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Friday, January 05, 2007

Death Threat

The story on the radio was about cats, so of course I shushed the children and listened attentively. Cats vs. Birds. Cats, the predatory blight on the bird population. The lead into the story accused cats of killing millions of birds.

I know cats can kill birds. When Ben first began insinuating his way into our family, he would leave us offerings on the porch. I delighted at every garden blight—the moles and gophers, but the yellow down of finch or the innocent crest of tit mouse (not a mouse at all but a perfectly charming bird) filled me with shame and remorse. Once Ben was ours, I belled him and started to transition him to being an indoor cat. I spoke to my neighbor, Peggy, who had been his caregiver (along with about 20 other cats) about belling her cats. She looked at me incredulously, “But then I would be denying them the taste of bird!”

You know the issues. The back and forth—are cats destroying the bird population—or is it development and all the other mitigating factors. Reknown biologist Roger Tabour swears that it isn’t cats at all. That studies of the contents of hunting cats stomachs (outdoor cats killed by cars and other mishaps) demonstrate that the vast majority of the contents are rodents and garbage—not birds.

But the story on NPR was prefaced with certainty that cats were the culprits. The scientists putting together a new data study were open to the option that perhaps cats’ control of the rodent population actually provides more opportunities for birds to flourish—it’s a possibility since rodents are also an enemy of birds.

Then the story veered toward the dramatic. Another bird scientist had been advocating that hunters shoot any feral cats they see on sight. On the radio, he exclaimed to the interviewer that he had received numerous death threats. Real death threats left on his answering machine because of his position on this issue. He played one and it went something like this, “You are a cat murderer. A cat murderer and let me tell you, what goes around comes around. I officially declare open season on you.” The woman’s voice (and you knew it would be a woman) tore at my heart—her pain and her passion evocative of every road-side carcass of soft fur, mangled into meat by a swift moving car. But deliberate. To take aim and fire at the one who shares your bed at night, licks your tears, welcomes you home.

In the story, this woman was dismissed, cast aside with no more consideration than the boast that she is now in prison. And the story returned to the birds.

Who is this woman? Does anyone out there know more about her story? This hysterical voice on an answering machine. This hysterical voice and her agonizing commitment to Karma. Who is now in prison. Nameless prisoner—female vigilante for cats. If you know anything about her—will you post it here? In the comments? I want to know her back story.

Is she a convict now because of that voice message?

When they tossed around the term death threat, I expected someone who had purchased a gun and knew the guy’s address. Someone with a Columbine kind of determination. What I heard was a woman who day in and out traps and neuters and releases cats, who scrimps and saves every penny to feed other people’s cast offs. A woman who hand-raises kittens and spends every Saturday of her life at Petco or Petsmart hoping to find a good home for her charges. A woman who heard that this scientist was pushing for legislation that would make it legal to shoot outdoor cats on sight, because some people believe that they are a threat to the bird population. I heard a woman consumed by grief.

A woman who spilled her rage over the phone and then was cast off, silenced, imprisoned.

There must have been more to this story—some real threat, some tangible threat to end up in prison. Something more than ‘What comes around goes Around—I declare open season on you.”

This story did not help the status of cats. It did not mention all the cat activists that advocate keeping cats indoors. It did not mention numerous studies that provide opposing viewpoints. It did not mention the individual feline lives at stake in this human drama.

I am left unsettled. This story is a pinpoint on the map that connects the status of women with the status of cats. A story so unsettling that it is easily dismissed. Wicked Women and Their Wicked Cats. It is the undercurrent that has followed us for centuries from being burned alive together on the stake to the present day—the subtle innuendo of a radio news story.

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