February 2016

Line in the Sand: Shall We Kill Every Cat in the U.S.?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman

If you’re wondering how Courtney and I happened on the subject of felinicide this month, you have the Island Packet’s Liz Farrell to thank for that. A while back, Liz tagged the pair of us in a Facebook post linking to a 1921 edition of the Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review that featured a format eerily similar to A Line in the Sand. In this particular debate, “enemy of the cat” Rockwell Sayre and the American Cat Association’s Mrs. George Kessler had taken to their typewriters to determine whether or not we should kill every cat in the U.S. I am not joking; this was apparently up for debate in 1921.

And while the dispute in this case was obviously settled long ago (95 years on and, to my knowledge, we have not killed all the cats), could it be time to reopen it? Could the complications from “the cat problem” warrant a second look?

When it turned out Courtney was secretly pro-cat, our answer was a resounding “Sure, why not?”

Before I begin extolling all my reasons why we have to get around to killing some cats, I’d like to introduce a few caveats. First, I am the owner of a cat; inasmuch as anyone is the owner of a cat. Her name is “Phatima del puss puss la gata negro con pantalones y Chewbaccalips” and she is my cat because she hates me a little bit less than she hates other people. She shows this diminished loathing by constantly demanding I pet her RIGHT NOW I DON’T CARE THAT YOU’RE ON A CONFERENCE CALL and by purring ever so slightly when she bites me. She also, bless her little blackened heart, always pees on the same armchair, so we never have to guess where the smell is coming from.

The second caveat is that while I’m generally pretty anti-cat, I am in no way as bloodthirsty about it as my 1921 counterpart, “enemy of the cat” Rockwell Sayre. I base this on the following sentence, which I swear to God appears in the news article: “Killing cats is the most popular movement ever started, and the jolliest. Everybody smiles and kills cats and then smiles. Smiles come first and smiles come last, and cats pass out between.” At one point, and again this is all true, Sayre was paying strangers a dime a piece for anyone who brought him a fresh cat corpse. Long story short, this guy was super crazy, even by 1920s standards.

While I’m not insinuating it’s going to make anyone all smiles, and I’m certainly not paying anyone a dime a head, I still think we should probably kill some cats. For starters, there are too damn many of them. Have you ever driven around the Lowcountry? Have you seen all those cats? What do we need these cats around for? Who decided we should have this many cats? Swarms of volunteers spend precious time spaying these wild animals so they don’t breed and feeding them so they don’t get into people’s garbage. You know what would be a lot easier than spaying them all then waiting a generation for there to be no cats? Yup – killing ’em all now and being home in time for Judge Judy.

Some of you might point out that they help keep the rodent population down; have you people ever seen a mouse? They’re adorable. Clearly we’ve bet on the wrong side in this debate.

And it’s not just the mice these jerks have scared off. When I first moved into my house, I had a wonderful family of foxes living just beyond my back fence. We named them Megan, Michael J and 20th Century. You could go out there every morning and see them scampering about, wrestling with one another or just enjoying a moment of sunshine. It was like communing with nature every day, watching a family of wild creatures and knowing we shared the same land, the same earth.

Then a colony of feral cats moved in and chased all the foxes out. Suddenly instead of majestic vulpine frolicking that let us glimpse into the wild kingdom, we had a bunch of cats engaging in the typical cat activities: sitting there being useless and fixing everything with a look of bitter scorn. These miserable fat freeloaders displaced one of the finest displays of nature I’ve ever witnessed, all for their own wretched lazy ends.

So, yes, this is personal. But I could go on and on about all the personal affronts I’ve suffered from cats. I have a lifelong allergy to them (and yes, I keep one in my house but only because she won’t leave) and one of them once took a nice chunk out of my dog’s face when he was doing his dog duty and chasing it out of our yard.

But even with my own personal motivations aside, look into your heart and ask yourself: should I kill a bunch of cats? I think you’ll know the right answer. And if it helps, I’m willing to go as high as a nickel a corpse. 

Editor’s Note:
Before you craft an aggressive email to the editor about Barry’s cold-blooded comments, please be advised that this is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek column. The staff at CH2 has adopted four feral office cats that are loved and fed daily. We even assumed financial responsibility for their actions when one of them pushed a squirrel out of a tree and he plunged to his death. The squirrel didn’t make it, despite our best efforts at rushing him to the vet. Damn cats.

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Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson
Over 500 cats were euthanized in Beaufort County in 2015.

This should make Barry very happy, since his cold heart would purport that all cats should be murdered anyway. This surprises me, as I always assumed that with his teddy bear exterior, Barry’s interior would be equally as sweet and cuddly. Not so. “I could be pro-felinicide,” Barry said. Challenge accepted Kaufman, challenge accepted. I’ll be the crazy cat lady. In fact, I am more than okay with that. We already know that I prefer canines to people, so why not throw in a cat or two, or 20 or a million?

Truth be told, it isn’t the first time this debate has occurred. In 1921, in the Bisbee (Arizona) Daily Review, Rockwell Sayer and Mrs. George Kessler (topic for another time, but darn it drives me batty when women don’t use their own name) argued this very topic under a headline that read, “Shall We Kill Every Cat in U.S., Bitter War Is Being Waged Over Felines.” George’s nameless bride argued in favor of saving every cat, and Rockwell said, “Kill ‘em all.” How lovely. And, how lucky his bride to be married to a man who wrote, “Killing cats is the most popular movement ever started, and the jolliest. Everybody smiles and kills cats and then smiles. Smiles come first and smiles come last, and cats pass out between.” Hmmm. To quote Elf, “Smiling is my favorite.” Yet, I don’t associate it with killing animals.

Of course men would argue in favor of the extinction of felines. Cats are, after all a symbol of femininity and strength. They are wholly independent, and we all know that there is nothing an insecure man hates more than an independent woman (e.g. women who don’t lose their first name when they get married). So, I would argue that this is a gender issue and you, Barry, are obviously sexist.

Even a century ago, pop culture (such as it was) used cats as a symbol in suffragette imagery. In 2013, Corey Wrenn (a sociology instructor at Colorado State University) published a story in The Society Pages (TSP), an open-access social science project headquartered in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, saying that “cats represented the domestic sphere, and anti-suffrage postcards often used them to reference female activists. The intent was to portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement. Cats were also used in anti-suffrage cartoons and postcards that featured the bumbling, emasculated father cruelly left behind to cover his wife’s shirked duties as she so ungracefully abandons the home for the political sphere. Oftentimes, unhappy cats were portrayed in these scenes as symbols of a threatened traditional home in need of woman’s care and attention.”

Makes sense. I mean why would men want women to have the right to vote, when their time could be so much better spent tending to domestic chores? Not.

The “cat lady” stereotype does women no favors, assuming women with cats are either career-driven women who can’t seem to (or want to) land a man or mentally ill women who hoard. And think about the connotative meanings behind feline-related words – “cougar,” “sex-kitten,” “catfights.”
For me, getting a cat was like the gateway drug to a dog (or perhaps for others, motherhood). Young woman ventures out on her own, gets her first real job, and her first real apartment. Can’t handle a dog quite yet (or landlord won’t allow canines), so cat it is.

My first fur-baby was a cat I named Skye. I brought her home in a shoe box, just a few weeks old, with eyes so blue they were almost purple and matched the color of the summer sky over the Atlantic Ocean that night. She spent her first weeks sleeping on my chest, tucked under my chin, and eliciting sneezing fits that shook the walls. I quickly got over my cat allergies and she quickly graduated to an “I don’t care attitude” and would sit perched on the dining room table, because she knew it drove me crazy.
She was with me for 14 years, through four relationships, seven jobs, nine homes (included two stints back at my mom’s), and three states, until one morning when something wasn’t right. I found her vomiting, shaking, struggling for breath and balance.

As her legs went limp beneath her I lost it. I rushed her to the vet’s office where they whisked Skye into the back and immediately started an IV and began a battery of tests. It happened so quickly that I never took the time to consider what the outcome would be. I guess I hoped it was a virus, the kitty flu, something treatable and I would walk out with a prescription and my Skye.

Unfortunately, that is not how this story ends. I had to say goodbye to Skye with little warning and no preparation. They gently brought her back to me so I could say my goodbyes. I whispered in her ear and told her about when I first brought her home 14 years ago, and how she used to sleep right on my chest. I reminded her that I loved her, that she was my first “baby” and will always hold a special place in my heart. And, I apologized for yelling at her the night before when she missed the litter box. That was utterly heartbreaking. If I had known I would be saying goodbye, I would have cuddled her next to me all night.

Skye drifted to sleep, with my hand on her head, and my nose to hers, crying like my heart was breaking. And, it was.

So, before we murder all the cats, and judge all of the women with cats, maybe we could—if just for a second—consider why we choose cats as companions. Maybe, just maybe it is because they represent everything we want to be.

Me.Ow. 

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