February 7 marks New Year’s Day in the “Year of the Rat.” The Chinese lunar calendar is represented by 12 animals, in this order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (or boar).
You’ll notice the cat is nowhere on this list. This legend explains why:
Chinese gods held a race for all the animals wanting a position in the cycle of years. The animals had to line up on one bank of a river and get to the opposite shore, with their finishing time determining their order on the calendar.
The cat had a problem because he hated water. The ox had bad eyesight and didn’t know if he could even find the opposite shore.
The rat, ever-sensitive to other species, made a helpful, benevolent suggestion to the ox: “Let me and the cat ride on your back and we’ll be your GPS.”
The ox fell for it (even though GPS wouldn’t be invented for centuries), let the rodent and feline climb on, and started plodding across the river.
Just as you’d expect from a conniving rat, he pushed the cat into the water mid-stream. Then as the ox reached the far riverbank, the rat jumped off and came in first. So, the Chinese rewarded that cheating little vermin by naming their first year in his honor, the ox got the second year, and the cat got nothing.
Cats have never forgotten this humiliation, so we kill rats at every opportunity. Hunting them this year will be great, since the last gesture of reverence they’ll be expecting is a broken neck.