Thousands of cats fall and leap (are pushed?) from windows every year–so many, in fact, that the ASPCA website devotes a page (complete with links!) to the horrors of what it calls Feline High-Rise Syndrome. In support, the marvelous American economic machine has made available for purchase all manner of protective grates and window-fencing, and whole websites can be found devoted to preventing the possibility of your cat taking a curious leap.
But what pet owners, doormen, and vets alike began to notice is that, although mortality rates among these cats rose steadily (and understandably) with the height from which they had fallen, mortal injuries began to taper off around the seven story mark. Indeed, only this March a Boston house cat named Sugar fell nineteen stories and walked away unharmed. But how could that be? How is it that a cat falling from, say, the ninth floor of an apartment building, has a better chance of survival than a feline aerialist three floors below? In 1987, a group of veterinarians set out to puzzle through this phenomenon, and determined in a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association the following: it takes about five stories for a cat to reach terminal velocity, at which points cats overcome their initial panic reaction and spread out, relaxing they’re surely quite tight muscles in a kind of flying squirrel effect which both slow their downward progress and makes their landing less jarring. In this way, cats falling from very high stories are sometimes able to survive the tumble. This information has reached a state something like common knowledge, and is largely accepted by both layperson and animal scholar alike. There are those, however, who have pointed out a fatal flaw in the research (forgive the ominous pun); the study was based on only those cats taken to veterinary hospitals for treatment. To put it bluntly, flat cats never make it that far. // Patrick Barrett