The Short Happy Life of Meow the Obese Cat

Meow the Obese Cat died, but not before achieving the feline equivalent of the American Dream.  Oliver Lee Bateman reflects on this flabby tabby’s fifteen minutes of fame.

 

Earlier this week, Meow the Cat missed one of his scheduled weigh-ins.  Much had been made of the obese kitty’s vaunted “Catkins” diet and ambitious weight loss program, so when he failed to appear as planned, my father–who has never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t find plausible–had this to say:

That fat son of a gun had a heart attack.  That’s how it was with Dick Cheney, too–the powers that be will never tell you what’s going on. But there’s something fishy here, and I think those shelter people aren’t going to own up to it.  They’re getting way too much good publicity parading that big pussycat around like he’s the Queen of Sheba.  If he isn’t already gone, I’d wager that he’s hanging on by a thread.

I tried to put my father’s concerns out of mind.  He couldn’t be right about this one, could he? After all, he wasn’t right about that machine that controls the weather.  Then I awoke yesterday to discover that my old law school roommate, who was well aware of my unhealthy obsession with Meow, had posted a grim news story on my Facebook wall:

Meow, a 39-lb. cat whose extreme obesity made headlines, died Saturday afternoon at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. He was approximately 2 years old. His shockingly heavyset frame made for good TV, and Meow had made appearances on Today and Anderson 360 during his brief time in the spotlight. His death was announced Monday by the humane society’s executive director, Mary Martin, on Facebook.

In less time than it took the Millennium Falcon to make the Kessel Run, I made my way to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter’s Facebook page, where I found the following message:

I am devastated to share with you that the respiratory distress that Meow was experiencing last week (the reason we did not do his weigh-in) took his life at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 5. The Shelter staff – along with all those who met Meow during his short time with us – mourn his passing. As many of you are aware, Meow began wheezing last Thursday in his foster home, Dr. Jen began trying to sort out the problem, at first considering the possibility of asthma associated with his weight. She started treatment immediately to ease his breathing and, when Meow didn’t improve, she sought additional help for him from our emergency specialty hospital and an additional private veterinary hospital. Although four different veterinarians worked with Meow, we were unable to stop the progression of what turned out to be pulmonary failure. Meow had been doing so well in his foster home; walking up stairs and seeking affection – that it is so very hard to believe he is gone.

I fought back a tear–I hadn’t even cried when my grandfathers passed, for crying out loud–and began reading through the comments under that post (when last I checked, there were over 640).  “RIP Meow chubby cutie,” “sorry Mr Meow,” and “hope you fly over the Rainbow Bridge my big sweet Meow” are characteristic of what most people had written.  However, one commenter took umbrage at what she perceived as the exploitation of this unhealthy creature:

 I knew when you started dragging him around the country it would kill him. He should have been in a shelter that wouldn’t use him to get donations.

Within moments, a Meow partisan had composed a rebuttal:

You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. This shelter gave a face to animal obesity and Meow’s story reached millions of people. If he encouraged just one pet owner to get help for their overweight kitty then he did not die in vain. Whether you agree or not, it is incredibly inappropriate for you to have made such a remark when the people who tried to save Meow are undoubtedly grieving. Shame on you.

I have neither a dog nor an overweight cat in this particular fight, but the more detailed coverage of Meow’s death that began filtering out later that afternoon suggested that his passing was indeed going to be used as a means for raising awareness of the nation’s feline obesity epidemic:

Meow’s weight underscored a growing problem: Pets in America are getting fatter — just like their owners — and all that extra weight can hasten death. That’s what happened in Meow’s case, said Mary Martin, executive director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. The shelter assumed care of Meow when his 87-year-old owner could no longer care for the mammoth feline.

Of course, even this part of the story was contested.  The website Catster took the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, the Today Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and yours truly to task for getting the facts wrong.  Meow, it seems, wasn’t two years old, hadn’t been abused, and had grown fat owing to a severe urinary tract infection rather than systematic over-feeding.  He hadn’t been stuffed full of hot dogs, as was reported on nearly  every daytime chat show currently in existence and joked about by singing sensation Cee-Lo Green in an exclusive interview.

♦◊♦

Ok, I need to stop for a second. I’ve followed the Meow saga more closely than I’ve ever followed anything else in my entire life, the Black Scorpion wrestling angle included, and I’m left to conclude that the regular media doesn’t have a goddamn clue.  Most major papers are still reporting that the cat is two years old.  The hot dog diet is referenced everywhere.  Misinformation abounds, as do the cat puns.

Furthermore, there’s been little serious reflection on what actually transpired here.  Sure, Meow’s death will raise awareness of feline obesity (although, given how many declawed and overfed cats I’ve encountered during the past five years, shouldn’t most cat owners already be aware of this?).  Yes, a few random Facebookers will stick to their own diets in honor of Meow.  And undoubtedly the Santa Fe Animal Shelter is in a better place, financially and otherwise, than it was before Meow’s arrival.

But really, what the hell just happened?  How did this story flash across our 50″ HD screens, all these classy shots of poor Meow being handled like a sack of potatoes, and then vanish, leaving behind absolutely zero content?  Nada, zip, zilch.  In-depth reporting on the love life of crackerjack figure skater Tonya Harding offers more in the way of moral uplift and edification to consumers of newstertainment.

Nevertheless, I remained transfixed, although the reasons for my infatuation are still obscure.  As my fiancée pointed out, Meow was not an especially prepossessing cat.  His coloration was nothing to write home about, his numerous chins were actually kind of gross…and yet there was a certain je ne sais quoi about him.  He was the feline equivalent of Brando in The Island of Doctor Moreau:  a shambling, unforgettable mound of adipose tissue.

In spite of being buried alive underneath his layers of fat, Meow achieved the American dream.  As it stands, where else but America could an animal like Meow even appear?  Certainly not in any country where meat is being rationed . Here in his homeland, however, Meow not only survived but managed to prosper, completing a weeklong grand tour that we luckless schlubs will never have the opportunity to undertake.  On top of all that, he embodied (in his ginormous body) a sort of hope that is always in short supply in the US of A:  the hope that one day, following the intervention of our most beloved celebrities, each of us can stop being so overweight and disgusting.

I’ll miss you, Meow.  They’re trying to foist this tiny kitten off on us as consolation, but it’s not the same.  Little Moses isn’t 1/40 of the cat you were.

 Earth, receive an honored guest;

Meow the Obese Cat is laid to rest.

Let the American vessel lie

Emptied of its freakish novelty.

 

Time that is intolerant

Of the not-so-fat and thinnocent

And indifferent in a week

To a beautiful physique

 

Worships tubby cats and forgives

All the clueless owners with whom they live.

 

Photo–Rachael Webster, for Oliver Bateman.  Original photo by Vaughn Wallace

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About Oliver Lee Bateman

Good Men Project contributing editor Oliver Lee Bateman is a columnist for Al-Jazeera America and Made Man Magazine. His writing has been featured in Salon, The Atlantic, Johnny America, Stymie: A Journal of Sport and Literature, the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, STIR Journal, Mic.com, and NAP Magazine. He is also one of the founders of the Moustache Club of America and Penny & Farthing, two blogzines specializing in flash fiction and creative nonfiction that he co-curates with web developer Erik Hinton, medical consultant Nathan Zimmerman, and freelance writers Christie Chapman and J. R. Powell. Oliver is a lawyer as well as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Follow him on Twitter @MoustacheClubUS or on Google+.

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