Last weekend while walking through Brooklyn and scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a picture that caught my eye: Apparently, there were fliers posted all throughout the borough advertising “organic, free-range cat hair pills” for sale.
I was intrigued. What were the pills for? How much did they cost? Why would anyone want pills stuffed full of cat hair? Naturally, I sent the good people at CatHairPills@gmail.com a quick e-mail, curious, and eagerly awaited their response. Googling “cat hair pills” immediately brought up a Reddit thread full of people wondering why anyone would spend their money on the weird product.
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Liam Matthews, a writer at Animal New York, stumbled across a similar flier and seemed to have had a fairly positive, if weird, experience with the pill pushers. Still though, no matter how much I looked, I couldn’t find anyone who’d thought up a solid use case for the “supplements.” By the time I’d made it back to the subway station in Prospect Park, I’d shared the post with a few friends, thinking that we’d have a chuckle at an odd art student’s expense, and that’d be the end of it.
On Monday, my phone buzzed.
“Hello and thank you for your interest in Cat Hair Pills,” the e-mail read. “As you are a member of the press, we are happy to provide you with Cat Hair Pills from both Cat A and Cat B.” They went on:
If you are in the NYC area, would you like to pick up your samples this evening? If so, please reply with your preferred pick-up neighborhood and I will consult our distribution database for an ideal location. Otherwise, it is no trouble to ship; simply respond with your preferred mailing address.
I was gonna get my own set of cat hair pills.
The more I thought about the cat hair pills, the more potential uses I could see for possibly using them. As someone who’s lived with a number of cats over the years, I know a handful of things about them to be true. To start: I’m incredibly allergic to them. I’m also rather fond of cats despite said allergy.
Maybe the cat hair pills could help me suppress my allergies. Alternatively, they could make cats more receptive to my general presence. Or, and this was the most promising theory, they’d give me feline-esque heightened senses. (Think Tim Burton-era Catwoman but with less patent leather.)
I e-mailed the Cat Hair Pill people as soon as I got into work Monday and asked if they’d be able to meet up near Fusion’s office in New York the next day around 10:30 a.m.
“Tomorrow morning is a bit [cat] hairy, but how about tomorrow afternoon—is 12:30 an option?”
Of course 12:30 was an option.
Our rendezvous time was set for the next day, but I was told to await even more instructions that would guide me to my cat hair pills. Seemed legit. In the meantime, I took some time to research just what, if anything, might happen if I were to swallow the pills. I couldn’t find much on the internet speaking to humans eating cat hair (go figure), but I quickly fell into the vast, mysterious internet hole dedicated to trichophagia.
Tricophagia is the medical term for the compulsive consumption of hair. It’s most commonly associated with trichotillomania, or the act of compulsively pulling one’s hair out. Given that we live in a post-My Strange Addiction world, none of what I read particularly surprised me, but it did make me think thrice about consuming hair, cat or not.
“Although the phenomenon of hair pulling has been a recognized medical problem since Hallopeau's description in 1889, it was actually trichophagia, the eating of hair, which first captured the attention of medical texts,” explain the authors of this 2008 study into the habit. “In the late 18th century, the French physician, Baudamant, described a trichobezoar in a 16 year-old boy. Even with this long history in medical literature, trichophagia has received little research attention except as a rare symptom of trichotillomania.”
Trichobezoar (hey, Harry Potter nerds) is a fancy word for hairball. Incidentally, hairballs are sort of dangerous to humans. Hair is an indigestible substance for humans and while a few stray strands here or there are probably fine, ingesting large amounts can prove to be hazardous. Unlike cats, who’ve evolved to periodically ingest and regurgitate clumps of their fur, hair tends to gather and clump in the human digestive system. Most instances of extreme tricophagia are only treatable with invasive surgery to actually remove masses of hair from peoples’ intestines.
With all of that in mind, I quickly became turned off by the idea of swallowing the pills. Still though, I was still curious about whether there could be any hypothetical health benefits to (safe) exposure to cat hair. In theory, could they help with my cat allergies?
“There could have some merit to that idea, but it’s not an FDA-approved treatment,” allergy specialist Dr. Howard Boltansky told Fusion. “It could work, but it could also make you very ill.”
Boltansky explained that like with most allergies, there is a medically-sound procedure commonly used to acclimate people to cat allergies. Fed d 1 and Fel d 4 are the two most common proteins cats produce that humans have allergic reactions to. They’re found in cats’ saliva and urine, respectively. Over the course of anywhere between a few months and a few years, patients are exposed to purified versions of these proteins and in time their bodies can begin to recognize the allergen as non-threatening and eventually stop reacting to it.
The key differences between a series of allergist-administered shots and downing two pills’ worth of cat hair, Boltansky elaborated, are numerous. There was no way to be sure of what was actually in the pills, for starters. Also, desensitization to allergens doesn’t happen instantaneously. Best case scenario, the pills made it through my system completely undigested. Worst case? Well. Have you heard of Rapunzel Syndrome?
Tuesday arrived, and even though the idea of the pills had become increasingly menacing, I was pumped to meet my dealer. Where would we meet? Who would they be? What would they look like? At 12:30 p.m., I received my pickup instructions (the name of the location, a frozen yogurt shop, has been redacted to spare their staff from further cat hair inquiries):
Your Cat Hair Pills are available for pickup at [redacted], located at [redacted].
Tell a staff member that late last night, you accidentally left your multi-color press-on nails kit near the cup station. The press-on nails kit is a box that's about 3 by 5 inches in size, with brightly colored press on nails visible though a clear panel in the packaging. The kit is tied with a light vermilion cotton bow. Your Cat Hair Pills are inside this box.
Per the Code of the Cat Hair Pill, please do not share the contents of your press-on nails kit with the staff of [redacted].
Rejoice, Cat Hair Pil-grim, it has arrived!
The good folks at [redacted] looked at my nails with apprehension when I asked them for my supposedly “lost” nail kit, but when I mentioned the vermillion bow, they handed it over. Sure enough, tucked into my new box Fashion Diva nails were two pills and a label identifying the difference between the two. The lighter colored pill was from Cat A. The darker from Cat B.
As I crossed the street on my way back to the Fusion offices, I realized that I was walking in the shadow of the New School. What if the person (or people) behind the cat hair pills were New School students? The whole endeavor seemed like the kind of performance art project that an off-beat, liberal arts undergrad might dream up after a few drinks. I asked the Cat Hair Pill people, and pressed further for advice on what to do with the pills. They responded:
Glory, glory! What a blessed day to-day is! You are free to do as you please with your Cat Hair Pills, bearing in mind that Cat Hair Pills are gelatin capsules filled with cat hair. We are the makers of Cat Hair Pills but we are not the determiners of what a Cat Hair Pill can or cannot be. Your Cat Hair Pill destiny is your own, fellow CatHairPiller.
We are not a New School student, but we have been to one of their events and found it to be extremely well catered. Please extend our compliments if you find occasion and the moment is right.
As I passed the box of pills around the office, my editor strongly encouraged me to be careful with whatever I ended up ultimately doing with the pills. None of the Fusion staff could quite decide on where to go next. Some thought I should risk swallowing them, others suggested just throwing them away and calling it a day. In the end, I decided to consult the one person whose opinions I felt I could trust on the matter: my cat Byron.
When presented with the pills he didn’t seem all that impressed, or even phased at the presence of another cat’s dander. Maybe these cats weren’t all that interesting. Maybe their fur was of a lesser quality. Maybe this was just human hair, and Byron thought thought I was a fool for having wasted his time.
Either way, he was nonplussed, and I was without an answer. What if I took them? Would I get sick? Would trying to digest these things hurt? I poured myself a glass of water and sent CHP one last e-mail with a simple question: What happens if someone dies from ingesting one of these things?
A response came back quickly:
Death is a mystery, but the contents of Cat Hair Pills are not. We proudly state, in correspondence and on our packaging, that Cat Hair Pills are gelatin capsules filled with cat hair.
With this transparency in mind, we trust that our fellow CatHairPillers will choose their own destinies wisely. We are the makers of Cat Hair Pills, not the guides.
“The only person you are destined to become," Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "is the person you decide to be.”
I have decided to be a person who does not ingest cat hair pills.