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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Science Says My Cat Might Be Slowly Poisoning Me ... And I'm Cool With That

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Jaroslav Flegr knows a lot about craziness and cat ownership. - THE ATLANTIC
  • The Atlantic
  • Jaroslav Flegr knows a lot about craziness and cat ownership.

Dear Jaroslav Flegr,

The other night I went to dinner with a friend, and while she was in the restroom I ate half of her sweet potato fries and then denied it. After I left the restaurant, I backed into someone's car in the parking lot and didn't leave a note. Then I went home, bumped my elbow on the kitchen counter, and got so mad I kicked the wall, leaving a smudged, grayish footprint on the white paint. When I move out, I'll deny that too.

When I fuck up these days, I don't take responsibility for any of it. No, instead I blame the parasites dwelling in my brain, pulling my strings, the most insidious of puppet masters. And it's all because of your research, featured in the March issue of The Atlantic, that I have this fabulous new scapegoat for my delinquency. I especially like to blame Toxoplasma gondii, or Toxo for short, a parasite frequently found in cat feces that has been shown to subtly alter human behavior. For relieving me of the crushing responsibility of being a good person, I must thank you.

I would like to extend my gratitude even though I scoop cat shit several times a week for my beloved kitties, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix, and have had ample opportunity for Toxo exposure. I also used to spend my summers taming barn cats on my grandmother's farm, and I've never met a stray I haven't at least tried to pet. (Seriously, I have stretched out on the pavement and tried to reach them under cars.) So if I really am infected, and Toxo is not just an abstract scapegoat but is actually getting comfy in my brain and making me its bitch, I respond thusly: Worth it.

Surely you understand my indifference. You, too, are a cat owner, Jaroslav, and don't tell me those soft, fluffy bellies and little pink toes don't make you melt. Also, I've seen your picture -- sloppy clothes, finger-in-the-electric-socket hair, intense yet mildly confused stare. Your eccentricities and self-destructive streak -- including your tendency to walk into oncoming traffic without flinching -- might be because of your Toxo infection, but it's all the same to me. You see, I also hate brushing my hair, and most days I look as though one could reasonably assume I slept in my car. I don't know about you, but I feel like we get each other.

Yet considering women's symptoms are typically the opposite of men's, including a heightened interest in personal appearance and a tendency to be more outgoing and trusting, I sort of doubt I'm infected. Come to think of it, I could probably benefit from infection. Always assuming everyone has an ulterior motive is exhausting, and my inattention to detail, like whether my pants are coffee-stained and whether I did, in fact, put makeup on both sides of my face, has probably blown more than one job interview, as has my tendency to get nervous, black out, and ramble incoherently about coffee, sleeping in, or other subjects in no way related to how I deal with conflict in the workplace, or whatever stupid question they asked me.

I will admit, though, that some of the scientifically backed assertions from you and your colleagues are troubling, particularly the fact that infected men experience what has been described in mice as "fatal feline attraction," or an appreciation for the scent of cat urine. As disturbing as that is, however, I would like to thank you again for helping me establish a healthy boundary that I will never cross in order to get laid.

I am also glad you're not urging people to get rid of their feline friends, especially because the parasite is uncommon in housecats. Still, I would like to respond to your heaping mound of science demonstrating Toxo's harmful effects with the following sidewalk illustration, drawn with leftover conversation hearts from Valentine's Day, demonstrating why cat companions are necessary:

Without cats, I am allergic to love.
  • Without cats, I am allergic to love.

Thanks again for being awesome. Remember to look both ways before crossing the street. And let me know whether you'd like to get together for tea sometime and then maybe rip off a gas station or a liquor store and blame it on the parasites.



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Angela Lutz


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