Putting a cat in a bag shouldn’t be a felony

When I first saw the commercial for Checkers’ new promotional scheme – the “Rapcat” – I didn’t know that this humorous puppet would cause so much controversy for one of Florida’s most popular fast-food chains.

The Rapcat made its debut in the fall of 2006 when Checkers released several commercials featuring the hip-hop feline. They were an instant success, and Checkers responded with the Web site, rap-cat.com, Rapcat merchandise and even a “Rapcat Wannabe” contest, where individuals can submit pictures of their cat dressed up as the Rapcat in paper jersey cutouts found on special Checkers bags.

Unfortunately, Checkers’ marketing initiative hasn’t received a warm welcome from animal rights activists. Hillsborough County Animal Services (HCAS) published a press release last Monday advising citizens not to attempt dressing their cat up as Rapcat, as they could injure themselves or their cat. HCAS warned that participation could be considered felony animal cruelty, and they are apparently prepared to go to court to stop Checkers’ marketing campaign.

Although the bags come with a disclaimer warning people that “not all cats will be down with wearing this bag. Do not harm or endanger any cat,” spokeswoman for animal services Marti Ryan says the warning is not enough. According to an Associated Press article, Ryan believes it’s “common sense” not to stuff a cat in a bag. It surely would be, considering HCAS warns that those who do could be charged with a felony, which would thereby strip them of a number of their rights, including their right to vote. Brilliant.

I hardly think one should deem what Checkers is doing as “animal cruelty.” I have had cats as pets all my life. When I was younger, I used to dress them up in silly doll clothes and goofy outfits. I was too young to know better, of course, but people dress up their animals all the time. One cannot step into a pet store without seeing racks full of clothing for cats or dogs. In the movie Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy, a cat fashion show was depicted, with numerous felines dressed up in gaudy, outlandish apparel while walking down a runway. Even America’s Funniest Home Videos is known for depicting the misfortune of pets to the laughter of a studio audience.

On Feb. 19, Tampa’s Fox 13 News ran a segment on the controversy. In the package, they included a video pulled from popular video sharing Web site YouTube.com that featured an annoyed cat wearing one of the Checkers bag jerseys. The owner of the animal – and creator of the video – later posted on somethingawful.com that she had no knowledge of Fox 13 using her video until people started leaving derogatory comments on her Livejournal.com account.

The package also claimed that the Checkers Rapcat “gave pranksters a new way to waste time” by rapping like the puppet during prank calls and allowed children to find a “new way to act up.” The newscast even showed footage of feral cats and warned viewers “even trained handlers have trouble putting some cats in places they don’t want to go.”

Anyone who is smart wouldn’t go out into the woods to find some feral cat to dress up as Rapcat.

I don’t think that what Checkers is doing is necessarily a great idea, but give the company a break. Cats put themselves in bags anytime there’s one left in a place where they can get to it. If you have a cat, leave a bag on the floor and wait five minutes – you’ll see what I mean.

Kristen Dring is a senior majoring in mass communications.