CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Community News Network

December 6, 2012

Slate's Explainer: Do housecats ever kill people?

An Illinois man planned to kill a rival for his wife's affections by electrocuting him and then framing the victim's cat for the murder. Brett Nash was arrested for the bizarre plot in January and pleaded guilty on Tuesday. Do cats ever kill people?

Not grown-ups. Rabies deaths notwithstanding, the Explainer is unaware of any incidents in which a house cat has killed its able-bodied adult owner.

Cats can, however, inflict a pretty gruesome mauling. In 2010, a postpartum cat in Idaho bit her owner 35 times, going back for a second round of scratches and bites after the owner washed off the blood. Last year, a Cleveland man was airlifted to a hospital after a brawl with his tabby cat.

Fights with humans usually don't end well for felines. The New York Times reported a dramatic scene in 1921, when a pet Angora clamped down on the finger of a Manhattan woman who was riding in the tonneau of her husband's car. The husband responded by strangling the cat to death, although that didn't stop an arriving police officer from drawing his weapon against the lifeless feline. It wasn't the last time the NYPD had to face down a house cat: A year later, after being bitten by a cat on Columbus Avenue, a police officer shot the animal dead with his revolver.

Cats occasionally kill infants, but the deaths are accidental. In the early 1980s, a Norwegian father discovered his cat sleeping on the face of his 5-week-old baby. Although the father administered CPR, the child eventually died from the aftereffects of asphyxiation. (A doctor's report suggested that cats might be responsible for some cases of sudden infant death syndrome.) In 1931, a Connecticut cat took a nap on the chest of a 4-month-old child, smothering him. There were several reports of similar incidents in the 19th century.

Smothering deaths appear to have given rise to a widespread myth that cats suck the breath from sleeping infants. The cat was supposed to have aligned its nostrils with those of a sleeping baby, using its chin to hold the child's mouth shut. The cat's motivation varies depending on who tells the tale. Some say cats are drawn irresistibly to the smell of breast milk on a baby's breath, while others believe jealousy is to blame.

Ernest Hemingway called proponents of the wives' tale "ignorant and prejudiced," and bragged that his own cat, Feather Puss, guarded his son while he slept. Physicians have also tried to dispel the myth, and even Dear Abby urged new parents not to give away their cats. (She did, however, recommend keeping them away from infants.) The myth, however implausible, has proven quite durable. In 1982, a North Carolina folklorist passed on a version of the tale in the Mount Airy News, adding that the cat's paws were " 'bird working' back and forth" on the baby's ribs while it sucked the child's breath. The myth-debunking website Snopes took on the story more recently.

If your cat really is intent on gnawing you to pieces, it will probably wait until you're already dead. Cats often scavenge dead bodies and occasionally cause problems in the mortuaries of hospitals in the developing world, where they are sometimes kept for pest control.

Despite all its licking and unconditional affection, you should fear your dog much more than your cat. According to CDC data, dogs killed 167 Americans over the age of 14 between 2001 and 2010.

               

Got a question about today's news? ask-the-explainer@yahoo.com.

               

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 18, 2014

  • quake.jpg Pennsylvania won’t take action following Ohio ruling on quakes, fracking

    Pennsylvania officials plan no action despite new Ohio rules on drilling that affect a seismically active area near the state line.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 17, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo