Aug 14, 2007

for the love of a feral cat

Just watched Penn and Teller's take on "Pet Love," which includes a visit with Bonita Berger, a self-described "cat rescuer." She claims to have over twenty cats in residence, but isn't a "hoarder" because she continually gives them up for adoption. Still, if my theory holds, her zeal for saving feral felines places her at risk of developing full-onset cat-ladyism.

In the episode, Berger notes that her social life has dwindled to nothingness, since feeding, injecting, cleaning, and otherwise babying cats is her second occupation. Her house is filled with cats of all shapes and sizes, with litter boxes in various rooms. She sleeps with cats as her blanket. One might attribute this solely to love, but it also allows for a different etiology: infection by Toxoplasma gondii, a zoonotic disease. Feral cats, Berger's specialty, are a major vector. T. gondii has been implicated in an an interesting personality change: a decrease in "novelty seeking," probably caused by altered dopamine concentration.

Is there a connection in Berger's case? I'm not a biologist, psychologist, or physician, so my answer is obvious: I don't know. It should be equally obvious that not all people who rescue feral cats are going to turn into cat ladies--and Berger, though coming across as a little kooky, otherwise looks and sounds healthy. I view her case more as further inspiration to uncover the origin of true cat-ladyism, and its putative connection to Toxoplasma gondii. Paging Dr. Glickman....

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