At comparatively frequent intervals we read of some woman, historic or modern, who has left an annuity (as the Duchess of Richmond, "La Belle Stewart") for the care of her pet cats; now and then a man provides for them in his will, as Lord Chesterfield, for instance, who left a permanent pension for his cats and their descendants. But I find only one who has endowed a home for them and given it sufficient means to support the strays and waifs who reach its shelter.
Early in the eighties, Captain Nathan Appleton, of Boston (a brother of the poet Longfellow's wife, and of Thomas Appleton, the celebrated wit), returned from a stay in London with a new idea, that of founding some sort of a refuge, or hospital, for sick or stray cats and dogs. He had visited Battersea, and been deeply impressed with the need of a shelter for small and friendless domestic animals.
At Battersea there is an institution similar to the one the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York have at East 120th Street, where stray animals may be sent and kept for a few days awaiting the possible appearance of a claimant or owner; at the end of which time the animals are placed in the "lethal chamber," where they die instantly and painlessly by asphyxiation. In Boston, the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have no such refuge or pound, but in place of it keep one or two men whose business it is to go wherever sent and "mercifully put to death" the superfluous, maimed, or sick animals that shall be given them.
Captain Appleton's idea, however, was something entirely different from this. These creatures, he argued, have a right to their lives and the pursuit of happiness after their own fashion, and he proposed to help them to enjoy that right. He appealed to a few sympathetic friends and gave two or three acres of land from his own estate, near "Nonantum Hill," where the Apostle Eliot preached to the Indians, and where his iodine springs are located. He had raised a thousand or two dollars and planned a structure of some kind to shelter stray dogs and cats, when the good angel that attends our household pets guided him to the lawyer who had charge of the estates of Miss Ellen M. Gifford, of New Haven, Ct. "I think I can help you," said the lawyer. But he would say nothing more at that time. A few weeks later, Captain Appleton was sent for. Miss Gifford had become deeply interested in the project, and after making more inquiries, gave the proposed home some twenty-five thousand dollars, adding to this amount afterward and providing for the institution in her will. It has already had over one hundred thousand dollars from Miss Gifford's estates, and it is so well endowed and well managed that it is self-supporting.
The Ellen M. Gifford Sheltering Home for Animals is situated near the Brookline edge of the Brighton district in Boston. In fact, the residential portion of aristocratic Brookline is so fast creeping up to it that the whole six acres of the institution will doubtless soon be disposed of at a very handsome profit, while the dogs and cats will retire to a more remote district to "live on the interest of their money."
The main building is a small but handsome brick affair, facing on Lake Street. This is the home of the superintendent, and contains, besides, the offices of the establishment. Over the office is a tablet with this inscription, taken from a letter of Miss Gifford's about the time the home was opened:—
"If only the waifs, the strays, the sick, the abused, would be sure to get entrance to the home, and anybody could feel at liberty to bring in a starved or ill-treated animal and have it cared for without pay, my object would be obtained. March 27, 1884."
The superintendent is a lover of animals as well as a good business manager, and his work is in line with the sentence just quoted. Any one wanting a cat or a dog, and who can promise it a good home, may apply there. But Mr. Perkins does not take the word of a stranger at random. He investigates their circumstances and character, and never gives away an animal unless he can be reasonably sure of its going to a good home. For instance, he once received an application from one man for six cats. The wholesale element in the order made him slightly suspicious, and he immediately drove to Boston, where he found that his would-be customer owned a big granary overrun with mice. He sent the six cats, and two weeks later went to see how they were getting on, when he found them living happily in a big grain-loft, fat and contented as the most devoted Sultan of Egypt could have asked. None but street cats and stray dogs, homeless waifs, ill-treated and half starved, are received at this home. Occasionally, some family desiring to get rid of the animal they have petted for months, perhaps years, will send it over to the Sheltering Home. But if Mr. Perkins can find where it came from he promptly returns it, for even this place, capable of comfortably housing a hundred cats and as many dogs, cannot accommodate all the unfortunates that are picked up in the streets of Boston. The accommodations, too, while they are comfortable and even luxurious for the poor creatures that have hitherto slept on ash-barrels and stone flaggings, are unfit for household pets that have slept on cushions, soft rugs, and milady's bed.
1. Rosalys: daughter of famous Blue Beard and Phiz; imported
There is a dog-house and a cat-house, sufficiently far apart that the occupants of one need not be disturbed by those of the other. In the dog-house there are rows of pens on each side of the middle aisle, in which from one to four or five dogs, according to size, are kept when indoors. These are of all sorts, colors, dispositions, and sizes, ranging from pugs to St. Bernards, terriers to mastiffs. There are few purely bred dogs, although there are many intelligent and really handsome ones. The dogs are allowed to run in the big yard that opens out from their house at certain hours of the day; but the cats' yards are open to them all day and night. All yards and runs are enclosed with wire netting, and the cat-house has partitions of the same. All around the sides of the cat-house are shelves or bunks, which are kept supplied with clean hay, for their beds. Here one may see cats of every color and assorted sizes, contentedly curled up in their nests, while their companions sit blinking in the sun, or run out in the yards. Cooked meat, crackers and milk, and dishes of fresh water are kept where they can get at them. The cats all look plump and well fed, and, indeed, the ordinary street cat must feel that his lines have fallen in pleasant places.
Not so, however, with pet cats who may be housed there. They miss the companionship of people, and the household belongings to which they have been accustomed. Sometimes it is really pathetic to see one of these cast-off pets climb up the wire netting and plainly beg the visitor to take him away from that strange place, and give him such a home as he has been used to. In the superintendent's house there is usually a good cat or two of this sort, as he is apt to test a well-bred cat before giving him away.
Somewhat similar, and even older than the Ellen Gifford Sheltering Home, is the Morris Refuge of Philadelphia. This institution, whose motto is "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works," was first established in May, 1874, by Miss Elizabeth Morris and other ladies who took an interest in the protection of suffering animals. It does not limit its tender mercies to cats and dogs, but cares for every suffering animal. It differs from the Ellen Gifford Home chiefly in the fact that, while the latter is a home for stray cats and dogs, the Morris Refuge has for its object the care for and disposal of suffering animals of all sorts. In a word, it brings relief to most of these unfortunate creatures by means of a swift and painless death.
It was first known as the City Refuge, although it was never maintained by the city. In January, 1889, it was reorganized and incorporated as the "Morris Refuge for Homeless and Suffering Animals." It is supported by private contributions, and is under the supervision of Miss Morris and a corps of kind-hearted ladies of Philadelphia. A wagon is kept at the home to respond to calls, and visits any residence where suffering animals may need attention. The agent of the society lives at the refuge with his family, and receives animals at any time. When notice is received of an animal hurt or suffering, he sends after it. Chloroform is invariably taken along, in order that, if expedient, the creature may be put out of its agony at once. This refuge is at 1242 Lombard Street, and there is a temporary home where dogs are boarded at 923 South 11th Street.
In 1895, out of 23,067 animals coming under the care of the association, 19,672 were cats. In 1896, there were 24,037 animals relieved and disposed of, while the superintendent answered 230 police calls. Good homes are found for both dogs and cats, but not until the agent is sure that they will be kindly treated.
In Miss Morris's eighth annual report she says: "Looking back to the formation of the first society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, we find since that time a gradual awakening to the duties man owes to those below him in the scale of animal creation. The titles of those societies and their objects, as defined by their charters, show that at first it was considered sufficient to protect animals from cruel treatment: very few people gave thought to the care of those that were without homes. Now many are beginning to think of the evil of being overrun with numbers of homeless creatures, whose sufferings appeal to the sympathies of the humane, and whose noise and depredations provoke the cruelty of the hard-hearted: hence the efforts that are being made in different cities to establish refuges. A request has lately been received from Montreal asking for our reports, as it is proposed to found a home for animals in that city, and information is being collected in relation to such institutions."
Lady Marcus Beresford has succeeded in establishing and endowing a home for cats in Englefield Green, Windsor Park. She has made a specialty of Angoras, and her collection is famous. Queen Victoria and her daughters take a deep interest, not alone in finely bred cats, but in poor and homeless waifs as well. Her Royal Highness, in fact, took pains to write the London S.P.C.A. some years ago, saying she would be very glad to have them do something for the safety and protection of cats, "which are so generally misunderstood and grossly ill-treated." She herself sets a good example in this respect, and when her courts remove from one royal residence to another, her cats are taken with her.
There is a movement in Paris, too, to provide for sick and homeless cats as well as dogs. Two English ladies have founded a hospital near Asnières, where ailing pets can be tended in illness, or boarded for about ten cents a day; and very well cared for their pensioners are. There is also a charity ward where pauper patients are received and tended carefully, and afterward sold or given away to reliable people. Oddly, this sort of charity was begun by Mademoiselle Claude Bernard, the daughter of the great scientist who, it is said, tortured more living creatures to death than any other. Vivisection became a passion with him, but Mademoiselle Bernard is atoning for her father's cruelty by a singular devotion to animals, and none are turned from her gates.
This is the way they do it in Cairo even now, according to Monsieur Prisse d'Avennes, the distinguished Egyptologist:—
"The Sultan, El Daher Beybars, who reigned in Egypt and Syria toward 658 of the Hegira (1260 A.D.) and is compared by William of Tripoli to Nero in wickedness, and to Caesar in bravery, had a peculiar affection for cats. At his death, he left a garden, 'Gheyt-el-Quoltah' (the cats' orchard), situated near his mosque outside Cairo, for the support of homeless cats. Subsequently the field was sold and resold several times by the administrator and purchasers. In consequence of a series of dilapidations it now produces a nominal rent of fifteen piastres a year, which with certain other legacies is appropriated to the maintenance of cats. The Kadi, who is the official administrator of all pious and charitable bequests, ordains that at the hour of afternoon prayer, between noon and sunset, a daily distribution of animals' entrails and refuse meat from the butchers' stalls, chopped up together, shall be made to the cats of the neighborhood. This takes place in the outer court of the 'Mehkemeh,' or tribunal, and a curious spectacle may then be seen. At this hour all the terraces near the Mehkemeh are crowded with cats: they come jumping from house to house across the narrow Cairo streets, hurrying for their share: they slide down walls and glide into the court, where they dispute, with great tenacity and much growling, the scanty meal so sadly out of proportion to the number of guests. The old ones clear the food in a moment: the young ones and the newcomers, too timid to fight for their chance, must content themselves with licking the ground. Those wanting to get rid of cats take them there and deposit them. I have seen whole baskets of kittens deposited in the court, greatly to the annoyance of the neighbors."
There are similar customs in Italy and Switzerland. In Geneva cats prowl about the streets like dogs at Constantinople. The people charge themselves with their maintenance, and feed the cats who come to their doors at the same hour every day for their meals.
In Florence, a cloister near St. Lorenzo's Church serves as a refuge for cats. It is an ancient and curious institution, but I am unable to find whether it is maintained by the city or by private charities. There are specimens of all colors, sizes, and kinds, and any one who wants a cat has but to go there and ask for it. On the other hand, the owner of a cat who is unable or unwilling to keep it may take it there, where it is fed and well treated.
In Rome, they have a commendable system of caring for their cats. At a certain hour butchers' men drive through the city, with carts well stocked with cat's meat. They utter a peculiar cry which the cats recognize, and come hurrying out of the houses for their allowances, which are paid for by the owners at a certain rate per month.
1. Fine specimen of a genuine Russian cat: owned by
In Boston, during the summer of 1895, a firm of butchers took subscriptions from philanthropic citizens, and raised enough to defray the expenses of feeding the cats on the Back Bay,—where, in spite of the fact that the citizens are all wealthy and supposedly humane, there are more starving cats than elsewhere in the city. But the experiment has not been repeated.
Hospitals for sick animals are no new thing, but a really comfortable home for cats is an enterprise in which many a woman who now asks despondently what she can do in this overcrowded world to earn a living, might find pleasant and profitable.
A most worthy charity is that of the Animal Rescue League in Boston, which was started by Mrs. Anna Harris Smith in 1899. She put a call in the newspapers, asking those who were interested in the subject to attend a meeting and form a league for the protection and care of lost or deserted pets. The response was immediate and generous. The Animal Rescue League was formed with several hundred members, and in a short time the house at 68 Carver Street was rented, and a man and his wife put in charge. Here are brought both cats and dogs from all parts of Boston and the suburbs, where they are sure of kind treatment and care. If they are diseased they are immediately put out of existence by means of the lethal chamber; otherwise they are kept for a few days in order that they may be claimed by their owners if lost, or have homes found for them whenever it is possible. During the first year over two thousand cats were cared for, and several hundred dogs. This home is maintained by voluntary contributions and by the annual dues of subscribers. These are one dollar a year for associate members and five dollars for active members. It is an excellent charity, and one that may well be emulated in other cities.
There are several cat asylums and refuges in the Far West, and certainly a few more such institutions as the Sheltering Home at Brighton, Mass., or the Morris Refuge would be a credit to a country. How better than by applying it to our cats can we demonstrate the truth of Solomon's maxim, "A merciful man is merciful to his beast"?