Cat urine scratches at psyche

For the record, I have never found the smell of cat urine particularly attractive.

But doubts are beginning to claw at me like a cat attacking a scratching post.

The subject leaped into the lap of my consciousness when I read the January issue of National Geographic magazine.

In case you don't know, magazine editor Chris Johns is a Medford native and a 1969 graduate of Central Point's Crater High School. In his January column, he mentions exploring his Medford backyard along Griffin Creek as a youngster, climbing a black walnut tree, or looking for animal tracks and arrowheads.

"Years later, I understood that what my backyard contained, most of all, was the infinite horizon of possibility," he wisely observed.

His column is a good introduction to an excellent and lengthy article in this month's issue that explores why humanoids are driven to exploration. It's an engrossing read, reflecting the reason I subscribe to the publication. The series of articles on folks who are risk-takers in terms of exploration is particularly intriguing.

That brings us to the subject at hand, a short article involving cat urine that makes for what can best be described as really gross, engrossing reading.

Turns out there is a Czech evolutionary biologist named Jaroslav Flegr who has been infected with a brain parasite called Taxoplasma gondii. Apparently this bug is usually found in cats but can jump to bipeds who, among other things, mess around with litter boxes.

His research found that rats whose brains are inhabited by the parasite are "less risk averse" toward cats and somehow become sexually attracted to the smell of cat urine. The obvious result is that such rodents are more likely to become rat sirloin for kitty.

Moreover, the scientist has determined that males of our species who get the bug can also become less risk averse and find the smell of cat urine pleasurable.

There is no cure, per the article. Yikes.

Flegr has two cats, making him somewhat of a cat-owning lightweight. There are currently nine tabbies reposing in various cat comfort stations throughout our house. My wife rescued the furry ingrates from various dire straits over the years.

Our cat colony no doubt skewed the survey released last week by the American Veterinary Medical Association revealing that Oregon ranks third in the nation when it comes to cat ownership. Of course, a cat owner would quibble over the term "ownership," given a feline's penchant for independence.

No, there is no room for one more critter in our humble abode, so don't even ask.

But you can do the math. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out that my chances of catching the beastly little bug would give you good odds in Las Vegas.

"That's silly," my wife replied, upon learning about my latest pet phobia. "Besides, you never clean the litter boxes."

Easy for someone to say who is immune to any illness or bug that would bring Superman to his knees. Indeed, she has missed only two days of work in the past 20 years.

I can truthfully say I have never "missed" a day of work in my entire adult life. But it is also true I've called in sick numerous times over the years.

Fact is, I'm feeling a bit poorly right now, just thinking about litter boxes and their contents.

"You know, I'd love to clean the litter boxes, but I have a hyper-active gag reflex," I told Maureen.

"I've always suspected something horrible lurks in them beyond those nasty cat goobers," I added for good measure. "Now I know there are little litter-box monsters waiting to leap inside my head. Yeow."

Me and our rescued dogs, Harpo and Waldo, have learned to tolerate the cat herd. After being used as scratching posts and cat pillows for years, we found it's best to suffer in silence.

As I read the article, Mouse, our cat who probably will need counseling because of her unfortunate moniker, was purring on my lap. And Little Miss Chievious, her diesel engine also running, was rubbing up against my right leg.

Admittedly, I was reaching down to pet them periodically.

"That's only to keep them from assaulting me," I cautioned Maureen when she caught me in the act.

"Right," she countered. "You know you love them. And the cats know it, too."

She was being a little, well, catty, but I suppose the little fellows aren't too bad to have around.

But it is a wonder we don't have rats, what with that wonderful fragrance wafting up out of the litter boxes.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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