My psychopathic pet

At least this bird was safe from Charlie photo: john zipperer

Forget Spot or Professor Fluffball; meet Hannibal Licker.

Earlier this year, the media had a field day writing about a study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that reported that outdoor felines were responsible for a much higher killing spree than previously thought. According to the author’s summary on, We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality.

As I digest that information and look at my tuxedo cat, Ashes, I know she looks and acts adorable, but she’s thinking, Those birds had it coming. Perhaps, Ashes, perhaps. But of course it also suggests that we have to come to terms with two things: First, people helped cause this problem by letting cats breed like, um, rabbits; and second, it should hardly be big news that a carnivorous animal eats other animals.

Frankly, behavior we find adorable in our cats is behavior that we usually would diagnose as psychopathic in a human. Felines are amazingly selfish, relentlessly predatory, and totally amoral — if they “behave” according to our “rules,” it is because they don’t see another way of getting what they want.

This, of course, is not as crazy as the humans who contacted the authors of that Smithsonian study with whining, threatening, vilifying messages. When your cat is better behaved than you are, then it’s time to take a time-out.

“Those who dislike [cats] see them as sneaky, moody, manipulative, even off-puttingly feminine,” Jessica Pressler wrote in a June 9, 2013, article for New York magazine. “But to the majority, cats are beloved. Currently, nearly 90 million occupy roughly one third of American homes, and … there are signs that we are again living in an age of cat deification, the most obvious being that we allow them to poop in boxes inside of our homes.”

In a city like San Francisco, with densely populated neighborhoods and a large population of cat owners, certainly good neighborliness would behoove more people to keep their cats indoors rather than letting them roam free for nocturnal hunting.

Ashes and her bully of a brother, the big Maine coon Charlie, never see the great outdoors. They are perfectly happy with this arrangement. Both of them were rescue cats, the products of unbridled passions between unknown feline ships that passed in the night but paused long enough to make kitty whoopee. Now they are condemned to a lifetime of indoors pampering; two people who fuss over them; a nice home to sleep, eat, and use the litter box in; and a steady supply of expensive and healthful cat food, which really only means they’ve got humans somewhere else who kill those birds and fish and mice and convert them into packaged cat food so they don’t have to do it themselves.

Psychos, I know.

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