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Bye-bye kitty


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The guy in front of me at airport security in Arcata wasn’t sure what to do with his cat. “Do I put her through?” he asked, eyeing the x-ray machine nervously.

“No,” the TSA representative said. “Wait until the last possible minute, then take her out of the carrier. Walk through the metal detector with her, then put her back.”

This was a risky plan. Cats employ a fight-and-flight response when thrust into an unfamiliar situation. First the cat attacks whoever is holding it, no matter how long that person has been its sole source of comfort and sustenance, then it runs. There was a clear path to the airport entrance, and the doors were open. It was one of those moments when heightened airport security seemed to carry more risks than benefits. The cat lovers in line braced themselves for a possible chase.

The guy got through screening with his wild-eyed tabby clutched to his chest, and he stuffed her quickly back into the carrier. Once we were settled on the plane, I asked him how the cat was holding up.

“OK, I guess,” he said. “She’s never flown before.”

“Is this a one-way trip, or is she flying back, too?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m taking her to my parents’ house. I can’t find a rental in Arcata that takes cats.”

What? No cats?

Turns out he’d been looking for months, stashing the cat with friends while he lived in a series of cat-unfriendly rentals. He said that he’s found places that would take dogs, but not cats. He even offered to pay bigger deposit, but no luck. He was mystified. “Sometimes they tell me it’s because the other tenants are allergic to cats,” he said, “but how can that many people be allergic to cats?”

Is the Arcata rental market hostile to cats? A search of rental listings found few places that take pets, period. One property manager said that he had not detected an anti-cat bias, but suggested I contact his boss, who did not return calls by press time.

The truth remains elusive. Meanwhile, this seemingly normal guy and his freaked-out tabby faced an uncertain future. As an avowed cat person, the idea of dog owners having an easier time than cat owners fits with a more troubling trend I’ve noticed: dogs, it seems, have been granted semi-human status. They are not just tolerated, but welcome, at street festivals, cafés, hotels, and even — God forbid — spas, where they can enjoy their own day of doggie pampering. Once, in New York, I watched a small dog sit on its owner’s lap and lick the foam off his latte. I still haven’t recovered.

But cats don’t aspire to be one of us. They could care less about our activities outside the home, and they certainly don’t want to go with us. We don’t want them along, either. Cats forge a reluctant alliance with us, accepting food, shelter, and a limited amount of affection, but that’s where it stops. Anyone who has ever taken a cat to the vet or attempted basic medical care at home knows that treating a cat like a family member is an act of treason that will not be tolerated. Cats have drawn a firm line between animals and humans. Cross that line and you’ll be punished. Is it possible that the determination of Felis domesticus to remain squarely in the animal camp is pushing it out of the rental market and jeopardizing its already tenuous relationship with Homo sapiens?

As our flight landed in San Francisco, someone pointed out that he probably could have taken the cat out of her carrier during the bumpy, buzzy flight south. A dog owner would have jumped at the chance. But just imagine the kind of mayhem a terrified cat could unleash in a cramped cabin at 18,000 feet. “Yeah,” he said, eying her nervously through the carrier. “I think it’s better to keep her in there.”


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