Yes, yes. You’re all so very clever and funny.
Seemingly, anyone who’s ever befriended me on Facebook, or lived in my neighborhood, or baby-sat my kids has been sending me adorable photos of cats. And equally adorable cat jokes/stories. And humorous videos of the playful little darlings.
One co-worker even went so far as to present me with the latest issue of Cat Fancy magazine. And yes, there really is a magazine by that name. (This month’s big news? Stem cell therapy for cats.)
What precipitated this feline-based hilarity? A column I wrote a few weeks ago wherein I made the mistake of reporting the statistic that Utah is dead last among the states in cat ownership. And in that column, I may or may not have inadvertently given the impression that — at least personality-wise — cats do not compare favorably with the world’s most infamous evildoers.
Of course, cat lovers immediately came out of the woodwork, berating me for my narrow-minded, bigoted viewpoint. A sampling of responses from our website:
• “The fact that cats don’t like you is a measure of the cat’s intelligence.”
• “One of my life guiding ‘factoids’ has been to never ever trust anyone who hated cats or dogs. It has never let me down.”
• “What kind of news story is this? why don’t you do news ... this is distraction. Its articles like this that keep this state in the dark ages.”
• Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwk! Dat es a hairball I hock up in your general direction!”
Well, I hate to say I told you so, but ... I soooo told you so.
Because while it would be easy to pass this off as a simple difference of opinion (I don’t care for cats, others prefer them to certain columnists), it’s a bit more complicated than that. Turns out, I’m trying to save humanity here, while others are unwittingly hastening its extinction. Permit me to explain:
Mixed in with the hate mail and the cat-centric mementos, I got an email from Sam Zeveloff, chairman of the department of zoology at Weber State University. And he basically confirmed my suspicions about cats and their nefarious plans for the human race. A confirmation, by the way, that completely and utterly vindicates my anti-cat rhetoric. Our scientist wrote:
Enjoyed your latest column. (OK, clearly Dr. Z falls under the “mad scientist” category.) Cats are potentially even more of a problem than indicated. Check this out; they may be infecting us and modifying our behavior!
Dr. Z had attached a chilling article by Susan Milius of ScienceNews magazine about some of the latest feline research. Turns out, scientists have found a parasite in cats that might do all sorts of horrible stuff to humans — up to and including ... MAKING THEM ZOMBIES!
That’s right, we’re talking about a parasite — found in cats — that can worm its way into a human’s brain and potentially alter how we think, feel and even act.
The culprit is the one-celled Toxoplasma gondii, a cat parasite now found in an estimated one-third of people worldwide. Although it can only have sex inside the guts of cats (how’s THAT for a creepy fetish?), it can live a life of celibacy quite nicely inside our muscle and brain tissues, more or less patiently waiting for an opportunity to jump to a feline and start gettin’ jiggy widdit.
And, once this little hitchhiker establishes itself inside the human body, it can wreak all sorts of havoc. Starting with a “low-grade, achy, flulike discomfort” — and to those of you fighting a bug right now, I wouldn’t worry; it’s probably nothing — T. gondii can cause eye infections that scar the retina. It can increase the risk of miscarriage and developmental damage to fetuses. An untreated infection can kill those with suppressed immune systems.
But the most frightening potential risk is when this cat parasite invades an otherwise healthy brain. Researchers say the organism may actually tweak a person’s personality and increase the risk of suicide attempts (studies show infected women have a higher risk of “self-directed violence”), brain cancer and schizophrenia. Basically, according to the ScienceNews article, researchers have accused the organism of “mind control and other mind-jacking stunts in affected humans.”
Still think domesticated cats are such a good idea?
Admittedly, this would be a mild case of zombie-ism — certainly not your full-fledged, flesh-eating variety. Still, all this hardly seems worth it for the privilege of cleaning out a litter box.
And so, to all of you cat people out there who called me those angry, hurtful names, I just want you to know that I forgive you. I know it wasn’t your fault.
The cat was controlling you.
Contact Mark Saal — who’s been walking around the newsroom chanting “I ... must ... kill ... the ... queen” — at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.