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Working Felines: Post Office Cats 1
Once upon a time many post offices would have had a resident cat to prevent rodents from ravaging the mail but sadly times change and we don't know of any permanent 'post cats' these days.
According to the New York Times of 4 March 1876, in the city of Liège in Belgium it was thought that the remarkable homing instincts of cats might be used by employing them as special messengers to deliver mail! The premise was that you could put a cat in a bag, take him 20 miles (32 km) away in any direction, and when released he would unerringly find his way home. The Belgian Society for the Elevation of the Domestic Cat (yes, really!) took 37 bagged cats some way out into the countryside and released them at 2 pm one afternoon. The first one reached his home in less than 5 hours, and within 24 hours all had returned home. The Society was greatly encouraged by this result, and proposed to set up a regular system of feline communication between the city and neighbouring villages. Messages would be carried in waterproof bags around the cats' necks, and it was believed that provided the messengers were not waylaid by dogs the messages would be delivered quickly and safely.
It's not reported whether anything came of the scheme; somehow we rather doubt it!
We aren't sure exactly when this true tale began, but it must have been late in the nineteenth or early in the twentieth century. There was a bit of a surprise when a mail pouch was emptied of its letters and parcels at the post office in Hartford, Connecticut, USA, and a small black kitten tumbled out among the mail! It was limp and had been nearly smothered, but was still just alive after 12 hours in the pouch, which had come on the train from New York. A postman hurried to warm up some milk, while the office spaniel, Koko, tenderly licked the small body until it revived enough to take the milk from a nippled bottle. Purring its thanks, the kitten started to make itself at home.
The New York office was contacted, and it was learned that the little cat had a name Tommy Postoffice. It seems his mother, the NY post office cat, had put him to bed in a spare pouch while she went to fetch her four other kittens, only to find on her return that the pouch had been taken up and filled with mail. New York said they would be delighted for Tommy to continue the family tradition and become the Hartford office cat, so that was settled. Because he'd arrived in the official mail but had travelled free, a 2c. stamp was stuck on his brow, and a 1c. one on the white tip of his tail, which he waved around!
Tommy grew into a very handsome 'tuxedo' cat and always kept himself immaculate. Staff donated regularly for his milk and shared titbits from their lunch with him. He proved to be an excellent mouser and, as a post cat, took his duties seriously and would sometimes install himself at the 'general delivery' window and 'stamp' each letter with his paw as it went out. Only once did he betray the trust in him, when he tore open a package and was found rolling delightedly in its contents but he was forgiven when it was found that it contained catnip! The loss was made good, and after the story got out letters would arrive, stuffed with catnip and addressed to Tommy!
He willingly learned several little tricks taught him by his pals the postmen, and sometimes showed off his tricks at benefit concerts to raise money for postal workers, when money would be collected in a saucer placed by his basket. He was entered for the Hartford Cat Show, and was awarded the blue ribbon for general intelligence. One day he walked into the station carrying a black-and-white kitten that was his spitting image, and installed him as a member of the staff. But a horrible experience was in store for Tommy. The station engineer went on holiday, and his temporary stand-in was a surly and bad-tempered man who hated cats. He turfed Tommy out of the furnace room, but one night the cat found his way back in as the man was opening his sandwiches, and jumped on his shoulder for a morsel as he did with his regular engineer friend. The startled man, yelling and cursing, grabbed Tommy and chucked him into the boiler ashpit, full of red-hot coals.
Tommy jumped out of the pit but was grievously hurt and lay writhing in agony. Much of his fur, part of his tail and his claws were burned off, and the pads of his feet scorched. His cries brought his friends running, and while they were giving him first aid the cruel engineer took his chance and vanished, never to be seen again, even when the police wanted to speak to him. Tommy was given the best and fondest care possible. He was wrapped in oiled bandages and tended to day and night; finally he was able to take a little milk, but it was ten days before he would eat anything and started on the long road to recovery. His coat and whiskers grew again, and he became his old lively self. In the meantime, his kitten took over his duties during his convalescence and proved to be a perfect 'copycat'. However, when he had recovered Tommy started to become jealous of his former protégé and it was thought best to find the kitten a new home with one of the staff.
One day Hartford was visited by Owney, the famous post office dog who travelled across the United States, and elsewhere, visiting post offices. Owney was recently (July 2011) commemorated on a US 'Forever' stamp (right). Owney arrived by train, and upon seeing him Tommy fled! the only time anyone recalled him running from a dog. But Owney was used to cats, and with a little human help soon persuaded the cat to be friends, to the extent that they shared a meal from the same dish.
Tommy must have had quite a long life, although we don't know when he died. He was still alive in 1905, when he had his biography written (Tommy Postoffice, by Gabrielle E. Jackson; A.C. McClury & Co., Chicago, September 1905). The cat who caught mice and helped to handle the mail was fondly remembered for many years afterwards at Hartford Post Office.
Ever since he was a youngster, 10-year-old Sammy, of Notasulga, Alabama in America's South, liked to spend the working days lying on a table, or on the window ledge, at the front of the town post office. For many residents, the cat was almost like another post office employee, and they would greet him and talk to him when they visited. He lived only a short distance away, and went back home at night and on holidays.
Then early in January 2009 a woman made a complaint via the internet to the US Post Office, with the (ridiculous) argument that as Sammy didn't pay federal taxes, he had no right to be in a federal building; she later added other complaints. These days, unfortunately, such things have to be taken seriously, and so postmaster Carolyn Hood said she would do her best to keep Sammy out of the building. She put up a notice saying that the cat was no longer allowed in. When they heard the reason, the townspeople were furious. They met a reporter and made sure the story was on the local TV station, from where it was picked up by other parts of the country. National coverage did not help Sammy's cause, though, as it meant that the story reached higher up the chain of command, and Carolyn was instructed not to allow him in the office under any circumstances. She made it clear, though, as did many Notasukga residents, that she didn't see the problem in allowing the cat the sleeping spot he had occupied for a decade. There's a YouTube clip about the dispute, showing Sammy, with further WSFA reports here and here.
'Bother me?' said one resident. 'I was going to suggest putting in a cat door for him!' Another citizen rented a PO Box in Sammy's name in theory giving him the right to be in the building. In one five-day period in January he received 6 pieces of mail and two packages. Support came from places near and far and parked outside the office, he had been receiving plenty of attention. The unnamed complainer then claimed she suffered from cat allergy, so Sammy never did get back inside. He moved to the next-door building to the post office when the weather became hotter, as there was more shade there.
We don't know how the saga would eventually have ended, as in mid-July 2009 came the sad news that Sammy had been run over by a car. He went missing for several days, then struggled home with a broken leg and missing tail. Those injuries might have healed, but his vet said there were internal injuries too severe to make recovery likely. Sammy was put to sleep. Condolences and messages from 49 of the 50 states rolled in, and his owners said they would keep Sammy's post office box open in case of further messages.
Two English Postal Assistants
In 2008 it was reported that Beezley, a six-year-old ginger-and-white tomcat had been making the rounds with postman Terry Grinter for well over a year in the south-coastal town of Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset. Beezley reclined on top of Grinter's mailbag as he manoeuvred his two-wheeler up and down the hilly streets of the town. We think Beezley's jaunts may have stopped now, as we can't find any more about him; but there's a short video of him doing the rounds at YouTube.
Early in 2009 a four-year-old black cat named Charlie had been making the rounds inside Nick Lock's mailbag for the previous month or so. It would not be completely accurate to suggest that this unlikely arrangement happened because Charlie had the slightest interest in the efficient delivery of the mail; rather, one day it was raining so hard that Charlie scampered into Lock's unattended mailbag to escape the deluge. Apparently liking what he found inside, Charlie regularly turned up for a half-hour ride accompanying Lock while he delivered the mail around the small village of Woolavington in Somerset. 'Most days now he's about,' Lock told the BBC in January 2009. 'I think it's because he likes people; I don't think he likes being by himself.' The arrangement was fine with Charlie's 18-year-old guardian, Lara Lucas. 'I couldn't believe it when he started going around in Nick's bag,' she told the BBC. 'When I heard about it I fell into fits of laughter!' See a BBC video clip of Nick and Charlie.
MJ and Rudi
Rudi Saldia, a bicycle courier in Philadelphia, USA has a companion when making his rounds tabby cat MJ (short for Mary Jane). She and her four siblings were born on 1 April 2012 in a cupboard drawer in his apartment; mother and the other kittens were found good homes, but MJ stayed to become Rudi's first permanent cat. Previously he had kept 'sugar gliders' small possum-like mammals that used to ride around on his shoulder; now he's found that MJ loves to do the same.
A friend told him he could probably train the kitten to accompany him, and that's what she now likes to do. 'The first day we managed one block', he said. 'The next day we managed two blocks and now [November 2012Ed.] we can do around 25 miles with her on my shoulder. MJ enjoys the wind rushing through her fur and she moves around from shoulder to shoulder.' She never uses her claws and Rudi's back is 'scratch-free', he said; by later in 2013 he hopes to be able to do 100 miles (160 km) with her.
Needless to say MJ provides a great talking point and people do a double-take when they see her. She also gets plenty of attention from customers, which she enjoys, although she allows only Rudi and his girlfriend to hold her. Normal traffic doesn't bother her, but sirens scare her, and she doesn't much like noisy buses and motorbikes, so Rudi tries to get away from them as quickly as possible. He's eaten with her at roadside cafés, and she's even been in a few bars.
Rudi has been likened, of course, to a real-life 'Postman Pat', the postman who is always accompanied by his black-and-white cat Jess in the UK children's books. See the Daily Mail for more pictures, with a video clip at the foot of the page (also at YouTube).
Rudi has since uploaded more clips:
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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