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When kittycats attack

Amoral behavior in the Garden of Eden



You will recall that the animals remained in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled. They, not us, continue to live in the relative innocence of paradise, according to the myth, which is, incidentally perpetuated in their fashion by animal rights activists.

Mr. Johnson, my partner and a former Baptist, has theorized to me that Adam and Eve had to leave Eden not for sinning but for learning that they would die. "God told Adam and Eve, 'If you taste of the fruit of good and evil, you will surely die,'" he explained. "Learning you are mortal is the real problem, not sin itself." An animal has no sense that it will die and can remain innocent and in paradise, he said. But man, by becoming aware, learned that his time is limited and thus he was compelled to leave the illusory garden.

Maybe. I have come to question this whole business about the nobility and innocence of animals from personal experience. Case in point: my cat Marlene.

Lately, Marlene has been conducting satanic rituals in my bedroom. These usually occur a few hours after I have gone to sleep. I am awakened by a blood-curdling cry. I sit up in bed, alarmed, and see Marlene sitting by the fire. Her usually passive face is spookily animated by the moving shadows. Before her is one of her toy rats. She howls, looks at the rat, like an object of sacrifice, looks at me and looks back at the rat.

I usually laugh at her and go back to sleep. There goes Marlene with her rodent dollies again! The next morning, when I awaken, I find three or four of the toy rats deposited in the bed with me. This creeps me out. Sometimes they are placed disarmingly near my head, sometimes at my feet. Once I woke up with one on my forehead. I walk to the coffee pot after getting out of bed and Marlene is usually sitting in the hall. She looks at me, turns and walks away. Why? Is she depressed I'm still alive?

Now you have to admit this is weird. It happens at least three times a week. I had a cat years ago that impaled cockroaches on her claws and exhibited them to me in their death throes. And the enormous black cat that lives across the street often stands before my window with a bird or squirrel flapping between his jaws. Hey! I wave at him and cringe.

Somehow, Marlene's behavior is weirder. I guess you could argue that, lacking access to real-life prey, she is engaged in the same habit of cats to make gifts of corpses, or pieces of corpses, to their owners. Unable to produce her own memento mori, like a regurgitated rodent's eye or a slimy paw, Marlene is compelled to use her toys.

"The drive to kill and make a gift of the dead is so deep in her that she symbolizes it!" I exclaimed to Mr. Johnson.

"She loves you!" he said.

"She is engaged in animal sacrifice!" I replied. "This has nothing to do with her feelings. It's her instinct."

Honestly, when you think about it, it's strange that the other animals get to fornicate and kill one another but remain in the mythical garden. The usual explanation is that they are, compared to us, dumb, having no capacity for recognizing the difference in good and evil. This logic is occasionally extended to human beings. The mentally handicapped are cut a break by the law in criminal cases, for example. But generally, I think, we forget the violence of animal life, sentimentalizing the world of nature.

"Animal rights is a parochial urban ideology that could only thrive in a world where people have lost contact with nature," Michael Pollan wrote in a cover piece on animals in Nov. 10 issue of the New York Times Magazine. The article advocates more humane and moral treatment of animals, especially those killed for food, but argues that our disengagement from the amoral world of animal life has led us to some strange ideas about the reality and wisdom of predation.

On the one hand are animal rights activists who often want to grant animals an impossible parity with humans, one that arguably would backfire enormously by, for example, causing the proliferation of species that the environment could not support. On the other hand, having become so disconnected from the world of nature, most of us are clueless about the horrific suffering to which animals are subjected in factory farming and environmental policies.

Does it occur to an animal to stop killing because it may be killed itself? Certainly not. But the very fact that animals are so unreflective about death, having no sense of the duration of life, unlike Adam and Eve, may mean their humane death is more moral than animal rights activists depict it.

I'm not going to eat Marlene, though I doubt she'd hesitate a moment in eating me if she could. Still, I think I owe her a life relatively free of suffering. She has an easy life in the Eden of Grant Park.

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