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A cat lover’s guide to the US

You may have heard the phrase ‘only in America’ which often refers to the country’s penchant for outrageous actions or occurrences. However, the phrase can take on a decidedly positive spin if you are a crazy cat lover, because this country has some of the wildest and wackiest purr-baby celebrations of anywhere in the world.

From National Cat Day and the Panther Festival to cat circuses and museums that celebrate six-toed varieties, if you love these whiskered wonder-pets, then the US is the purr-fect destination for your next holiday.

National Cat Day – USA

First celebrated in 2005, National Cat Day is celebrated every year on the 29th October in the US (and on the 8th of August in Canada). Supported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it was founded to bring awareness to the number of homeless cats, and to encourage cat lovers to celebrate the fur babies in their lives.

The organisation encourages people to engage in a range of activities including adopting a cat from a local shelter, organising a photo shoot or a custom portrait of their feline friend, and giving their cat a calming massage! Purrrrr…

National Cat Day parties are also encouraged where cat lovers can buy a National Cat Day tee, don their kitty ears, bake some tuna cookies (for the cat we’re assuming), and play some cat-friendly tunes (like David Bowie’s Cat People and The Cure’s The Lovecats).

Cat Museum – San Francisco

Celebrating all things feline, the Cat Museum delves into the fascinating culture and history of cats, including exploring a fascinating range of Cat Facts …

Did you know that ancient Egyptians were the first to embrace the cat society-wide and that killing a cat was punishable by death? Or that the Norse Goddess Freya found cats so useful that she had them pull her chariot, much like Santa uses reindeer to guide his sleigh?

Or that former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s cat Larry was one in a long line of Downing Street residents that are unofficially known as Chief Mousers to the Cabinet Office?

The museum also features pop-up art exhibitions, cat video festivals and paraphernalia including cat films (Alice in Wonderland which features the Cheshire Cat), books (Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery featuring freaky feline Church), poetry (Robert Burns’ Ode to a Mouse) and cartoons and comics (including Garfield, Sylvester and Felix the Cat).

Ernest Hemingway Museum – Florida

This unique Key West property was once home to one of America’s most famous authors, Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, and today is also the comfy abode of around fifty felines. However, the most fascinating trait of many of these furry residents is that they are polydactyl, meaning they have six toes (cats normally have five front toes and four back toes).

Polydactyl cats are not limited to a particular breed, which means the Hemingway cats vary markedly in terms of their sizes, shapes, colours and personalities. The cats here that don’t have six toes still carry the polydactyl gene, which means the ones that have ‘normal’ feet can still father or mother six-toed kittens. How delightful! But how on earth did all of these unique animals end up here?

According to the legend, Hemingway was gifted an unusual six-toed tomcat called Snow White by a sea captain who once lived on the island, and as the years went on, more and more polydactyl cats started appearing (no need to explain how). Fast-forward to today, and we have a bunch of cats who are not only related, but whose heritage harps back to a scruffy seafaring cat from the 1900s. Meow!

The Cat Man – Florida

Born in Brittany in northwest France, The Cat Man (aka Dominique Lefort), studied drama and pantomime as a child, went on to join a mime and puppetry troupe in London, and in between gigs, assumed the character of balloon-twisting Rou Dou Dou the clown. Eventually he quit his acting job, settled into family life and had a daughter who he gifted a cat. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a cat person and out of frustration at her ambivalence towards her pet, Lefort began to teach the cat circus tricks.

Years later, Lefort took his now-famous cat troupe to Disney World’s Pleasure Island, where he performed in a nightly gig at the resort’s Rock N Roll Beach Club, and in the early 80s relocated to Key West. It’s here that he and his loyal cat gang started performing at sunset for the crowds around Mallory Square’s waterfront precinct.

Today, crowds still flock to this area to see the spectacle – a now-elderly Lefort dressed in a cat T-shirt with his feline circus performers, whose tricks include jumping long distances on command and leaping through flaming hoops. Lefort also sells a variety of merchandise to pay the bills including DVDs and cat-themed clothing!

Panther Festival – Florida

If you prefer your felines of a slightly larger size, then the Florida Panther Festival is definitely an event worth sussing out. Welcoming up to 5000 people every year and held at the Naples Zoo, it celebrates the beauty and the uniqueness of the Florida panther, which is the last of the puma genus known to be breeding in the US.

Only around 30 adult panthers existed here in the 80s. However, with a focus on conservation and rehabilitation programs the numbers have slowly been rising.

The festival includes outdoor exhibits, practical talks about living with wildlife, and zoo activities including the chance to see some of these magnificent creatures in the flesh. It even offers the chance for those cat-lovin’ adventurers among us to join a wilderness hike where you can walk in the footsteps of these fascinating creatures and take home a plaster cast of the tracks you discover.

It’s the perfect memento for the mantelpiece in your cat-friendly home!