I can remember a visitor (someone who does not like cats, no doubt) who told me that there is no such thing as a “working cat”. He is wrong. We have four good examples in the UK: Florence, Betty, Solo and Leia.
Until recently they were the last working animals at a British coal mine. They worked at Kellingley colliery until December 2015 when the mine was closed.
Cats were originally used at coal mines to clear pony stables of rats and mice. Latterly, they were used to keep down the rodent population at the colliery.
On the closure of this mine they were re-homed to farms with the help of Cats Protection (York Adoption Centre).
The colliery management contacted Cats Protection in December because they were concerned about the future of the cats. They had looked after them extremely well and they were in very good condition at the time that they were made redundant.
The four cats were semi-feral or feral (one of them, Leia, has become a domestic cat – see below). When they were made redundant they were trapped by Cats Protection employees. Florence and Betty were re-homed to Karen Scholey at her farm near Green Hammerton, Yorkshire. It was her who renamed them. Karen said:
“We’ve had feral cats on our farm for years as they are the best form of pest control you can get and we were on the lookout for a couple more when we heard about the colliery cats. It is a true privilege for us to give them a home as they represent so much about the important mining history in the area. It was a very sad day for Yorkshire when the pit closed, and I’m just happy we’ve been able to at least help these two cats…”
The other two cats have settled in to a new home at Amanda Beal’s Livery Farm, also in Yorkshire.
Amanda said that Solo and Leia are different characters with Leia becoming domesticated:
“Solo is most definitely very feral and we don’t see much of her – she’s busy keeping the mice under control. But Leia very quickly decided that she likes some creature comforts and moved into the house. She is very nervous but enjoys human company so she must have been well looked after during her time at the pit.”
I like to see working cats being used in this way. I believe that it helps the public profile of the domestic and feral cat. Also, it is nice to see that some tender loving care was delivered by the miners of the colliery who handed them over in such excellent condition. It is good also to see that they are now happily resettled and continue to be well looked after.
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