Congressman John P. Murtha, a Friend of Cats, Dies Suddenly at Age Seventy-Seven Following a Botched Gallbladder Operation
"That's just terrible. It doesn't meet the common sense test."
-- John P. Murtha on killing cats
In December of 2005 the big shots who rule the roost at the posh Army Navy Country Club in Arlington unilaterally decided to get rid of several dozen cats who, along with their ancestors, had called the grounds of the facility home ever since the rip-roaring 1960s. In an effort to rationalize their rabid ailurophobia, the suits falsely branded the cats as being both vicious and diseased.
The outcry from cat-lovers was vociferous and widespread. One voice stood out above the din, however, and it belonged to longtime club member, Congressman John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania. (See photo above.)
"That's just terrible," he told the Washington Post on December 24, 2005. (See "Army Navy Club Going to War on Cats.") "It doesn't meet the common sense test."
Thanks to Murtha's support, Alley Cat Allies was able to broker a compromise whereby the cats were relocated to a more remote area of the property. The club even chipped in $1,500 toward their relocation, sterilization, and vaccination. (See Cat Defender post of January 19, 2006 entitled "Public Outcry Forces Army Navy Club to Scrap Plans to Evict and Exterminate Long-Term Resident Felines.")
It therefore was a sad day for cat-lovers when he died at the age of seventy-seven on February 8th at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington as the result of a botched gallbladder operation performed on January 28th at the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda. In what can only be described as another stinging indictment of America's grotesquely overpriced and underperforming health care system, incompetent surgeons at the VA facility reportedly mishandled a routine laparoscopic procedure by slicing into his colon.
Murtha then developed an infection which caused his premature death. Normally, the mortality rate for gallbladder surgery is less than two per cent. (See Politico, February 17, 2010, "Murtha's Death Under Review.")
During his thirty-seven years in the House of Representatives some critics labeled him as the "King of Pork" in response to his prowess of steering federal money to his congressional district in southwestern Pennsylvania. Others were considerably less kind and labeled him an outright crook.
"If I am corrupt, it's because I take care of my district," he is quoted in the February 9th edition of the Washington Post as responding to his adversaries. (See "John Murtha Dies; Longtime Congressman Was Master of Pork-Barrel Politics.") "Every president would like to have all the power and not have Congress change anything. But we're closest to the public."
Whether Murtha simply did what every other politician at all levels of government does every day or if he stepped across the line and ventured into illegalities is for others to determine. It is indisputable, however, that when the cats at the Army Navy Country Club needed his help he was there for them.
As far as it is known, the cats still are living there where they are cared for by volunteers such as retired Rear Admiral Tom Evans and his wife, Dottie. (See photo above of her feeding the cats back in 2006.)
Moreover, Murtha's support for cats neither began nor ended at the club. For example, he sponsored legislation aimed at limiting the number of them used by the monsters at the Pentagon in their diabolical experiments.
Among its hideous crimes against the animal kingdom, the Pentagon of late has been blowing up innocent pigs in order to test the resilience of body armor and armor-plated vehicles to withstand blasts from roadside bombs in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Even more shockingly, during the Cold War its sister agency, the CIA, surgically implanted recording devices and transmitters inside cats in a failed attempt to take advantage of the Kremlin's penchant for using street cats as mousers.
Throughout its checkered history, the Pentagon has demonstrated an appalling disregard for the sanctity of life by using cats and a multitude of other animals for every conceivable purpose. (See Shawn Plourde, "What Did You Do in the War, Fido?")
Although the baby steps that Murtha took toward eradicating these horrific abuses are much appreciated, they fell way short of what is needed. Nothing short of a comprehensive ban on the use of all animals, lab mice included, in both military and medical experiments ever can be deemed to be morally acceptable.
Murtha undoubtedly will be remembered for many things, both good and bad, but there can be no denying that he was a friend of cats. In fact, the pivotal role that he played in saving the lives of those at the Army Navy Country Club may very well prove to be his most enduring legacy. They and their descendants, like Ernest Hemingway's polydactyls in Key West, are in a way a living memorial to him and his work.
Since cats have so many mortal enemies and detractors, the loss of even one committed ally has the potential to be catastrophic, especially if it happens to be a man of Murtha's stature. (See Delaware Coast Press, March 17, 2010, "Cat Society Dissolves after Founder's Death.")
Murtha therefore will be sorely missed but never forgotten. Requiescat in pace, John!
Photos: United States Congress (Murtha) and James A. Purcell of the Washington Post (Dottie Evans and the cats).