Some time ago I was asked about what makes a better boat pet, a cat or a dog. I posted my answer on the Trawlers & Trawlering site. Just after the short passage appeared I was contacted by a publisher asking if I would expand my comments into a comic illustrated book. This was during the height of the funny cat book craze. Does anyone remember "100 Uses for a Dead Cat." He asked me for proposed book titles. The best I could come up with was "Raising Cats for Fur and Food." That seemed to dampen his interest. Too bad. We might have had a best seller.
Many of us have boat dogs but since most boats have limited living space, a cat might make a more reasonable boat pet. Cats are generally quiet, self tending, chase away rats and roosting gulls, and, if you are lucky, are warm and cuddly. While I admit that dogs are admirable creatures and certainly more intelligent than cats. But they are hard to train to use a litter box. They are better suited for a house and yard than a boat.
We have fond memories of our Norwegian fishing cat. It loved to swim and was hard to keep out of the water. These cats were bred in Norway and Iceland and were trained to help fishermen capture the "one that got away." When a fish slipped off the hook, the cat would leap off the boat and with its webbed feet, "pounce" on the escaped cod or mackerel and bring it back. As a reward, the cat would get to eat an occasional fish.
Olaf, our Norwegian fishing cat, spent his younger years aboard a cod fishing smack, diving in to retrieve the one that "almost" got away. In a typical day he would catch a dozen or more fish, bringing them back to the boat. He more than earned his keep. But the cold water takes its toll.
Cat fishing is a young feline's game. Olaf was retired after ten years of honorable service. My wife's uncle sent Olaf to us to live out his remaining years. He had developed arthritis and was retired to the balmy climes of upstate New York. Most of the fish he ate came out of cans. Olaf spent his summers paddling around our pond with an occasional jump into the Hudson River from our boat. Every few days we would throw him a couple of herring so he would feel at home. It would be hard to find a more suitable boat pet.
Olaf passed away quietly in has sleep, aged 21, after consuming three cans of brisling sardines. He had a smile on his whiskers and his breath smelled like a cannery. I can picture him today in Feline Valhalla attended by 70 female kitties gorging on smoked salmon with a cream cheese chaser.
For those that doubt the story of the Norwegian fishing cat, here is a
passage from the "Encyclopedia of Cats." Lumpkin, Susan and Seidensticker, John. 1991. Great Cats Majestic Creatures of the Wild. Rodale Press, Pa. Pages 40, 172, and 173.
THE FISHING CAT: A MOST UNUSUAL FELINE APPEARANCE/SIZE: This cat has a deep-chested body and comparatively short legs. The front toes are partially webbed and the claws protrude slightly, even when fully retracted. Small rounded ears are set well back on the large, broad head. The fur is short and course with gray or olive-brown background, covered with small black spots. A male weighs 24 to 27 pounds, while the females are smaller and weigh 13 to 16 pounds. The tail is unusually thick and muscular near the base, and is less then one-third of the animal's head and body length.
HABITAT / DISTRIBUTION: This cat is usually associated with areas of thick cover near water, in marshes, mangroves, and densely vegetated areas along rivers and streams. It has a discontinuous distribution in Asia. It is found in Southwest India, Sri Lanka, countries of the southern Himalayas, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, China, and the islands of Sumatra and Java. Despite this broad range, the real distribution of this animal is quite limited as the species is strongly tied to areas of suitable wetland habitat. DIET In the wild these cars crouch on rocks and sand banks using a paw to scoop out fish. They have also been observed seizing fish with their mouths. Sometimes they dive deeply for prey. Their powerful build and strong swimming ability enable it to take a wide range of prey. They are said to be able to kill calves, dogs, birds, small mammals, snakes, snails, and of course fish.
The fishing cat belongs to the Panthera lineage within the Feline Felidae family. It is classified under the scientific name Felis Viverrina. Here is a quote from the Norsk Skovkattering, Danmark, a Danish cat
There are many similarities between the Forest Cat and the Norwegian lynx. The most apparent of these is that they are both big, long-legged cats with large ruffs, and tufts at the tips of their ears. Moreover they both like water, and the stories of swimming Forest cats who catch their own fish in lakes and rivers are innumerable. Locals often refer to them as "Water Cats" or "Fishing Cats." The Forest cat evidently utilizes the same methods as the Norwegian lynx when it goes fishing.
So there are two theories about the origin of the Norwegian fishing cat. The first is that some cat loving Norwegian sailors brought a few breeding pairs of the fishing cats home from trips to Asia during the 1800s. Over the years the cats acclimated themselves to Norwegian weather but retained their fishing instincts. Although Norway is quite far north, the West coast is washed by the Gulf Stream and the winter weather is surprisingly mild. This is especially true of the Lofoten Islands, the prime fishing area.
The second theory is that the fishing cat is simply a variation of the Norwegian forest cat or Norwegian lynx who adapted to a more marine environment. Or perhaps they are both the same species. I'm sure DNA testing could tell