Why There Are So Many Cats In France
Cats are absolutely everywhere in France. A few, like Beppo, may have come from abroad to snooze through la vie française, but judging by how many people are surprised and delighted to make the acquaintance of an actual American cat, I rather think he’s in the minority. And, thank the cat goddess, he normally stays close to home, eschewing the ways of French cats in which they generally act like they own the outside world.
I mean, really. We’d never seen this cat before in our lives, but doesn’t he look like he’s about to carjack us? One cat I see often seems to live in a roundabout near the supermarket, and can frequently be found sunning himself and having a bath as the cars whiz all around him. A restaurant in town has numerous cats in the dining room, and although the owner swears they are wild cats who just happened in, you don’t see her shooing them off the chairs. In fact, there are often more cats than customers in there, and a cynic might say that the two things are related. And lately I’ve even had to resort to closing the cat door when we go to bed, shutting Beppo and Zazou in the house, because of stray cats coming inside for a snack and a gander at little Zazou, now a teenager, both of which cause Beppo to let loose with his terrible ear-splitting protective yowls in the middle of the night.
And thus we come to the stark truth. Those cats were coming into a strange house because Zazou smelled interesting, in a girlie way. Even though she’s still a baby and a real tomboy and would rather be up a tree than locked in a furry embrace with another cat, unless that cat’s Beppo,
she’s six months old. Old enough, incredible as it seems, to be a maman. And in France, cats aren’t sterilized until they’re 6 months old. When I told the veterinary tech that in the US we sterilize them at 8 weeks, she at first thought that my French wasn’t up to making the distinction between weeks and months. When I finally convinced her that yes, we sterilize them before they’re old enough to even get any ideas, she was horrified.
This goes a long way toward explaining why there are always kids selling baskets of kittens, and clutches of feral kittens hanging around abandoned buildings. By the time the vet is willing to snip the kitty, the kitty has other things in mind, and people who don’t want a houseful of kittens evidently just set them outside somewhere. Not to mention that we had to pay 115 Euros to have Zazou spayed, which is almost three times what one pays in the US to adopt a kitten from the shelter who’s been spayed and has had shots into the bargain. The French say this is all in the best interest of the cat, that sterilizing them too young damages them internally, and for all I know, psychologically as well.
But the truth is that when sterilized at 8 weeks a kitten barely knows what hit it, whereas Zazou still hasn’t entirely forgiven us for the pain and indignities she suffered in the process. When we brought her home from the vet she dragged herself upstairs in a painful, wobbly way and hid under the covers of our bed, which was sweet and funny until she screamed and hissed at us when we tried to get in with her later that night. As soon as she was able she set about ripping off her bandage, and when we took her back to have her stitches out we learned that Zazou the Tomboy Princess and Surgical Assistant Kitten had already taken them out herself, thank you very much.
This whole business has helped me to finally understand a French expression that I learned long ago: when you want to say a place is utterly deserted, there’s nobody there at all, you say there is pas un chat. Not even a cat. It’s a rare state of affairs here, where if only one creature is stirring, it’s very likely to be a cat.