a new lighthouse keeper. With him came his cat, a certain Tibbles. A few years later, the flightless Stephens Island wren was extinct, and Tibbles was burping and wiping feathers off his face.
These numbers give the lie to any cat owners who try to claim that they are environmentally conscious. The bottom line seems to be fairly damning: if you own a cat and allow it out of doors, you are an accessory to a vast ecological crime.
But there is hope for cat owners in the form of a tried and tested legal defence. I’m not referring to insanity, although we’ve all had that awkward moment when an otherwise rational adult starts describing their cat’s appreciation of irony. No, I’m talking about the plea of diminished capacity; specifically the possibility that cat owners are being controlled by their kitties.
I’m not a scientist and I wouldn’t want to claim that we’re dealing with a parasite that slowly turns the infected into cat-obeying zombies, but that’s pretty much exactly what’s happening.
The villain is a parasite carried by cats called Toxoplasma gondii. Its effects on mice are dramatic: animals that have been infected via cat urine are generally less fearful of cats, with the result that more of them get eaten. It’s not quite a horde of zombie mice sleepwalking into cats’ dinner plates, but it’s close.
Where it gets a bit creepy, though, is when some scientists see behavioural changes in humans infected with the parasite. According to Jugoslav Flegr, the scientists whose research into cat zombies won him the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize, infected humans show diminished fear of dangerous situations. They are twice as likely to be killed in car accidents, one explanation being that their reflexes have slowed because their brains aren’t that fussed with keeping them alive any more.
So is your cat trying to kill you? Of course not. But it is trying to make you less suspicious. And when you die, perhaps by slipping on the kitty litter (how did it get there?), it will eat your corpse, and purr – until Toxoplasma gondii tells it to kill again.
First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail