Fact Check

Run Over Cat

Motorist who dispatches cat he believes he'd run over subsequently discovers he'd hit a different cat?

Published Oct 14, 2011

Claim:   Motorist who dispatches cat he believes he'd run over subsequently discovers he'd hit a different cat.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2011]

A friend of mine hit a cat whilst driving. He got out and saw it on the pavement, twitching, and looking like it was seriously injured. He decided that it was in the cat's best interests to help it on its way to the big cattery in the sky, and so got out of the car and gave it a crack on the skull with a large maglite, which stopped it twitching on a permanent basis pretty sharpish. Thinking he had been cruel to be kind, he got back into his car and drove off. As he did, he saw something in his rear view mirror that had been under his car. He stopped, got out again, and saw in the road the cat that he had run over, quite dead. This was a different cat to the one he had killed with his torch, which presumably had been having a bit of a dream whilst sleeping peacefully on the pavement. He never drove down that road again.


Origins:   This sad tale about the wrong cat's being put "out of its misery" by a hapless motorist has been part of the canon of urban folklore for a number of years. Our earliest print sightings date to 1996, when it appeared in collections of British and of Australian urban legends.

Run over cat

The following Australian telling is almost a feline version of the venerable tale about a drunk driver who discovers the lifeless body of a little girl embedded in his car's grille:

[Scott, 1996]

A man was driving home from work (sober, not drunk), hits a cat crossing the road. Concerned, he pulls up and finds a cat lying in the gutter apparently unconscious. He kills it quickly so it won't suffer and then drives home. When he gets there his wife points out that there is a dead cat wedged behind the front bumper, and at that moment the police arrive to arrest him for killing a cat that has been harmlessly sleeping in the gutter. The horrified owner had watched and taken down his registration number.

This British version of the "dispatched injured cat" legend is even less believable than the norm:

[Healey and Glanvill, 1996]

My uncle used to be a long distance lorry driver, and a mate of his on the Manchester to Glasgow run had a rather nasty experience.

One cold winter's night the rain was bucketing down, and the lorry driver had his headlights and wipers full on just to be able to see enough to carry on. He'd had a flat tyre earlier in the day and was driving on late through the atrocious conditions in a vain attempt to make up time. Peering out of the steamed-up windscreen, white knuckles clutching the steering wheel, his headlights suddenly picked out a startled cat frozen with fear in the middle of the road.

He slammed on the anchors, the lorry skidded, and there was a horrible bump.

Now the lorry driver was a cat lover himself, and feeling sickeningly guilty, leapt from his cab to find the stricken animal. It was writhing in agony on the roadside verge, so he did the decent thing: took out his shovel and put it out of its misery.

After that nasty turn, the driver continued on his way but pulled over at the next pub to steady his nerves. He'd just begun to calm down with a half of bitter, when a policeman entered the inn and arrested him. A tearful old lady had just rung them.

It appears she'd popped out to call her beloved moggy in from the appalling weather and had seen the lorry run over the next-door's cat. Her own feline had been playing around in some long grass by the side of the road, when the lorry driver had pulled up, got out and despatched it with a spade.

Even in Britain, cats don't frolic outdoors in downpours. Akin to their North American cousins, when it's pouring down buckets, they either hole up somewhere relatively dry or yowl piteously at the back door until someone lets them in.

Key to the earlier versions of the tale is the bringing to justice of the misguided driver who thought he was acting compassionately towards a badly injured animal that, absent his intervention, would have suffered terribly before inevitably dying. In those tellings, the police quickly arrive to slap the cuffs on the motorist. Their appearance always serves the purpose of visiting punishment on the cat killer, but in tellings where the man has as yet failed to grasp that he'd mistakenly taken the life of someone's beloved and entirely healthy pet, their role is to provide enlightenment about the nature of what he'd done.

Barbara "nein lives" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 October 2011


    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.

    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (pp. 103-104).

    Scott, Bill.   Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.

    St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996.   ISBN 0-7022-2774-9   (pp. 84-85).

    Courier-Mail [Australia].   "Mistaken Identity a Deadly Turn."

    27 April 1992.