The Cat Men of Gotham (2019)

The Cat Men of Gotham (2019)
by Peggy Gavan

Rutgers University Press, Brunswick, New Jersey

 

Notes from Publisher’s copy plus additional comments by Andrew Rowan

 

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were rough times to be a stray cat in New York City. The city’s human residents dealt with feline overpopulation by gassing unwanted cats or tossing them in rivers. Indeed, records from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (founded in 1866), indicate that over 200,000 stray cats were handled by the society in the late 1920s (most of whom would have been euthanized).
But a few lucky strays were found by a diverse array of men—including firemen, cops, athletes, and politicians—who rescued them from the streets and welcomed them into their homes and hearts. (Gavan indicates that strict gender roles tended to keep women out of the news articles that she drew on for the book and that, when they did appear, the stories tended to the negative and wrote about “crazy cat ladies.”)

 

This book tells the stories of these heroic cat men of Gotham and their beloved feline companions. Not only does it introduce us to some remarkable men, but we get to meet many extraordinary cats as well, from Chinese stowaways prowling the Chelsea Piers to Tom, the sole feline survivor of the USS Maine explosion. He was rescued the morning after the explosion by the USS Maine’s Executive Officer and taken to the USS Fern where he was treated for minor injuries and given the attention that he was used to receiving. For example, a few days after the explosion, Tom was required to pose for pictures on a wicker chair rescued from the USS Maine. According to Mrs. Sigsbee, the wife of the USS Maine’s captain, the session was going well until Bruiser, the USS Fern’s large dog, came nearby and “caused a ruckus!”

 

Among the forty-two profiles of New York City cats, there are many feline Cinderella stories, as humble alley cats achieved renown as sports team mascots, artists’ muses, and even presidential pets. The titles of the chapters provide a flavor of the material – for example, Tammany, the Democratic Boss Cat of New York City Hall and Blackie, the Mother Mouser Who Stopped Traffic on Lafayette Street. Today (in 2018), the intake of cats to the Animal Care Centers of New York has dropped to 14,140 (4,321 of whom were strays) and the euthanasia of the cats received has dropped to 1,509 (1,477 of whom were “unhealthy and untreatable”), a 99+% improvement since 1928.