Cat Suicide

A short essay by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

French journalist Martin Monestier’s Suicide: The History, Methods, and Oddities of Voluntary Death (originally written in French) is an incredibly fascinating book. It contains a massive collection of facts concerning suicide. It covers the past and the present, and takes a look at suicide in different parts of the world. There was lots in there that resonated with me, but the chapter that’s stuck with me was the one that went into suicide among different species. It’s not just humans. It appears that animals are capable of taking their own lives too.

There was once a male cat who belonged to the principal of a French school in Rome. When he was rejected by a female cat who belonged to a French ambassador, he threw himself off the balcony of the Palazzo Farnese. We’ll never really know if he was overcome by despair, but those who witnessed the event said it was clearly a suicide. Here’s how it played out in my imagination: the ambassador’s cat was named Catherine (a pseudonym), a beautiful feline full of pride with a tinge of egotism. The type who’d only wear collars made by Prada. When Tama (also a pseudonym), the cat next door, confessed his love for Catherine, she icily replied, “What’s that? You? Are in love with me? Don’t be such a fool. You’re a commoner, and I’m part of high society. Think about it. Not even in a thousand years would I go out with you.” Tama left, heartbroken. It’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in human society.

While you’re thinking that one over here’s another one for you: a cat that killed itself by jumping into the ocean. There was once a fisherman’s cat who became old and curmudgeonly as the years wore on. Her body betrayed her – her legs broke down. One day, the fisherman brought home a newborn kitten. “Please look after her,” said the fisherman to his old cat, who promptly bolted down to the shore and jumped into the waves. The fisherman loved his cat despite her being, as the book put it, “a little odd.” So he took off after her into the ocean, found her bobbing up and down, and and pulled her from the water. He dried her off and left her in a sunny spot to rest. But as soon as the fisherman left her side, the old cat ran back to the ocean and tried to drown herself yet again. This time she was successful. She really was a stubborn cat.

It would be difficult to conclude from the short descriptions in the book that these cats had in fact made up their minds to commit suicide, that they had made a conscious decision to choose death over life. But I think it’s safe to say that in the moment, these two cats had lost the will to live. A cat’s life is full of hardships. I believe that cats are capable of thinking, perhaps in some amorphous way, that life is a burden and they’d rather not go on struggling. Perhaps they fall into despair, panic, and without thinking through the consequences jump over that guardrail.

Keep a close eye on your cats.