This story was first published in October 2004
There are probably few sites in the history of the Internet that have spawned more hatred and condemnation than the Bonsai Kittens website.
The site supposedly provided information about how to create “bonsai kittens” by cramming cats into glass jars so that they grow to take on the shape of the jar.
The original site, which was first published back in the year 2000, has long since disappeared. However, a mirror of the site is still available here.
Information on the website noted:
By physically constraining the growth of a developing living thing, it can be directed to take the shape of the vessel that constrains it. Just as a topiary gardener produces bushes that take the forms of animals or any other thing, you no longer need be satisfied with a housepet having the same mundane shape as all other members of its species.
For years, email chain letters condemning the procedure as unconscionably cruel and calling for the closure of the site made their way around the inboxes of the world. Later, irate social media versions of the protest message began circulating.
The infamous site even drew the attention of the FBI. A 2001 report on Wired.com notes:
FBI agents in the Boston field office have launched an investigation into the site. They also have served MIT with a grand jury subpoena asking for “any and all subscriber information” about the site, which was initially hosted in a campus dormitory but has since moved to a commercial provider. MIT said in a letter to bonsaikitten.com’s pseudonymous webmaster, a graduate student using the alias Dr. Michael Wong Chang, that it will wait until Sunday to turn over records that would identify him by name. “I was surprised,” Chang said. “I really thought that the FBI had better things to do. That’s your tax dollars at work.”
Of course, this widespread condemnation and anger were not surprising. If it were actually real, the act of creating bonsai kittens would constitute criminal cruelty to animals. But, in reality, the website was never more nothing more than an ill-conceived joke apparently perpetrated by an MIT student.
The techniques described are clearly impossible and are certainly not being carried out as described. Moreover, the site does not actually sell equipment used to create bonsai kittens, nor has it ever done so. The apparent advertisement of bonsai kittens products included on the site are entirely bogus and intended only to further the illusion that the techniques described are real.
An article on the Humane Society of the United States website noted:
The Massachusetts SPCA and the FBI initiated an investigation of the site’s creator, but discovered no evidence of actual animal abuse or the sale of bonsai kitten “products,” though the investigation remains active. If the creator is not e-mailing the obscene materials to an unwilling audience, violating a User’s Agreement, committing the abuse depicted on site, or actually selling products involving animal cruelty, then the site is considered free speech and is protected by the First Amendment.
As with other satirical websites, there was no overt statements or disclaimers on the Bonsai Kittens website that specifically informed visitors that its claims were not intended to be taken seriously. Hence, after visiting the site, many people believed that bonsai kittens really were being created and were consequently outraged.
However, a closer examination of the site content soon revealed a number of tongue-in-cheek references that indicated the satirical nature of the information. For example, the site claimed that those who wish to create bonsai kittens need to apply for and receive a “Bonsai Kitticulture” permit from the U.S. government. This claim is clearly nonsense and no such permit system exists.
In another section, the site claims that young kittens have “springy” bones and will bounce when thrown on the floor. Again, this is obviously total nonsense. And a series of nonsensical entries in a fake “Guest Book” included on the site provided further evidence that the site is a hoax. These entries included outlandish “praise” of the site as well as absurd comments about creating bonsai boyfriends, children and horses.
Although there are photographs of cats on the site, they do not show a “finished” bonsai kitten. Instead, they depict cats in or behind unsealed jars.
The site itself has apparently moved locations several times during its history and been banned by several hosting providers. The domain name used in some versions of the petition emails, www.bonsaikitten.com, now leads to a domain holding page that has no relation to the original Bonsai Kittens website.
Clever satire certainly has its place. But there is nothing remotely clever or funny about a website that uses potential animal cruelty as the foundation for its satire, even if no kittens were actually harmed.
However, even if you do think the site is in such poor taste that it and any future clones should be eradicated from the Internet once and for all, “signing” and forwarding an email petition on the subject is quite unlikely to achieve your aim.
Email petitions are essentially ineffective, especially if the information they contain is erroneous, outdated or misleading, as is the case with the bonsai kittens email. In fact, there are a number of significant problems with email-based petitions that render them virtually useless.
FOR EVERYONE WHO LOVES ANIMALSThere is a Japanese man living in New York that sells “BONSAI CATS”.
The guy puts the kittens in glass bottle then puts a probe in their anus that gets out from a gap in the bottle to dispense their urine and faeces. For the kittens to take the bottle shape, they are fed with chemicals to melt the bones. Then he keeps the cats for as long as they can survive.
They can’t move, walk or clean up.
He calls this “art”.
This cruelty is the last fashion in NYC, China, Indonesia, New Zeland, because is a “decoration pet”. If you want more information take a look in this site : http://www.shorty.com/bonsaikitten/bkmethod.html, and the babies into of a glass bottle in http://www.shorty.com/bonsaikitten/gray.html and http://www.shorty.com/bonsaikitten/bnw.html
We are making a list to sent to Animals Protection Association n USA and Mexico, and to TV news, to stop this.
We call out to anybody that loves cats or just has basic respect for LIFE – please put your name in the end of this list, then forward this e-mail to anyone you can think of.
If in the list you find more than 500 names, please send a copy to [ADDRESS REMOVED]
We are very thankfull to your help and we ask you to send this e-mail.
FOR EVERYONE WHO LOVES ANIMALS!!
This is sick.
A site that we were able to shut last year has returned. We have to try to shut it down again! A Japanese man in New York breeds and sells kittens that are called BONSAI CATS. That would sound cute, if it weren’t kittens that were put in to little bottles after being given a muscle relaxant and then locked up for the rest of their lives. The cats are fed through a straw and have a small tube for their feaces.
The skeleton of the cat will take on the form of the bottle as the kitten grows. The cats never get the opportunity to move. They are used as original and exclusive souvenirs. These are the latest trends in New York, China, Indonesia and New Zealand. If you think you can handle it, view www.bonsaikitten.com and have a look at the methods being used to put these little kittens into bottles.
This petition needs 500 names, so please put your one name on it!!! Copy the text into a new email and put your name on the bottom, then send it to everyone you know. If you notice that there are 500 names on the list, please send it to: [ADDRESS REMOVED] Note- Copy this e-mail, paste it into a new one – DON’T forward it – add your name, and send it to everyone you know!