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Nashville Scene The High Cost of Cats

Take the money and run

By Walter Jowers

JULY 10, 2000:  You can tell when a cat's just too old to live. It gives up on its fur. I saw one of these too-old cats a few weeks ago. Clearly, this particular orange tabby was done with stretching, licking, and grooming. Its fur was all matted dreadlocks, its eyes were dim, and it couldn't quite walk a straight line. I bent over and rubbed the cat's wobbly head. The poor cat felt like it had been dead for a while already. I looked up at the real estate agent, who had let me into the house, and said, "Looks like this puss has put in many years of faithful service."

"Yes, he has," the Realtor said. "Problem is, he's incontinent. Without that cat's messes, this house would've sold a long time ago, for a lot more money. I figure that cat has cost these people about $70,000."

That put me to thinking: What's a cat worth? I've had two delightful cats and one not-too-bad cat in my life. I figure the best one was worth a few hundred bucks, tops. For $70,000, I would've cheerfully handed over my best cat, my best-ever car, and my childhood home, all at the same time. I could've replaced them all (not that I would've), and still had enough dough left over to buy a matched pair of Plymouth Breeze automobiles. (I'd walk first.)

Which only goes to show that some folks put more value on cats than I do. In fact, a fair number of people think fondly about cats full-time. I know this because I go into other peoples' houses for a living. I see the cats, and the cat calendars, and the cat figurines. But mostly, I see the notes: Don't let the cat out, don't let the cat in, keep the gray cat in the garage, and don't let the calico drink out of the toilet....

Cats are the most selfish, stubborn creatures on earth, and the most nimble escape artists. They won't mind anybody. Yet a lot of cat owners expect perfect strangers to walk into their house and have instant, hypnosis-level control over the kitties.

I have actually had people look me in the eye and tell me, "The cat likes to leap off the mantel and out the front door. Don't let him out." I guess if I were a trained hockey goalie, fully dressed out, I might have a shot at catching the cat in my mitt, or at least knocking him down with my stick. Truth is, though, if a cat decides to go out the door, he's going. So, if he went, and never came back, how many dollars would I owe the cat's owner?

"No dollars," says my smartypants lawyer. "With rare exceptions, cats have no cash value."

"How about pain and suffering, loss of affection, and stuff like that?" I asked.

"You've been watching too much television," he replied. "A cat is chattel, like a lamp. If you break it or lose it, and it's totally your fault, the most you owe is its current market value. That's zero for your average housecat. Maybe less. Some people will actually pay you to take a cat off their hands."

"How about if the cat runs out the door four-legged and comes back three-legged," I asked.

"You owe the depreciated value of one cat leg. We're talking pesos."

That sounded good to me. After that conversation, I was pretty sure I could quit worrying about losing other people's cats. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found out about a London cat that's worth more money than most of the houses in Nashville.

The cat's name is Antonio B Pinardan. His friends call him Toni. He's a 2-year-old Ankara Turkish Angora, and he gets a $1,200 stud fee. I've watched cats have sex, and I know, Toni's bagging about $60,000 a minute. That's Mike Tyson-level money.

Toni's owner, Peter Collins of Lowestoft, says a woman snatched Toni up, stuffed him into a bag, and fled. "I chased her and saw her getting into an estate car with foreign plates that had its engine running. She jumped in, and the car roared off before I reached it," Collins told the Associated Press.

Suffolk county police--who, for the time being, are acting like they believe this story--said they feared that the catnappers might try to spirit the fluffy cat out of the country. "We have issued an all-ports warning and Interpol have been contacted," they said.

Collins paid about $1,500 for the cat 18 months ago. Since then, he said, exports of the cats have been restricted, and another cat of the breed was sold last year for $375,000. "I can't put a price on him," Collins said. "He's one of our family now. Losing him has upset my wife deeply."

Peter, buddy, stuff the grief and call your insurance company. If they'll give you $375,000 for Toni, take the money. Then call me. For $375,000, I will cheerfully provide you and your wife with a lifetime supply of adorable fuzzy kitties, all shapes, sizes, and colors. I'll fly to London anytime you want and deliver 'em to your doorstep by the basketful. Just pick the one(s) you like, and I'll deal with the rest, no extra charge.

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