Romantics are smitten with the notion that curiosity is what kills cats. Having grown up on a farm, I would compile a feline mortality list that ranks curiosity far behind a lackadaisical attitude about hay-balers, tractor tires, horse troughs, great horned owls, fan belts, augers, hungry pigs, dogs, shoddy electrical wiring, rat poison, angry tom cats, Bush Hog mowers and anything that threshes.
As the recent owner of a kitten named Maggie, I need to update my list of potential cat-killers for the suburbs. Shattering my belief that an indoor cat was a safe cat, Maggie used up one of her nine lives.
Our sixth-grader, Will, heard the familiar Flintstone-esque cartoonish sound of Maggie's feet rapidly running in place on a hardwood floor. When that was followed by the sound of choking, Will's curiosity saved the cat.
Maggie had managed to wind a laptop cord around her neck and start down the stairs. Freaked when the cord, which was plugged in, started to restrain her, she leapt through the banister railings. Will found Maggie stuck in mid-jump, her hind legs on the stairs and the cord growing tighter around her neck. Figuring that "9-1-1 probably wouldn't come for a cat," and thinking he had to act fast, Will climbed atop an ottoman, lifted Maggie's head and lessened the tension to the point where he could unwind the cord from her neck. Will and Maggie seemed a bit shook by the incident, but both recovered fully.
I never dreamed a laptop cord and a staircase could form a life-threatening combination to our cat, but the experts aren't surprised that something so innocuous can be so dangerous.
Even the iconic image of a cat playing with a ball of yarn can be a tragedy in the making if the cat starts chewing, says Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, which has its headquarters in Schaumburg.
"If it (the yarn) gets into their system, it can cause injury to their intestines and could be fatal," San Filippo says.
Cats, dogs and other pets often fall prey to medicines (both animal and human) and plants that are left within their reach, he says. Foods and alcoholic drinks left out after parties can injure pets. Cords on drapes or blinds, or strings of holiday decorations, can be fatal. Search the Internet for animal X-rays and you'll find everything from a dog that ate a stop watch to light bulbs inside a snake.
Even toddlers who drop grapes, raisins or chocolates from a high chair are threats, as those foods are toxic to pets.
Easter provisions, from chocolate bunnies to the highly toxic lily plants, can kill cats and dogs, San Filippo warns. Even homes that have been pet-proofed might still contain dangers such as dryers, washing machines, ovens, recliners, sewing kits, irons and heavy objects that might fall from a shelf
"You can't plan for everything. Accidents can happen," says San Filippo, who urges people to keep emergency numbers handy and visit www.avma.org for safety hints.
"Every month, we're getting claims we've never seen before," says Grant Biniasz, a spokesman for the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., which sponsors a monthly contest for the most unusual insurance claim as a way "to raise awareness of the accidental injuries."
The most recent entry is a cat named Eddy, whose pursuit of a house fly led him to leap onto a hot wood stove, blistering all four of his paws.
"Last month we had a cat that got a plastic bag stuck on its head and ran around the house bumping into things and it tore off a nail," Biniasz says of the March entries. "We saw a claim for shamrock toxicity."
Cats often hurt themselves by eating plants, toxic foods or more unlikely dangers such as hearing aids, dental floss or sewing needles, Biniasz adds.
"Cats are curious," Biniasz concedes, but he notes that they also "sometimes make poor judgments."
Speaking of judgment, I think all the humans in our household are going to have to be more careful with cords, foods and the other potential dangers facing Maggie. If the cats of my youth couldn't appreciate the pending peril of a hay baler or approaching John Deere, Maggie can't be expected to grasp the potential pitfalls of a laptop cord.