Famous Seafaring Felines

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When most people think of service animals, usually dogs come to mind. Cats may be prone to languidly lounging in the sun, but seldom seem eager to lend a paw.  However, there have been many cats throughout history that proved humans wrong; cats are capable of working side by side with man!

The long and well documented history of cats serving on ships counters the lazy bones kitty stereotype. The bond between cats and sailors has been a strong one throughout history — whether the relationship was created for companionship or simply mousing duties.  Ship’s cats have been employed on trading, exploration, and naval ships going back to ancient times when Egyptians took cats on Nile boats to catch birds in riverbank thickets.  When cats were brought aboard trading ships, the species began to spread throughout the world.  Phoenician cargo ships are thought to have brought the first domesticated cats to Europe around 900 BC.

Eventually cats’ main job at sea was in the position of pest control; rats and mice onboard are a serious threat to ropes, woodwork, food, and grain cargo — not to mention rodents’ roles as carriers of disease.  Cats also offered companionship to sailors.  We now understand that there is a reason animals are used for therapy.  And cats filled this important role well during lengthy stints away from land.

Seven Famous Seafaring Felines

A ship's cat on the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Encounter, 1914-1918
A ship’s cat on the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Encounter, 1914-1918

Blackie (also known as Churchill)

The mostly black Blackie was the ship cat for HMS Prince of Wales, a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy.  The ship was involved in several important actions during World War II, including the battle of Denmark Strait against the Bismarck, escorting convoys in the Mediterranean, and her final action and sinking in the Pacific in 1941.  Blackie achieved celebrity status after Prince of Wales brought Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland for a clandestine meeting for several days with Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The result of their secret summit on the ship resulted in the signing of the Atlantic Charter. As Churchill prepared to disembark the Prince of Wales, Blackie swooped in for a cuddle, Churchill stooped down for a good-bye rub, cameras clicked, and the perfect politician-feline photo opportunity was captured … and gobbled up by the world media.  In honor of the success of the visit, Blackie was renamed Churchill.

Convoy

Convoy was the beloved cat aboard HMS Hermione — and was named for the multiple times he accompanied the ship on convoy escort duties.  Convoy was registered in the ship’s book and was given a full kit, including a wee hammock to sleep in.  He stayed on the ship to the end and was lost along with 87 of his crewmates when the Hermione was torpedoed and sunk in 1942.

Unsinkable Sam

The most famous mascot of the British Royal Navy, Unsinkable Sam, previously known as Oscar, was the ship’s cat aboard the German battleship Bismarck. When the ship was sunk in 1941, only 116 out of a crew of more than 2,200 survived — 117 if you include Sam.  Sam was picked up by the destroyer HMS Cossack, which was in turn torpedoed and sunk a few months later,

Here is Bilgewater, the mascot of the Coast Guard Academy, circa 1944.  He's modeling the new wartime grey cadet uniform.
Here is Bilgewater, the mascot of the Coast Guard Academy, circa 1944. He’s modeling the new wartime grey cadet uniform.

killing 159 of her crew.  Again, Sam survived!!  Sam then became the ship’s cat of HMS Ark Royal … which was torpedoed and sunk in November of that year.  Sam was rescued once again, but after that incident, it was decided that it was time for Sam’s sailorship to come to an end.  Unsinkable Sam was given a new job as mouser-in-residence at the governor general of Gibraltar’s office.  He eventually returned to the U.K. and lived out his years at the Home for Sailors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peebles

Another WWII cat who became the darling of the ship’s crew, Peebles was the master cat aboard HMS Western Isles.  Peebles was said to be an extraordinarily kitty and had a number of tricks he enjoyed performing, such as shaking hands and jumping through hoops.  In the images, you can see Peebles leaping through the arms of Lt. Commander R H Palmer OBE, RNVR on board HMS Western Isles.

Simon

Brave, brave Simon.  The celebrated ship’s cat of HMS Amethyst, Simon was aboard the ship during the Yangtze Incident in 1949 and was wounded in the bombardment that killed 25 crewmembers, including the commanding officer.  Simon recovered and resumed his rat-hunting duties, as well as keeping up the crew’s morale. He was appointed to the rank of able seacat. “Simon’s company and expertise as a rat-catcher

Crewmen on the deck of the USS Olympia using a mirror to play with their cat in 1898.

were invaluable during the months we were held captive,” said Commander Stuart Hett. “During a terrifying time, he helped boost the morale of many young sailors, some of whom had seen their friends killed.  Simon is still remembered with great affection.”

When Simon later died of an infection, tributes poured in and his obituary appeared in The Times. He was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery and was buried with full naval honors.

Tiddles

Tiddles was the beloved mouser on a number of Royal Navy aircraft carriers.  He was born on HMS Argus, and later joined HMS Victorious.  He favored the after capstan, where he would play with the bell-rope.  He eventually traveled more than 30,000 miles during his time in service!

Mrs. Chippy

Mrs. Chippy, what a dame.  Well, a tom, actually.  The tiger-striped tabby was taken on board the ill-fated Endurance by Harry McNish, the carpenter nicknamed “Chippy,” where she would explore the Arctic expanse with McNish, Sir Ernest Shackleton and the rest of the crew.  Originally thought to be a female, a month after the ship set sail for Antarctica it was discovered that Mrs. Chippy was actually a male, but the name had stuck. Apparently, Mrs Chippy followed McNeish around like a jealous wife, and was thus named accordingly.

Mrs. Chippy was a handsome, intelligent, affectionate cat, and a rodent-catcher of the first order, garnering the cat a loyal following of admirers among the crew. Sadly, after the ice finally consumed the ship, Shackleton decided that Mrs. Chippy and a number of the more than 70 sled dogs had to be put down. Conditions were extreme and supplies were dangerously limited. The crew took the news very badly.   In 2004, a life-size bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy was placed on the grave of McNish by the New Zealand Antarctic Society in recognition of his efforts on the expedition.

A Few Images of the Most Celebrated Cats Who Served at Sea:

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“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

cats on the sea
“I’ll be in my bunk.” The cats of the USS Mississippi climb ladders to enter their hammock, ca 1925. The Mississippi was involved in several fierce battles in the Pacific during World War Two and was hit by kamikazes twice. It survived to be among the ships in Tokyo Bay that witnessed Japan’s surrender.

Source:

US Naval Institute

photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons & The US Naval Institute.

Humans aren’t the only ones that can tell a lie.

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Do you think only humans can tell a lie? Think again.

Koko, like most gorillas, is very intelligent. She is world-renown for her ability to communicate through sign language with a vocabulary of over 1000 words. Once Koko learned to communicate, she asked her trainers for a kitten as a present.

One day at the Gorilla Foundation, when no humans were present, Koko ripped a sink out of the wall of her habitat. When her people returned, Koko explained what happened by signing the phrase “cat did it” and pointing at her tiny kitten.

The kitten who took the fall for that mess is no longer with Koko, but she has since made new feline friends. Check out this adorable video of Koko getting a new kitty friend.

The Passion of a Little Girl

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The year is 1979.  The town is Wichita, Kansas.  I am three years old.  Playing outside is one of my favorite things, but playing with friends outside is even better.

Samson and Sheba are my favorite friends. They are beautiful. Samson’s hair is light blonde like mine. It’s wavy, but gets really curly when wet.  Sheba’s hair is short, sleek, shiny, and black.

They are my very best friends in the whole wide world.  We do everything together.  We play.  We laugh.  We explore.  We run.  We nap.  Sammy even lets me have piggybacks on him and Sheba offers me an endless supply of kisses.  I love them.  And I love my life.


Life seemed so simple at that age.  Playing outside for hours on end and getting dirty with friends was it for me.  I loved my best friends more than anything.  And they loved me. They were mine. They were loyal.

They were dogs.

Sammy (that’s Samson’s nickname) was a golden retriever and shepherd mix.  Sheba was a black lab.  Sheba was calm, reserved, and regal.  Sammy was goofy, happy, and always smiling.  They both exuded love, and of course, slobber and kisses.

My mother rescued them when they were only a few weeks old.  You could fit each one in the palm of your hand.  They were part of our family, but strictly “outside” dogs – a concept that seems so strange and foreign to me now.

Sammy and Sheba ruled the back yard.  I remember the path along the fence line of our yard that Sammy had created from casing the perimeter of the yard multiple times a day, wearing down the grass to what eventually looked like trails.  Sammy was our protector.  Sheba was our soulful girl.

Playing with my best friends in our backyard was heaven.  We would play for hours.  They were always one step in front of or behind me, always watching out for me.  I would crawl into their simple but sturdy wooden dog houses that my father had built.  Once I had squeezed my way into their house they would come in after me, excitedly licking my face then squishing me with their massive, warm, furry bodies.  We would sit there until I was too hot or had enough and was ready to get out.  Then we would run and chase, play and hug, and get dirty some more.

They were my family.

We communicated with each other as if they were my real brothers and sisters.  I knew how they felt. I understood what they wanted, and they did the same for me.  There was true peace and happiness being in the presence of those two animals.

That was bliss to me.  Still today, when I am running, playing, or find myself covered in soil, hair, feathers, scales, or slobber I am happy and at peace.  Being with animals is one of the greatest enjoyments on Earth for me.  And yet, somehow, even at three years of age, I knew that I wanted to experience that happiness and connection with animals  for the rest of my life.

Nearly 37 years later this is still true.  Even looking at the picture of my two best furry friends from childhood brings me to tears. That was joy.


Animals of all shapes and sizes have been one of the greatest joys in my life from the moment I came into this world.  As early as I can remember when I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  My answer was emphatically, “A veterinarian!”  To me, a veterinarian was someone who helps and heals animals. I just knew that I wanted to be like that.

Well, three decades later I am still someone who helps and heals animals.  Whether it’s an insect, a dog, or frog, animals have always been on the receiving end of my assistance. All species of life are near and dear to me; I have never seen them as lesser than me; they have always been my equal.  But I have noticed that the roles have changed a bit nearly forty years later.

They are all helping and healing me.

The passion I had at three years of age has taken many forms throughout my life, from exploring vet school, completing a degree in Wildlife Management, working in nature centers, a highly accredited zoo, and beyond. I accomplished that little girl’s dream, but I still have many more dreams to fulfill with animals and nature.

I think back to being a little girl.   I had no fears.   I was filled with a sense of adventure, exploration, and complete adoration of the animals of the land, sea and sky.   That fire was ignited as a child and it will always be in me.

I am still on that mission.


I have created this blog to explore the many adventures, mishaps, and lessons that I have learned from my animal companions (and nature) and to share them with others.  By doing so, I hope to help others better understand their animal companions and improve their relationships with them.  I also hope to help other Empaths better understand the delicate balance that we need, and how animals and nature can in fact, help us heal and grow in ways we never expected.

There is always more to learn and explore and many adventures to be had.

But for now, I think I’ll go outside and get dirty with my dog.

Summer of 1979 with Samson and Sheba ~ my two best friends

 

Dogs are our link to paradise. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace. ― Milan Kundera

 

 



 

Safety Note:  Riding on dogs and smothering them with hugs is not in a child’s (or dog’s) best interest.  Fortunately, Sammy and Sheba were very patient, accommodating, and inviting with the way I showed them affection.  As you can see, Sheba’s moth is open – a behavior indicating she is at ease with me leaning on her.

But most dogs are not this tolerant.

Today I teach workshops on how to safely and respectfully show our canine companions affection without compromising their stress levels or a child’s safety.

If you are interested in learning more about canine body language, please visit these links:  here and  here  and here .  And I invite you to learn about dog and child safety here.


 

“Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole”– Roger Caras