A toast to our working cats
For centuries, we have employed the skills of dogs to help in our daily lives. Working dogs include everything from the strong St Bernard, traditionally used in search and rescue operations, to gentle Labradors, who improve the lives of people with disabilities. They have also played more unusual roles – for example, did you know that Dachshunds were originally bred to chase badgers out of their sets during hunting?
Admittedly, cats do not have such impressive credentials. However, we thought we’d take a moment to celebrate some famous (and not so famous) working cats. Here are just a few of our favourites.
Humphrey the Downing Street cat
In the fast-paced world of politics, there was at least one constant for many years – Humphrey the Downing Street Cat. Originally a stray, he was the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office from 1989 to 1997, serving under Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. In 1995, the much-loved Humphrey went missing and one newspaper even published an obituary for him. However, it was later revealed that he had simply wandered over to the Royal Army Medical College, less than a mile from his Westminster home. He retired in 1997, and was replaced by Sybil, a black-and-white moggy.
Today’s Chief Mouser is Larry, who has been keeping the mice and rats under control since 2011.
Street Cat Bob
Perhaps unfairly, cats are not considered to be as loyal as dogs. However, this is certainly not the case with a lovable ginger tabby called Bob, who befriended busker and Big Issue seller James Bowen. The pair were a familiar sight at London’s Covent Garden and soon attracted legions of fans. James, now a published author and charity worker, says Bob helped him to overcome his problems with addiction.
The heart-warming tale has recently been adapted for the big screen – look out for it in cinemas later this month.
Simon the ship’s cat
Black-and-white cat Simon was smuggled on board the Royal Navy’s HMS Amethyst in 1948 after a young sailor, George Hickinbottom, discovered him in the shipyards of Hong Kong. A prolific rat catcher, he was popular among the crew and a firm favourite with Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner. In 1949, the Amethyst was attacked during the Yangtze Incident, killing Skinner and wounding Simon. Despite his injuries, Simon survived and resumed his rat-catching role. He also helped soothe sailors in the sick bay, sitting on their beds and allowing them to stroke him.
Following his efforts, Simon was decorated with the Dickin Medal (equivalent to an animal Victoria Cross) and a Blue Cross medal.
Fans of the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s will know Orangey as Holly Golightly’s feline friend simply called ‘Cat’. In real life he belonged to the well-known animal trainer Frank Inns and appeared in a string of other films including The Incredible Shrinking Man. Renowned for working hard, he received a Patsy Award (Performing Animal Television Star of the Year, or an animal Oscar) in 1961. Other recipients of the award include Elsa the Lion in Born Free (1966) and Ben the Bear, who starred in the 1967 film Gentle Ben.
Of course, there are also plenty of working cats who are not in the spotlight. According to the charity Cats’ Protection there are many semi-wild cats, who keep the rodent population under control on farms, industrial estates and rubbish tips. Often they have been born to an un-neutered stray, and while they can be adopted for work on a farm, they are not suitable as pets. More details on adoption can be found on the Cats’ Protection website.
We all know that cats are warm and cuddly so it is not surprising they are also used as therapy for people who are ill, elderly or living with a disability. The charity PAT (Pets as Therapy) works with volunteers who take their pets, including cats, to residential homes, schools and hospitals, providing much-need relaxation and joy. To find out more about the charity, or become a volunteer, visit the website.