In our urban and suburban houses what should we do without cats? In our sitting or bedrooms, our libraries, in our kitchens and storerooms, our farms, barns, and rickyards, in our docks, our granaries, our ships, and our wharves, in our corn markets, meat markets, and other places too numerous to mention, how useful they are! In our ships, however, the rats oft set them at defiance; still they are of great service.
How wonderfully patient is the cat when watching for rats or mice, awaiting their egress from their place of refuge or that which is their home! How well Shakespeare in Pericles, Act iii., describes this keen attention of the cat to its natural pursuit!
The cat, with eyne of burning coal,
Now crouches from (before) the mouse's hole.
A slight rustle, and the fugitive comes forth; a quick, sharp, resolute motion, and the cat has proved its usefulness. Let any one have a plague of rats and mice, as I once had, and let them be delivered therefrom by cats, as I was, and they will have a lasting and kind regard for them.
A friend not long since informed me that a cat at Stone's Distillery was seen to catch two rats at one time, a fore foot on each. All the cats kept at this establishment, and there are several, are of the red tabby colour, and therefore most likely all males.
I am credibly informed of a still more extraordinary feat of a cat in catching mice, that of a red tabby cat which on being taken into a granary at Sevenoaks where there were a number of mice, dashed in among a retreating group, and secured four, one with each paw and two in her mouth.
At the office of The Morning Advertiser, I am informed by my old friend Mr. Charles Williams, they boast of a race of cats bred there for nearly half a century. In colour these are mostly tortoiseshell, and some are very handsome.
The Government, mindful also of their utility, pay certain sums, which are regularly passed through the accounts quarterly, for the purpose of providing and keeping cats in our public offices, dockyards, stores, shipping, etc., thereby proving, if proof were wanting, their acknowledged worth.
In Vienna four cats are employed by the town magistrates to catch mice on the premises of the municipality. A regular allowance is voted for their keep, and, after a limited period of active service, they are placed on the "retired list," with a comfortable pension.
There are also a number of cats in the service of the United States Post Office. These cats are distributed over the different offices to protect the bags from being eaten by rats and mice, and the cost of providing for them is duly inscribed in the accounts. When a birth takes place, the local postmaster informs the district superintendent of the fact, and obtains an addition to his rations.
A short time ago, the budget of the Imperial Printing Office in France, amongst other items, contained one for cats, which caused some merriment in the legislative chamber during its discussion. According to the Pays these cats are kept for the purpose of destroying the numerous rats and mice which infest the premises, and cause considerable damage to the large stock of paper which is always stored there. This feline staff is fed twice a day, and a man is employed to look after them; so that for cats' meat and the keeper's salary no little expense is annually incurred; sufficient, in fact, to form a special item in the national expenditure.
Mr. W. M. Acworth, in his excellent book, "The Railways of England," gives a very interesting account of the usefulness of the cat. He says, writing of the Midland Railway: "A few miles further off, however - at Trent - is a still more remarkable portion of the company's staff, eight cats, who are borne on the strength of the establishment, and for whom a sufficient allowance of milk and cats' meat is provided. And when we say that the cats have under their charge, according to the season of the year, from one to three or four hundred thousand empty corn sacks, it will be admitted that the company cannot have many servants who better earn their wages.
"The holes in the sacks, which are eaten by the rats which are not killed by the cats, are darned by twelve women, who are employed by the company."
Few people know, or wish to know, what a boon to mankind is "The Domestic Cat." Liked or disliked, there is the cat, in some cases unthought of or uncared for, but simply kept on account of the devastation that would otherwise take place were rats and mice allowed to have undivided possession. An uncle of mine had some hams sent from Yorkshire; during the transit by rail the whole of the interior of one of the largest was consumed by rats. More cats at the stations would possibly have prevented such irritating damage.
And further, it is almost incredible, and likewise almost unknown, the great benefit the cat is to the farmer. All day they sleep in the barns, stables, or outhouses, among the hay or straw. At eve they are seen about the rick-yard, the corn-stack, the cow and bullock yards, the stables, the gardens, and the newly sown or mown fields, in quest of their natural prey, the rat and mouse. In the fields the mice eat and carry off the newly-sown peas or corn, so in the garden, or the ripened garnered corn in stacks; but when the cat is on guard much of this is prevented. Rats eat corn and carry off more, kill whole broods of ducklings and chickens in a night, undermine buildings, stop drains, and unwittingly do much other injury to the well-being of the farmers and others. What a ruinous thing it would be, and what a dreadfully horrible thing it is to be overrun with rats, to say nothing of mice. In this matter man's best friend is the cat. Silent, careful, cautious, and sure, it is at work, while the owner sleeps, with an industry, a will, and purpose that never rests nor tires from dewy eve till rosy morn, when it will glide through "the cat hole" into the barn for repose among the straw, and when night comes, forth again; its usefulness scarcely imagined, much less known and appreciated.
They who remember old Fleet Prison, in Farringdon Street, will scarcely believe that the debtors there confined were at times so neglected as to be absolutely starving; so much so, that a Mr. Morgan, a surgeon of Liverpool, being put into that prison, was ultimately reduced so low by poverty, neglect, and hunger, as to catch mice by the means of a cat for his sustenance. This is stated to be the fact in a book written by Moses Pitt, "The Cries of the Oppressed," 1691.