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In the Victorian Era, You Could Get a Job Delivering Meat to Cats

People love to pamper their pets, but back in the Victorian era, London’s felines received daily, hand-delivered skewers or packages of meat from a peddler known as the “cat’s meat man.”

Writer and editor Carrie Frye recently wrote about this long-gone profession in her newsletter, Black Cardigan. She discovered the profession after reading about Harriet Hardiman, a cat’s meat (wo)man, who lived at 29 Hanbury Street, the location where Jack the Ripper's second victim, Annie Chapman, was found in 1888. While Chapman had no prior connection to the address, everyone there was questioned, including the woman whose job it was to deliver meat to cats.

A cat’s meat man sold chopped meat (usually horse scraps from local slaughterhouses) to cat owners—as Frye writes, “meat for cats, not of cats.” They had regular routes and clients, just like a milkman, and were a fixture of London street life: hundreds, if not thousands of vendors serviced London’s estimated 300,000 cats.

If this description from 1880’s Harper's Young People is any indication, it was a dream job:

“Everywhere the cats and kittens are anxiously waiting and watching for him, and sometimes they run out and meet him at the corners half a block or more away from their homes. Often when he is feeding the cats on one side of the street, those living on the other side run across, and rubbing against his legs, mewing and purring, seem to beg him to hurry and get over to their side … The cats all know and love him, and are generally expecting him; but if he opens the door of a store where one of his cats lives, and she is not to be seen, he calls "Pss-pss-pss," and the kitty comes racing down stairs, or from some distant corner, so fast that she nearly tumbles head over heels in her hurry to get at her breakfast.”

We wouldn't mind bringing this lost profession back—and performing it ourselves. For more (including what Charles Dickens has to do with all of this), check out Frye’s post and subscribe to her newsletter, Black Cardigan, here.

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

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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environment
How Japan's 'Dancing' Cats Predicted a Deadly Environmental Disaster
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In the 1950s, residents of Minamata, Japan, noticed that something was wrong with the city's cats. As the SciShow's Hank Green recounts in the video below, the cats would convulse, make strange noises and jerking "dancing" motions—and eventually die. Soon, these symptoms spread to the local townspeople, and scientists began searching for the cause of the terrifying sickness.

The culprit was soon revealed to be the Chisso Corporation, a Japanese chemical company with a factory in Minamata. About 30 years earlier, the company had begun making an organic chemical called acetaldehyde, using mercury as a catalyst to trigger the needed reactions. Afterwards, the company dumped the leftover chemicals into Minamata Bay, where the mercury came into contact with bacteria that transformed it into the most noxious form of the metal: methylmercury. This toxic substance was absorbed by plants, which were in turn eaten by fish. Eventually, the methylmercury made its way up the food chain and poisoned both felines and humans. Birth defects became rampant, and more than 900 people died. Thousands of victims have since been identified. The neurological syndrome caused by extreme mercury poisoning is now known as Minamata disease.

You can learn more about the worst mercury poisoning disaster the world has ever seen by watching the video below.

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