Zoothérapie - Le mythe de l'animal-roi - The Myth of the Happy Pet

Zoothérapie - Le mythe de l'animal-roi - The Myth of the Happy Pet

The trouble with cats. On the road to redemption

Charles Danten


Famous animal lover Brigitte Bardot

Every single person that’s worth knowing on this planet is a cat lover. Prime Minister Harper loves cats, Oprah loves cats, Paul McCartney loves cats, Brigitte Bardot loves cats, my friends love cats, my brother loves cats, and so do I. Unfortunately, it turns out cat love is a lot more trouble than it’s worth.

These purring machines that we love to cuddle and pet are carriers of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease transmitted exclusively by the feces of cats (1). Because of our good doing, this common protozoan disease is now found as far North as the Arctic belugas. (2) Toxoplasma gondïï is dangerous for immunocompromised people like stressed-out people, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and HIV. Pregnant women are particularly at risk. The parasite is also dangerous for young children because of their tendency of sticking their fingers in their mouth or eating soil (geophagia). (3) In 2015, scientists, E. Fuller Torrey, Wendy Simmons, and Robert H. Yolken confirmed a long established but controversial link between this parasite and several serious mental conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) (hoarding, for example, is an OCD). (4)(5)

According to these scientists, owning a cat during childhood may increase, significantly, the risk of contracting these conditions later. (6) This study is still subject to caution, it has to be corroborated by further studies, but if I were a cat lover, I would not take this finding lightly. The prevalence of toxoplasmosis is unknown since it is not a reportable disease, but because of the HIV epidemic, we now know that authorities grossly under evaluated the importance of zoonoses (7).

To fully grasp the extent of the danger, it helps to know that this parasite is difficult to detect due to its small size and its intermittent and unpredictable shedding in the feces. A routine stool analysis by the veterinarian is therefore likely to be negative. It also helps to know that this parasite is widely spread. American stray cats, for instance, who are reservoirs of this disease, deposit in the environment approximately 1.2 million metric tons of excrement per year, or 520 Olympic swimming pools full. (8) And that’s without counting the  countless quantities of cat stool flushed in toilets and the humongous amounts of soiled litter, which are systematically trashed by cat owners, without any second thought. On the basis of 2 kg of litter per week, the 1.5  million cats or so of Quebec use 156 000 metric tons of litter per year or roughly 75 Olympic pools full. 

Please, do not dump your cat. Just be extra careful. Wear gloves when you change the litter of your cat or when you work with soil. Wash your hands after handling your cat. Wash your fruits and vegetables carefully. If you are pregnant, stay away from cats and gardening altogether. Make sure your children do not play where cats are known to roam. In cities, that would be everywhere. According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article posted on the web, in 2010, in the Côte-Saint-Luc neighbourhood alone, for example, there were approximately 10 000 homeless cats (9).

Cats are also the most important vectors of rabies in North America. In 2013, at Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., authorities had to destroy a colony of feral cats because several rabid animals were attacking children (10). 

But disease transmission is not the only problem with cat love.

These outcasts of society also transmit to wild cats such as the lynx and the mountain lion, species endemic to Canada and the US, killer diseases like feline leukaemia, panleukopenia, and feline immunodeficiency syndrome. (11)

According to a major American study published in 2013 by scientists Scott R. Loss, Tom Will, and Roger P. Mara, feral cats (domestic cats returned to the wild) and domestic cats on the loose are the most important cause of anthropogenic mortality of birds and mammals. (12)(13)(14) Indeed, in the United States alone, these fearsome predators kill between 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion small mammals per year. (15) In Australia, the twelve million feral cats that roam the country are partially or totally responsible for the disappearance of at least 28 animal species. (16) These born killers are serious problems, especially on islands. The land iguanas of the Turks and Caicos Islands, for example, were decimated in just six years. (17) New Zealand is also plagued, with a vengeance, by this unpredicted side effect of feline love, which is affecting every Western nation of the world. (18) And Canada by all means has not been spared by this predator mayhem.

However, despite this disastrous assessment which should theoretically dampen this unbridled passion for cats, good Samaritans who feed colonies of stray cats are strongly opposed to their capture and euthanasia for what amounts to be selfish reasons when you think about it. Most of these animals live a miserable life plagued by wounds, disease, malnutrition, and in cold countries such as Canada, hypothermia. (19)(20)

In America, perceived as the most progressive country in the world, cat worshippers funded by various lobby groups that profit from the pet business and assisted by an army of lawyers specialized in Animal rights – the new gold mine of their profession – are ready to defend to the last breath these hapless victims of love, regardless of the consequences on nature and people. (21)(22) 

Advocates of the Trap-Neuter-Release program (TNR), with the help of veterinarians and the SPCA, who have joined the battle for "right to live" and humane reasons, stubbornly refuse to admit that TNR aggravates the problem. Yet, the number of cats that are actually recycled by TNR is insignificant compared to the large number of feral cats that would have to be recycled (60 million in the US). And it's a lost battle from the start, because many cats are refractory to trapping and many new cats are constantly being abandoned. TNR in addition has absolutely no effect on the destruction of indigenous species, pollution, and the spread of diseases. (23)(24)(25)

The right to live argument cannot be blindly applied to animals. Cats are unaware of their impeding death and the quality of their lives doesn’t depend on its length like in humans. Newtonian time is a human invention. When we think it’s a good thing for animals to live longer, we are simply projecting on animals our own wish to live longer and evade death. We are the only death-fearing species on earth. Furthermore, without a symbolic language like ours, cats cannot know whether they are being trapped to be sterilized and released for egocentric reasons or to be euthanized for humane, hygienic and ecological reasons. There is therefore no logical reason not to exterminate these animals. They are not Jewish refugees on the way to the gas chambers. It is non-sensical to portray them that way and insulting to the memory of those who perished under Nazi persecution. Bad argument. Never again, please!

Arguing that domesticated animals should have rights is a hidden form of anthropomorphism because it defines their needs according to human needs. While the emancipation of women and blacks makes sense, the same cannot be said for the emancipation of domesticated animals. From their cognitive perspective, emancipation within the status quo is meaningless. No domesticated animal will ever be free to exercise his rights. An emancipated, domestic animal is by definition, a contradiction in terms. Lawyer Anne-Marie Bourgeois Sohm, lecturer at the Faculty of Law of Clermont-Ferrand, France, is clear that the need to give rights to domestic animals is a false one:

Would this change [giving rights to animals] really make a difference in the animal condition? Would the end justify the problems caused by the change in our traditional legal structure? We must, alas, answer in the negative. The animal, the beneficiary of such rights, can never exercise them, it is his master, or a body authorized to do so in its place, which does so. However, in the present context, it is already the case. (26)

In the context of our legal systems, animals will always come last. We all know it is easier to write laws than to enforce them. Where will we get the resources to do so? Will we have a special animal brigade, the equivalent of the Miami vice squad? Come on. The best example is the multiplication of violent crimes in our society, or the persistence of behaviors contrary to the law, like drug usage, pedophilia, and prostitution, despite stricter laws, closer surveillance, and more and more severe punishments. The difficulty involved in getting people to treat animals decently is less surprising when we look at how people behave towards each other. Putting the focus on animal rights will serve only to make lawyers richer and animal activists more passionate. As long as this issue is on the collective agenda, to be resolved at an undetermined date in the far future, we can continue with business as usual.

Furthermore, by perpetuating the fallacies described in this article, this tribute vice pays to virtue does more to nullify the wanted effect of saving animals and to amplify the dreaded effect of consumerism, with all its inseparable atrocities. It’s like paying a ransom to terrorists for a hostage; we don't do it because we know it just feeds the problem viciously. In Quebec for example, based on the fact that animals are now considered sentient beings there is an attempt to block all hindrance to business by passing a law which would stop apartment building owners from prohibiting pets in their buildings. Under this law, building owners who are often overwhelmed by the problems caused by pets and their owners would have more difficulty getting unruly pet owners sanctioned by the law or even evicted. 

Emancipation of a domestic animal may be meaningless, as explained above, but emancipation for animals in general would have meaning if it means granting animals the right to live out their lives without interference or exploitation. This would mean the end of domestication and thus pets.

It seems that the Declaration of Human Rights, antiracism, and the  “right to live” argument, perfectly legitimate human claims, were copy-pasted on animals for perfectly illegitimate human reasons. This transposition was operated by philosophers like Peter Singer and friends who probably never foresaw from the top of their academic ivory tower that their ideological and career ambitions would have such a negative impact on nature, animals, and society as a whole. From an animal's cognitive perspective, these strictly human concepts are absurd. Animals despite their inherent qualities are not humans and will never be. As says scientist Stephen Budiansky: “It is folly and anthropomorphism of the worst kind, to insist that the intelligence that every species displays must be the same as ours to be truly wonderful.” (27) The notion that other animals should be treated as humans is a dangerous fallacy that leads to chaos as is shown above and below:

Despite what the media, the public, and the authorities say, contrary to popular wisdom, pets as a whole have never been so badly off since the claimed physical and psychological benefits of pets were consecrated in the 1960s by the absurd theories of psychiatrist, Boris Levinson, the instigator of the present pet fad.

The psychological and physical benefits of pets have been grossly exaggerated for devious reasons without a doubt, to stimulate demand and business, but also for sincere reasons, as many people really believe that animals make mankind kinder and healthier. While some studies have found that positive short-term effects of the placebo type can accrue from interacting with animals, most quality hypothesis-testing studies have found that the health and happiness of pet owners is no better, and in some cases worse, than that of non–pet owners. Curiously, these results seem to have no impact whatsoever on the credulity of the public and the authorities who continue to “love” animals and to stubbornly believe in their therapeutic qualities, no matter what. As says Jean de La Fontaine: “Man is of ice towards truths, he is all fire for lies.”

Zoophilia, Peter Singer's pet-subject seems to be on the rise, although it is difficult to evaluate its precise popularity because of the taboo surrounding this sexual practice

Packs of feral dogs are displacing struggling wolf populations from their habitats and decimating them with canine parvovirus infections. (28) 

In the United States and elsewhere, parks and protected ecological sites are trampled and desecrated by pet owners who feel their animals should be treated the Peter Singer way. On a good day in San Francisco’s Fort Funston, reports journalist Michael Schaffer in his book One Nation Under Dog, there can be up to 400 dogs off-leash, spoiling the home of endangered species like the bank swallow or the western snowy plover. In the name of equality for all species, owners everywhere are waging “dog wars” to gain free access for their dogs to rare and protected land. (29) Chaos of this kind is happening wherever the Singer ideologies are defended.

Near my home in Montreal there is a small, pristine forest, a protected national treasure, where dogs are admitted only on-leash and where walking outside the trails is prohibited. Unfortunately, a number of dog owners use it as an exercise park and a toilet for their pets. On one occasion, I saw as many as half a dozen dogs running loose in the woods, barking, trampling rare plants, and scaring birds away. The trails are often littered with feces. Plastic bags containing excrement are thrown in the underbrush and left hanging on the entrance gates. Whenever I have asked dog owners to keep their dogs on-leash and respect the law, I have been treated with contempt and derision, even verbal threats and physical intimidation. One day, an aggressive pet owner, out of her wits after I had told her to put her dogs on leashes, actually shoved my sister out of her way as she continued along the trail. The comment I most often hear is: “If you don’t love animals, why don’t you move to another neighborhood!” I’ve complained many times to City Hall, and several of my letters on the subject were published in local newspapers, but to no avail. The love argument is a powerful deterrent.

And the list - which I have documented in my book, Slaves Of Our Affection. The Myth of the Happy Pet, which every Anglophone publisher in North America has refused to publish  - goes on and on. I could be wrong, but it seems Anglophones are overly sensitive about this issue, much more so than the French, who had no problems publishing this book. Anglos place much of their self-worth on their notorious compassion and love for animals. Undeniably, they are the leaders of the world in that department. Why then is this book so difficult to publish? I'm not doing any harm to animals. On the contrary. Is this a case of Perfidious Albion? Is this a case of everybody knows but nobody wants to know? There seems to be a two tier discourse on animals. While one hand, cherishes them, the other exploits them ruthlessly as if nothing was.

Whatever the case may be, as far as the cat issues are concerned, the hard-nosed Australian government, completely impervious to the hysterical blackmail of useful idiots such as Brigitte Bardot (30) and Peter Singer and Boris Levinson advocates, decided to take matters in hand. For hygienic purposes and to protect their critically endangered wildlife from the scourge of cat love, Aussies will eradicate millions of wild cats in the years to come. (31) 

In New Zealand, environmentalists of the Gareth Morgan Foundation, for example, also advise to stop adopting these modern pariahs of love. (32)

Wise and courageous decision indeed, at the very root of the problem, decision that I took myself when my last cat died of natural disease in 2001. It was an easy call. I did not feel heartbroken. I was ready for this break-up. I felt at once liberated from a heavy burden. Even though I took a long time to admit it, my sense of self-worth and my career as a veterinarian were at stake, I knew deep down that my love of cats was a selfish affair, that my cat did not love me either in the true sense of the word, that we were both affection junkies, myself by choice, and my cat, because of me. In other words: I knew I used my cat as a statement of my humaneness, to put a bit of spike in my often boring and fastidious life, and to ease the pain of boredom and insufficiency. I knew that in my vocabulary, the word love meant possession and maximisation of satisfaction. I knew in the end, that I did not know better, that all my relationships were essentially built around this frame of mind. I managed to believe the contrary by telling myself and being told, repeatedly, from birth, by my colleagues, my friends, my family, and society as a whole that I loved cats and that in return they loved me… unconditionally. 

As the saying goes, sixty-four thousand and four hundred repetitions make one truth. 

Dr Charles Danten is a bestselling author, a biomedical translator specialized in clinical studies, a citizen journalist, and a consultant on urban animal questions.


1. E. Fuller Torrey and Robert H. Yolken (2013). Toxoplasma oocysts as a public health problem. Trends in Parasitology; 29 (8): 380-384.

2. Brenda McGregor (2014). Cat Parasite Infects Arctic Belugas: Scientists: www.FrenchTribune.com.

3. F. G. Angulo et al. (1995). Caring for pets of immunocompromised persons. Canadian Veterinary Journal; 49: 217-222.

4. E. Fuller Torrey, Wendy Simmons, Robert H. Yolken (2015). Is childhood cat ownership a risk factor for schizophrenia later in life? Schizophrena Research; 165(1): 1-2.

5. Fond G. et al. (2012). Toxoplasma gondïi : un rôle potentiel dans la genèse de troubles psychiatriques. Une revue systématique de la littérature. Encéphale.

6. E. Fuller Torrey, Wendy Simmons, Robert H. Yolken (2015). Art. cited.

7. F. G. Angulo et coll. Art. cited.

8. E. Fuller Torrey and Robert H. Yolken (2013). Art. cited.

9. David Gentile (2010). La chasse aux chats errants. Société Radio Canada. 

10. R. Zeuner, S. Lopez, A. Link, S. Muehlhausen et M. Chaney (2013). Predator Mayhem. New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge Final Report.

11. Scott R. Loss, Tom Will et Roger P. Mara. (2013). The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications 4: 13-96.

12. Hawkins, C. C. et coll. (2004). Effect of house cats, being fed in parks, on California birds and rodents. Proceedings 4th International Urban Wildlife Symposium.

13. R. Zeuner, S. Lopez, A. Link, S. Muehlhausen et M. Chaney. Art. cited.

14. Scott R. Loss, Tom Will et Roger P. Mara. Art. cited.

15. Ibid.

16. The Feral Cat (Felis Catus) (2015). Australian Government. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities: www.environment.gov.au.

17. Bruce. E. Collentz (1998). Étrangers au paradis: mammifères envahissants dans les îles. Planet Conservation.

18. Gareth Morgan (2015). Cats to go. That little ball of fluff you own is a natural-born killer. Gareth Morgan Foundation. New Zealand.

19. Ted Williams (March 14 2013). Trap, neuter, return programs make feral cat problem worse. Orlando Sentinel.

20. Jim Sterba (2012). Feral Felines. Nature Wars. Broadway Books.

21. Ted Williams. Art. cited.

22. Lohr C.A. et all (2012) Costs and Benefits of Trap-Neuter-Release and Euthanasia for Removal of Urban Cats in Oahu, Hawaii. Conservation Biology.

23. Ibid.

24. Ted Williams. Art. cited.

25. Jim Sterba. Work cited.

26. Anne-Marie Sohm-Bourgeois (1990). La personnification de l’animal: une tentation à

repousser.  Recueil Dalloz Sirey, 7e Cahier. 

27. Stephen Budiansky (1998). If a Lion Could Talk. The Free Press.

28. Hughes, Joelene and Macdonald, David W (2013). “A review of the interactions between free-roaming domestic dogs and wildlife”. Biological Conservation; 157: 341–351.

29. Schaffer, Michael (2009). One Nation Under Dog. Henry Holt: 41.

30. Hilary Hanson (2015). Brigitte Bardot Slams Australia's Plan To Kill 2 Million Feral Cats “Inhumane and ridiculous.” The World Post.

31. Australian Government. Art. cited.

32. Gareth Morgan. Art. cited.