We Should Be Careful With Our Words

This is a background problem for the domestic and feral cat. I don’t like overt or over zealous political correctness but sometimes we have to watch how we say things. We can gradually erode the status of something by constantly referring to it in terms that are slightly derogatory.

The feral cat and to a lesser extent the domestic cat are often referred to in slightly underhand ways. There is an example in the news currently  It is subtle.

There has been a case recently of a man, living in Prineville, Crook County, Oregon, becoming infected with a bacteria carried by the flea that lives on the rat as part of its life cycle. The bacteria is called Yersinia pestis. It is the bacteria that caused the famous bubonic plague – also referred to as the black death – that killed a third of the people of Europe during the 14th century. There have been other outbreaks including the Great Plague of London (1665–1666).

If the infection is left untreated about 66% of people die within four days. It is bad, very bad. But today it is treated with antibiotics and is curable if caught in reasonable time.

During the the Great Plague of London some people believed that the cat was responsible. They were persecuted and killed. Was this the beginning of suspicion and dislike of the cat by some people? I often read of  ‘disease spreading feral cats’ and the like. In killing the stray cats of London during the Great Plague people made matters worse because the disease is carried by rats or more accurately, ‘small rodents and their fleas’.

A news item on the Business and Health website declares in its headline, ‘Black Death Discovered In Oregon: Man Contracts Bubonic Plague From Cat, Hospitalized In ‘Critical Condition

At the base of the quite long news article the author says. ‘By and large, however, health officials in Central Oregon aren’t blaming the cat for what happened.”. Correct. The cat apparently bit the man who tried to retrieve a dead mouse from the cat’s jaws. Why he was doing that God only knows. It is the man’s fault essentially.

For me this is a badly set out story. On the internet people skim. People see the headline and read the first ten lines and move on. Will they read that the rat carries the disease? Will they read, at the base of the page, that the Crook County Health Department’s communicable disease coordinator says that feral cats keep down rodent populations i.e. serve a purpose that benefits society? And will people realise that only about ten people a year in the USA become infected? It is a non-event in reality but the disease spreading cat gets the headline. We should be careful how we use our words and make sure we treat the cat fairly.

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