The last time I saw Titanic was in a movie theater 25 years ago when the film was just released, its theme song was befouling airwaves and its director, James Cameron, was playing at deep sea explorer in the Mariana Trench. (Cameron would return for an expedition more than a decade later, matching the depth of a science team who made the dive decades earlier, but doing it solo. His interest had been sparked by the work he did on Titanic.)
I remember feeling restless as the movie dragged out, then incredulous as women and girls all around me sniffled, dabbed at their eyes with tissues and even sobbed! Teenage Big Buddy could not comprehend it.
But this version of Titanic? It’s more my speed, coming in at an economical 1:07 running time and featuringOwlKitty in place of Kate Winslet:
As you can see, Winslet isn’t entirely gone from this cut. She just plays second fiddle to OwlKitty, Leonardo DiCaprio’s first love.
Who’s the Queen of the World now?
Want more OwlKitty? Check out her star turn in Jurassic Park, where she replaced the T-Rex and rampaged around the doomed island looking got catnip and treats.
Back in the 13th century Pope Gregory IX famously declared cats were at the heart of alleged Satanic rituals in Europe, relying on the account of one Konrad von Marburg, an author of massacres, church inquisitor and all-around idiot known for brutally torturing his victims to elicit “confessions” of heresy.
Von Marburg told the pope that Satanists had a ritual involving a black cat who would walk around backwards while the Satan-worshipers kissed its ass. The pope bought the risible story and believed von Marburg’s accounts of growing numbers of heretics, especially in Germany.
The resulting papal letter, Vox in Rama, did not declare cats were evil and didn’t ask Catholics to kill them, despite widespread claims to the contrary on the internet, but it did contribute to distrust of the animals a century ahead of the Black Plague, when people thought cats were carrying the disease.
The pope who loves cats
Then there’s the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.
Cat lovers around the world rejoiced when it was revealed Pope Benedict was a cat lover and had two pet felines of his own. Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, said Benedict was wild about kitties.
“The street talk that the pope loves cats is incorrect,” Mahoney said in 2005. “The pope adores cats.”
Catholics petitioned Benedict to help with animal welfare causes and to lend his support to efforts to help the many stray cats of Rome.
Francis the Saint and Francis the Pope
That brings us to our current pope, Francis. The elevation of Francis was met with approval from animal lovers: His chosen papal name honors St. Francis of Assisi, a Radagast the Brown type figure who lived a life of luxury as a wealthy playboy and party-goer until he had a religious conversion, sold all his possessions and became a monk.
St. Francis believed true faith in God meant having a deep respect for animals. While it’s not clear what’s true and what’s apocryphal, there are stories of Francis preaching to birds, nursing various animals back to health and even convincing a wolf to stop attacking a village in Italy in exchange for the villagers feeding it. St. Francis was by all accounts gentle with animals and appreciative of nature.
St. Francis is revered in the Catholic church and beloved by groups like the Humane Society. He is the patron saint of animals, and on his feast day Catholics bring their pets to be blessed at church.
Pope Francis continued his namesake’s work with Laudato Si, a papal encyclical which endeared him to animal lovers all over the world.
The encyclical was notable for the church’s strongest language yet in advocating for protecting and respecting animals. PETA made Pope Francis its person of the year in 2015, and the pope was feted by many other animal welfare groups across the world.
In Laudato Si, Francis explicitly rejected the idea that animals are resources for humans to exploit, asserted the Catholic view that animal life has intrinsic value, and called on human beings to be stewards of animals and the Earth. Abusing and exploiting animals is “beneath human dignity,” he wrote, and the associated desensitization and heartlessness of practices like factory farming are a stain on the human race.
Animals, the pope wrote, not only have souls but will “take their place” in heaven, “resplendently transfigured” in the presence of God. He also pointed out the disastrous effects we’re having on wildlife by destroying habitats, carving up the remaining land, over-fishing the oceans, poaching and hunting.
What Francis said about pets
So why are people suddenly upset with the pope?
He made some off-the-cuff remarks about people choosing pets over children, said it was “selfish” to choose the former, and brought up the plight of the world’s orphans. He pointed out that people collectively spend hundreds of billions on pet food and products while humans in the third world lack basic things like clean water, food and medicine. He also said “denying” motherhood and fatherhood leaves us spiritually poorer, as the experience brings us closer to God.
As usual any time a pope speaks, his statements are taken out of context and rehashed in the media. That’s expected, especially in the age of clickbait, the 140-character tweet and the 15-second news segment. Pope Francis gets himself into trouble by sometimes speaking too candidly when he should know his message will be garbled by gatekeepers and information filters, leading to strong reactions to things he didn’t actually say.
The pope wasn’t condemning keeping pets across the board, and he wasn’t saying all pet owners are selfish. His comments were made in the context of a larger discussion on universally declining birth rates in developed countries, specifically Europe’s “demographic winter,” also called a “demographic time bomb.”
In simple terms, Europe’s population is rapidly aging and birth rates are historically low. Populations are dying off, there are fewer people to care for the elderly, and there aren’t enough babies to replace the dead. The average age in Europe is 43, which is 12 years older than the average in the rest of the world.
COVID has compounded the problem, partly due to social distancing and partly due to economic uncertainty as a ripple effect of the virus. Of course it isn’t all that simple, and the demographic winter’s wider effects are complex and well beyond the scope of this blog.
It also helps to remember the Catholic Church has a strong social justice streak. Not the kind that involves writing snarky tweets and first world problems, but real social justice through charity, schools, scholarships, food banks, shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals and innumerable other efforts.
The pope’s background as a native of Argentina, a former janitor and chemist who became the first Latin American pontiff, also colors his outlook. He doesn’t hesitate to call out the hypocrisy of first-world nations, and although we don’t like to hear it, most of the time we need to. After almost two thousand years of popes existing in or near the world’s seats of power, for the first time we have a pope who grew up from the outside looking in.
That’s not to say I agree with everything Pope Francis had to say on the matter, but I think it’s also important to recognize that he didn’t just take shots at people who care for pets out of the blue, and he didn’t condemn people for caring for animals.
Life isn’t easy for strays and shelter cats, and black cats have it rougher than most. They’re less likely to find forever homes and more likely to be euthanized than cats with other fur colors and coat patterns.
As if that wasn’t enough of a disadvantage, black cats are particularly vulnerable at this time of year due to their association with Halloween and lore surrounding Satanic rituals.
On the somewhat less tragic end of the spectrum, some people “adopt” black cats as temporary Halloween decorations, using them as accessories for parties or decorative dioramas. When Halloween is over, the “owners” bring the cats back to the shelter.
But rescue groups and advocates say the most unfortunate black kitties end up in the hands of cultists or people reenacting cult rituals. Those rituals never end well for the poor felines.
As a result, some shelters and rescues put black cat adoptions on hold during October.
The origin of the “evil black cat” trope is usually traced back to the 13th century papal decree called Vox in Rama. (“A voice in Ramah.”) Despite sounding like an Arthur C. Clarke short story, the decree was not entertaining — it called for a renewed push to find and punish heretics, and condemned a Satanic ritual that was allegedly performed among hidden cultists:
Afterwards, they sit down to a meal and when they have arisen from it, the certain statue, which is usual in a set of this kind, a black cat descends backwards, with its tail erect. First the novice, then the master, then each one of the order who are worthy and perfect, kiss the cat on its buttocks. Then each [returns] to his place and, speaking certain responses, they incline their heads toward to cat. “Forgive us!” says the master, and the one next to him repeats this, a third responding, “We know, master!” A fourth says “And we must obey.”
Stripped of context, it’s almost comical: A cat walks around and people line up to kiss its ass? Well, they’re just expressing their fealty as servants and vowing not to be tardy with kitty’s meals!
Alas we’re talking about the dark ages, a time when skepticism wasn’t really a thing and zealots were eager to prove their loyalty and value to powerful leaders. One of them, a German nobleman named Konrad von Marburg, had the pope’s ear, and Marburg was the one responsible for whispering to the pontiff about the supposed back cat ass-kissing rituals.
While the papal decree was real and Marburg really was an overzealous jerk who turned public opinion against the church for his brutal inquisition against heretics real and imagined, there’s debate about how much impact the decree ultimately had, and whether a resulting purge of felines from Europe during the Black Plague resulted from superstition or panic as more people got sick. (Serious academic opinion tends strongly toward the latter, particularly because people mistakenly believed cats were carriers of the disease.)
Clickbait sites have run wild with the Vox in Rama story, which has grown more outrageous with each retelling, resulting in headlines that make it sound like the Vatican dispatched shock troops to purge cats from the European continent and urged Catholics to slaughter them on sight. In reality, the papal bull dealt with a small area in Germany and was little-known even at the time it was issued.
The dozens of clickbait articles that surface at the top of search results for “Vox in Rama” omit the actual text of the papal bull, and many make the unfounded claim that the pope called for cats to be killed.
Was the decree real? Yes. Did it result in the slaughter of cats? Highly unlikely, and there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Likewise, the “evidence” that black cats are abused on Halloween is purely anecdotal as this Snopes story from 20 years ago notes. The fact-checking site called the claims about black cats used in Satanic rituals “inconclusive.”
But individual shelter managers trust their gut — and the many stories about black cats disappearing this time of year — in deciding it’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why many shelters won’t adopt out in October and others are more rigorous with their adoption screening.
There’s nothing wrong with that. As anyone who’s searched for cat news knows, there are disturbing stories about cat abuse every day, and people are sadly capable of incredible cruelty toward animals.
Better for black cats to be taken off the adoptable list for a few weeks than end up in the hands of people who want to do them harm. As cat lovers, there is something we can do: Consider black cats the next time we’re looking to adopt. Plenty of PITB readers have black cats, and they’ll be the first to tell you the little house panthers are just as sweet and amusing as cats of any other fur color.
We’d like to offer a special congratulations to the SPCA, two kind-hearted adopters, and especially Plankton the cat for finding a forever home after a long, long wait.
Plankton had a rough start to life: He was one of about 100 kittens and cats rescued from a hoarding situation in a two-bedroom apartment in late 2013 and suffered renal failure. For years, potential pet parents passed up on the handsome black-coated little dude because of his condition, and the thrice-weekly infusion of liquids he needs to stay healthy, even though staff at the shelter say he takes the infusions like a champ.
Ashlee Haughtaling read about Plankton in a Feb. 15 article by the Kingston Daily Freeman, a New York newspaper covering the mostly-rural Ulster County about 75 miles north of New York City.
Haughtaling had a dog who suffered from kidney problems as well, so she knew what caring for Plankton would entail. She reached out to the county SPCA immediately.
“I thought it was so sad that no one was adopting him because he had a medical condition,” she said, per the SPCA. “The fact that he had been there for so long, it really hit home for me. Sick cats need homes, too.”
Ashleey and her mother Ann Houghtaling took Plankton home six days later. For the first time, the 6 1/2-year-old cat has a place to call home. He gets along well with other cats, the shelter said, and he’s got a pair of new feline friends, Nutmeg and Boots, in his new home as well.
It’s been two days since a black cat briefly halted play by dashing onto the field during a nationally-televised football game between the Cowboys and the Giants, and now people are blaming the cat for the Giants’ loss.
Sportswriters are leading the charge, writing about hexes and omens and jinxes, and dusting off the cat puns as fans share memes about the kitty’s dark powers of suckage. It’s a “cat-tastrophe!” Har har!
We’re here to state the obvious: The New York Giants suck regardless of the black cat. They sucked before the cat appeared, they sucked during the game, and they’ll continue to suck for the seven remaining games of the season.
You could say they’ve elevated it to an art, registering losing records in six of the last seven seasons.
On Monday night the Giants took a drubbing, losing to the mediocre Dallas Cowboys 38-17 at home and lowering their season record to 2-7. The cat’s break for freedom was the most exciting play of the game.
In other words, the cat wasn’t the cause of the losing, he was a symptom — horrified by his team’s play, he took flight and was desperately trying to find a way out of the stadium. We’re sure of it!
In the meantime, stadium staff still haven’t found the freaked-out feline, and while an anonymous team employee says there are some 300 cats living in and around the stadium, a team spokesperson says that number is closer to 30, according to the New York Post.
Some of the cats live in the bowels of MetLife Stadium while others live on the grounds of the adjoining Meadowlands race track. They’re descended from cats brought in “decades ago” to tackle a rat problem at the track and in the tunnels connecting the facilities, according to the Bergen Record.
The stadium’s owners pay to keep the cats fed and spayed/neutered, per newspaper reports, while staff at the complex care for the animals. Good on them.
Now the Giants look ahead to Sunday’s match-up with the Jets in an event affectionately referred to as the Toilet Bowl. The two New York teams are a combined 3-14 this year, but fear not — as they go head-to-head, one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win!
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.