Thursday, August 02, 2012

Fur patrol

We saw a rat once when Downstage was in its temporary residence on the waterfront but as a rule our art institutions keep animals at arm's length. Not so the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Its activities makes this not so much an animal artist story as an animal-protecting-art one because the 65 cats on the Hermitage’s staff spend their time patrolling for rats and mice. 

The cats were originally employed by Czar Peter the First in 1774 and served loyally but even they couldn’t survive the Second World War. A new generation had to be introduced in 1945 and it is their offspring supplemented by local strays that do the job now. The cats are well cared for and have their own doors allowing them access so they can patrol the various parts of the building. 

The Hermitage acknowledges the importance of the role of the cats once a year with a holiday known as the Day of the Hermitage Cat. You can see the Hermitage cats in action here

Image: a cat door at the State Hermitage Museum