Not that there’s any need to embellish my neurotic bona fides but I was raised by an ailurophobic. Ailurophobia, the irrational and persistent fear of cats. While never diagnosed, my mom (not an animal person, period) demonstrated all the signs. Less common than fear of dogs (cynophobia, a “top ten” phobia), this is neither rare nor a joke. Not quite a debilitating anxiety in her case, my mom would however cross the street if she saw a cat up the block, wrinkling her face in blatant dislike, uttering “dirty” and “horrible.” I’m obvious proof the condition is not hereditary and I will give mom credit that when confronted with choosing between visiting our cat-full house or not seeing her granddaughter asleep in the crib with two cats who never once tried to suck her breath, she gathered her strength and suffered through it (although neither in silence nor with a smile). So while I clearly don’t understand it on a personal level, I am curious what the experts say about the cause.
Reportedly, the most common causes occur in early childhood, either an early cat-related trauma (bitten or even just startled as a kid) or modeling someone else’s fear. Even the silliest and sweetest cats I’ve known (and I’ve lived with some of the world’s most fab felines) periodically show predatory instincts, even if just stalking a tissue: for some humans, instinctive fear is triggered by that instinctive predatory behavior and so on a gut level this is based on fear of personal harm or injury. Experts note that, along with fear of harm, fear of evil is the other common cause: the age-old superstitions of cats as the devil’s sidekick (think 17th century Salem witch trials). Intellectually that’s harder to accept but this actually registers as the truth for my mom. She thought cats evil. The literature cites all the usual tools for dealing with psychological problems, for treatment if not cure, including slow exposure over time to gentle cats. And that’s what mom experienced in her grown son’s home. It’s long, long past, but fundamentally I am just sorry for all the joy missed by my mom and her own young family.