Fewer Mosquitoes But A Lot More Cats

By Bill Hall

The discovery that catnip keeps mosquitoes away not only explains why you never see cats scratching welts on their arms and faces; it also raises the question of whether a mosquito repellent based on catnip will create a market for a cat repellent among humans.

As a matter of fact, you could probably find a substantial market among humans for a cat repellent now. I kid you not when I tell you that it is absolutely true in my experience that cats will walk into a room full of strangers and head almost unerringly toward the person who likes cats the least.

And there actually is such a thing as a person who doesn't like cats. First, there are people who have some deep-seated dislike for cats, just as there are people who have some deep-seated dislike for dogs. There are probably even people who have a deep-seated dislike for hamsters and ferrets. And I have to admit, I never met a ferret I really liked.

There is no explaining a natural distaste for something so outwardly affable as a cat, a dog or any other popular pet. It's one of those personal preference things in most cases. And our individual personalities enter into it a little. A dog, ever eager to subvert its life to yours, makes more sense to people with management personalities.

People with rebel personalities probably have more appreciation for cats, most of whom won't take a lot of guff off anyone. Suffice it to say, if you were running a sweatshop, you'd hire dogs rather than cats.

You would think, given that tendency, that if a cat were to walk into a room of a half dozen people, it would head straight for the cat person, if for no other reason than to congratulate the individual on his good taste.

I know, that's what we opinion writers do. If I walk into a roomful of readers, I head for the ones who are smiling at me, if there are any, not the ones who are glaring at me.

Cats are the opposite. They really will head for the person who doesn't much care for cats -- and especially for the person who tends to creep out in the presence of cats. I don't know why they do that. Maybe they're cruel. And I don't know how they spot the ones who don't like cats. Maybe, they notice that someone is visibly shrinking away from them. Most animals tend to be more aggressive when they sense fear, even if it is only fear of cat hair on a dark skirt.

Or maybe they sort us out, one kind from another, by detecting which of us bears the scent of dog slobber on our boots.

Whatever their method or intent, they not only go for the person with the horror-stricken look as the most interesting person in the room, but they really work them over. They jump up in the person's lap and start nuzzling her and pumping on her leg like crazy with both feet.

And though I have a kind of careful, friendly relationship with cats, I would be put off by a strange cat leaping uninvited into my lap at somebody's house. I don't even like strange women doing that.

Suffice it to say, there is a market out there for cat repellent, perhaps some distillation of dog slobber.

Unfortunately, no such potion exists so far. But work is under way on a cat attractant. Actually, that is an accident. By a cruel stroke of nature, researchers have found that catnip will repel mosquitoes. And of course, catnip attracts cats. So the good news is, you can go to a lawn party and not have mosquitoes gnawing on you.

The bad news is that cats at the party will leap into your lap, rub their fur off on your navy blazer and pump your leg with their bony little feet.

It may be worse than that. A lot of people assume cats get drunk on catnip. Actually, they fall in love. Catnip is an aphrodisiac to cats, and I'm not making that up. There's something about the plant that stirs their romantic juices. A couple hits off their drug of choice and they're soon rolling around on the ground ready for love. It's just not fair. Cats had Viagra before we did.

Actually, catnip grows like weeds all over our lot. If you step on it and crush the plant, freeing its scent, you will often see our little furry friends sexually aroused and rolling on it. Some days I feel like I'm running a cat house.




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