Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 2003 / 4 Tishrei, 5764

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

A man, a woman and a cat | If you are looking for another reason to fear cats, aside from the one where the cat jumps on your neck while you're reading the newspaper and sinks its teeth into your carotid, be advised that a Czech scientist has discovered that cats can cause car accidents.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: Well, sure. If a cat leaps out in front of my car while I'm driving, I might swerve and run into another car.

Or: Sure, if I'm driving and the cat leaps onto my neck from the back seat and sinks its teeth into my carotid, it is possible that I will have an accident.

Unfortunately, the latest research shows that the problem is much scarier than that. Cats (along with rabbits and raw meat) can carry a parasite called toxoplasma gondii and pass it along to people. While the parasite is not usually life-threatening, it can make people act in odd and potentially self-destructive ways, researchers say.

For some reason, the parasite affects men and women in different ways. It can make women reckless and friendly while making men jealous and morose. (Yes, I am aware that these are the same personality disorders that you often find in bad marriages, but let's stick to the subject, shall we?)

Scientist Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague told Reuters that women suffering from toxoplasmosis are 2.6 times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident because of slowed reaction time.

While their cat-loving wives are out creating mayhem on the highways, men are sitting at home, wondering how they ever got into this situation. That is because men infected by the parasite tend to be quiet, withdrawn, suspicious, jealous and dogmatic.

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(The operative word here is "dog," as in: Why didn't we get one of those instead of this stupid cat?)

Flegr said the illness could be responsible for up to 1 million highway deaths worldwide, making it one of the deadliest parasitic diseases, second only to malaria.

While I am not a world-renowned expert on toxoplasma gondii per se, I believe there may be something more at work here than a mere parasite.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that a man is courting a woman who has a cat. The woman, of course, loves her cat and is trying to love the man but harbors concerns that the man may not love her cat as much as she. The man loves the woman and is trying to love the cat but thinks the whole situation would be a lot simpler if the cat were tragically run over by a bus. The cat, of course, couldn't care less about any of this and is simply waiting for an opportunity to leap on the man's neck and sink its teeth into his carotid.

"Do you love my cat?" the woman asks.

"I love you," the man answers. "Isn't that enough?"

"Why do you hate my cat?"

"I don't hate your cat," the man answers, holding a handkerchief to his neck. "I'm just not sure it likes me."

"Perhaps you would love my cat if you two spent more time together."

(The cat arches its back and hisses.)

"I would rather spend more time with you," the man answers warily.

"You're afraid of commitment, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not afraid of commitment. I've been dating you for two years, for cripes sake."

"Why do you hate my cat?"

An hour later, morosely making his way home, the man is run over by a car driven by a woman suffering from toxoplasmosis.

When it comes to man-woman-woman-cat-man-cat relationships, I don't think it's fair to blame everything on a lowly parasite.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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