Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

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
  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • A night in Ferguson

    For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald's a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown's shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby.

    August 14, 2014

  • weightloss.jpg The scales of injustice: Weight loss differs between men, women

    You're not imagining it: There really are differences between the way men and women diet, lose weight and respond to exercise.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Robin_Williams.jpg Williams among many who cracked jokes while fighting depression

    Robin Williams isn't the only comedian who has struggled with a disease suffered by an estimated 350 million people worldwide. Williams, a comedian known for his manic energy, committed suicide Aug. 11 at age 63.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drug dealers going corporate

    A top federal official on Tuesday said that 105 banks and credit unions are doing business with legal marijuana sellers, suggesting that federal rules giving financial institutions the go-ahead to provide services to dealers are starting to work.

    August 13, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
US Trying to Verify Video of American's Killing FBI Director Addresses Ferguson Shooting in Utah Raw: Police at Scene of St. Louis Shooting Police: 2 Calif. Boys Planned School Shooting NOLA Police Chief Retires Amid Violent Crimes Lunch Bus Delivers Meals to Kids Out of School Water Bottles Recalled for Safety Researcher Testing On-Field Concussion Scanners Rockets Fired From Gaza, in Breach of Ceasefire Raw: Japanese Military Live Fire Exercise Police, Protesters Clash in Ferguson Independent Autopsy Reveals Michael Brown Wounds Nashville Embraces Motley Crue Obama: 'Time to Listen, Not Just Shout' Lawyer: Gov. Perry Indictment a 'Nasty Attack' Raw: Russian Aid Convoy Crosses Into Ukraine Iowa Man Builds Statue of a Golfer Out of Balls Assange Gets Cryptic About Leaving Embassy in UK Raw: Building Collapse in South Africa, 9 Dead Raw: Pope Francis Meets 'Comfort Women'
Seasonal Content
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Facebook