Category: News

Fat Cat, River Cat: A story of an unlikely hero.

I blinked, then looked again.  Classic double-take. On this muggy and slightly overcast day on the Buffalo River, the last thing I expected to see was a fat cat on harness and leash, happily playing in the water.  But there he was. Intrigued, I sent the dogs on ahead with my husband and set out to learn more about this River Cat.

Rescue kitten to parent figure

It was a low expectations sort of day, late summer fading into early autumn with drab skies.  We were paying a last visit to the river before heading back to Kansas City.  But as I talked with Shelley and Roy about their cat, the day brightened with the joy of the unexpected, the affirmation of a life well-lived, and well loved.

Fat Cat is an unlikely hero, an orange tabby of undistinguished appearance, saving for his fat cheeks, from which he takes his name.  As a kitten, he came into Shelley’s life a throwaway. He quickly established himself as a member of the family.  He has been with Shelley and Roy for 5 years. “He raised three dogs from puppies,” Shelley says,”And all of them are pits.”  According to Shelley, he has trained the dogs to groom themselves like a cat.  “And he wags his tail like a dog,” she says.

River cat

Today, he is not wagging his tail like a dog, although this is something I would love to see. He is out on his leash, exploring the river.  Like us, the family is taking advantage of the warm weather to spend time outdoors. “You should have seen him earlier,” says Shelley.  He was out there where those little rapids are.”  She points to the low-running river, where ripples play, about six inches deep.  She picks up Fat Cat, who is staring at me dispassionately, and carried him over to the water.  He heads out a bit unenthusiastically.  I can understand his dilemma.  As much as he enjoys the water, it’s a hard thing for any cat to perform on demand, especially for a stranger.  I catch a few seconds of video.

Unlikely hero

When my dog comes running over, Fat Cat stands his ground without drama.  He’s a mountain of calm, this cat. “He’s brave,” Shelley says.  Fat Cat once caught and killed a rat twice his size. It is clear that no dog of any size has ever intimidated this feline. They look each other over.  The border collie is aquiver with interest, but Fat Cat is not looking for company today.

“Fat Cat saved my life,” Roy tells me.  He does not elaborate, except to say, “I spend a lot of time in the house alone, because of Shelley’s work schedule. I have probably talked more to that cat in the past year than to anybody else.”

As a committed dog person, and sometimes disparager of cats, I am struck and humbled by this simple story of one cat, who makes such a difference in the lives of these two people.  Even tough Fat Cat has not warmed to me (he IS a cat, after all, and I don’t expect to feel the love), he has lifted my spirits and given me a glance into the richness and diversity of the human-animal bond.   This cat, this simple tabby, has saved someone’s life. He makes every day better for a family and their other pets.  And somehow, somehow, he is magic.

fat cat, river cat, unlikely hero, river, wet cat
Fat Cat and Shelley

Dressing Up: A Brief History of Pets and Costumes

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent around $440 million on pet costumes for Halloween this year. Pets in costumes (pumpkins are still the number one choice in 2017) were everywhere during the month of October.  Pets got dressed up and competed for the best costume at fundraisers, private parties, and pet-centered fall festivals.  All this pet masquerading raises an interesting question:  When did dressing pets become so popular?

Collars were the earliest pet costumes

Halloween aside, people have been dressing pets in one way or another since the time of Ancient Egypt.  Tomb findings reveal that some Egyptians outfitted  their dogs with ornate collars bearing the dog’s name.  Dog collars became prominent in Ancient Greece, where hunting or fighting dogs wore spiked collars. In the Middle Ages, royalty and other nobility displayed wealth in the form of decorative collars and leashes.  Often these dog accessories were adorned with gold and jewels. It is said that Louis XV dressed his Cavalier spaniel in a gold collar with diamonds.   During the Renaissance, pet owners had more dispensable income, and leather collars with tags or ornaments became common.  It was also during this time that dog ordinances were instituted. These new laws created a need for special identification or registration tags.  In the 19th century, bells on collars were fashionable.

Clothing and costumes for wealthy pets, 1800-2000

As smaller dog breeds became popular, pet owners began to use warm sweaters to keep their dogs cozy during winter weather.  Fashion houses in Paris began catered to the well-dressed pet during the 1800s.  In 1833, England’s Princess Victoria dressed her spaniel in a scarlet jacket and blue pants.

Dressing pets remained the purview of the well-heeled during the 20th century.  Ordinary pet owners were discouraged from dressing and pampering pets.  In 1915, the naturalist Alpheus Hyatt Verrill warned against “pampering, constant fondling, dressing up in clothing, and other ridiculous practices.”  Even so, vintage photos of animals in clothing from the early 1900s demonstrate that some people continued to clothe their pets.

21st century pets get costumes like their human families

Sometime around the turn of the millenium, something changed.  As pets began to be increasingly viewed as members of the family, they also began to take part in celebrations previously reserved for humans.  It was inevitable, perhaps, that more and more pets would begin to participate in Halloween.

The National Retail Federation of America began tracking US expenditures on Halloween costumes for pets in 2010.  At that time, Americans planned to spend about $210 million on pet costumes.  In 2015, Americans spent about $350 million on pet costumes.  That translates to about $1 for every $3 spent on kids’ costumes that year. The popularity of pet costumes continues to grow.

Learn more: Dog fashion history; History of dog collars