THE PITTSBURGH REFRIGERATOR CAT - LOST BREED OR 19TH CENTURY URBAN LEGEND?
The myth of the longhaired "Refrigerator Cat" strain has been repeated as fact in many cat books including those with well-known authors. Here are the facts behind the myth. There was no strain of "Refrigerator Cat", just a single litter of kittens and the family did not thrive. This was turned into a myth by a newspaper at the time and has been repeated ever since. The tale given by many authors says these "Eskimo Cats" were developed in 19th Century Pittsburgh to control vermin in refrigeration plants and could survive and breed at very low temperatures. After several generations, they were more at home in the cold than in daylight or normal temperatures, having heavily furred coats, thick tails like Persians and tufted, lynx-like ears. It's a story that appeals to many, along with the image of a lost 19th Century breed of cat.
THE URBAN LEGEND BEGINS
In July 1894, the following news story did the rounds of the USA. This is from The Reading Times, July 30th, 1894 and even this source credits the story to another newspaper: “Cold Storage Rats and Cats. Pittsburg having developed a new style of rat, capable of living in the old storage receptacles of that city, now produces a new variety of cat equal to subsistence in the same reduced temperature, and the cold storage cat now consumes the cold storage rat with the same ardor and celerity that animate her kind amid normal temperature and conditions. We learn from the New York Tribune that both these animals take on a new investiture partly of wool and partly of fur to sustain them in the artificial climate which they inhabit, showing how the feline and rodent natures alike adjust themselves to new environments without putting off their old relation to each other, which is that of the eater and the eaten in all cases irrespective of thermal or dermal or other conditions. The cold storage cat is of great economic importance, and without her the cold storage rat would make short work of the perishable produce contained in the enormous Pittsburg receptacles and elsewhere."
As the story did the rounds during August, some papers added explanatory information. The reader is told that the ordinary rat of the United States came originally from Norway where it was much better prepared to withstand the climate than the rates now prevalent in the USA. If any ordinary American cellar rat were let loose in Spitzbergen it would quickly freeze to death. The rats already living in Spitzbergen were apparently fat rascals with long, thick hair, that had become adapted to the temperature of the region. The rats allegedly infesting the cold storage warehouses had supposedly become adapted to freezing cold conditions in the same way. The reports then went on to say that the prevalence of rats in these places led to the introduction of cats. “Now it is well known that pussy is a lover of warmth and comfort. She delights to lie close to the fire when the snow is drifting around the house, and to wash her face with her warm, soft paws. Cats, however, have a great adaptability to conditions. The wild cat of Africa, now extinct and living only in the form of its domestic congener, was nursed by the Egyptians as a timepiece, and so regulated her eyes that by a glance at them the inhabitant of Cairo was able to tell the time of day without the advent of Seth Warner. When cats were introduced into storage houses and turned loose in the cold rooms they pined and died because of the excessive cold. It appears, in the course of investigation into this subject, that one cat was finally introduced into the rooms of the Pennsylvania Storage company which was able to withstand the low temperature. “
The Philadelphia Record in December 1894 gives us “the cold-storage warehouses of this city, where the temperature is never above thirty degrees,” and “[the rats’] acclimation has been attended by marked changes in their appearance. The first rats which attempted to earn their subsistence in one of the Delaware avenue warehouses were unable to stand the exposure and died. However, an unusually hardy colony stuck to it, and their progeny are now provided with wonderfully long and thick hair, even their long tails being covered with fur. They have developed into fat old rascals, and the cats which were introduced to thin their ranks have also been equipped through, nature's bounty."
By March 1895, the story has mutated somewhat, appearing in this form in the Pittsburg Dispatch, from where it was widely recirculated: In The Union storage warehouses there is a cat who began by being an ordinary well-behaved fireside cat, and who now - the influence of a storage environment working upon her- has become of an entirely opposite nature, and abhors heat, while she delights in extreme cold. It is custom in the storage house to collect all of the cats into one room when the day’s work is done. Frequently this one cat is missing, and, before her habit was known, the men searched high and low for her without success. Finally, one of the men discovered her lying on one of the cooling pipes which run along the ceiling of the room, fast asleep. It is indeed a strange place for a cat to seek a nap. The pipes are covered with a frost of about a half inch, and, while the temperature of the room is maintained at 10 degrees [Fahrenheit] above zero, the pipes themselves are much colder. Thereafter a look up among the cooling pipes revealed the missing pussy sleeping away as comfortably as another cat would on a rug in front of a warming fire. Another peculiar effect of the cold upon these cats is that it seems to rejuvenate them. Old cats become as playful as young kittens, and, instead of going about with a slow, graceful, swinging motion, their actions resemble those of young puppies— always on the jump and go.
By April 1895, a report in the Cincinnati Enquirter (reprinted elsewhere) has transplanted the story to New York and its source, in true urban legend style, is an unnamed “traveling man": “ ‘Nature has made a kind provision that animals that live in a cold climate have a heavy covering,’ said a traveling man. ‘The extent to which this provision is carried out is shown by the experience of a firm in New York, which owns a cold-storage warehouse. They were troubled with rats about the place, but could find no dog or cat that could stand the degree of cold. Finally a thick-furred cat was procured, that lived, and subsequently a mate for it. A litter of kittens came, and it was noticed their fur was longer than that of the parent cat. There have now been five generations born in the warehouse, the fur of each a little longer and thicker than that of the preceding generation, until now they are covered with fur as thick and close as that of a muskrat, and when removed from the warehouse they cannot stand the warm climate, and soon die. It is a distinct breed of cold-storage cats.’ ”
THE FIRST DEBUNKING
The first debunking of the story seems to be that I found in The Salt Lake Tribune (and other papers) of June 30th, 1895: "Those Pittsburg Cold-Storage Cats. Our readers will doubtless remember the remarkable stories that were printed In the- newspapers last summer with regard to a new breed of thick-furred cats evolved by the peculiarities of environment In the cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburgh Pa. The truth about this wonderful “breed” has just been published in the American Naturalist (Philadelphia, June), and, as is usual in such cases, turns out to be far less remarkable than the original stories, though Interesting enough to deserve exact narration. The Naturalist says:
'A story has been going the; rounds of newspapers, both West and East, to the effect that a new breed of cats has been produced in the cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg. In some of the papers reference was made to a new species of rat with the bodies clothed with remarkably long thick fur, with even the tails covered with a thick growth of hair. The rats had adapted themselves to a low temperature, and the cats were the result of breeding from artificial selection in order to obtain a cat to prey on the new rat. According to the story, after several failures a brood of seven kittens, the progeny of a mother possessing unusually thick fur, was raised in the rooms of the storage company, and developed into sturdy, thick-furred cats, with shortened tails, and ‘feelers’ five or six inches in length. This latter character was said to be probably due to their environment, since they must necessarily live in semi-darkness. Another peculiarity of the new cat is its inability to live in an ordinary temperature. When removed from the warehouse to the open air, especially in summer time, it will die of convulsions in a few hours.
'This story was reprinted in England In some excellent scientific journals, which showed a great lack of caution in appropriating anything supposed to be new in science from a newspaper. It illustrates once more the English tendency to neglect the good and discover the bad in American affairs. Mrs. Alice Bodington, however, redeemed the reputation of her countrymen by writing to the secretary of the Cold-Storage Company to ascertain the facts in the case. She received the following reply:
“While there is some foundation for the newspaper article, it is somewhat exaggerated. Our cold-storage house is separated into rooms of various sizes, varying from 10 degrees to 40 degrees above zero. About a year ago we discovered mice in one of the rooms of the cold-storage house. We removed one of the cats from the general warehouse to the room referred to in the cold-storage house. While there, she had a litter of several kittens. Four of these were transferred into one of the general warehouses, leaving three in the cold-storage house. After the kittens were old enough to take care of themselves, we put the old cat back into the house we had taken her from. The change of climate or temperature seemed to affect her almost immediately. She got very weak and languid. We placed her again in the cold-storage room, when she immediately revived. While the feelers of the cats in the cold-storage room are of the usual length, the fur is thick and the cats are larger, stronger and healthier than the cats in any of the other warehouses. “
Thus the only result of the change of environment was the usual one which ensues on the advent of winter in extra-tropical latitudes generally. It, is interesting as showing that the effect is really produced by the low temperature and is not a survival through natural selection of a chance variation, as a certain school of evolutionists would have us believe.”
The Logansport Pharos Tribune, November 1st, 1895, printed this version of the story based on the debunking article a few months previously: ”The direct effect of environment is rarely shown more conclusively than in the case of some cold-storage cats, about which very sensational articles have been written. The truth of the matter is this: A quantity of mice were discovered in a cold storage warehouse. A cat was taken from the ordinary atmosphere of the building to the cold rooms and kept there, hoping that she would make way with the mice, which were a serious annoyance. While in cold durance the cat had litter of kittens. After a while, when the kittens were old enough to take care of themselves, the cat was carried back to her original quarters. She at once began to pine, and got so weak and languid that the warehouse men became concerned about her, and thinking that the change of the temperature might have affected her, took her into the cold atmosphere, when she immediately revived and was as frisky and strong as ever. It was found impossible to keep her in good health in the warm rooms. She did not apparently suffer upon being taken into the cold originally, but the change back would, it was thought, cause her death if she were left there, so feeble did she become.” It is likely that the cat’s fur was growing more thickly due to the cold and she simply found the sudden change back to warm quarters uncomfortable, just as a person in a heavy coat would find the sudden change uncomfortable.
THE URBAN LEGEND IS RESURRECTED
The story then gets a whole new lease of life in 1901. This report from the Pittsburg Chronicle Telegraph in January 1901 was again widely quoted in other papers. It embroiders the original story and disregards the debunking, and attaches it to topical story of the cold storage depot being set up in Manila.
Cold Storage Cats Keep Warm at Zero . The fame of Pittsburg’s cats has spread to the far east and it is now proposed to import some of a special breed into the Philippines. The immense cold storage depot just finished at Manila is in need of cats, and it is to supply that establishment with Pittsburg animals.
For many years cold storage managers were at a loss to find a way to rid their warehouses of rats and mice. These vermin found their way into the warerooms in cases of goods. At first they confined their depredations to the goods in the milder climate of the general storage rooms, but finally they entered the cold storage rooms. Here nature came to their aid and in a few generations the rats and mice became so clothed in thick fur that they seemed impervious to cold and could stand a temperature of zero or lower. To rid the warerooms of these pests was a troublesome task for the owners of the storage houses. They could use cats in the general warerooms all right and with success, but when they placed the cats in the cold storage rooms they soon contracted pneumonia and died. The damage done by the rodents was very great, and about five or six years ago the Union Storage company experimented with a view to finding some breed of the feline tribe which could live in the climate of the cold storage rooms. It tried a pair of high-bred cats, but they soon sickened and died. Finally a pair of white felines without a pedigree were obtained and placed In the general storage room for a time; and then into a room where the temperature was gradually lowered until it was below the freezing point. Here they were kept until they became acustomed to the low temperature. Then they were placed in the cold storage rooms, the temperature of which is always 32 or lower.
The cats showed no ill effects and soon could stand a temperature almost as low as zero. The offspring of these cats could stand a temperature much lower than their parents, and their fur was much thicker than their predecessors. A few generations later a distinct breed of cats resulted, able to stand the lowest temperature ever maintained in the storage rooms. The question of killing off the rodents was thus solved, and since the establishment of the cats of this kind thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise has J been saved. The Union Storage company has five warehouses, in the cold storage rooms of which are stored fish, butter, cheese, eggs, hams, meats and other perishable commodities.
The company now has about fifteen of these cats, and it ships them to such of its warehouses as need them. The cats are very tame when within the confines of the cold storage vaults, but when they are permitted to come out into the sunlight they act like wildcats or tigers. In shipping them it is necessary to place them in boxes before they leave one warehouse to go to the next. Very often the number of the cats kept by this firm is as high as thirty, and at other times as low as ten. This is due to accidents. None are now affected in the least by the low temperatures in which they live. The cats are well cared for. A special man has charge of them, whose duties are to see that they are fed every day. No cat can thrive on a diet of mouse, nor does it neglect its duties when other food is provided. Milk is served to the cats in liberal quantities and meat is given them once a week.
The cold storage cats are short-tailed, with long and heavy fur, the hair frequently being over an inch long. Their eyebrows and whiskers are long and thicker and stronger than the ordinary cat’s. The cold storage cat looks much like the Angora, but does not thrive when taken from its accustomed atmosphere. On account of the scarcity of these cats, it is very likely that the Manila firm will not be able to purchase any of those owned by the Union Storage company, for while all its warehouses are practically free from rats and mice, these rodents are brought in very often concealed in merchandise.
This one firm is the only firm which has resorted to such measures to secure this kind of animal.”
The Chicago Tribune of February 17, 1901, gave its readers this short and even more exaggerated version, describing it as a deliberate breeding experiment and even saying the cats were shipped to other warehouses in chilled carriers! It also added a cartoon. Warehousemen have had great trouble in keeping rats and mice out of the cold storage rooms. While cats sicken and die when put in such places, the rats get as rough and tough as Eskimos and thrive and grow fat. So a Pittsburg man conceived the idea of breeding some Nansen cats, which could follow the polar rats to their Icy caverns and slay them. He began breeding a new variety of cats by natural selection. The cats were born and raised in a cold storage warehouse. While at first there were many deaths, in time nature Intervened, and by the law of the survival of the fittest in time generations of cats were born to which the chill of the ice warehouses was perfectly natural and which were completely inured to the cold. In time nature always provides adequate protection for her creatures, however situated, and the icehouse cats finally began to come into the world equipped with long thick fur and with whiskers like a walrus’ bristles. So from the moment they born they are allowed to know no other habitation except the cold storage warehouses. When they are shipped to warehouses in other cities they are sent In baskets or boxes well lined with ice, as they would otherwise suffer from the heat.
Here we have a version from December 1902 (Indiana Weekly Messenger, December 17, 1902): In one of Philadelphia’s big cold storage warehouses is a cat that lives constantly in a temperature of 10 degrees above zero, winter and summer. Moreover, she seems to like it, and on the rare occasions when she is re moved to the outer air she mews and scratches a± the door to get back again. Rats and mice also live and thrive in that temperature, which is the secret of the cat's presence there. “We put her in the compartment that registers 30 degrees originally,” said the manager of the warehouse the other day. “We had been overrun with rodents, and we turned the cat loose as an experiment. She seemed to like it, and when we moved her to the colder temperature it had no ill-effect upon her. It would be interesting to know at just how low a temperature a cat could sustain life.”
Anyone would have thought that this tale was well and truly finished, but no! The New York Mail revived it in September 1912, from which it once again spread around the country. Here’s a reprint from The Hutchinson News, September 9th, 1912: Uncle Sam maintains in the Philippine Islands a small army of ‘cold storage’ cats. Their upkeep costs the government about $15 a year each. In an immense cold storage depot at Manila, quantities of provisions are kept and it is necessary to have cats to protect them from an invasion of vermin. Felines raised in the tropics could not endure the constant cold they would be subjected to in the depot, so it was necessary to import a special breed of cold storage cats that have been developed in the warehouses of an American packing company. These cold storage cats are short-tailed, chubby, with long and heavy fur. At last accounts they were making good in the Philippine warehouses. But fancy the feelings of one of those feline Eskimos if she should happen to escape from cold storage and get lost in the seething streets of Manila.
The tale of the “Cold Storage Cat” persisted in people’s memories. This piece in The Greenfield Daily Report shows (January 21, 1929) is a contributor’s reminiscence: “Nature Provided for ‘Cold Storage’ Pussy. One day the local carpenter, who had taken a job in the city, came to see me. He had under his arm one of the oddest little kittens I’ve ever soon. Apparently a long-haired white, it didn't look like a Persian. It didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before. More than anything else, if looked like a polar bear’s cub. ‘What kind of a cat is this?’ I asked him.
’This here is a cold storage cat,’
’A what?’ I cried, thinking of frozen eggs and defunct chicken. Cold stor¬age was in its somewhat sickly infancy then.
’A year or so ago,’ he explained, ‘the cold storage warehouse I’m workin’ for took in a lot o’cats to kill rats. What with the damp an’ the dark an’ the cold, only a few of ’em lived, but the ones that did grew longer and longer hair, and this kitten is the fourth generation. I’ve got seven of ’em.’
I watched the various generations of those kittens around the neighbor¬hood, and was amused to see them revert to common short-haireds. — Mara Evens in the Saturday Evening Post.”
In 1936, Carl Van Vechten repeated the story in his book "The Tiger in the House": When it was discovered that the extremely frigid temeprature of the great cold-storage plants was not sufficiently bitter to exterminate the sturdy rats and mice some proposed the introduction of cats. The first felines carried into these bleak quarters did not thrive. Some of them, indeed, perished, but a few survived and, after a winter or two, grew an astonishing coat of fur, as thick as that of a beaver. The kittens born in this ice-like temperature were hardy little beasts, and it is said that now the cold-storage cats would pant and languish with nervous exhaustion were they exposed to a New York July day.
THE STORY BEHIND THE REFRIGERATOR CAT LEGEND
Although authors ranging from Lydekker to Desmond Morris have recited this as fact, it was first debunked in The American Naturalist (above) in 1895, Ida M Mellen again debunked the story in the late 1940s and Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald also debunked it in his book "Cats" (1958). Yet is still appears in print, reproduced as fact.
So how did it become such a persistent urban legend? In part it is because in 1896, the respected naturalist, Lydekker skimped on his homework and wrote the following in his Handbook to the Carnivora, Part I:
It appears that in the cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg there were originally no Cats or Rats. The temperature in the cold room was too low. The keepers soon found, however, that the Rat is an animal of remarkable adaptability. After some of these houses had been in operation for a few months, the attendant found that Rats were at work in the rooms where the temperature was constantly kept below the freezing point. They were found to be clothed in wonderfully long and thick fur, even their tapering, snake-like tails being covered by a thick growth of hair. Rats whose coats have adapted themselves to the conditions under which they live have thus become domesticated in the storage warehouses in Pittsburg. The prevalence of Rats in these places led to the introduction of Cats. Now, it is well known that Pussy is a lover of warmth and comfort. Cats, too, have a great adaptability to conditions. When Cats were turned loose in the cold rooms they pined and died because of the excessive cold. One Cat was finally introduced into the rooms of the Pennsylvania Storage Company which was able to withstand the low temperature. She was a cat of unusually thick fur, and she thrived and grew fat in quarters where the temperature was below 30 degrees [Fahrenheit]. By careful nursing, a brood of seven kittens was developed in the warehouse into sturdy, thick-furred Cats that love an Icelandic climate. They have been distributed among the other cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg, and have created a peculiar breed of Cats, adapted to the conditions under which they must exist to find their prey. These Cats are short-tailed, chubby pussies, with hair as thick and full of underfur as the Wild Cats of the Canadian woods. One of the remarkable things about them is the development of their ‘feelers’. Those long, stiff hairs that protrude from a Cat’s nose and eyebrows are, in the ordinary domestic feline, about three inches long. In the Cats cultivated in the cold warehouses the feelers grow to a length of five and six inches. This is probably because the light is dim in these places, and all movements must be the result of the feeling sense. The storage people say that if one of these furry Cats be taken into the open air, particularly during the hot season, it will die in a few hours. It cannot endure a high temperature, and an introduction to a stove would send it into fits.
This gave credibility to the story. According to a widely reprinted report published in The Pittsburg Dispatch in December 1899, “Mr. F. Lydekker, an Englishman and Fellow of the Royal Society, has published in the most recently isued volume of Allen’s Natural History library a learned monograph on cats. His is the first scientific publication to do justice to a variety of cat peculiar to this country, and found in the greatest luxuriance in the vicinity of Pittsburg. The genesis of this variety as described in Mr. Lydekker'a valuable monograph, happened in this way.
In the cold storage warehouse of Pittsburg there were originally no cats or rats. The temperature in the cold rooms was too low. The keepers soon found, however, that the rat is an animal of remarkable adaptability. After some of these houses had been in operation for some months the attendants found that rats were at work in the rooms where the temperature was kept below the freezing point. They were found to be clothed in wonderfully thick and long fur, even their tapering tails being clothed with a thick growth of hair. Rats whose coats have adapted themselves to the condition in which they live have thus become domesticated in the storage warehouses of Pittsburg. The appearance of rats in these places led to the introduction of cats. Now it is well known that pussy is a lover of warmth and comfort. When cats were turned loose in the cold rooms they pined and died because of the excessive cold. One cat was at last introduced into the rooms of the Pennsylvania storage company which was able to stand the low temperature. She was a cat of unusually thick fur and she thrived and grew fat in a temperature below 30 degrees [Fahrenheit]. By care-ful nursing a brood of kittens was developed in the warehouse into sturdy, thick-furred cats that love an arctic climate. They have been distributed among the other cold storage warehouses of Pittsburg and have created a peculiar breed of cats adapted to the conditions under which they must exist.”
The Spectator, 4th May 1895, published this critique of the monograph on the cat family in Allen's Naturalist's Library by Mr. R.Lydekker, F.R.S. :
But among the varieties mentioned is one which, if the authority for its existence is credible, shows a power of adaptation to unusual surroundings unlooked for in creatures of such conservative habits. The reference is to an American newspaper, and as it is quoted at length by Mr. Lydekker, it may be assumed that he sees no reason to question its correctness. The name of the new variety is not stated, but looking to its " habitat " as well as its habits, it should be called the "refrigerator-cat," and as each, may be commended to the future notice of zoologists. Mr. Lydekker, referring to the American account of its origin, says :—
" In the cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg there were originally no cats or rats. The temperature in the cold rooms was too low. The keepers soon found, however, that the rat is an animal of remarkable adaptability. After some of these houses had been in operation for some months, the attendants found that rats were at work in the rooms where the temperature was constantly kept below freezing-point. They were found to be clothed in wonder- fully thick and long fur, even their tapering tails being clothed with a thick growth of hair. Rats whose coats have adapted themselves to the condition in which they live, have thus become domesticated in the storage warehouses of Pittsburg. The appearance of rats in these places led to the introduction of cats. Now, it is well known that pussy is a lover of warmth and com- fort. When cats were bulled loose in the cold rooms they pined and died because of the excessive cold. One cat was at last introduced into the rooms of the Pennsylvania Storage Company which was able to stand the low temperature. She was a cat of unusually thick fur, and she thrived and grew fat in a tempera- ture below 300. By careful nursing a brood of seven kittens was developed in the warehouse into sturdy, thick-furred eats that love an Arctic climate. They have been distributed amongst the other cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg, and have created a peculiar breed of cats, adapted to the conditions under which they must exist."
There is no prima facie reason for questioning this account, for it is far less strange that cats should develop a power of living in a temperature kept uniformly just below freezing point, than that men should be found able to work in a pressure of three or four atmospheres in submarine caissons or tunnels, or to spend their days as attendants in the hot rooms of a Turkish bath. The cats, like the rats, have also the advantage of producing three or more litters of young in a year ; and this specialisation of form seems to be taking place at a rapid rate. The only variety of cat which is peculiar to an Arctic climate, is the Archangel, or " blue " cat, which has a very thick, short coat of bluish-black hair, the long-haired cats being always from hot countries, such as Shiraz, Angora, or Persia. The " refrigerator-cat " seems to develop the length of fur as well as thickness of coat. "These cats," says Mr. Lydekker, "are short-tailed, chubby pussies, with hair as thick and full of under-fur as that of the wild-cats in the Canadian woods." The only other peculiarity which they exhibit is that the "whiskers," or feelers, on their faces grow to an unusual length, sometimes five or six inches, possibly because the light, even in day-time, is always dim, and at night their movements must be largely guided by their sense of feeling. If taken into the open air from the cold storehouse during the hot season they are said by the employes in the cold stores to sicken and die, and at no time to care to approach a fire. The first statement seems probable enough. But the cold in the refrigerating-houses, which are usually kept only at a temperature sufficiently low to ensure the meat being frozen, is not so severe as to induce such a change in the natural habits of cats; and in this particular the story probably needs revision.
Based on the one newspaper account account, and without delving deeper into the actual facts, Lydekker deduced that longhaired breeds resulted from the cat’s adaptability and capacity for change to suit different climates. In 1895, the American Naturalist had reported that the cats grew thicker fur, just as cats do in preparation for winter. The intolerance of warmth, the chubby, short-tailed, long-whiskered 'Eskimo' that lived in perpetually freezing conditions, were the inventions of reporters who embroidered the original non-story. While it is true that mutation and natural selection can create cold-weather adaptations, the Refrigerator Cat was a myth that has persisted into the modern day.
A leading American authority on cats, Mrs Ida M Mellen, investigated the Refrigerator Cat story very thoroughly. Mellen interviewed people who had known those cats and she showed clearly that Lydekker’s story and apparently learned article was based on a highly inaccurate newspaper report.
There was no attempt to establish cats in the Pittsburgh cold-storage warehouse to combat rats – there had never been any rats in there. In reality, a cat belonging to one of the employees had given birth to a litter of kittens in one of the cold rooms, and had raised them. However those kittens were not distributed around the other cold-storage warehouses, because at that time there were no other cold-storage warehouses in the city. Far from the rise of a peculiar race of cats, adapted to withstand great cold, the family eventually died out.
What both Lydekker (who failed to check the story himself) and the imaginative reporter (presumably a slow news day) had missed is, to modern geneticists, the most interesting point of all: the cats were a family of albinos. The mother was a pink-eyed albino and the father was also white. The male’s eye colour was unknown, but the kittens were all pink-eyed albinos so the father was either a carrier of that gene or was himself a pink-eyed albino. In all likelihood the parents were closely related. The cats had excellent hearing, but none of them could tolerate bright light due to their unpigmented eyes.
The Refrigerator Cats are often described as a lost longhaired breed, but the report – in spite of its various inaccuracies and embroidered facts - does not describe them as long-haired, only as having thick fur. Apart from their thick white fur and pink eyes they were ordinary domestic cats.