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8 Elegant Facts About Russian Blue Cats

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We’ve ogled the British Blue Shorthair, and admired the plush gray fur of the Chartreux from France. Now, it’s time for a crash course on Russia’s sleekest, most aristocratic-looking feline: the Russian Blue.

1. THE RUSSIAN BLUE LIKELY HAILS FROM NORTHERN RUSSIA.

The Russian Blue’s ancestral roots are lost in time. Some people speculate that they’re descended from the pet cats of Russian czars, but there’s probably more truth to the claim that the breed originated in northwest Russia. According to legend, the gray kitties lived in the wilderness, and were prized—and sadly hunted—for their dense, warm fur. Today, it’s said that gray cats resembling the Russian Blue still live in the country's coldest regions.

It’s believed that sailors brought the Russian from the port city of Arkhangelsk—which sits on the Northern Dvina River in the northwestern part of the country—to Great Britain and Northern Europe in the 1860s. The city was one of the most important ports in the Russian Empire. Its name means Archangel in English, which may explain why the Russian Blue was once known as the Archangel Blue. (Other early monikers include the Maltese and Foreign Blue.)

2. RUSSIAN BLUES WERE SHOWN AT ONE OF THE WORLD’S FIRST CAT SHOWS.

The “Archangel Cat” made an appearance at one of the world’s first cat shows, held at London’s Crystal Palace in 1875. The breed reportedly drew praises from one writer in attendance, who described it as "a very handsome cat, coming from Archangel … particularly furry …. They resemble mostly the common wild gray rabbit."

Sadly, the Russian Blue didn’t win any prizes: Harrison Weir—the show’s founder who’s today remembered as “the father of the cat fancy”—grouped all the short-haired blue cats into one category, and he preferred the stockier, round-faced British Blue.

3. THE RUSSIAN BLUE NEARLY DISAPPEARED DURING WORLD WAR II—BUT IT LATER MADE A COMEBACK.

Britain’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) recognized the Russian Blue as a distinct breed in 1912. The cat was often referred to as a "Blue Foreign type” or the "Foreign Blue." But World War II eventually broke out, and many breeders no longer had the resources to continue the kitty's bloodline. The Russian Blue dwindled in number, but after the war ended, cat lovers in countries including Britain, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark saved the cat by crossbreeding it with other feline types.

Today, the Russian Blue's appearance varies around Europe. Scandinavians mated the cat with Siamese cats, resulting in a longer, more angular look. And in Britain, the kitty was crossbred with bluepoint Siamese cats and British Blues, so they developed a stockier silhouette.

Russian Blues first arrived in America sometime in the 1900s, but it wasn't until much later that the country's cat enthusiasts started breeding them in earnest. They imported Russian Blues from Scandinavia and England, and over time, combined their unique features into the blue-furred, green-eyed cat we know and love today.

4. A RUSSIAN BLUE INSPIRED NYAN CAT.

A Russian Blue cat helped inspire the Internet’s most famous 8-bit animated feline. Nyan Cat—the YouTube video-turned-viral Internet-meme of a flying cat-Pop Tart hybrid flying through space, leaving a rainbow trail in its wake—was created in 2011 by then-25-year-old illustrator Chris Torres, who owned a Russian Blue named Marty.

Torres was participating in a Red Cross donation drive, and received conflicting suggestions on what to draw. One person wanted him to sketch a cat; another, a Pop Tart. Torres ended up drawing a hybrid of both, but if you look closely, you'll notice that the feline portion of Nyan Cat strongly resembles Torres's beloved cat.

This wasn't a coincidence: Marty, who was named after Marty McFly from Back to the Future, “heavily influenced a lot of my comics and the creation of Nyan Cat,” Torres tweeted after his cat died in 2012.

5. THE RUSSIAN BLUE ISN'T TOTALLY HYPOALLERGENIC.

Some people say that the Russian Blue is a good pet for people with allergies. It doesn’t shed a lot, plus the gray kitty allegedly produces lower levels of Fel d 1 protein, the allergenic protein in cat saliva and skin secretions that makes your skin itch and eyes water. But even small amounts of Fel d 1 can cause you to suffer an allergic reaction, plus Russian Blues still have dander. There are plenty of reasons to want the gray cat; just keep in mind that it won't be the solution to your allergy woes.

6. THE RUSSIAN BLUE IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER "BLUE" CATS.

With its slate-colored fur, the Russian Blue resembles other “blue” short-haired cats like the Chartreux and the British Blue. But if you look closely, you’ll see subtle differences between the three breeds. For one, the Russian Blue has green eyes, whereas the Chartreux has brilliant orange pupils, and the British Blue’s are gold, copper, or blue-green. Also, the Russian Blue and Chartreux have round faces and stocky (if not slightly chunky) bodies, while the Russian Blue is much more elongated and lithe, with a wedge-shaped head. Finally, the Russian Blue's dense, double-layered coat is silky to the touch. In contrast, the British Blue's plush fur feels slightly crisp, and the Chartreux's is tufted and wooly.

7. THE RUSSIAN BLUE IS A LOVING (BUT SHY) FELINE.

If you're looking for a calm cat with a pleasant disposition, consider the Russian Blue. The kitty is shy around strangers, but affectionate with owners. It enjoys sitting quietly by the side of its favorite humans—but it's also down for a playful game of fetch.

8. THE RUSSIAN BLUE GETS ITS HUE FROM A UNIQUE GENE.

The Russian Blue gets its silvery fur from a diluted version of the gene that's responsible for black hairs. If you mate two Russian Blues together, they'll produce a litter of all-gray kittens. But if the Russian Blue is bred with another cat type, the black Russian Shorthair, the union will result in a mix of blue and black kittens. (Mate the Russian Blue with a white feline, and their children will be white, blue, and black.)

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
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Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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8 Tricks to Help Your Cat and Dog to Get Along
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When people aren’t debating whether cats or dogs are more intelligent, they’re equating them as mortal foes. That’s a stereotype that both cat expert Jackson Galaxy, host of the Animal Planet show My Cat From Hell, and certified dog trainer Zoe Sandor want to break.

Typically, cats are aloof and easily startled, while dogs are gregarious and territorial. This doesn't mean, however, that they can't share the same space—they're just going to need your help. “If cats and dogs are brought up together in a positive, loving, encouraging environment, they’re going to be friends,” Galaxy tells Mental Floss. “Or at the very least, they’ll tolerate each other.”

The duo has teamed up to host a new Animal Planet series, Cat vs. Dog, which airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. The show chronicles their efforts to help pet owners establish long-lasting peace—if not perfect harmony—among cats and dogs. (Yes, it’s possible.) Gleaned from both TV and off-camera experiences, here are eight tips Galaxy and Sandor say will help improve household relations between Fido and Fluffy.

1. TAKE PERSONALITY—NOT BREED—INTO ACCOUNT.

Contrary to popular belief, certain breeds of cats and dogs don't typically get along better than others. According to Galaxy and Sandor, it’s more important to take their personalities and energy levels into account. If a dog is aggressive and territorial, it won’t be a good fit in a household with a skittish cat. In contrast, an aging dog would hate sharing his space with a rambunctious kitten.

If two animals don’t end up being a personality match, have a backup plan, or consider setting up a household arrangement that keeps them separated for the long term. And if you’re adopting a pet, do your homework and ask its previous owners or shelter if it’s lived with other animals before, or gets along with them.

2. TRAIN YOUR DOG.

To set your dog up for success with cats, teach it to control its impulses, Sandor says. Does it leap across the kitchen when someone drops a cookie, or go on high alert when it sees a squeaky toy? If so, it probably won’t be great with cats right off the bat, since it will likely jump up whenever it spots a feline.

Hold off Fido's face time with Fluffy until the former is trained to stay put. And even then, keep a leash handy during the first several cat-dog meetings.

3. GIVE A CAT ITS OWN TERRITORY BEFORE IT MEETS A DOG.

Cats need a protected space—a “base camp” of sorts—that’s just theirs, Galaxy says. Make this refuge off-limits to the dog, but create safe spaces around the house, too. This way, the cat can confidently navigate shared territory without trouble from its canine sibling.

Since cats are natural climbers, Galaxy recommends taking advantage of your home’s vertical space. Buy tall cat trees, install shelves, or place a cat bed atop a bookcase. This allows your cat to observe the dog from a safe distance, or cross a room without touching the floor.

And while you’re at it, keep dogs away from the litter box. Cats should feel safe while doing their business, plus dogs sometimes (ew) like to snack on cat feces, a bad habit that can cause your pooch to contract intestinal parasites. These worms can cause a slew of health problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.

Baby gates work in a pinch, but since some dogs are escape artists, prepare for worst-case scenarios by keeping the litter box uncovered and in an open space. That way, the cat won’t be cornered and trapped mid-squat.

4. EXERCISE YOUR DOG'S BODY AND MIND.

“People exercise their dogs probably 20 percent of what they should really be doing,” Sandor says. “It’s really important that their energy is released somewhere else so that they have the ability to slow down their brains and really control themselves when they’re around kitties.”

Dogs also need lots of stimulation. Receiving it in a controlled manner makes them less likely to satisfy it by, say, chasing a cat. For this, Sandor recommends toys, herding-type activities, lure coursing, and high-intensity trick training.

“Instead of just taking a walk, stop and do a sit five times on every block,” she says. “And do direction changes three times on every block, or speed changes two times. It’s about unleashing their herding instincts and prey drive in an appropriate way.”

If you don’t have time for any of these activities, Zoe recommends hiring a dog walker, or enrolling in doggy daycare.

5. LET CATS AND DOGS FOLLOW THEIR NOSES.

In Galaxy's new book, Total Cat Mojo, he says it’s a smart idea to let cats and dogs sniff each other’s bedding and toys before a face-to-face introduction. This way, they can satisfy their curiosity and avoid potential turf battles.

6. PLAN THE FIRST CAT/DOG MEETING CAREFULLY.

Just like humans, cats and dogs have just one good chance to make a great first impression. Luckily, they both love food, which might ultimately help them love each other.

Schedule the first cat-dog meeting during mealtime, but keep the dog on a leash and both animals on opposite sides of a closed door. They won’t see each other, but they will smell each other while chowing down on their respective foods. They’ll begin to associate this smell with food, thus “making it a good thing,” Galaxy says.

Do this every mealtime for several weeks, before slowly introducing visual simulation. Continue feeding the cat and dog separately, but on either side of a dog gate or screen, before finally removing it all together. By this point, “they’re eating side-by-side, pretty much ignoring each other,” Galaxy says. For safety’s sake, continue keeping the dog on a leash until you’re confident it’s safe to take it off (and even then, exercise caution).

7. KEEP THEIR FOOD AND TOYS SEPARATE.

After you've successfully ingratiated the cat and dog using feeding exercises, keep their food bowls separate. “A cat will walk up to the dog bowl—either while the dog’s eating, or in the vicinity—and try to eat out of it,” Galaxy says. “The dog just goes to town on them. You can’t assume that your dog isn’t food-protective or resource-protective.”

To prevent these disastrous mealtime encounters, schedule regular mealtimes for your pets (no free feeding!) and place the bowls in separate areas of the house, or the cat’s dish up on a table or another high spot.

Also, keep a close eye on the cat’s toys—competition over toys can also prompt fighting. “Dogs tend to get really into catnip,” Galaxy says. “My dog loves catnip a whole lot more than my cats do.”

8. CONSIDER RAISING A DOG AND CAT TOGETHER (IF YOU CAN).

Socializing these animals at a young age can be easier than introducing them as adults—pups are easily trainable “sponges” that soak up new information and situations, Sandor says. Plus, dogs are less confident and smaller at this stage in life, allowing the cat to “assume its rightful position at the top of the hierarchy,” she adds.

Remain watchful, though, to ensure everything goes smoothly—especially when the dog hits its rambunctious “teenage” stage before becoming a full-grown dog.

Cat vs. Dog Airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet

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