We have a pet cat, though sometimes I am not sure why. He views the litter box as merely a suggestion, and considers our rugs a fine substitute. He lost interest in catching mice some time ago, and has been known to watch them scurry across the kitchen floor with disinterest. His favorite game is to come up to unsuspecting guests, rub up against them until they try to pet him, and then bite them.
In short, our cat is family.
He has always been a city cat, but he spent his youth in our old condo in Alexandria, where he could occasionally run free in the courtyard despite the rules against it. Since we moved into D.C. eight years ago, he has been an indoor cat, which causes him great grumpiness. Occasionally he’ll dash out the back door when we are not being careful, and spend a night among his liberated alley peers.
A group of about a half-dozen cats lives in the alleyway behind our house, and several of them often choose to sleep in our backyard. They are drawn there by a well-meaning activist who passes through the alley in the dark of night, leaving food for strays beneath the parked cars in each accessible driveway. She’s Catwoman.
It’s not ideal having a squadron of strays stationed behind our house, but we’ve grown used to it. Still, we try our best to keep our cat inside, which is the safest bet in a high-traffic area.
That’s what made the reaction to one Tenleytown resident’s kind message on a neighborhood listserv bizarre. Claire Pierangelo simply pointed out to an unknown neighbor that their cat had dashed in front of her car around sunrise on a Saturday morning at the corner of 46th Street and Windom Street in Northwest D.C.
Pierangelo said she had been driving beneath the speed limit and was able to stop quickly. She pointed out that she has three cats of her own who also like to be outside, and gave suggestions for several cat fence products.
And then it got weird.
One resident soon responded, “The cat was just being a cat and doing what cats do. Please don't run down the kitty!” This came from a non-cat owner.
Another said the cat “has been a neighborhood cat for about a decade and his territory (unfortunately) spans several streets. Hopefully his life won't be cut short by a careless driver.” This writer said “accolades are hardly warranted for driving with basic due care and prudence,” as though Pierangelo had been fishing for praise, not trying to help.
Pierangelo quite reasonably said she was “amazed” at the harsh response.
“If you think it's just fine to endanger an animal by letting it wander major traffic arteries, great,” she wrote. “The Humane Society, the ASPCA, and every reputable vet would beg to disagree.”
At last, one resident got it.
A volunteer with animal rescue organizations wrote to say Pierangelo was right. “I will spare you the details of the maimed and mutilated beloved pet cats that I see regularly,” she wrote. “I hope everyone can get over the fact that ‘a cat is being a cat’ and is a dispensable commodity who can be replaced.”
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC