For a stretch of time in the early 2000s, outraged animal lovers around the world filled their friends’ inboxes with e-mails decrying the Bonsai Kitten, a website allegedly selling custom-shaped cats.
Inspired by bonsai plants, the website claimed its kittens were raised inside specially-designed glass bottles while their bones are still young and malleable. After months of “shaping”, the cats were contorted beyond belief and made available for sale.
But it’s all a joke. A cruel joke to be sure, but definitely a joke.
The Original Bonzai Kitten Hoax
Here’s the e-mail:
This version was collected on Jul 22, 2001:
Subject: Poor Kittens..How Horrible… story
Please save those kittens! You must see it… My god.
In New York there is a Japanese who sells “bonsai kittens”. Sounds like
fun – huh? NOT! These animals are squeezed into a bottle. Their urine and
faeces are removed through probes. They feed them with a kind of tube. They
feed them chemicals to keep their bones soft and flexible so the kittens
grow into the shape of the bottle. The animals will stay their as long as they
They can’t walk or move or wash themselves. Bonsai-kittens are
becoming a fashion in New York and Asia.
See this horror at: www.bonsaikitten.com.
Please sign this email in protest against these tortures. If you
receive an email with over 500 names, please send a copy to:
From there this protest will be sent to USA and Mexican animal
protection organizations. If you send this to your friends: Use the copy/paste
method in an NEW email to keep this readable….
The Bonsai Kitten website, www.bonsaikitten.com, introduced visitors to its product matter-of-factly, explaining how the kittens were put into the jars, how they were kept alive, and what the finished product looked like.
The original site is no longer available at www.bonsaikitten.com but a snapshot is available via the Internet Archive.
Its simple sales page gave folks an e-mail address to contain to order a kitten, and its “Just for Kids” page provides the little ones ideas on how they could play with their kitten.
Those last two features should get visitors’ spider-sense tingling, if hasn’t been overwhelmed by righteous indignation. The site is horrifying, cruel, and sadistic … and it has a kids page? The site itself did not offer any hints (other than its outrageousness) that it’s a hoax — for proof, you needed to do some digging.
Debunking the Hoax
- Wired.com: FBI Goes After Bonsaikitten.com: Reporter Declan McCullagh reports how an MIT student created the hoax site — and how a gun-toting member of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed up in Cambridge to investigate the charges. That, combined with outraged cries from animal rights activists, brought about the attention of the FBI.
- The ASPCA Speaks Out Against Bonsai Kitten, Presents Steps to Encourage Shutdown of Offensive Website (Internet Archive link): The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was likewise not amused, damning the hoax and encouraging animal lovers to quash the site.
- About.com: Bonsai Kitten: The world’s most hated Website? (Internet Archive link): A brief write-up from About.com’s Urban Legends Guide about the hoax.