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What The...: So many dumb cat ideas, so little time

I’ve been worried about the homeless cats hunkering at the Connecticut Humane Society in Quaker Hill. Are they languishing in quarantine like a bunch of New Yorkers in tiny apartments, no one to scratch their chinny-chin-chins?

Yes and no. Many have found local foster homes for the duration, and the rest are languishing in the Society’s Newington facility. They’ll be back in Quaker Hill someday, though nobody knows when.

But cats are good at languishing. And when they get tired of it, they take a nap.

Really, they have it pretty easy. History has not been kind to homeless cats. Here are some cases of cats colliding with technology in the late 20th century.

The cat bomb

In one of the most indubitably stupid ideas in the history of mankind, someone thought of using a cat to make a rudimentary smart bomb.

This was back during World War II. Bombs were pretty dumb back then. Despite the supposed accuracy of the Norden bombsight, bombardiers were finding it hard to hit a moving ship with a moving bomb dropped from a moving airplane.

Some idiot’s solution: put a cat inside the bomb and connect its paws to flaps that would guide the bomb.

The idiot’s theory: If cats hate water and always land on their feet, then a cat in a bomb with a window would make the movements necessary to land on the ship instead of in the ocean.

The fatal flaw: among the many flaws in this plan — actually, it’s hard to think of any part of the plan that isn’t a flaw — is the fact that the cat would need to practice.

But this was a suicide mission. Whether the bomb hit the ship or the ocean, the cat would not get a second chance.

Only one cat bomb was built and deployed. It missed its target. History knows nothing about the cat, neither name nor type nor age. Nor do we have any idea what thoughts may have gone through the its head as the bomb tilted out the bomb bay and fell toward the ocean and a tiny ship way down there.

Cats in space

Dogs were flying into outer space 10 years before cats. Soviet rockets shot nine dogs into space between 1950 and 1951. Some went alone. Some went in pairs. Some lived. Some didn’t. Three went twice. One lucky dog escaped, presumably in the direction of the Berlin Wall.

It wasn’t until 1963 that a homeless black and white Parisian feline, Félicette, boldly went where no Frenchman had gone before, though three French mice had been launched to see if space flight was safe for cats.

Félicette went through two months of training before her flight. One exercise involved being swung around in a three-axis chair on a centrifuge while hearing the roar of a rocket taking off.

Among six cats deemed qualified for space flight, Félicette was chosen to go first because she was cool. Packed into a capsule atop a Véronique rocket, Félicette was shot 94 miles above the Sahara Desert. Electrodes implanted in her brain detected that she was “vigilant” during the experience. She experienced five minutes of weightlessness before parachuting safely to earth.

Enthused by the success of the flight, the French tried to send another cat into space, but something went wrong on the launch. The fate of the other cats is not known. Félicette remains the only cat to have survived space travel.

The cloak-and-dagger cat

Another stupid idea involving a cat. During the cold war, the CIA trained a cat, code-named Acoustic Kitty, to sneak into the Soviet Union embassy with a microphone. (The cat’s real name is still classified.)

The microphone was implanted in the cat. As a CIA officer described it, “They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, and wired him up... The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity.”

Training the cat went about as well as you might expect. It took five years. The whole project cost $10 million.

Finally a van packed with electronics released the secret agent outside the Soviet embassy. Free at last, it ran into the street and got run over by a taxi.

“There they were,” the CIA officer reported, “sitting in the van with all those dials, and the cat was dead.”

Let’s hope the CHS doesn’t foster cats to the Air Force, the French, or the CIA. They will be back in town soon.

Until then, they can be adopted by appointment in Newington through cthumane.org.

Glenn Cheney is the managing editor of New London Librarium. He can be reached at glenn@nllibrarium.com.

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