This 55-year-old grand mother, Jean Diffenthal, is so fearful of domestic and feral cats (not lions and tigers) that she is scared of pictures of cats and songs mentioning cats. She won’t like the new Cats Movie then will she? Sorry I am being facetious. But, in short, it is a crippling fear of felines. She struggles to leave her home because she might bump into one. Her intense fear of cats (ailurophobia) is rare.
She says that cats ‘quietly dart about’ and that there is something in their eyes. She thinks that they are skin and bone:
“I’ve never touched a cat because they look like they’re all skin and bone which freaks me out.”
That statement might give us a clue as to why she suffers from ailurophobia. Perhaps she had a bad experience with a skinny feral cat as a child. She comes from South Africa where there are many feral cats living a harsh life and I am sure many are skin and bone.
There are two classic ways that ailurophobia can develop. A child plays with a fluffy kitten expecting the kitten to behave like a child’s toy. It does not and scratches her badly. This might be a shock to the child which mentally scares her into adulthood.
A second way that a child might develop ailurophobia is if their mother believes that old wives tale that domestic cats smother and kill infants in their cots. She comes into the nursery and screams at the cat to get out. The young child learns that domestic cats are monsters to be feared. It is not uncommon for mothers to keep domestic cats from nurseries as I understand it.
This would be an early association between cats and panic which may leave a mental mark in later life.
Studies indicate that women are more prone to suffer from this affliction than men. Dr Morris suggests that this might be because there is a sexual element to the condition. The cat is seen as a symbol of sexuality. Repressed sexuality may be reflected in this intense fear of cats.
The cure for cat phobia
The cure is straightforward but difficult for the ‘patient’. It requires a series of slow step-by-step desensitisation sessions. At the outset the suffer is presented with things that are remotely feline. In the case of Jean Diffenthal, this would be tricky because even pictures of cats cause a fearful reaction. I guess you’d have to go right back to basics and acclimatise her to something remotely connected to cats at the beginning and build from there.
During the process a kitten is placed in a small, secure care and the cage left in the person’s room at the far side. The cat is moved closer and closer. The longer the sufferer spends in the company of cats the better.
It may take months of therapy but eventually with patience the cat phobia disappears.
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