The amount of violence directed at felines is mind-boggling, and it doesn’t reflect well on the US: For example in Istanbul, a city of more than 15 million people, there are some 130,000 cats living on the streets, not including pets. While many ‘Mericans see an animal and think “Let’s shoot it!” the people of Turkey are overwhelmingly compassionate, going to incredible lengths to make sure street cats are fed, watered, sheltered and have access to veterinary care.
Today’s story fits in the “vigilante lunatics” category.
It’s not clear if the person in question simply hates cats or is acting out of some misguided campaign to “protect” small wildlife, but we do know that a would-be cat killer is threatening to kill outdoor kitties in Joplin, Missouri, a city about 230 miles east of Oklahoma City.
The suspect slapped warning letters and posters on the front doors of homes along four separate streets between 2:40 and 5 a.m. on Monday, local police said.
Cops haven’t released the full text of the letters, but said the letter-writer threatened to kill any stray or feral cats he or she comes across in the neighborhood. Likewise, while police did say images of the letter-writer were captured on doorbell cameras, they’re holding the identifying details close to the vest right now, which they may do for any number of reasons.
One of the homeowner who received the letter said he fears his two missing cats are now dead. Another neighbor said the letters follow similar threats by a woman wearing a red jacket, who told some people in the neighborhood to keep their cats inside or else.
“The lady, she was walking up and down the streets going door to door telling everybody that they better watch out for our cats because they were going to start being euthanized,” the neighbor told WKSN, the local NBC affiliate.
Joplin police are offering $2,500 to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of the letter-writer.
Coronavirus. Unprecedented income inequality. Instability. Millions of religious minorities wasting away in Chinese government concentration camps.
The world is a mess right now and sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, but thankfully Jamie Lynn Spears — unintelligible mumbler, erstwhile country music singer and younger sister of Britney — is here to set our priorities straight.
“The Tesla is a secret cat killer, and it’s a problem that we really gotta fix,” a purple-haired Spears told her followers in a video she uploaded to Instagram a few days ago.
“We have now lost — I don’t want to tell you how many cats — because they don’t hear the Tesla crank and unfortunate things happen and it’s really devastating and tragic for everyone involved,” Spears said.
Perfectly understandable. I mean, who doesn’t run over a cat or six while backing out of the driveway? And who wants to be bothered with actually caring for cats and keeping them indoors when you can tell your 2.1 million Instagram followers that a corporation is at fault?
“Like, one of those noises”
Thankfully, Jamie Lynn has a solution, which she also shared with her followers.
“So since the Tesla is so quiet, maybe you could, like, make one of those noises that, like, bother cat or animal ears when it cranks up, so that, like, they know something’s happening and they aren’t caught off guard, and things don’t end in a very tragic way,” Spears continued, indicating she’s spent a lot of time ruminating on this issue. “So, Elon Musk, let’s figure this out, B, because you owe me a couple of cats.”
Like other celebrities, Spears was apparently expecting to air her thoughts and have the entire internet break into a slow clap and say “You’re so right! Hooray for you!” And like other celebrities, Spears deleted the video and furiously backpedaled when people started questioning her claims.
The first thing people wanted to know was: Just how many cats did Jamie Lynn lose to Evil Elon Musk and the Teslarizer?
Was it 1) “I don’t want to tell you how many cats” as Spears first indicated, 2) “A couple of cats” as Spears claimed in a follow-up video, or 3) Zero cats, as Spears claimed in a follow-up post to her follow-up video?
After looking into the camera and flatly declaring that Elon Musk owes her “a couple cats,” as if they’re replaceable products, Spears wrote that she “did not run over any cats” and Tesla is “not to be blamed.”
Let’s collab, yo. I got mad ideas!
“I was only making a suggestion about something I think would be extremely helpful, and the geniuses at @Teslamotors are the best to go to for said issue,” she concluded, suggesting Tesla should contact her to “collaborate” on a solution.
We’re sure the industry-disrupting engineers and other geniuses working for Tesla would have been thrilled to collaborate with a mind of Spears’ caliber, but alas they won’t get the opportunity.
That’s because Teslas and other electric cars are already required by law to make a persistent sound when traveling at low speeds, a tweak made at the behest of the American Council of the Blind.
Although Spears got a bit shy after she didn’t receive the ovation she was expecting and refused to clarify how many cats she’s killed with her Teslas, we know the number is at least one. In another recent video, Spears’ similarly purple-haired toddler is seen saying her cat, Turkey (*sniff*), was “in heaven.”
We are sorry Turkey had the misfortune of being adopted by a living indictment of the American education system, and we hope rescue and shelter organizations within 50 miles of Spears’ trailer decline to adopt cats out to her in the future, lest they end up on Musk’s tab.
And if you think we’re being too harsh on Spears, we’d ask you: What kind of world do we live in when someone is allowed to casually kill animals through her own negligence with complete impunity? We’re talking about life here, not broken toys or kitchen appliances.
Even indoor cats should wear collars, according to a pair of veterinarians who spoke with PopSugar.
Megan McCorkel, a veterinarian who writes for Better With Cats, said collars can make a difference if the unexpected happens and your cat gets outside:
While it might not seem as necessary to put a collar on an indoor cat as an outdoor cat, accidents can still happen, Dr. McCorkel said. Even indoor-only cats can venture out of the house unexpectedly. However, because indoor-only cats don’t have the street savviness of outdoor felines, they might be in a bit of panic when they first get out, she explained. Luckily, a collar helps people realize that your stressed-out kitty doesn’t belong outside, prompting them to return your lost cat home safely and quickly. “I think of a collar on an indoor cat like an insurance plan,” Dr. McCorkel said. “I hope I don’t need it, but when I do, I’ll be glad it’s there.”
The last time I tried to put a collar on Buddy was six years ago, and he was miserable with it on. At the time I tried the gradual approach, leaving it on him for short spurts and giving him extra treats and praise when he had it on.
Eventually I left it on Bud for the better part of a day. He whined and cried and never forgot it was around his neck.
Finally he managed to contort himself so he could get a hind paw underneath the collar and pull on it with his front paws. He trilled with anticipation, sliding it up his neck toward his ears — then lost his grip, and the collar snapped back like a rubber band.
I will never forget his shriek of unmistakable frustration in that moment. I knew he was miserable, and I took the collar off immediately.
Right now I’m not worried about him getting outside because I live in an apartment building, meaning Bud would have to get through three or four sets of doors, and primarily because he wants nothing to do with the outdoors. As an indoor cat, Buddy gets overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells outside, and that’s when he’s on his harness with me as his safety blanket. He enjoys sunbathing on the balcony, but he won’t even step out there unless it’s a perfect 75-degree day.
I’ve made the determination that it’s not worth making him suffer. That could change in the future when my living circumstances are different.
What about your cats? Do they tolerate collars? Do you think they’re necessary?
I finally got around to watching Netflix’s Don’t F*ck With Cats, a documentary about the effort to track down a narcissistic killer whose victims included several kittens, an adult cat and finally a Chinese-Canadian engineering student.
If you’re not familiar with the three-part documentary, here’s the short version: A man uploaded sadistic videos of himself torturing and killing cats, prompting a group of online vigilantes to conduct their own investigation and offer the information to police, who promptly ignored all of it.
The cat killer taunted the horrified netizens for two years, vowing to continue taking life and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow each time he killed more kittens, until finally someone found the headless, limbless torso of his first human victim in a garbage dumpster in Ontario.
The murderer had arranged to meet another man he’d met on Craigslist, then filmed himself killing the incapacitated man just like he’d filmed himself killing kittens. The video appeared online shortly after the murder.
The police, who couldn’t be bothered when it was “just” cats, suddenly got really interested. The killer fled to Paris — where he became the subject of an international manhunt and media circus — then to Berlin. He stopped in an internet cafe to Google stories about himself, but the cafe’s clerk recognized him and called the police. He was taken into custody without incident, then promptly extradited back to Canada for trial.
The police don’t exactly cover themselves in glory with this case. Not only did they fail to act on information from concerned tipsters, they were either unaware or uninterested in the statistical correlation between people who kill animals for pleasure “graduating” to human victims once killing animals loses its thrill.
They had a man in their jurisdiction torturing and killing cats, capturing the horrific deeds on camera and regularly uploading new videos. They failed to act.
The thing is, animal life has intrinsic value. We delude ourselves into believing that because the voiceless — human and animal — can’t express their suffering, it doesn’t exist. The police should have acted when the killer’s victims were “just” cats for the sake of the cats, and not only because animal abusers often move on to harming human beings.
Canadian police culture
It was also surprising to see how deferential and naïve the Canadian investigators seemed in comparison to their American counterparts. At various turns they failed to preserve evidence, missed important clues and underestimated the killer. In one scene an investigator casually mentions the discovery of a dead puppy in the same trash the human torso was found, failing to connect the dots despite the many warnings her agency had received.
When Canadian police finally got the killer into custody they handled him with kid gloves, allowing him to play the part of scared little boy who didn’t know what he was doing rather than what he was: A calculating 32-year-old man who clearly enjoyed inflicting suffering on people and animals, playing to his captive audience of several thousand people on Facebook as he led them on a scavenger hunt.
The killer routinely interrupted police interviews, shrugged off difficult questions by complaining that he was tired, and tried to buy time for himself to think by asking for things like warmer clothing, cigarettes and beverages.
In short, they allowed him to manipulate them as he had manipulated everyone else.
When the killer’s mother appears on camera, you can see the beginnings of his psychosis. She believes her son is a sweet little angel who was himself manipulated by a phantom, a person her son invented to excuse his deeds.
She also admits she knew about the cat videos and did nothing. In her view, people concerned about animal welfare are “crazy,” and those crazies shouldn’t have gotten so wound up over a few videos in which her son kills kittens while singing along to pop songs. Just a sweet little boy having fun.
Remembering Jun Lin
As for the killer himself, I’m not going to name him. His victim was Jun Lin, a 33-year-old engineering student who moved from China to Canada because, as his friend Benjamin Xu explained, the latter country is more accepting of gay men.
Toward the end of the documentary, Xu mentioned something I’ve often thought about: Society’s obsession with “true crime” and how our morbid curiosity gives would-be murderers precisely what they want. If they can’t achieve fame, infamy is the next best thing.
We do a great disservice by immortalizing the killers and forgetting the victims. Everyone can name the two Columbine killers, but how many of us can name the victims?
“The really sad thing is, everybody is talking about [the killer] and nobody has ever remembered Jun,” Xu said. “That doesn’t seem fair at all to my friend. He doesn’t deserve that.”
The other stars of the show
Finally, there are the two “sleuths” at the center of the documentary, who spent two years of their lives ostensibly investigating the killer while giving him exactly what he wanted. Contrary to what the documentary’s title suggests, they weren’t cat lovers, just a couple of people motivated by the thrill of the hunt.
As their Facebook group about the murderer swelled to thousands of members he reveled in the attention, intentionally leaving clues for them in each subsequent video like a scavenger hunt, a fun little game for them to play as long as he remained the star of the show.
The documentary glosses over their mistakes, and there were some big ones: At one point they were so sure a South African man was the killer that they made his life a living hell, with an entire team of online vigilantes across the world harassing him from afar.
That man killed himself and was likely collateral damage in this fun little game the “sleuths” had going, but who has time for that when there are fresh clues and leads to track down? We got the wrong guy, LOL! Oops!
In the end it was someone else — quite likely the killer himself — who provided the alleged sleuths with the killer’s name once they’d exhausted their leads and the hunt became stale. He wanted them to continue the chase.
While the would-be detectives did manage to collect some information via their own efforts, it’s not accurate to say they solved the mystery.
On the other hand it’s fair to question whether the killer would have gone as far as he did if he didn’t have tens of thousands of people on Facebook hanging on his every video and utterance.
The documentary ends with one of the killer’s obsessives, a Las Vegas woman named Deanna Thompson, looking at the camera and admonishing the audience for being interested enough to watch the documentary, as if everyone shares in the guilt for the killer’s actions.
But what she’d like everyone to forget is that her actions egged him on while he was on the loose and actively taking life. Playing into his scheme is a much different thing than passively watching a documentary more than half a decade after his conviction. There’s a good argument to be made that the vigilantes should be embarrassed by their role in this story, rather than reveling in the attention they’re getting as a result.
Remember Jun Lin. Remember the poor cats. Forget about the killer and the people who helped him achieve the fame he so desperately craved.
Note:I realize refusing to name the killer on this blog is like putting a single grain of sand back in a bottle after the whole thing has been spilled, but hey, we have to start somewhere.
Cats have been a Godsend in this era of social distancing.
People are looking for something — anything — to get their minds off grim reality and the repetitive, depressing 24/7 virus coverage that dominates television.
Cats have delivered. Our furry friends have been covering themselves in glory, providing an endless supply of viral videos and making people smile just by being their endearing, quirky selves.
Most of all they’ve been there for us at home, soothing anxieties and lowering blood pressure with each lap they claim and each affectionate nuzzle. We may be isolated from other people, but when there’s a cat in the house you never feel truly alone. (If for nothing else, their meows at meal time will make sure of that.)
For me it’s not even a question: Without my Buddy, I’d be slipping into depression of a kind that can’t be cured with Netflix bingeing, books or games.
Now we’ve got to return the favor and protect our cats.
The first “confirmed” case of a cat contracting COVID-19 has come from Belgium, where a veterinary lab ran tests on a sick cat with respiratory problems and concluded the cat picked up the virus from her human.
“The cat lived with her owner, who started showing symptoms of the virus a week before the cat did,” said Steven Van Gucht, a public health official in Belgium, according to the Brussels Times. “The cat had diarrhea, kept vomiting and had breathing difficulties. The researchers found the virus in the cat’s feces.”
This is not good news.
Medical diagnostic labs in the US have tested thousands of pets for COVID-19 and haven’t found a single infected animal.
Unfortunately that didn’t stop innumerable people from abandoning their cats and dogs in China, leaving them in apartments and houses to starve. One Chinese animal welfare group, which is partnered with Humane Society International, says “tens of thousands” of pets were abandoned.
Some Chinese territories instructed people to kill their pets, and there are sickening reports of people clubbing defenseless animals to death in the streets.
That may not be surprising in China, which has an abominable record on human and animal rights, but now there are disturbing reports from all over the world. Shelter operators in the UK, for instance, say they’re fielding calls from people who want to abandon their pets because of the Coronavirus.
“Mostly, it’s people who haven’t got access to the right information online,” Claire Jones, who works at a shelter in Stoke-on-Trent, told the BBC. “It’s a nightmare.”
Misinformation and confusion are compounding the problem, the result of a new media ecosystem in which news is whatever a person’s social circle posts on their feeds and news consumers don’t distinguish between reliable press outlets (Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters, etc) and the thousands of less scrupulous sites masquerading as legitimate sources of news.
Thus, when a dog in China tested positive for trace elements of Coronavirus — but blood tests were negative — sites like Quartz wasted no time pumping out headlines declaring that dogs and cats can be infected.
Exercising caution with information
It looks like the Belgium case is another in which fact and nuance are sacrificed for clicks. Belgian virologist Hans Nauwynck is among the skeptics who believe veterinary authorities in his country acted too rashly.
“Before sending this news out into the world, I would have had some other tests carried out,” Nauwynck told the Brussels Times.
To confirm the positive test, the lab used a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. A PCR test “allows scientists to multiply a very small sample of genetic material to produce a quantity large enough to study,” the Times noted. But the test only confirmed that the cat suffered from a flu-like virus. It did not specifically match the viral infection with COVID-19.
“A clear link between virus excretion and clinical signs cannot be established, in part because other possible causes for the cat’s illness were not excluded,” wrote Ginger Macaulay, a veterinarian in Lexington, South Carolina.
In addition, authorities didn’t rule out the possibility that the sample was contaminated or maintain a forensic chain of possession that would ensure it was properly handled.
“I would advise people to slow down,” Nauwynck said. “There may somehow have been genetic material from the owner in the sample, and so the sample is contaminated.”
To be absolutely certain, he said, more tests should have been done to confirm the initial result, and certainly before making an announcement to the world. Veterinary authorities should have tested for the presence of antibodies in the cat’s system as well, he said, which is a sign that an immune system is fighting off an infection.
“I’m worried that people will be scared by this news and animals will be the ones to suffer, and that’s not right. As scientists we ought to put out clear and full information, and I don’t think that has happened.”
With reports about the infected cat spreading across the globe — and adding to existing fears — the Belgian virologist said panic could override reason, with catastrophic consequences for our little feline friends.
“I wouldn’t wish to be a cat tomorrow.”
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.