BOOKS: Two Perfectly Marvelous Cats
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1996:
Two Perfectly Marvelous Cats
by Rosamond M. Young
J.N. Townsend (12 Greenleaf Drive, Exeter, NH
03833), 1996. 176 pages, $20.00, hardback.
Faith, the first cat in these two stories, is a “perfectly
marvelous cat,” but the rector who cherished her is an utterly
dreamy dish. Are there, were there, anywhere such men? He
wanted to understand his cat, to allow her independence as
well as protection. From her first entry, uninvited, off the
street, he accorded her full equality with any of God’s creatures,
and respected her as the wonderful work a cat is. He
drew from his prayer book to create a touching and beautiful
funeral service for Faith. In his unabashed tenderness toward
his little cat, he sets an example of the truly religious. Faith,
on the other hand, while showing indubitable courage in saving
her kitten from peril, is simply being a typical cat mother.
Some cat mother somewhere is being similarly valiant at this
The second exemplary cat, Simon, perseveres
despite illness and injury, and even the misunderstanding of his
humans. Good as the story is––and both of Young’s stories
convey perfectly the unique atmosphere of life during World
War II, both in the British Isles and in the Pacific Theatre––
my mind fixed on the issue Young does not press: quarantine.
The British cling to an archaic and unscientific notion that
impounding all entering animals for six months will keep out
rabies. Pets too old, fearful, spoiled by their accustomed
lifestyles, or too much in love with their owners often die during
this imprisonment without crime or trial. The Dicken
Medal that Simon won, as the only cat so honored, was a nice
bit of tin, but Simon died in quarantine, deserving far better.
The British quarantine law is under fire as never
before, as the September deaths of Danish embassy attache
Henrik Sorenson’s 12-year-old cocker spaniel and Air Chief
Marshall Sir Michael Stear’s two-year-old glden retriever
made banner headlines, along with denunciations of quaran –
tine by artist David Hockney, actor Rupert Everett, model
Elizabeth Hurley, and Christopher Patten, the final colonial
governor of Hong Kong, each reluctant to return home, for the
sake of a pet.
“Like thousands of diplomats, service and business
families around the world, I feel the present British quarantine
rules are preposterous,” Patten told the London Times. “I
have told the prime minister what I think. There is no scientific
basis for them, and they risk cruelty to animals.”
British agriculture minister Douglas Hogg has stated
that he is considering a “review” of the law, introduced in
1901, and a parliamentary committee on quarantine unani –
mously recommended in 1994 that it be repealed, but no mea –
sure to do so was ever introduced.
The quarantine law is upheld by lobbying pressure
from two directions: pet breeders, who enjoy a monopoly on
animal supply that might quickly erode against competition
from puppy mills and catteries in the poorer nations of the
European Community, and quarantine kennel operators, who
typically earn $2,250 from quarantining a dog, $1,800 for
quarantining a cat. In 1995, 9,520 dogs and cats were quar –
antined, at total cost to owners of more than $20 million.
Many quarantine kennel operators are members of
the British Veterinary Association, which defends the quaran –
tine despite an October 16 call for repeal from a group of dissi –
dent veterinarians led by professor of veterinary medicine John
Bleby and Lord Soulsby, former president of the Royal College
of Veterinary Surgeons.
Mainstream humane organizations are split between
opposing an obviously inhumane practice and removing an
obstacle to an influx of animals to compete with adoptions.
The quarantine law has undeniably been effective in
keeping rabies out of Britain: the last human case occurred in
1902, and while one rabid bat reportedly turned up just this
year, the last rabies case in a dog or cat was in 1972.
However, advances in vaccination have made long
New Zealand until recently had a similar six-month
mandatory quarantine of incoming animals. It was recently
replaced with a one-month quarantine, by recommendation of
Stuart C. MacDiarmid, national manager of agricultural secu –
rity for the New Zealand ministry of agriculture. MacDiarmid
and colleague Kevin Corrin, “showed that the risk from a onemonth
quarantine and verified vaccination status was no
greater than the then current policy of six months’ quarantine,”
MacDiarmid advised British authorities on October 22.