Thursday, October 05, 2006

The HypoAllergenic Cat (Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty)

Today's Boston Globe picked up an International Herald Tribune article on a California-based bio-tech company that’s bringing a hypoallergenic cat to market. According to Allerca’s president, Megan Young, “You’re not just buying a cat; it’s a medical device that replaces shots and pills.”

At $4K a kitty, I don’t know how many cats they’ll sell, but after getting over my initial reaction – what the ??? – I don’t think it’s all that bad idea to have a non-sniffling, wheezing, coughing, itch-producing cat on the market. Hey, I’m a dog person, and the only cats I’ve ever really been fond of are those that exhibit dog-like traits, but if someone really wants a cat and hasn’t been able to live with one, this must be a dream come true.

What was really interesting about this story – other than the fact that it underscores my continued belief that we have an infinite economy capable of producing anything imaginable – was the cat-loving couple it chronicled. Although the woman of the house was a cat lover, despite severe cat allergies, she persisted in keeping company with cats.

"As strange as it may sound, for us the price would have been worth it; it would have saved us money and saved us pain from all the medical and also emotional problems," said Christopher Cullen, of New York, whose girlfriend's worsening allergies this week forced them to put up for adoption their beloved cat, Cimbi -- a feline who had achieved "mild Internet notoriety" as the star of her own website.

Cullen and his girlfriend, Cheryl Burley, have fought a losing two-year battle to engineer a tolerable coexistence with Cimbi, because Burley, a devoted cat lover, has had cat allergies since childhood. On, you can watch Cullen, who works for the New York Senate Democratic Conference, giving Cimbi a bath to reduce her allergen load; he takes Cimbi on a leash to Morningside Park for a day to give his girlfriend's allergies a break.

The couple never put down carpets; they installed special air filters and vacuumed incessantly. But Burley's symptoms worsened in recent months, and that fragile equilibrium fell apart two weeks ago when they took in a second cat, Marley, which turned Burley's allergies from annoying to overwhelming. She couldn't work, couldn't breathe, and had a seizure.

"Our whole life has gone downhill -- I missed four days of work, I'm back on inhalers, eye drops, and creams," Burley said. "This hypoallergenic cat would be a perfect solution for me. I'm determined to have a kitty."

Well, I certainly have sympathy for someone who's so "determined to have a kitty." And I hope that these folks will be able to work things out. But I’m sure glad that I’m not the manager of someone who would have to stay out of work for four days because she deliberately introduced a second cat into her midst knowing that she had severe allergies. This makes no more sense to me than someone who’s allergic to shellfish pigging down shrimp. Or someone with hay fever rolling around on the new mown lawn. Yes, it’s sad that you have to miss out on these pleasures, but sometimes life hands you a lemon. And if you have citrus allergies, well, you just don’t squeeze that lemon into your mouth, do you?

(Did you hear about the woman who slept with cats? Yes, Mrs. Katz. Am I the only one who thought of this old joke when reading about the hypoallergenic cat?)

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