The Crazy Cat Lady is a cultural stereotype who is usually a middle-aged or elderly “spinster” who owns numerous pet cats and who features prominently in popular culture such as The Simpsons, The Office and across a diversity of film and television genres. The Crazy Cat Lady has been depicted variously as well-meaning, ditsy, lovable, lonely, desperate or just plain weird, cranky or repulsive.
Some examples in popular culture…
- In 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, the main character violently murders a crazy cat lady
- Michelle Pfeiffer In Batman Returns transforms from a crazy cat lady into Catwoman.
- Mrs Scratchen-Post in The Lego Movie is a cat lady mini-figure.
- More generally, Ace Ventura – Pet Detective.
- Breakfast at Tiffanys –Audrey Hepburn –
- Angela Martin from The Office – is a cat lady.
- Grandma Puggy – widowed grandmother with lots of cats – Saturday Night Live.
- The Crazy Cat Lady on The Simpsons.
- The Suite Life on Deck – Emma has 30 cats in her cabin.
- Hattie McDoogal on Futurama.
I must confess that I am actually a crazy cat lady myself. Even though I contradict the stereotype as I am married (twice even) and I do have children. But I have 9 cats living in my house. Okay, I am fostering 4 kittens and we ended up adopting the Mother Cat as she was completely neglected and would have been returned to the streets after being spayed. Our cat population here will reduce to 5 in a few weeks. It is still too many. And we also have a dachshund while living in a two-bedroom Mennonite house in Placencia, Belize. We mitigate the chaos as we work from home. I let the cats out during the day and they come in during the evening. We live in a relaxed fishing village by the sea. And I am fastidiously tidy – so we are not living with an awful cat wee smell here. That said, it is a lot of work keeping our home hygienic and clean with this many animals. And costly to boot in terms of cat litter and food.
So where do we actually cross the line and evolve from quirkily having a few too many cats to going full-blown cat hoarding with hundreds of cats – call the authorities and nuke the site from orbit.
Link between Mental Illness and Cat Hoarding
There has been scientific research conducted linking the parasite Toxoplasma gondii carried by cats and some psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia. So not surprisingly, cat hoarding has been identified as a component of OCD. Some articles I have read suggest that cat hoarders become addicted to the smell of cat urine in their homes because of the action of the parasite on certain parts of the brain. This is the same parasite which pregnant women are told to avoid contact with during pregnancy as it can cause serious birth defects. (As an aside, while I was pregnant with both my children I had my first husband change the litter trays for our two cats).
This study on the links between the parasite and human behaviour is one of the more interesting. The science behind this is quite complex and appears to have evolutionary aspects (particularly in relation to the effect of the parasite on cat’s natural prey – rats mentioned in the link).
I personally believe that people who become cat hoarders may have suffered great personal trauma in their lives at some point. I think there is a link between childhood neglect and seeking companionship in animals because humans have caused profound disappointment. However, when this is manifested in extremely dysfunctional animal hoarding it becomes a problem for the wider community and more specifically the animals being compulsively collected, many of whom die in appalling conditions. The RSPCA and local councils are often required to collect the sick and dying animals and burn the house down, pretty much. Many animals found neglected, starving and living in their own filth, end up being euthanised by the authorities who liberate them. So the animal hoarder who thinks they are rescuing animals is actually causing more harm than good.
Just to clarify, cat or animal hoarders in general can be both male and female. It is not a gender-specific behaviour.
Returning to the more normal end of the spectrum and on a more light hearted note, I identify some famous cat people in history, politics and popular culture who had great fondness for their feline companions:
- Florence Nightingale had many cats and named them after famous public figures like Disraeli, Gladstone and Bismarck.
- Winnipeg’s notorious Cat Lady – Bertha Rand – fought with neighbours and City Hall for years to save her dozens of cats.
Celebrity Cat Lovers
- Janet Leigh-
- Warren Beatty
- Halle Berry
- Katie Couric
- Jay Leno
- Van Heflin
- Steve Martin
- James Dean
- Cameron Diaz
- Gary Oldman
- Patrick Stewart
- Charles Lindbergh
- Charlotte Bronte
- Lord Byron
- Charles Dickens
- Edgar Allen Poe
- H G Wells
- Sir Walter Scott
- Alexander Dumas
- Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Tennessee Williams
- Ernest Hemingway (see my other article)
- Andy Warhol
- Woody Allen
- Freddie Mercury (numerous cats)
- George W Bush
- Bill Clinton (Socks)
- Queen Victoria
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Abraham Lincoln
- Calvin Coolidge
- Winston Churchill
I am currently fostering four kittens and a now desexed Mother Cat – so I essentially have this Starter Kit.
Three of these kittens are going to new homes in a few weeks after they are desexed. Here they are seen playing with the sample of our pink felt cat cave which is looking a bit worse for wear and needs a clean.
There are so many stray animals around where we live here in Placencia, Belize and it is really important to ensure that the kitten population is kept to a minimum, as cute as they are. The local Humane Society here does an amazing job in catching strays and spaying/neutering and rehoming where possible.
Did I mention that we are also feeding two stray dogs and I have managed to remove their fleas (thanks to the local Humane Society). So those dogs whom I have named Castor and Pollux – they don’t belong to us – they belong to themselves – but they stand guard on our front porch every morning and evening. Here we are walking them along the beach with our dachshund Maxie.