Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Enigma of Casper the Cat

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is a 1974 film directed by Werner Herzog, based on the true story of the eponymous Kaspar, who claimed to have lived in total isolation, chained in a dark cellar for the first seventeen years of his life. Many historians now believe Hauser to have been a fraudster.

"Casper lives in a world without promise
Sitting at home in his pyjamas
Just wishing it would all go away somehow

He walked by but he never saw us
He could have been a famous guitarist
He must have not have had a clue"

– Daniel Johnston, Casper the Friendly Ghost

Casper is a big cat, and we'd both have to brace ourselves for his landings. In the mornings he'd jump up on our bed, meow, and settle himself on one of our chests, inches away from our noses, his whiskers tickling our cheeks. We'd feel his cold breath on our faces as he purred contentedly and dug his claws into the duvet. If we were spooning in bed, he would lie diplomatically across both of us, half and half.

It occurred to me a while ago that whilst my former pet cat, Casper, occupied the same space as me, lived with me within the same four walls, to all extents was a member of my family (or so I liked to think; we didn't have any children), he had a completely different experience of life to me. Yes, sure, he's a cat, but I could also be talking about my wife, Annie, who also left me.

I used to say to her that Casper's one of the world’s great thinkers, with a Buddhist-like propensity for sitting still and staring into space, thinking great thoughts. When he stared into nothing with his big black eyes, I always thought he was seeing things us humans couldn't see. Annie wasn't so sure. She thought when he stared into space he was staring at sounds, looking in the direction where he could hear things that we couldn't. Either way, he experienced things us humans didn't.

It was when I'd left for work one morning Casper told Annie I'd been having an affair. She told me later she screamed so loud but wasn't sure what was most upsetting – me having the affair or Casper speaking, in English, and sounding a bit like Kenneth Williams. It was the first time in recorded history a cat had ever spoken a human language. Casper was exaggerating somewhat when he said I'd had an affair. I'd spent time with a female neighbour, it's true, but less than half a dozen times, in the evening, when Annie was out at yoga. It meant nothing. I was stupid, but it was a blip. But for Casper to tell Annie was a gross betrayal. I thought we'd had a bond.

I knew something was amiss that day because Annie hadn't answered any of my texts, and when I got home sure enough, she was gone, and so was the cat. I knew they weren't coming back (there was a note which emphatically said so). Well, not until I was gone, which happened very early the next morning with a loud knock on the door from the police.

At first I thought they had the wrong address. I opened the door to two policemen in uniform and a detective. Then I thought it was a joke – I racked my mind for what I'd done wrong (all I could think of was the fling with the neighbour). The detective told me I was under arrest for domestic abuse, kidnapping and torture. Eh? I'd never laid a finger on Annie. I protested, they said the usual 'anything you say will be taken down and could be used in court later', though it was the first time I'd actually heard it spoken outside of films and TV. They forcibly escorted me to the police station.

This was all surely some mistake; some Kafkaesque administration error. Nevertheless, I tried to be as co-operative as I could. My photo was taken and fingerprints digitally scanned. I was read my rights. I was asked if I'd taken drugs, or drunk alcohol or was liable to self-harm. I said no. An officer asked me if I wanted a solicitor. I didn't see any need. They put me in a cell for two hours.

When they let me out I was taken to the interview room. It was here I was read the full charges against me. It was here that I think I fainted. I was being accused by Casper – my cat – of these so-called crimes. I looked at the officers. They were serious. They advised me to accept legal counsel and a solicitor was appointed to me.

I loved Casper like a member of my family, probably more so than most humans. The list of offences against me went on for several pages, and they were all read out to me. Most I thought were pretty trivial to say the least, but apparently this was no laughing matter. Torture, kidnapping and false imprisonment was the general gist of it.

More specifically: the plaintiff was taken away from his parents and siblings at a young age which caused him considerable psychological and emotional trauma. The plaintiff had his genitals removed against his will. The plaintiff was forced to eat the same boring, horrible cat food every day, food not even good enough for dogs (this one really got me – Annie used to joke that he had tapas for dinner every night – a selection of cat food, chicken, fish and biscuits). The plaintiff's litter tray was not always changed regularly. The plaintiff was frequently locked inside the house alone, and on three occasions, for an entire weekend. The plaintiff was, on occasion, kicked (I would have called it a gentle nudge). The plaintiff was placed in a box and escorted to vets against his will, and had treatments and operations he was unaware of (which cost me hundreds of pounds).

I was under arrest. I made a statement and pleaded not guilty. My solicitor advised me not to say anything else so I didn't. The police had a warrant to search my house. A court day was set.

Within hours it was all over social media. The #MeowNow movement was launched. It seemed inevitable that cats would take to Twitter like a duck to water; after all, they love birds – to catch, to play with, to torture, and sometimes even to eat. They tweeted till the cows came home. Then the floodgates really opened. Other pets followed suit. Animal rights marches and protests took place in major cities. There were pussy riots in the streets. Within months, a law was invoked decrying pet ownership illegal, and having a pet was suddenly likened to slavery. All pets were declared sentient beings. Pet shops were shut down. Making fun of cats on the internet was banned.

What can I say? I was the fall guy, the patsy. I wasn't released on bail; I had to stay in the cell, for my own safety as well as for the protection of all cats. Nevertheless, I thought I had a good case for the trial. I'd had great times with Casper. The truth would shine through. It wasn’t until I was in the courtroom and noticed that the jury consisted of six cats, three dogs, two humans and a hamster that I started to get really uneasy. Only then did my solicitor inform me that the prosecution was a prominent pet rights lawyer.

The trail was all a blur, to tell the truth, and I did tell the truth, mostly. Witnesses came and went, evidence was presented – cat litter tray, cat food sachets, photos, my text messages and phone records, CCTV footage, you name it. Vets, scientists and psychologists gave evidence. All the time Casper sat there, Sphinx-like and poker-faced, either on the witness stand or watching from the public gallery. The jury was putty in his paws. He seemed to hypnotise them with his big eyes like black moons, his Kenneth Williams purr-like voice.

My solicitor was next to useless. He knew the result of the case before it started, and merely went through the motions. The prosecution, on the other hand, was like an actor on a stage. He was in his element.

His summing up speech, to be fair, encapsulated man's sometimes uneasy relationship with pets. He started on a light note. There's an urban myth that 15% of all internet traffic is cat-related, he intoned, almost in a purr of a voice. Everyone loves cats, he went on, and pets in general. Indeed, in a recent survey some 90% of British households considered their pets to be members of the family. In fact, 42% of British pet owners love their pet more than their partner (light mirth from the jurors). We are spending more money on our pets than ever before. So what's the problem then? He asked the jury rhetorically.

The problem is, he continued, the more we think of our pets as being part of the family, the more we think of them as being human, the more difficult it to justify keeping them as pets. More and more research shows us that pets, from cats to goldfish, have far more emotional feelings than we previously thought. They are independent, free-thinking, emotional beings that we are treating like prisoners. We are deciding where they go, what they eat. We are deciding if they have genitals or not, for God's sake! It is not our choice to make! With cats, we call it neutering and spaying. In human terms, it would be called castration and female genital mutilation.

Then the lawyer zeroed in on me one last time – me, the abuser and torturer – and it was all over. The jury took two hours to reach a guilty verdict. The judge gave me three years. Casper blinked at me and licked his lips. The public gallery erupted in applause. The press went mad. Casper was a celebrity.

When I got out of prison, 25 months later for good behaviour, my life was in shreds. I rented a room in a house away from London, and kept mostly to myself. I changed my name. I'd received enough death threats. But I missed the company of a woman and a cat. The amount of times I said to Annie I wished Casper could speak and tell us what he's thinking and feeling, but in truth, well, in hindsight, I preferred it when cats couldn't talk.

3 comments :

Caspar said...

I suppose I should offer some profound comment on the post itself, but actually I'm just here to commend that amazingly cute picture of your feline (former?) friend at the top of it.
- Caspar (the human one)

Caspar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barnaby said...

That cute picture is not my cat -- but looks exactly like him, when he was a kitten. Now he's about ten times as big. I used a pic off the internet as it has an Xmas theme, plus it goes with the story -- how we like to humiliate our cats for entertainment...