Notes of a Sportswriter's Daughter
by Donna Haraway

© Donna Haraway

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Cats for Dog People

To be published in Margaretta Jolly, ed., 21st Century Epistolarity, special issue of Auto/biography Studies Volume 21, number 1, 21.2(2006).

October 4, 2002
Hi there, friends,

Below is a little indulgent animal writing from-gasp!-catland, not dogland.

Rusten and I have been in a catless relation to the world since the death five years ago of 21-year-old, former feral cat Moses, but no more. A bone-thin, feral, gray tabby female had a litter of four near the barn this spring and then, sadly, got run over by a car on Mill Creek Road. We had been supplementing her food for a while by then, and we adopted her five-week-old kittens for the proud job of barn cats. All four are flourishing, and still very much feral. One of the little black guys (now known to be a male and bearing the name of all-black-clad Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) will let me pick him up and stroke him, but the others are satisfied with service from humans in the form of food and water. They otherwise much prefer the company of each other and a barn full of rodents. Spike, the tame one-also the runt of the litter-might find himself a traveling house cat come winter quarter, if he will agree to the transition. And if I can get Cayenne to agree to share her couch with a feline... Right now she alternates between terror of cats (instilled by her godhuman's cat, Sugar) and considering them lunch.

We trapped them all, one at a time, with the help of Forgotten Felines in Sonoma County and got them sterilized and vaccinated for rabies and distemper. The agreement with Forgotten Felines if they help with trap and release is that the humans promise to feed the feral cats for the duration of their lives--expected to be about 8-9 years, compared to 1-2 years for a feral cat not fed regularly by humans and to 15-20 years for a well cared-for pet. Word from the cooperating vet and the farm feed store that rents the traps is that there are probably thousands of supplemented, sterilized feral cats in Sonoma County. Insisting on our using the traps, the vet would not let us bring the cats to him in a regular cat crate because of a history of serious scratch and bite wounds from feral cats in getting them ready for surgery.

Our hope is that the cats will have a fine life keeping the rodents in check so that we can park by the barn again without providing warm, low cost, tract housing in our air ducts for reproducing mice. Our felines are also supposed to keep further feral cats from settling in nearby. I hope they understand this contract! Meanwhile, bearing names from the Buffy and Dark Angel TV series, they are fat, sassy, and beautiful. Come up soon and check out Spike (black male), Giles (black male), Willow (dark gray tabby female), and Max (light gray tabby female). You will notice that one of the stripped tabbies bears the name of bar code-marked Max from Dark Angel.

We'd change Willow's name if you could come up with another bar code-marked TV character. Any ideas?

Landmate Susan Caudill and Rusten decided that our cats have undergone the defining experience of alien abduction--lifted out of one's home without warning by strange-looking giants of unknown origin, held in dark isolation for a period, brought to a chrome & light-filled medical facility and subjected to penetration with needles and forced reproductive alterations, returned to one's original location and released as if nothing had happened, and expected to carry on until the next abduction at some unknown future time.

As beings who have undergone surgery & vaccination and therefore been interpellated into the modern biopolitical state, these cats have earned names to go with their historical identities and subject status. Just think, when else and where else in hominid-feline co-histories would the offspring of a dead feral cat:
1) be taken up by a household of over-educated, scientifically trained, middle-aged war resisters;
2) be aided by an animal welfare volunteer organization with a quasi wilderness ideology and a soft spot for animal rights speak;
3) become the recipient of the donated time and services of a vet trained at a post-Civil War, land grant, science-based university and his technical staff;
4) be caught with a trap-and-release technology designed to get rid of vermin without the moral blot of killing them (the same technology designed to relocate wildlife in national parks and such);
5) receive serums tied to the history of immunology and to Pasteur in particular;
6) be fed MaxCat specially formulated kitten food certified by a national standards organization and regulated by food labeling laws;
7) be named for teenage vampire killer and genetically engineered characters on US television
8) and still have the status of wild animals?

Is this what Muir meant? In wilderness is our hope...

Much love,

"Interpellation" is taken from French post-structuralist, marxist, philosopher Louis Althusser's theory for how subjects are constituted from concrete individuals by being "hailed" through ideology into their subject positions in the modern state. Early in the 20th century, the French rescued the word from obsolescence (before 1700 in English and French "to interpellate" had meant "to interrupt or break in on speech") to refer to calling on a minister in the legislative chamber to explain the policies of the ruling government. Today, through our ideologically loaded narratives of their lives, animals "hail" us animal people to account for the regimes in which they and we must live. We "hail" them into our constructs of nature and culture, with major consequences of life and death, health and illness, longevity and extinction. We also live with each other in the flesh in ways not exhausted by our ideologies. In that is our hope...

Entries in Chronological Order

MetaRetrievers on the Beach
Novice Play, Novice Players
Baby Weaves
Home Study
Klingon Warrior Princess
Marco's Story
Tales from the Crypt
Cats for Dog People
Blood on the Path
Personals Column
Touching Comfort
Hell's Aussie
Somewhere Off 34th Street
Daemon Tear

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