I used to work for NOAH Research Group. The name NOAH stands for ‘NO Animals Harmed’, the guiding principle of the organization. NOAH’s founder, Dr. Rose, was a devout Christian and an advocate for animal rights.
The name NOAH was also a nod to a question she was famous for asking: If Noah had two of every animal on the ark, why didn’t the predators eat the prey?
The nonreligious scoffed at the question, but Dr. Rose felt that the story of Noah’s ark was proof that everyone, animals included, should be vegan. Science could make her vision of a vegan world possible, while still enabling carnivores to co-exist in the new world.
NOAH’s first project was to produce and test the first nutritionally complete, 100% safe vegan cat food. No animals would be harmed, not by slaughterhouses or malnutrition. Vegans would no longer worry about the ethical implications of cat ownership. Although vegan cat foods already existed, most vets concluded that they were too risky. A vegan diet can kill a cat if you’re not careful, which was why the project was so important. Dr. Rose needed to prove it was possible for everyone to be vegan, even carnivores.
I worked nights in NOAH’s Portland-based facility, mainly cleaning out litter boxes and playing with the test subjects. It was a minimum-wage gig, but I liked it because I was able to work while enjoying the company of cats. I knew about the vegan cat food project, though I was skeptical of it. I’m not vegan. I don’t judge people who are, but it seemed weird to expect cats to live that way. In a word, it seemed… unnatural.
Still, the cats were treated very well. The facility didn’t confine them to cages or kennels; instead, the cats lived comfortably in large habitats with plexiglass observation windows. Every couple weeks, a vet would come and do check ups. NOAH took their oath to never harm animals very seriously, going to great lengths to ensure that the cats weren’t mistreated.
I was hired when Harold was fired. The security guard told me the story, a cautionary tale: Harold wasn’t vegan. He packed beef stew for dinner every night… and shared it with the cats when no one was looking. As a result, the research was compromised and had to be started over from scratch. NOAH fired him and enacted a ‘No Outside Food’ policy.
The vending machines were stocked with vegan options only: mixed nuts, fruit and vegetable sticks… so I ate before my shift. I usually felt compelled to eat the meatiest thing I could find, as if the mere thought of being vegan made me crave meat and cheese.
All hell broke loose the night I broke the ‘no outside food’ rule. I was running late for work, so I went to a drive thru and grabbed a burger on the way over. I didn’t think about it when I ordered a triple cheeseburger, extra cheese, extra bacon. I shoved the greasy bag into my work duffel and forgot about it. When I got to work, security waved me through without checking. My nights there had long become routine.
Once I reached the first habitat, the cats crowded the door. The clowder seemed smaller than usual, which was weird but not alarming. There were plenty of comfortable and secluded napping spots for the cats to laze about, though they were usually excited to see me– my arrival meant freshly cleaned litter boxes and playtime.
I dropped my bag by the door, and got to work. As you can imagine, it was a lot of cat poop. Once I was done, I noticed the cats were still crowding the door. They were investigating my bag, sharpening their claws on the denim and even chewing on it. Sophie, a fluffy white cat, tried to drag it off with her. I was surprised that she’d managed to move it a few inches!
That’s when I remembered the triple cheeseburger. Apparently, the smell had attracted the attention of the cats. I can only speculate that the smell of meat was extra tempting thanks to their strict vegan diet.
“Sorry kitties, that’s against the rules.” I reached for my bag guiltily. When I tried to pick it up, Sophie started to growl and wouldn’t let go. Instead, she dug in deeper– her whole body rumbling with warning. I’d never seen that kind of aggression before, so I backed off.
I didn’t want to lose my job, so I attempted to coax the cats away from the bag with a laser pointer. No dice. They completely ignored it. Their dilated pupils were focused entirely on my duffel, backs arched and tails pointing straight up. Tentatively, I reached for the bag again– this time, there was no warning.
Sophie was the first to lunge, teeth and claws biting deep into my forearm! I screamed in pain and flung my arm out, flailing wildly until she let go. Undeterred, she came right back– tearing at my stomach, yanking and shaking her head from side to side… I was terrified that she’d rip me open!
I stumbled towards the door as more sets of teeth and claws found their mark. I lost count as they attacked, feral shrieks mixing with my screams. I’d been bitten and scratched by cats before, but not like this. Cats don’t normally attack humans with the intent to kill, but the NOAH cats were an exception.
Security came running, only to stare in horror– they did not enter the enclosure. Panicking, I stopped, dropped and rolled… as if I were on fire instead of covered in vicious, spitting cats. The tactic worked, they scattered to avoid being crushed. I didn’t give them a chance to move back in, running towards the door as the guards snapped out of their shock, flinging the door open and quickly slamming it behind me. A few of the more tenacious cats threw themselves bodily into the door, beating themselves against it several times before giving up.
I was a bloody mess, my skin reduced to ribbons… but the pain didn’t catch up right away. I stared through the Plexiglass window, watching in horror when the cats descended on my duffel, pulling it apart. They found the burger and chewed straight through the paper, knocking one another aside in competition for it. They divided their ‘kill’, jealously guarding bits of burger and strips of bacon that quickly disappeared in their frenzy. Once the burger was gone, they licked the blood off the floor with eager, lapping tongues.
The collective purr I heard was chilling.
An ambulance was called, and I spent a night in the hospital. I wasn’t surprised when I was fired the following morning. Fortunately, the severance pay was more like a settlement. On paper, NOAH blamed me for the incident… they said I provoked the attack, and that I’d violated company policy. To be honest, I didn’t care. I didn’t fight it because I was relieved I’d never have to go back. I don’t know what happened to the cats at the facility, I can only assume that the research has continued without me.
I only recently learned what happened to Dr. Rose, but I can’t say I’m surprised. The vegan cat-enthusiast had fourteen cats… and she’d been feeding them the same cat food NOAH was testing. Although she cherished her cats, and they had reportedly been happy and well-fed…there wasn’t enough of Dr. Rose left to determine her cause of death.
I don’t know what was in that cat food, but it might be in stores by now. Please research the food you buy for your pets very carefully, not only is it in their best interest… it might be in yours.
NOAH is still operating without Dr. Rose. I don’t think their mission is the same.