By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
July 5, 2000
CINCINNATI -- When Libbie Jones curled up with her 3-year-old cat Max one night last fall, she never expected she would wake up the next morning blinded, bleeding, and desperately searching for her phone. Jones, who, like many young professionals, doted on her pet cat, always made sure Max had the best food and toys money could buy. What she didn't know was that she had slowly transformed her cherished companion into a dangerous animal.
While Jones slept that fateful morning, her 10-pound cat staged an unprovoked attack. Without warning, the cat began clawing Jones' face, eventually scratching her left eye so severely that she would later lose vision in it. Even more disturbing was the fact that a neighbor's cat apparently entered Jones' home through a pet door to participate in the attack.
Cincinnati Animal Care and Control authorities investigated the case as a possible outbreak of rabies. But no evidence of infection was found. In fact, both animals proved to be remarkably healthy and exhibited few if any violent traits during their quarantine. The animals have since been destroyed.
The assault remained unexplained until Dr. Perlon Markins, an animal behaviorist at the University of Kentucky, happened upon an account of the two-cat attack in the Lexington Herald-Leader. He immediately called Cincinnati authorities to convey a thesis, based on two decades of research: Through a combination of souped-up diet and overly affectionate relations, Jones had inadvertently created a "killer cat."
For the last 20 years, Markins has been studying how diet, exercise, and interaction with humans affect domesticated animals. In recent years that research has led him to question whether humans are treating their pets "too well."
"I wanted to know two things," explains Markins. "What did this owner feed her cat? And how did she feel about her pet, on a more personal level?" Markins learned that Jones' cat was on a strict regimen of expensive, premium-brand food obtained from a veterinarian. Moreover, Jones considered Max to be more of a friend or companion than a pet animal. That was all Markins needed to confirm his suspicions that Jones and her cat suffered from Domestic Animal Dysphoria, or DAD.
Highly controversial in both the veterinary medicine community and academic circles, DAD was first postulated by Dr. Roy Siegried, a veterinarian in Melbourne, Australia. According to Siegried, the characteristics of DAD include: sudden violent fits often directed at the owner; a return to pack behavior; increased appetite; hyperfitness; and chronic lethargy. Onset of DAD has been linked to highly affectionate owner care, stretches of intense isolation followed by periods of overstimulation, and a high-quality diet.
While some veterinarians and most animal rights groups dispute the validity of the increasingly common DAD diagnosis, Jones is sobered by what she learned in the aftermath of her attack. Though she still considers herself a "cat lover," she warns others not to forget that their animal companions are always just that -- animals.
"I thought I was doing my cat a favor by buying him the best cat food and giving him a lot of attention when I wasn't busy with work," bemoaned a chastened Jones. "But I ended up hurting both of us -- and for that I'm very, very sorry."
South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being satirized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental.