WHERE TABBY IS SAFE – Detroit Free Press, 1st October, 1899
London has a House of Refuge for Cats and a Palatial Boarding Establishment for Better Favored Felines.
By Curtis Brown
LONDON. September 22. — "Chinese" Gordon's sister-in-law, Mrs. William Gordon, a kind-hearted, business-like woman, who was 60 on her last birthday, mounts her bicycle every morning and spins from Earl's Court out to Shepherd's Bush, one of the western suburbs of London, to superintend an enterprise that has no parallel in England, and for the like of which benevolent persons In America yearn in the public prints every summer. The Shepherd's Bush establishment is a cat's boarding house, which from modest beginnings has grown to be entirely self-supporting. With this is combined a semi-official cat's poorhouse. The boarding-house gives first-class accommodation to ultra-fashionable tabbies whose owners have gone out of the city. Here, the cuisine is unexceptional, and the most exclusive cat will not lack congenial society. At the “house of refuge.” however, pussies who have met with reverses are received and provided with good food and lodging scot free.
According to the municipal statistics, about 5,800 cats are killed in London every year, most of them either homeless ones pure and Simple, or abandoned pets found diseased and dying in empty houses or out-of-the-way places. It was in the hope of amending this state of things that Mrs. Gordon founded her Society for the Protection of Cats — of which Lady William Lennox Is the president — in July, 1896. Her plan then was simply to provide a place where these poor forsaken mousers could be cared for until homes were found for them, but the boarding-house branch was added soon, and now the latter Is crowded with refined cats and is rather more than paying expenses, while the shelter is so popular with the masses that the woman who takes charge of it and its tenants told me she never had any time to herself "at all, at all."
Everybody in Shepherd's Bush knows all about the "boarding house" and the “home." Everybody seems to take a good deal of justifiable pride in the institutions, too, for dignified policemen and ragged gamins alike vied in directing me to the “shelter.” It was unmistakable, even if it had not been for the gay sign outside, the sight of which probably has cheered the heart of many a broken-spirited puss, and which read "A Home tor Starving and Forsaken Cats.”
The long room was a bewildering array of padded wicker baskets and bowls of bread and milk. Mrs. Foster said that the cats get milk for breakfast and bread and milk for luncheon, while another milk course in the afternoon serves them as a sort of 5 o'clock tea, and at 7 In the evening there is meat all round. Bedtime comes at 8 o'clock and Mrs. Foster sees that every cat is in its basket after "taps" have sounded.
“Indade, It’s a great reform we're bringin’ about,” said Mrs. Foster, “an’ sure we expect both the frinds and inimies of cats to be wid us, for who won’t be glad to hear that they’re gradually bein' cured of their prowlin’ around at night. I'd like to know."
Many of the cats are brought in by children, but more arrive by express from all directions. A contract has been made with the two great express companies of London that any cat delivered to them shall be conveyed to the home for sixpence. This makes it easy for anyone who sees a forlorn cat wandering about to befriend without actually adopting it, and Mrs. Foster says that the public is beginning to take an interest In the work. Letters and telegrams regarding suffering and needy pussies reach Mrs. Gordon in shoals every day, and each case is looked into carefully. Of course, a good many persons who simply want to get rid of their pets dump them upon the society, but admission to the home is never refused, and the society does as much advertising as its means will permit that more people may know of the home.
Every effort is put forth by those in charge to provide homes for the cats that are taken in, and in the last year over one hundred pussies have thus been “assisted” from the gutter to the family hearth.
How high the hopes of Mrs. Gordon’s proteges reasonably may rise will be judged when it is known that one of the “strays" was bought for a handsome sum by Her Grace the Duchess of Bedford, and the once homeless one is leading a life of luxury at Woburn. Mrs. Gordon makes it a rule to investigate carefully every family that offers to receive one of the rescued tabbies, and no cat goes out of the home until Mrs. Gordon is convinced that it is going to be happy.
The society is aiming In time to solve the stray-cat problem by striking at the root of the trouble, and to this end, when kittens are born at the home, only the males are kept. The females are put to death painlessly in the lethal chamber just behind the large room where the cats live. Here, too, injured cats are put out of the way, also those having contagious diseases. To the departed is given a decent burial in a cemetery set apart for the purpose, grave-digger and undertaker being combined in the person of a large man who for a salary attends to these last sad rites.
The boarding house, in another part of the village, proved to be much more pretentious, and here also cats were the first thing that met one’s eye. All of what in America would be called the “front yard” of the house at No. 5 Wendall road has been inclosed with wire netting, and inside the creme de la creme of fashionable catdom were on parade. Vastly different from their poor brethren were these sleek, well-set-up tabbies, tortoise shells, Russian blues, with here and there a haughty Persian, manifestly conscious of the fact that 75 cents a month is paid for their board instead of the 60 cents which is the usual rate at the boarding house. Almost every cat here wore an ornamented collar, or at least a bit of ribbon; there were no torn ears here, and the coat of each was smooth and glossy.
These pampered cats have the entire attention of a caretaker and her daughter. Each cat has a cage to itself, and all their food is cooked on the premises. There are fifty-eight cats in the boarding house, and they have come from all over the United Kingdom. When a cat comes in his or her name is entered in a formidable-looking day-book, and the owner leaves full instructions as to care, which are followed to the letter. The cats are usually homesick at first, and refuse to eat. The nostalgic tabby is tempted with the most alluring dainties, such as thick cream, chicken, fish — even beef tea.
“The veterinary surgeon calls twice a week,” the caretaker said, "and one of the rules of the house is that we shall be allowed to expend $1.50 for treatment, if necessary, while waiting to hear from the owner. The disease with which we have most trouble is influenza, and as soon as a cat takes it it is removed from the others and put in the hospital. Come and see.”
The hospital was in a smaller room, the temperature of which was about 90 (Fahrenheit). A fire was burning merrily in a small stove in the center of the room, and three baskets containing cats were not far from it. As we came in one of the cats coughed like a New Yorker in an elevated train, and Mrs. Bryant, the caretaker took down a bottle from a shelf, poured out a teaspoonful in a businesslike way and gave it to the cat who took it down without making a face. The label on the bottle read “Cat medicine - one spoonful every four hours.” Besides the cats near the fire, there were several others in cages, all of them looking rather doleful.
“They have the best of everything,” Mrs. Bryant went on. “I have used twenty-four newly laid eggs for them to-day. They take them best when they are beaten up into a froth. We give brandy, too; it’s the most strengthening thing they could have; it brings them right along. We give it to them mixed up in a little essence or extract. Our doctors give their services free, charging only for the medicine which they supply.”
“A cat’s just like a child – you spoil them just as easily. The sort of cat that is ugly and that I have the most trouble with isn’t the cat that has lived in a big family and that the children have played with; it’s the cat that some old maid has had and petted and coddled until it thinks there is nothing good enough for it. And some of the cats here are really exclusive and won’t mix with the others at all. I make it a point to learn each cat’s name as it comes in, and to make friends with it. Some of them are wonderfully homesick at first. There’s one. He’s been here two days now and hasn’t eaten a thing.”
She pointed overhead where a jet black cat was crouching on one of the highest beams and staring down at us with beg yellow eyes. Then we went out, and I took a picture of the house with some of the big fat tabbies sunning themselves outside. They say care killed a cat once, but evidently it wasn’t the kind of care that these cats are getting.
“Every morning,” she continued, “each cat’s cage is washed down with pure carbolic acid, and entirely fumigates with sulphur. Each cat has its breakfast, and then they have their faces and eyes washed, and their coats combed and brushed until they shine. They’re not quarrelsome, but awfully jealous. After I’ve handled one of them and go to another’s cage the second cat will snarl and spit fearfully just because he can smell the other on my apron.”
We were interrupted by the arrival of a portly old Englishman bearing a wicker basket, and with two stylishly dressed little girls at his heels. They had just come back from the mountains and wanted Tom, who had been put out to board while they were away. Tom was duly looked up on the book, and as duly produced, to be greeted with shrieks of delight by the children, and was kissed and patted vigorously, apparently much to his disgust. However, he suffered a further loss of dignity by being put into the basket, against which highhanded proceeding he fought; and, the old gentleman having paid for his board, he was borne off in triumph.
“One of the best things that this home accomplishes," Mrs. Bryant said, "is in saving many a cat from vivisection. Probably half the pet cats that disappear from their homes are stolen to be tortured in this way, and the reason is that a pet cat is easier to catch than a stray one. We used to have the stray cats and those that we took to board all together, but one of the strays brought in a disease, and after that the home on Gransden road was started. Mrs. Gordon has still another home, though a smaller one, at Hempstead, and we are going to open another at Kilburn.”