Bag the cat? Scratches may be least of worries

Published February 20, 2007

TAMPA - Participating in the latest marketing campaign from the folks at Checkers could get you charged with animal cruelty.

As part of its "Rap Cat" campaign, the Tampa operators of the drive-through restaurants are asking their patrons to do just that - wrap their cats in one of their to-go bags. The company is providing paper bags fashioned after a basketball jersey, with a No. 15, a mock gold dollar-sign necklace and slots to cut out for the legs and tail of the cat. The head would stick out of the bag's opening.

"Instruxions" on the bag encourage customers to submit "pics/vids of your cat keepin' it real" to a promotional Web site.

"Caution," the bag reads. "Not all cats will be down with wearing this bag. Do not harm or endanger any cat."

The disclaimer is not enough, say the folks at Hillsborough County Animal Services.

"We just don't think that's an advisable thing," said Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for the department. "Cat scratches can be very injurious. Not to mention having cats perform tricks that they are not prone to do by nature."

Beyond that, Ryan said, forcing a cat into a paper bag could be considered "torment," meaning it could open people who participate to a felony animal cruelty charge.

A Checkers executive responded with a written statement.

"When our Rap Cat commercials began airing last fall, they were an overnight success," said Richard Turer, senior vice president of marketing. "We received dozens of letters from our guests requesting Rap Cat merchandise. Our new Rap Cat Web site, cups and carry-out bags are all in response to Rap Cat's popularity and are intended only as a creative extension of our television campaign."

Bill Varian can be reached at 813 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.