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Cats! Wild to Mild

Not entirely unpleasant

By Heather Anderson

Museum of Science

Runs through May 9

I love cats, which is why I enjoyed two recent opportunities to attend cat-related events in the Boston area: “Cats! Wild to Mild”, which runs at the Museum of Science until May 9, and “Cats Plain and Fancy: 21st Annual All Breed Cat Show” at the Bayside Expo Center, which was held on March 6 and 7.

“Cats! Wild to Mild” at the Museum of Science for People Who Don’t Particularly Want to Learn a Whole Heck of a Lot, was quite similar to other Museum of Science temporary exhibits in that, while garnished with a few interesting facts, it seemed to be designed only for kids. In addition, the entire exhibit was disappointing in that it consisted mostly of dead, stuffed cats (although almost all had died in captivity of natural causes and none were killed for the exhibit). I had the feeling that I was touring a science fair on taxidermy rather than a kitty show.

The first half of the exhibit, which ranged from cheesy to depressing, was devoted to wild cats, most of which are on the verge of extinction. There was a display about cats’ senses, which looked like a severed jaguar head with lit fiber optic whiskers. There was also a two and a half foot model of a disembodied cat tongue with plastic pupilae demonstrating, I suppose, what a variety of 5th grade science projects are possible. There were also quite a few interesting factoids that I picked up, most of them detailing the ways to use up that leftover tiger you may have in the freezer: Tiger Hair Repellent is supposed to drive away caterpillars; a Tiger Whiskers Charm is supposed to protect you from bullets; Tiger Brain Lotion supposedly cures acne and laziness; and Tiger Penis Tea will, well, you know.

Aside from all this amusement, the rest of the Wild part of the exhibit was, as I said, depressing. There were video stations throughout, all detailing the many species of cats that are threatened with extinction, which made the myriad dead cats all around seem more ghostly than instructive. The biggest threat to most animals is, no big surprise here, illegal hunting and loss of habitat. There is also the problem that male cats tend to kill the young of other male cats and (especially in the case of the Clouded Leopard) females in heat. The depressing numbers, coupled with the obnoxious, pre-recorded roars emitted from approximately 3,000 loudspeakers located throughout the exhibit only made me feel worse.

Fortunately, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel made the experience not totally unpleasant. The Mild portion of the exhibit consisted of more interesting facts and more video stations, although it also had several unnecessarily authentic displays of stuffed cats routing though garbage cans. To save all but the die-hard cat lovers from an hour better spent, I can share with you the three interesting things I learned: in California, you can go to prison for kicking or injuring a person’s cat; in Natchez, MS, cats are prohibited from drinking beer; and in Reed City, MI, it is illegal to own both a cat and a bird. My biggest disappointment with “Cats! Wild to Mild” was that it had not even one real live cat. My favorite part was at the very end where people had brought in pictures of their own cats and stuck them to a bulletin board. At least these pictures had some charm, which leads me to the next event I was able to catch, the “Cats Plain and Fancy: 21st Annual All Breed Cat Show” at the Bayside Expo Center.

This event could not have been more different from the Museum of Science exhibit. There were a few odd facts to pick up there too, but, if you pardon my gushing, the whole affair was most delightful in the emotional rather than academic aspect. Every cat there was more than adorable, from the impeccably groomed and spoiled purebred Persian kittens to the slightly timid “mutts” available for adoption.

Ironically, the only less than interesting part of the show was the actual judging booths. I, being a mere cat lover and not a connoisseur, could not discern what the judges were looking for, and, without narration, the endless poking and prodding became a bit confusing if not plain boring. However, my mild disappointment quickly turned to unbridled mirth when I saw the Friskies Cat Team, the same cats who do all those commercials, strut their stuff in a live performance. Not only did they do tricks I never imagined, but the two bubbly and a little over-rehearsed trainers demonstrated the simple techniques involved in training cats to push a shopping cart, play a piano, and walk a tightrope. Even more amazing, most of the cats they use are taken straight from the pound, except for the piece de resistance, Gimble, otherwise known as The Fancy Feast Cat. Of the two exhibitions, this was definitely the more enjoyable.

I would like to dedicate this review to my American Longhair, Sir, who passed away last summer at the age of 17. Sir, I miss you.