There are more cats in American households these days than any other pet (even dogs!) You could in fact say that the cat is "America's Pet". Let's take a look at a few interesting facts relating to our beloved felines and the United States of America.
- The first members of the cat family in North America were Sabertooth tigers. Paleontologists believe these majestic felids inhabited the continent as early as 42 million years ago!
- The largest cat in the USA today is the cougar, also known as the mountain lion, puma, catamount or panther. Adult males can weigh up to 220 lbs!
- Cats probably first arrived in what is now the US with the first Europeans. There is no written indication of that, but we do know that cats were routinely kept on ships to keep rodents at bay.
- Some say one of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower had her pet cat's name written down inside her Bible, citing this as proof that cats came on board the Mayflower.
- Cats are mentioned in the folklore of some Native American tribes, but it's hard to tell if these were domesticated cats, brought to the continent by the Pilgrims, or wild bobcats which were taken in as kittens and raised as pets.
- At least eleven American presidents kept cats as pets while in office. Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter and Clinton all had pet cats in the White House. See more below.
- At least one American town has a cat as mayor. As of 2017, 20-year-old Stubbs is still the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska. He's held that office ever since he was a four-month-old kitten!
- Quite a few cats have "served" in the US military, especially onboard US warships during the First and Second World Wars. Here are some great stories about some of these cats.
- During the Cold War, the CIA intended to use cats as spies by implementing microphones in them. Millions of dollars went into the project - dubbed Acoustic Kitty - but it was eventually canceled because the CIA discovered that cats were not easy to train.
- The number of pet cats in the United States in 2017 is estimated to be 95.6 million.
- The number of homeless cats (stray and feral) in the United States is estimated at 60 million.
- Every year, 3.2 million cats are surrendered to shelters in the United States. More than 800,000 of them are euthanized.
- Four cat breeds have the word "American" in their name: American Curl, American Bobtail, American Shorthair and American Wirehair.
- Two recognized cat breeds include the names of US states: the California Spangled Cat and the Maine Coon.
- Other breeds that are known to have originated in the USA include the Ragdoll, the Pixie-Bob, the Munchkin and the Exotic Shorthair.
- There are hundreds - possibly thousands - of stores in the US that specialize in selling cat-themed items.
- In autumn 2016, there were 39 library cats in the country, down from just over 200 twenty years ago. The numbers are declining due to complaints about cat allergies.
Previous American Presidents and their families have kept a variety of animals as pets and they weren't all dogs and cats either. The list includes horses, cows, goats, parrots as well as other birds, and some pretty exotic specimens like raccoons, tigers, bear cubs, alligators, and even a pygmy hippo!
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Cat in the White House
Not surprisingly, quite a few White House residents were of the feline sort. Let's take a look at some famous Presidential cats who have left their paw marks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C:
- Abraham Lincoln - a cat called Tabby. This is actually the first record of a domestic cat owned by the First Family. Previous presidents seem to have preferred dogs and horses.
- Rutherford B. Hayes - three cats named Piccolomini, Miss Pussy and Siam. The latter two were Siamese cats.
- William McKinley - two angora cats named Valeriano Weyter and Enqrique DeLome.
- Theodore Roosevelt - two cats named Tom Quartz and Slippers. Slippers actually lived in the White House and not in the President's private residence.
- Woodrow Wilson - a cat named Puffins.
- Calvin Coolidge - a rescued stray named Tiger.
- John F. Kennedy - a cat called Tom Kitten who shared the First Family's home with a full menagerie including dogs, horses, parakeets, and hamsters!
- Gerald Ford - a Siamese cat called Shan.
- Jimmy Carter - Misty Malarky Ying Yang was the name of Amy Carter’s Siamese cat.
- Bill Clinton - perhaps the most famous Presidential Pet and certainly the most famous feline: Socks the cat.
- George W. Bush - a black cat named India. Although the name was somewhat controversial, due to the association of the country of India with the black color, the cat had actually been named after baseball player Ruben Sierra AKA El Indio.
The Cats Of Mt Washington
Domestic cats are everywhere. They can be found at almost any place on the globe where humans live, including some unexpected locations. One such place is the very top of Mt Washington, the tallest peak in the northeast U.S. Located at the heart of New Hampshire, Mt Washington is known for many things, such as the challenging uphill drive, the crazy weather at the summit, and... cats!
The mountain offers spectacular views for those willing to take the challenging drive up the summit via Mt Washington Auto Road. If you prefer to let someone else do the driving, you can take the cog railroad, get on a guided tour, or even hike your way up. These activities are all available during the summer months. During wintertime, the mountain is covered in snow and is often surrounded by fog and buffeted strong winds. For 76 years, up until 2010, it proudly held the record for the strongest winds ever recorded, at no less than 231 mph!
Yet even during the harshest of winters, there are always people up at the frozen mountain top. At the weather station, located at the summit, scientists operate an advanced weather observatory, and alongside them is their pet of choice: a cat.
Why Have Cats Up There?
No one knows what were the reasons for the first person or persons who decided to bring a cat along for the ride up the mountain. Perhaps they were looking for help with controlling the local rodent population, or maybe it was simply that they wanted the companionship of a pet during long winter nights.
Over the years, as the mountain became a national, and international, tourist attraction, the cats took on a new role - that of official mascots. The Mount Washington feline crew members became celebrities in their own right, and as time went on, the public became more familiar with their names and stories.
Who Are These Cats?
As the decades passed, the cats of the mountain gained national fame. Inga and Jasper, resident cats during the '80s and '90s, became official mascots for the weather station. Their successor, a black and white harlequin cat named Nin, was the star of a children's book called Cat In The Clouds. With increased awareness of cat care, Nin was neutered and enjoyed being the sole cat at the observatory, enjoying quality medical care and a lot of attention.
In 2009, Nin passed away at the ripe old age of 18, having retired from the observatory a couple of years earlier. After Nin came down the mountain, cat lovers across the nation wondered who would be his successor. This time, the people had a say in deciding who the new Cat in the Clouds would be, as the observatory joined forces with the local Conway Area Humane Society to set up a poll. Three candidates were suggested by the shelter, and 8,000 votes later the winner was declared: Marty, a young black Maine Coon.
Marty is now a mature, and therefore fairly large, Maine Coon. He's been living on the mountain since January 2009 and has only left on a few occasions for veterinary procedures. Marty enjoys the same
relaxed lifestyle as his predecessors. He is allowed to walk around the observatory (weather station & visitor center), always wearing his collar and a tag that clearly states he is a resident. This helps safeguard him from well-intentioned tourists who might think he's a stray cat in need of rescue (as happened before to several Mount Washington kitties).
When Marty needs a check-up, it's usually easier for the vet to drive up and meet Marty at the observatory than it is for the crew to take Marty down the mountain and back up. However, there have been several occasions when Marty had to take the trip down to the valley. These involved advanced dental care procedures including the removal of some of his teeth. No worries, like many toothless cats, Marty is doing very well and enjoys his diet of canned food. Fancy Feast is a favorite with this cat!
Marty is an integral member of the observatory team and his name can be seen on the board listing all overnight staff members. Marty also "writes" for the Mount Washington quarterly magazine, sent out to the site's supporters, sharing his summit experiences with the readers.
It is now November, and Mount Washington is closed to visitors. It is way too cold and windy for any tourist to drive up there, let alone hike. But if you happen to visit next summer, keep your eyes open. You may be able to take a few snapshots that capture not only the splendid views but also one beautiful black kitty.