The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 19, 2013

Of mice and men ... and cat pee

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — They are controlling my mind.

No, I’m not one of these conspiracy theorists who believe the government or some shadowy, black-helicopter-flying subsidiary thereof is manipulating his thoughts through the use of microwaves or some such, though I must admit I look pretty sharp in my tinfoil hat.

There are no subliminal messages coming through the TV, over the radio or via the Internet, and alien beings aren’t speaking to me telepathically from their invisible flying saucers.

Nevertheless, I am the victim of mind control.

My cats are doing it. And they’re doing it with their pee.

No, I am not crazy, or at least not dropping my drawers and whistling “Dixie” in a crowded place crazy (at least not lately). It’s a scientific fact.

They do it with a tiny parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii, which is found in cat urine.

It has been determined that T. gondii can control the minds of rats and mice.

A group of researchers at the University of California-Berkeley have found that T. gondii changes the brains of rats and mice.

After exposure to T. gondii, mice and rats not only lose their fear of cats but, in fact, are attracted to them.

The study found the parasite controls the behavior of small rodents, changing their little brains so they are no longer afraid of cats.

And not only does the parasite render the mousies no longer deathly afraid of kitties, but they grow fond of the smell of cat pee.

That explains why I have always been attracted to cats. I thought it was something to do with the fact I’m a writer, and many of us ink-stained wretches somehow seem predisposed to felines.

Mark Twain wrote, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve the man but deteriorate the cat.”

“I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat,” this from Edgar Allen Poe. “I have my favorite cat, who is my paperweight, on my desk while I am writing,” wrote Ray Bradbury.

Then I thought it might be the fact cats were aloof, moody and secretive, as I am.

But no. It’s the cat pee.

That’s why I wait on them hand and foot, why I feed them, clean up after them, scratch them, pet them and play with them.

The black one likes to be pushed across the living room as he sits in one of my old shoe boxes. I thought I was crawling around on my hands and knees pushing him because I wanted to. But no. I can’t help it.

That’s why there’s a scratching post in our living room, and a large box overflowing with cat toys.

Years ago, Steve Martin did a comedy routine about having $10,000 worth of cat toys. We’re well on the way.

That’s why there are stuffed, brightly colored cloth mice resting under many of our pieces of furniture, not to mention the washer and dryer, and why I periodically crawl around on my hands and knees with a yardstick fishing those confounded things out of their hiding places.

That’s why I endure the indignity of having one or both of them stare balefully at me as I shower, or as I dry myself off afterwards.

I swear I heard one giggle the other day.

That’s why I put up with their jumping claws first into my lap as I snooze in the recliner, jolting me awake and threatening to convert me from a bass to a soprano.

That’s why, just after I’ve taken a seat after returning home from a long day at the office, or after I’ve just sat down to eat, or to watch TV, or to read, I will respond to the sound of their scratching by jumping up and running to the door to let them in, then back out again a few minutes later.

That’s why I will strain their litter box in search of their foul leavings, panning for poop as I try not to breathe in through my nose, lest I be overwhelmed by the stench.

That’s why I will drag them to the veterinarian if they have so much as a sniffle, but will self-medicate any of my own ailments short of the bubonic plague in order to avoid going to the doctor.

That’s why I will give up my favorite chair when they decide that’s where they want to spend most of the day sleeping, and why when I’m lying on the couch and they suddenly decide they want to occupy one end, I will contort myself into sort of a pudgy, pale pretzel.

But regardless of what Frenchy from the movie “Grease” said (“Men are rats, listen to me, they're fleas on rats, worse than that, they're amoebas on fleas on rats.”), I am not a rat, I am a Methodist. And I certainly have not grown to love the smell of cat urine.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

So that can’t be it, which leads me to only one possible explanation.

I really am crazy.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.