‘Cyclops’ Cat Photo Draws Worldwide Attention, Some Doubts

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By: Joe Strupp

Cyclops, the one-eyed kitten, may have only lived for a day. But in its short lifetime, it’s drawn as much notice as any pet cat since Garfield. And as much scrutiny as a witness in a murder trial.

The single-vision feline, nicknamed Cy, reportedly came into the world on Dec. 28, according to owner Traci Allen, an Oregon woman whose photo of the newborn has popped up on Web sites worldwide. Her veracity continues to be questioned in the blogoshere, despite assurances from Associated Press editors who distributed the photo that it is genuine.

“I can’t believe this picture has generated this much [attention],” said Tom Stathis, AP regional photo editor who sent out the photo from his Southern California office on Jan. 6. “With the ability to manipulate images becoming so easy, nobody trusts the unusual. It kind of takes the magic out of photojournalism.”

But it also has turned any photo whose origin is not 100% known into a potential fake. Stathis believes he properly scrutinized the Cyclops picture when it was sent to him from AP’s Portland, Ore. office. Attempts by E&P to reach Allen, the cat’s owner who shot the picture, have been unsuccessful so far.

Among those wondering about the photo was The Bulletin of Bend, Ore., the closest daily paper to Redmond, Ore., where Allen lives. Photo Editor Dean Guernsey was not on duty when the photo came across the AP Wire on Jan. 10, but he said others in the photo department passed on it because it could not be verified.

“Everybody around here said they could not tell if it was a hoax,” Guernsey said. “It was not an AP photographer and I also have not been able to find her name in the phone book. You can do anything in Photoshop these days and it did not come from anyone whose name I recognized.”

The photo originally came to AP through its feedback space on Yahoo.com, where it was submitted by Allen’s mother, according to AP Spokesman Jack Stokes. “It was then forwarded to AP Photos, which e-mailed the person who submitted the picture, inquiring as to its veracity,” he told E&P in an e-mail. “She informed AP Photos that the kitten belonged to her daughter.”

Concerned that it could be a hoax, Stathis said he had Allen send him the memory stick from the digital camera she says she used. After some Christmas snaps, four shots of the cat, taken from slightly different angles, appeared.

“When you look at it, there are four sequential photos and the numbers are correct,” Stathis told E&P, adding that it did not appear to be altered from the memory stick. “I have been in the [photo] business 25 years and the digital [photo] business as long as there has been digital photography and I don’t know of any way it could be done. I work with digital photographs every day.”

But what about the kitten itself? Could the photos be un-manipulated but the subject a fake? “That is a good question,” Stathis said. “It crossed my mind when we were looking at it, but it did not look to me like some kind of created object, and that is just purely my judgment.”

Stathis said someone from the AP Portland office could have traveled to Allen’s home in Redmond to see the kitten, which she contends she has kept in her freezer. But he said that idea was dismissed because the woman’s home is about a four-hour drive from Portland. “We had a lot of other things on our plate,” Stathis noted.

The photo editor also said he spoke with the cat’s owner and believed she was being honest in her story. “She came across as very forthright and seemed as genuine as you can over the phone,” Stathis said. “She wasn’t pushing it. I did not have the feeling that she was trying to foist something on us.”

But the doubts continue, from Web sites and bloggers who have been taking AP, and Allen, to task for days. The backlash was so severe, AP posted a story earlier this week explaining the vetting process and assuring skeptics that it was a real photo. The story even cited experts from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders who said such a disfigurement is possible in kittens through something called “Holoprosencephaly.”

Still, that has not quieted all of the doubters as blogs continue to question the reality of Cy. “I have had several cats that have given birth and all of those kittens were born with their eyes closed. If this cat lived for a day it’s eye should have been closed,” wrote one skeptic at digg.com.

Then there is killogs.com, which posted one person’s poem about Cy,

Oh Cyclops Kitten
I didn’t know you
But I bet you woulda made a great pet
Woulda scared everybody at the vet
You are the cutest thing I wish that I had met

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