You seem to be stumped as to the origin of the old wives’ tale about cats sucking the breath out of humans [August 17]. Perhaps I can help. Cats are often accused of being indifferent to their owners, but they simply have different ways of showing their affection. One of these is sniffing the breath of their owners. Often a cat will come sit on its owner’s lap and stick its nose in his face, inhaling whatever it was he ate for dinner. This can go on for a minute or two. I can see how this would worry Joe Medieval, who was already suspicious of felines. It goes without saying that a cat would gravitate to a baby’s milk-laden breath. Perhaps the cat also wrapped itself around the baby in a cuddly manner. The baby was probably sleeping peacefully until the parents rushed in. The result: panic, crying babies, and a lot of cats being burned at the stake for no good reason. So if there is a cat padding around your house, not to worry. They either love babies or they’re terrified of them and won’t go near. –Kathryn Ziehm, Washington, D.C.

It’s hard to believe a person in the 1990s can still believe that cats could “suck the breath out of babies.” No reputable cat-care book has ever suggested that a cat will “suffocate” a baby! I have over 50 cat books in my possession, and have lived with cats for 34 of my 39 years. My cats sleep next to me at night, and the only thing that concerns me is that I might roll over and crush them! You are an irresponsible reporter. If you had half the brains and personality of a cat you could accomplish much more than writing for a cheap throwaway paper. –Donna Kentnor, West Covina, California

Listen, honey, at least I’ve got something to sleep with besides a cat. The cat books that warned about the danger of suffocating a baby were You and Your Cat by David Taylor (1986, page 197), and The Complete Book of Cat Health and Care by J.J. McCoy (1968, pages 49-50). Is the danger exaggerated? Maybe, but read on.

As a passed-out drunk freshman in a Michigan State dorm room about 32 years ago, I can attest to cat breath thievery–or at least to cat-assisted attempted suffocation. Unconscious in my bunk bed, I was unaware that one of my academic neighbors had let a small stray cat into my room during the night. The next morning I awoke with really fuzzy vision and undeniably hairy tongue. Naturally I thought I had achieved a truly remarkable hangover. I raised my hands to give my eyes a serious rubbing (I was lying flat on my back), when much to my surprise I discovered a large furry growth protruding at least three inches above my face. Disorientation is not the appropriate word, but it’ll have to do. I pulled my arms back to my sides and froze while I tried to make sense of the situation. About that time the furry growth began to purr, as kitties will do when touched. EUREKA! I had a cat on my face. Totally disregarding the cat’s ability to extend its claws, I grabbed it and flung it across the room. I developed a cat fur allergy which stuck with me for 25 years, but at least it didn’t steal my breath. Cats like to cuddle up to things warm and rhythmic–I’ve seen them asleep atop operating electric motors, so it’s probably best to keep them out of nurseries. Baby’s face would be too much to resist. –Kirby Metcalfe, Dallas


In reading through your column “Vegetarians Go Ape” [August 31], I noticed an unusual fact that you seemed to expose with great confidence. You stated that “Jane Goodall established more than 20 years ago that wild chimpanzees kill other animals once in a while and eat the meat with relish.” I question the accuracy of this. Where would wild chimpanzees obtain relish? –Guru Singh Khalsa, Los Angeles


You obviously know everything. Is it true Stanley and Livingston penetrated darkest Africa wearing pith helmets because they knew they would find no plumbing there? –Eugene B. Vest, Chicago

You dithgutht me.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.