Living: A Comeuppance for Cats

Ailurophobia is breaking out all over the place

The trouble with a kitten is THAT Eventually it becomes aCAT. —Ogden Nash

The American cat of any age or gender enjoys semisacrosanct status approaching that of the holy cow in India. There are some 25 million pet felines in the U.S.; their care and feeding cost up to $1.8 billion a year, which is more than the defense budget of Brazil. Yet, deep in the American psyche, there is evidently a bristling resentment of Felis domestica. This has erupted in a litter of books that celebrate a new and fast-growing cult of ailurophobia (hatred or fear of cats).

The most controversial is 101 Uses for a Dead Cat (Clarkson N. Potter, $2.95), which has sold 600,000 copies since publication last April and has headed the trade paperback bestseller list for twelve straight weeks. It is a collection of mordant and often macabre cartoons by English Artist Simon Bond, who is violently allergic to living cats but has no end of ingenious notions for recycling cadavers. The Charles Addams of ailurophobia, he sees deceased tabbies as admirable substitutes for more conventional objects ranging from anchors to wine holders (not to mention cat’s cradles and cat-o’-ninetails). Bond’s graphic suggestions have triggered a barrage of ailurophiliac mail charging the cartoonist and publisher with everything from obscenity to sadism. Among furious readers’ suggestions are sequels titled 101 Uses for a Dead Simon Bond and, to his publisher, 101 Ways to Go Broke.

Another paperback bestseller, The Second Official I Hate Cats Book (Holt Rinehart Winston; $3.95), makes no pretense whatever of liking Felis. The animals pictured by Cartoonist Skip Morrow are uniformly fat and dumb—and alive—and they get a variety of comeuppances in ways that manage to be amiably humorous. The two I Hate books have 575,000 copies in print. They too have stirred a barrage of virulently pro-feline protest mail.

The cruelest is to be published this week. Cat Hater’s Handbook, subtitled The Ailurophobe’s Delight (Avenel; $2.98) and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, goes after cats as if they were creatures of the devil (some people think they are). Ailurophobe Author William Cole contends that cats are cruel, treacherous, unloving, smelly and parasitical. Cole assails the vaunted feline IQ, quoting a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History as saying that “a judgment from the literature would put the intelligence of cats below dogs and above rats.” According to another researcher, the cat “is no philosopher, no mechanician, no student of human affairs; merely . . . cherished for her air of aloofness and that aura of mystery which surrounds her.” About the only good thing Cole has to say about the creature is culled from the continental reporter Labouchere, who noted that cats became a gourmet item during the 1870 siege of Paris. Their flavor, he recorded, is “something between a rabbit and a squirrel, with a flavor of its own. It is delicious. Don’t drown your kittens. Eat them.” Publishing industry sources would not confirm rumors that a book of recipes is being hurried into print.

Why, all of a sudden, should sick cat jokes prove so appealing? For one thing, since the triumph of Poland’s Solidarity union movement, Polish jokes are out. For another, many people are being made aware of long-hidden resentment of the pampered pets and their golden-eyed contempt toward the humans privileged to support them. Pop Psychologist Joyce Brothers regards ailurophobia, at least in its literary form, as a harmless put-on. “If you get upset at this,” she says, “you have too much emotional involvement in your pet.” Harvey Mindess, an authority on the psychology of humor, sniffs: “101 Uses proves that there are a lot of ten-year-olds in the buying public.” Mindess speculates that Simon Bond was probably once “rejected by a voluptuous Siamese.”

All this may only be the beginning. Bond’s publisher received an approving letter from an organization on the Arabian gulf known as the Bahrain Dead Cat Society (slogan: FELIX MORTE). The society’s letterhead notes that it is affiliated with the North American Dead Dog Society, the Kenyan Institute for Crushed Aardvarks and the Fiji Squashed Squid Squad.

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