My cat Babylon, like two-thirds of all cats, is a catnip lover, even if it doesn’t affect her in the same way it affects other cats. If I put a small pinch of dried, crumbled leaves in front of her, she licks it up as though it were the finest delicacy the world has to offer, and then usually continues as though nothing happened.
I’ve seen my friends’ felines go moggy for it. Even a catnip-stuffed toy is enough to send them into tail-shaking paroxysms of delight. My sister-in-law is a vet, and she keeps a small pouch of the stuff in her pocket to help calm down anxious, stressed kitty patients. For centuries, cat-fanciers have simply accepted that cats and the herb that goes by the proper name Nepeta cataria go hand-in-hand (or paw-in-leaf). It’s a relationship many of us have never questioned; at least, not until a few left-leaning folks said it was unethical to give our feline friends their favourite herb.
It’s Not Natural and All That Jazz
I’m not joking. There are people in this world who believe that giving cats catnip, and then laughing at any ensuing antics, is morally questionable, if not downright wrong. Oregon University professor and adherent of identity politics Debra Merskin is one of them.
In an article, she argued that the widely-available, concentrated form of the herb also known as catmint is not available naturally. Whether dried leaves or an oil concentrate, cats wouldn’t find it in nature. They would find a lovely, leafy plant. The concentrated oil bit I can believe, but dried leaves?
I can’t help but wonder if Merskin has ever spent time in a garden or park. Perhaps she has never seen leaves dry out as summer fades to autumn and winter. Perhaps the idea that cats could easily have encountered dried catnip leaves in the natural world never occurred to her.
Merskin says she is a cat owner. If so, she cannot ever have brought a living catnip plant home. If she had, she may have seen her beloved feline do what so many other green-thumbed cat-fanciers have seen over decades, centuries, and even millennia – a perfectly healthy plant practically demolished within seconds by an ecstatic feline.
The ‘not natural’ argument has been used in other contexts countless times, and it has generally been proved wrong by mother nature herself.
Love your cat as much as you love your casino games? Then sign-up with All Slots Casino, receive up to $1 500 in bonus cash and play Pretty Kitty Online Slots!
You Wouldn’t Drug a Child
Describing giving catnip to a cat as unnatural wasn’t enough for Merskin. She said it also raised questions about animal autonomy in the face of human power.
According to her and to numerous members of various online forums, laughing at a cat’s response to catnip is like laughing at the behaviour of a drugged child. The professor defended her point by citing moral equality theory, and by explaining that animals, like humans, need food and water, and that they are capable of communication, sociability, and loving their young. Apparently, we need to treat animals as though they are humans.
I probably love my cat as much as I do precisely because she isn’t human. As much as I can see the point of admitting that animals are far more complex than we give them credit, the ‘treat them like they are human’ argument sounds like a sales pitch by a pet store.
A certain sector of society’s increasing humanisation of animals has been big business for pet stores lately. From diamond-studded collars, to yoga classes, and from seats on a plane, to tail jewels (think ‘bedazzled cat-flap’ for kitty bottoms, and you’ll get the idea), it’s all turning a massive profit.
Cats Will Be Cats
Despite the best arguments from philosophers, cats are not human. They are cats.
Giving a child drugs as a form of recreation is unethical for several reasons. One of them is that it dehumanises the child and disrespects the integrity of body. Others are that it could impair the child’s development, or cause the child to form a dependency. Cats are affected by catnip (fresh and dried) only once they have reached sexual maturity, and there is no evidence of felines becoming dependent on it. There is also no evidence of it impairing development.
I suspect that the plant’s undeniable cat-attraction is all part of a survival tactic that evolved slowly over time. Domesticated or not, if two thirds of the world’s cats encountered a catnip plant in nature, they would react to it. Perhaps Merskin and her fellow catmint critics could take the ‘treat them like humans’ argument to the next level, and give their cats a choice between the regular treat and catnip, and let the animals decide?
I know I shouldn’t, but I’ve often wondered if the response she received to her question to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regarding their view of the ethics of catnip was what she had expected. PeTA media officer Sophia Charchuk’s response basically said the non-profit organisation fully supported treated cats to reasonable amounts of the herb, just as it supported keeping them indoors for their own safety. After all, a contagious disease is a contagious disease. Try explaining that to your cat, whether it’s catnip or it’s a subject of its own life.