Jessi-Cat at Twitter
Jessi-Cat at Twitter

8 Heroic Cats

Jessi-Cat at Twitter
Jessi-Cat at Twitter

These cats went above and beyond the call of duty to help others in need.

1. Tara

Four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo was playing in front of his home when a neighbor’s dog came up and bit him and pulled him off his bike. The first to come to his rescue was the family cat, Tara, who body-slammed the dog, followed closely by Erica Triantafilo. Tara is one brave cat! Erica tried to chase the dog off, and she was bitten, too.

Jeremy was taken to a hospital where he received ten stitches. The original video, which was re-edited from several security cameras, was viewed 5 million times on YouTube in less than two days, before it was replaced with a version that does not show Jeremy’s raw wounds. The family appeared on The Today Show this morning.

The heroics displayed by Tara, a stray adopted by the family six years ago, surprised everyone.

“Every once in a while she puts our dog back into her place, but for the most part, she’s just the most mellow cat you’ve ever met,” Erica Triantafilo said. “All our boys love her and pick on her occasionally. She just loves them right back anyway.”

2. Pudding

Photograph from the Door County Humane Society.

In 2014, Amy Jung went down to the Door County (Wisconsin) Humane Society shelter to play with the cats. Jung was not planning to adopt one, but went home with two. Pudding, a 21-pound cat, stood out and seem drawn to Jung. She took him and another cat named Wimsy home with her. Later that night, Jung suffered a diabetic seizure in her sleep. Pudding jumped up on her and woke her up enough to call out to her son Ethan, but he was asleep. So Pudding ran to Ethan’s room and jumped on him to wake him up. Ethan was able to get his mother medical attention, but she might have sunk into a coma without intervention. Since the incident, Jung has registered Pudding as a therapy animal.

3. Rusty

Claire Nelson of Reading, Pennsylvania, adopted Rusty as an adult cat from the Humane Society. Two years later, in June of 2011, Nelson wanted to lay down because she wasn’t feeling well, but Rusty kept bothering her, which was out of character for him. The 66-year-old former nurse took inventory and decided to visit her doctor’s office, but Nelson began feeling much worse at the bus stop and called 911. Doctors at the hospital found that she had suffered a heart attack! Surgery followed and Nelson had two stents implanted. When she returned home, Rusty was back to his normal self, but would not leave her side. Nelson credits him with saving her life.

4. Pwditat

As Terfel, a dog who lives in Wales, aged, his eyes became blurred by cataracts. Eventually he became completely blind. Terfel's owner, Judy Godfrey-Brown, said he had a hard time adjusting; he walked into walls and became afraid to move around the house. When Godfrey-Brown invited a stray cat into her home, it was like the answer to a prayer. The new cat, named Pwditat (this is in Wales, remember) immediately became a guide for Terfel. The cat uses her paws to guide Terfel around the house and into the garden for some fresh air. The two animals became inseparable, and even sleep together. Watch Pwditat in action in a video

5. Jessi-Cat

Photograph from Jessi-Cat at Twitter.

Lorcan Dillon is affected by Selective Mutism, which makes it difficult for him to express himself. The condition is often confused with autism. But Lorcan received the most valuable therapy from his pet cat, Jessi-cat. The cat accepts Lorcan unconditionally and gives him a patient ear. For her loyalty and devotion, Jessi-Cat was named the UK’s National Cat of the Year 2012. Lorcan’s mother, Jayne Dillon, said,

“He does not express his emotions, he would not say 'I love you Mummy', he just doesn't do it. But with the cat he can cuddle her, he can stroke her, he can talk to her and he can say 'I love you Jessi-Cat.'

“She is without a doubt the best friend a boy could have and has had a huge positive impact on his life. We’ve had her for a couple of years and in the last year alone he seems to be making excellent progress at school. In the past two weeks he’s started communicating with people he doesn’t know very well and even reads to one of the teachers now – something he’s never done before.”

Jessi-Cat’s story has since been published as a book.

6. Scarlett

In 1996, a fire broke out in a suspected crack house in Brooklyn. A cat later named Scarlett was observed carrying her kittens out of the building one by one. She was severely burned, and blinded by blisters. She touched each kitten with her nose to make sure they were all safe from the fire, then collapsed. Firefighter David Giannelli took the cat and kittens to the North Shore Animal League clinic. The League received 7000 applications to adopt Scarlett and her kittens! Three families were selected, and Scarlett made a full recovery, albeit with damaged eyelids and ears. The hero cat was taken by Karen Wellen, who cared for her until her death 11 years later. Scarlett's story was made into a book, Scarlett Saves her Family, and a children's book, The Bravest Cat. The North Shore Animal League created an honor in her name, the Scarlett Award, for animal heroism.

7. Simon

Simon was born in 1947 in Hong Kong. As a half-grown cat, he was taken aboard the HMS Amethyst to control rats. In 1949, the ship was attacked on the Yangtze River in China by communists. Simon was wounded, but not found for days. The injured sailors had been evacuated, so the ship's doctor nursed Simon's facial burns and shrapnel wounds. As Simon recovered he resumed rat catching, but also added the duty of visiting sick and wounded sailors.

Upon his return to Hong Kong, Simon was presented with a campaign ribbon and news that he would receive a Dicken Medal, an award for animal gallantry. When the Amethyst reached England, Simon had to go into quarantine. He developed an infection and died just before his planned formal medal ceremony. The veterinarian believed the young cat would have recovered if his war wounds hadn't weakened him. Simon was buried in a specially-made casket with full naval honors. See more pictures of Simon. 

8. Faith

A stray cat wandered into St Augustine's and St. Faith's Church in London in 1936. She was named Faith and adopted by the rector and parishioners. She would sit at the pulpit while Father Henry Ross preached. In 1940, Faith gave birth to a single kitten named Panda. On September 6, Faith demanded access to the church basement. When a door was opened for her, she carried her kitten down to the dark cellar. Father Ross retrieved the kitten twice, but Faith carried him back downstairs—twice. She even missed a church service, which was unusual.

The next day, air raids began in the Battle of London, and by September 9, 400 people had been killed and eight churches were destroyed by bombs. Father Ross returned to the church to find it ruined. He called for Faith and heard faint meowing in return. He retrieved both Faith and Panda from the rubble just before the roof collapsed. Faith was nominated for a Dickin Medal, for which she was not eligible as a civilian, but she was awarded a special medal for bravery anyway. Faith was presented with the medal in a special ceremony in 1945 attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. When Faith died peacefully at the age of 14, the church was again packed for her funeral.

There are many other hero cats that have saved people from gas leaks, house fires, and medical emergencies

See also: 7 Heroic Dogs

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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How Does Catnip Work?
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If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting in the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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