Paul Ashwin
Paul Ashwin

11 Cat Monuments

Paul Ashwin
Paul Ashwin

In my backyard, there’s a fairly large concrete slab, painted blue with the word “Biscuit” lovingly written in gold paint. I have to move that heavy rock twice every time I mow, but it means a lot to a young girl who buried her cat underneath. My daughter’s memorial to a beloved pet isn’t out of the ordinary. There are monuments to cats all over the world. Here are a few you can visit yourself.

1. Towser

Photograph by Paul Ashwin.

Towser worked at Glenturret Distillery near Crieff, Scotland her entire life, from 1963 to 1987. In those 24 years, she caught 28,899 mice! At least that’s the number recorded on the monument to her that you can see at the visitor’s center at the distillery. Towser was recognized as the World’s Greatest Mouser by the Guinness Book of World Records. That’s an average of three mice every day for her entire life!

2. Hamish McHamish

Photograph by DC Thomson.

The town of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, erected a bronze statue in honor of the town’s favorite cat earlier this year. And the cat is still alive. And he’s not even known for a specific heroic deed. But Hamish McHamish is a star among St Andrews' residents. The bronze statue of Hamish was created by Kilmany-based sculptor David Annand and Fife stonemason Colin Sweeney. The £5,000 cost was funded by donations. The unveiling ceremony was a big affair

After students Hannah Holmes and Rosie Hanlon from St Andrews Opera had serenaded the assembled crowd with Rossini’s humorous duet for two cats, Hamish’s owner Marianne Baird said it all seemed a bit surreal.

She said: “I can’t really get over it. All I did was get a kitten."

Hamish is a wandering cat, and over the years has made himself at home at many local businesses and the University of St Andrews. People who travel to St Andrews often ask to meet Hamish. You can see pictures of Hamish at his Facebook page.

3. Mrs. Chippy

Photograph by Flickr user History Group.

Mrs. Chippy was a ship’s cat on the Endurance during Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antartica in 1914-1917. He (despite the name, the cat was male) belonged to expedition carpenter Harry McNeish. After the ship became trapped in ice, Mrs. Chippy, along with the sled dogs, was shot. McNeish never forgave Shackleton for the decision to shoot his cat, and was later denied the Polar Medal the rest of the crew received due to Shackleton’s perception of his insubordination. Almost 100 years later, the New Zealand Antarctic Society commissioned a bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy and had it added atop Harry McNeish’s grave in Wellington, New Zealand. 

4. Hodge

Photograph by Jim Linwood.

Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, the most famous of his many writings. During that time, he was kept company by his cat Hodge. Johnson doted over the cat, and bought him fresh oysters. In 1997, a bronze statue of Hodge was erected outside Johnson’s house in Gough Square, London. It was designed by sculptor Jon Bickley and consists of Hodge, Johnson’s dictionary, and some empty oyster shells. The inscription quotes Johnson: "a very fine cat indeed."

5. Trim

Photograph by PanBK.

Matthew Flinders led the first expedition to sail all the way around Australia. On his journeys he was accompanied by his cat Trim. Trim was born aboard the HMS Reliance in 1799. He showed his spunk as a kitten when he fell overboard and made his way back by climbing a ship’s rope. Trim sailed with Flinders around the continent on the HMS Investigator and survived the shipwreck of the Porpoise. The cat even accompanied Flinders to jail when he was imprisoned in Mauritius, but disappeared during his sentence. A bronze statue of Trim by sculptor John Cornwell was installed at the Mitchell Library in Sydney in 1996. It is accompanied by a plaque reading:

TO THE MEMORY OF
TRIM
The best and most illustrious of his race
The most affectionate of friends,
faithful of servants,
and best of creatures
He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia,
which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers
Written by Matthew Flinders in memory of his cat
Memorial donated by the North Shore Historical Society

6. Homeless Cats

German sculptor Siegfried Neuenhausen designed this 1981 monument to homeless cats in Braunschweig, Germany.

7. Totti

This is a memorial to Totti, a cat belonging to Finnish poet Edith Södergran, who was a famous cat enthusiast. Designed by the Finnish sculptor Nina Terno, the monument is open to the public in Ozero Roshino, Russia, where Södergran and her cat spent their summers.

8. Gotoku-ji Temple

Photograph from For 91 Days.

At the Gotoku-ji temple in Tokyo, Japan, there is a small shrine dedicated to Maneki Neko, the “beckoning cat” you’ve seen so many times. Maneki Neko is a pop culture icon, but it is based on the legend of a real cat named Tama. Tama lived at the temple in the 17th century. The feudal lord Naotaka Ii was caught in a rainstorm near the temple and saw Tama with her paw upraised, as if beckoning him. When he went to the cat, the spot where he had been standing was struck by lightning! Because Tama had saved his life, Naotaka Ii gave money to the temple and built a shrine to the feline there. Today, people bring ceramic statues of Maneki Neko to the cat shrine at Gotoku-ji temple by the hundreds. See more pictures here

9. Yelisei

The siege of Leningrad during World War II isolated the citizens of that city for two and a half years. The cats of the city were eaten, which allowed the rat population to soar and destroy what little food there was. To combat the problem, cats were brought in from surrounding villages and they soon saved the city from the rat infestation. We don’t know the story of the cat named Yelisei, but he was chosen as representative of the cats brought in to save Leningrad from rats. This monument to all those cats is on the corner of Nevsky Avenue and Malaya Sadovaya in St. Petersburg, the original name of Leningrad, which was restored after the Soviet era.

10. The Experimental Cat

Another cat monument in St. Petersburg stands in the courtyard of the main building of St. Petersburg State University. It is the monument to experimental cats, in honor of cats who were used in scientific research at the university

11. Tashirojima Cat Shrine

Tashirojima is a Japanese island that has around 100 people and many times that number of cats. Commonly known as “Cat Island,” it was once known for its silk. Those who raised silkworms liked to keep cats around to guard against the mice that threatened the worms. As the cat population grew, silkworm farmers and fishermen both began to observe the cats and use their behavior to predict weather. Feeding and petting the cats was supposed to bring luck. In the middle of the island is a shrine called Neko-jinja (猫神社), which means “cat shrine.” The story goes that a fisherman accidentally dropped a rock on a cat and killed it. He was so remorseful that he buried the cat and built a shrine to the cat’s memory at the gravesite. There are actually many cat shrines in Japan.

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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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