Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Nine Deaths

Some have been considered sacred:  others have been thought infernal.  They can survive falls out of nine story windows. Their poop may control minds.

Cat, the cutest domestic bringer of death ever.  Image from the book I Like Cats, found on the great BibliOdyssey
I refer (of course) to the humble house-cat, click-bait before there even was the internet, nine-lifed check on rodent populations from Maine to Manchuria.  While most cat-obsessives fawn over the live specimen, some have found themselves obsessed with cat death.

Robert Darnton studied a ritual massacre of cats done by print-makers' apprentices in eighteenth century France.  Curiosity can kill the cat, at least proverbially.  Yet that little bit of lore has been twisted by history.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the phrase was Care killed the cat.  So cats die because we loved them too much?  Not so fast.  When the phase was first recorded way back in Shakespeare's day, the care in care killed the cat referred not to love and affection, but rather to worry and affliction.  So which one is the cat's kryptonite?  Fear, love, or curiosity?  Or Frenchmen?

Before you mourn for the cats, know that they are not innocent of death.  A study suggests that one in three house-cats are killers, and these cats average two kills a week.  This accounts for the deaths of an estimated 4 billion birds every year.  In Australia the feral cat is guilty of extinguishing countless native bird species.  The Caribbean Hutia (which may have its last remaining home in Guantanamo bay), the Guadalupe Storm Petrel, and the Stephen's Island Wren are all victims of the cat's menace, at least according to Wikipedia.