Russian Blue cats

The Russian Blue is a popular cat breed whose dense coat comes in colors varying from light silver to dark grey; they are often sought out as pets because of their personalities and beauty. Russian Blues have emerald green eyes and what is described as ‘plush short-haired, shimmering blue-gray’ fur.
The Russian Blue is a landrace, a naturally occurring breed, which is thought to have originated in the port of Arkhangelsk in Russia (They are also called Archangel Blues; Arkhangelsk in English means ‘Archangel’). Sailors are believed to have taken Russian Blues to Great Britain and Northern Europe in the 1860s. The appearance first recorded outside of Russia was at the Crystal Palace (Hyde Park, London) in 1875, as the Archangel Cat. The Russian Blue competed in a class featuring all other blue cats until 1912, when it was granted its own class. Until after WWII, the breed was developed mostly in England and Scandinavia.

Right after the war, a lack of numbers of Russian Blues led to their crossbreeding with Siamese cats. Russian Blues were in the US before the war, but it was not until the post-war period that American breeders created the modern Russian Blue that is now seen in the world today. American breeders combined the bloodlines of both the Scandinavian and British Russian Blues. The Siamese traits have now been largely bred out. The short fur and slate-gray/blue colors are oftentimes seen in mixed-breed cats, which can affect breeders and showers to mistaking a cat for a Russian Blue.
Russian Blues get their silvery, lustrous sheen from their distinctly silver-tipped guard hairs. They have been used on a limited basis to create other breeds such as the Havana Brown or alter already existing breeds such as the Nebelung. They are also being used in Italy as a way to make Oriental Shorthairs more healthy and robust.

Russian Blue cat with big green eyes in profile

Russian Blues are described to have pinkish-lavender or mauve paws, and the coat is known as a ‘double coat’, with the undercoat being soft and downy and as long as the guard hairs, which are a solid blue with silver tips. However, their tails may have a few very dull, inconspicuous stripes. The coat is described as thick, plush and soft to the touch. The feeling is softer than the softest silk. The silver tips give the coat a shimmering appearance, and its eyes are almost always dark and vivid green. Any white patches of fur or yellow eyes in adulthood are seen as flaws in show cats (As kittens, however, their eyes are yellow with green rims).
Russian Blues are curious, tranquil, friendly, and intelligent. They are known to play fetch, open doors, and be sensitive to human emotions. They develop close bonds with loved ones and other family pets and enjoy playing with varieties of toys. Russian Blues are generally considered to be a quiet breed, though there can be exceptions, and are usually reserved around strangers unless brought up in an active household. They are clean animals and fierce hunters and can be trained to do tricks.

Gray cat with green eyes on a cat bed

Russian Blue kittens require adequate playmates and toys; they become mischevious when they are bored. They are exceptionally athletic and best even Abyssinians with their ability to leap and climb. Russian Blues are slow to mature and may retain many of their adolescent traits until three to four years of age, but even old Russian Blues can easily be enticed to play. Not only are they very intelligent, as mentioned before, but they have a great memory; they are keen to remember favorite visitors and will rush to greet familiar faces.
Overall, Russian Blues have a life expectancy of around ten to twenty years, though some have lived up to twenty-five. They have few health problems, are not prone to illness, and have little or no genetic problems. They are small or moderate-sized cats and males are typically larger than females. They are fast, slender, fine-boned and strong, though their thick fur often hides the muscular frame and might give them a slightly more robust look. They have triangular-shaped heads with large ears and a natural ‘smile’.

Russian Blue cat in a white room lying on a shelf

Russian Blues are recommended as great pets for both looks and personality.


Animal Heroes in Wartime: Unsinkable Sam

This is the story of how a black-and-white cat called Oscar served first the German Kriegsmarine and then the British Royal Navy during World War II, and how he survived three of those ships being sunk.
The first was the Bismarck, a German flagship, and the most powerful naval vessel of the era. On May 18th, 1941, the Germans launched Operation Rheinübung, which was the Bismarck’s first and only mission; they were bound for the Baltic port of Gotenhafen, where they were assigned to waylay Allied convoys who were carrying vital supplies to the besieged Britain.

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But before she could wreak havoc, the Royal Navy administered a huge fleet to sink the Bismarck. After a battle that spanned over three days, the huge battleship was defeated and sunk. Of her crew, being more than 2,200, only 116 survived–that is, if you don’t count the black-and-white tabby cat, name unknown, who floated out of the wreckage aboard a stray piece of timber.
Sailors from the HMS Cossack rescued the survivor and, unaware of his former name, called him Oscar–or Oskar, the German spelling, as he was actually a ‘German’ cat. The name came from the International Code of Signals, in which the letter ‘o’ (pronounced Oscar) stood for “Man Overboard.”
(Fun fact: cats can survive on seawater; their kidneys are efficient enough to filter out the salt and use the desalinated seawater for hydration, which may have played a large role in Unsinkable Sam’s survival.)

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Oscar’s, or Sam’s, (whichever you prefer) new home was a Royal Navy destroyer, a ship that was far more modest than the Bismarck. The crew spent the next several months escorting convoys in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The HMS Cossack was providing cover for a convoy going from Gibraltar to Britain, but in the process, she was severely damaged by a torpedo fired from a German submarine.
Oscar and the crew were transferred to another destroyer, and an attempt was made to tow the crippled ship back to Gibraltar. However, this failed because of poor weather coming in, and they were compelled to severe the tow and leave the HMS Cossack sinking to its watery grave beneath the sea.

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HMS Cossack

Oscar was safely brought to the harbor in Gibraltar.
Oscar’s next posting was on an aircraft carrier called the HMS Ark Royal. There he acquired his nickname “Unsinkable Sam”, given to him by sailors after they learned what had happened to him. Coincidentally, it was the Ark Royal that had formally played a crucial role in Sam’s transfer from the Kriegsmarine to the Royal Navy. The Bismark had been on the verge of escaping the Royal Navy pursuit when an ancient Swordfish biplane from the Ark Royal launched a torpedo that jammed the German battleship’s steering gear. This caused the Bismark to steam in a large circle and fall prey to the Royal Navy’s guns.
However, Sam’s time aboard the Ark Royal was exceedingly short-lived. The HMS Ark Royal, after several near misses, had gained the reputation as a ‘lucky ship’. But luck didn’t last; on November 14, 1941, the Ark Royal was torpedoed by yet another German submarine, in the Mediterranean Sea as it came back from Malta. Another towing attempt was made and failed, but all but one of the aircraft carrier’s crew was saved, and, of course, Sam too survived.

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In his 2004 book (Ark Royal: The Life of an Aircraft Carrier at War 1939-41) William Jameson writes that Sam was discovered hanging on to a floating plank “angry but quite unharmed.”
After this third brush with death, it was decided that Sam should, in Navy parlance, “swallow the anchor” and complete his military service on dry land.
He was first assigned to a desk job (his title was chief mouser) in the offices of the Governor of Gibraltar, the–absurdly named–Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort.
But Sam had seawater in his blood. So he was shipped back to Britain, where he served out the rest of the war in Belfast; there he was content to look after patients in a seaman’s home, called with great creativity the “Home for Sailors.”
Unsinkable Sam expired in 1955. The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, keeps a pastel painting of the famous cat in its possession. The artwork was done by Georgina Shaw-Baker and titled “Oscar, the Bismarck’s cat”.

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“Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat”


I hope you liked this :). I’m planning to do more blog posts about animals that served in World War I and II. Happy New Year!

Arctic Foxes

The Arctic fox is a small breed of fox found in the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and throughout Arctic tundras. They are well-adapted to their lifestyle, with thick, warm fur and a generally rounded shape so that body warmth is less easy to escape; their long coat, white during the winter, blends well into their cold environment. Arctic foxes, like most foxes, are omnivorous. So not only do they prey on lemmings, voles, seal pups, fish, waterfowl, and seabirds, but they are also adapted to consume carrion, berries, seaweed, insects and other small invertebrates. Their natural predators include golden eagles, polar bears, red foxes, wolverines, wolves, and grizzly bears; they form monogamous pairs and build complex underground dens within which they raise their young, although other family members may occasionally assist in doing so.

Arctic foxes usually select dens that are easily accessible, with many entrances, and choose those that face Southward toward the sun, which makes their dens warmer. If food is plentiful, they tend to have up to 18 pups, and when red foxes aren’t in the area, they tend to inhabit the dens that red foxes have previously occupied. Arctic foxes can eat eggs and hares and sometimes scavenge on carcasses left by larger predators. Despite the frigid extremes that they inhabit, Arctic foxes only begin to shiver when the temperature drops to –70 °C. Additionally, Arctic foxes are the only kind of canids that have fur covering their foot pads.

Arctic foxes have two distinct color morphs: white and blue. In the winter they are white, which turns brown along the back and light grey along the abdomen during the summer. The blue morph is typically a dark blue, brown, or grey color all year-around. Their hearing is less sensitive than those of kit foxes or dogs, but they can hear lemmings burrowing beneath four to five inches of snow. This is why foxes hunt by diving head-first into the snow to catch a mouse or a vole. Additionally, the Arctic fox has a keen sense of smell. They can smell carcasses left by polar bears anywhere from ten to forty km. It is also possible that they use their sense of smell to track down polar bears. Arctic foxes can smell and find frozen lemmings under 46 to 77 cm of snow and can detect a seal lair under 150 cm.

The Balto/Togo Misunderstanding

In Alaska, in January of 1925, a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome. However, the only serum which was able to stop the outbreak was in Anchorage, and the only aircraft with the ability to quickly deliver the serum had a frozen engine and was impossible to start. So it was finally decided to deliver the serum via multiple dog sled teams; a train transported the serum from Anchorage to Nenana and the first musher embarked on the mission. Over twenty mushers took part in the whole thing, facing blizzards, strong wind, and -23 °F weather. The event was covered in the news worldwide.
The famous story of Balto the sled dog is that he led the team who covered the distance into Nome on the second of February, 1925. Multiple films were made concerning the famous hero. However, what many people did not and do not know is that the longest and most hazardous stretch of the journey was actually accomplished by a totally different sled dog. But the people who witnessed Balto completing the journey were confused and thought that Balto had done most of the work. Thus his fame became huge and Togo was a more rare mention during the story of the 1925 serum-run to Nome. In fact, people are often unaware that there was more than one dog sled team at all.
The story of Togo (named after a Japanese admiral), the agouti-furred offspring of Norwegian musher Leonhard Seppala’s former dog sled leader, Suggen, was that he was thought unfit to be assigned to work and didn’t have the potential for a proper sled dog. At six months of age, Seppala sent him away to a different owner to be a house pet. However, Togo jumped through the glass of a closed window and ran several miles back to the kennel of his original master. Impressed by the devotion Togo expressed, Seppala let the rambunctious ‘canine delinquent’ stay. Togo continued to cause mischief, especially by breaking out of the kennel, confronting oncoming dog sled teams and attacking the leaders. But, after being seriously mauled and injured by a stocky Malamute, he learned never to do so again.
But Togo wasn’t done. He played with the working dogs and led them off the trails on charges against reindeer while they pulled the sled. Finally, Seppala had no choice but to put Togo in the harness, and to his surprise, Togo settled down; he proved his worth as a sled dog at eight months of age. Togo continued to be moved up the line until, at the end of the day, he was sharing the lead position with a dog named Russky. Togo had logged 75 miles on his first day in harness, which was unheard of for an inexperienced young sled dog, especially a puppy. Seppala called him an “infant prodigy”, and later added that “I had found a natural-born leader, something I had tried for years to breed”.
And Togo was an infant prodigy. He led the team through many miles and dangerous types of weather to reach Nome but, after being replaced by Balto in the last leg of the journey, the misunderstanding took place.
Balto’s remains were mounted by a taxidermist and exhibited in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Togo’s remains were taxidermied and mounted where visitors were actually able to pet him, resulting in the thinning and falling out of his fur. However, his remains were rescued and more well-preserved; today the mounted skin is now properly on display in a glass case in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters museum, and his skeleton was mounted separately and is now in possession of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
They’re heroes, and its good to give both of them credit for the crucial roles they played in saving lives, not to mention all of the other dogs and mushers, but I would think that Balto shouldn’t be the main collector of glory and fame.

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Left to right: Balto, with his owner Gunnar Kaasen, and Togo, assumedly with Leonhard Seppala

Sled Dogs

Sled dogs were significant for transportation in arctic areas such as Canada and Alaska, pulling loads when other forms of conveyances were unavailable. They were especially active helpers during the Alaskan gold rush and the explorations of both the North and South Poles. In rural communities, sled dogs were frequently used to deliver mail where it was less easy to do so in any other way. However, though sled dogs are still used in Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Lapland, etc., and throughout Greenland, their most popular occupation is during recreational activities and sports, especially sled dog racing such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail.
The Iditarod Trail is an annual sled dog race which runs over a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome. The race is run in early March, entirely within Alaska, and had begun in 1973 for the purpose of testing the best sled dog mushers and teams, since then evolving into a competitive race that runs for entertainment. The Iditarod Trail consists of mushers and a team of sixteen sled dogs, at least five of which are supposed to be on the towline during the finish, who may cover the distance in eight to fifteen days; they generally race through blizzards, subzero temperature, and weather that can cause the windchill to reach –100 °F.

The modern racing sled is generally lightweight and flexible, usually built from ash laced together by nylon and leather, and the musher (driver) can use a foot brake which uses claws to dig into the snow as well as a pronged metal claw called a snow hook which can temporarily keep the sled dogs stationary. They can also use booties to protect the sled dogs’ feet from adverse trail conditions or for extra protection from previously injured paws; booties are rectangular socks secured by a length of Velcro, made from light and durable material such as fleece, which are made to slip over each paw. Mushers may utilize handlers to assist in the care of their sled team, but usually the mushers hold themselves responsible for the general feeding and training of their dogs, fostering a better sense of kinship and trust between them.
When the musher shouts Gee or Haw, meaning the order for a right or left turn, the sled dog leaders who understand such commands are referred to as command leaders, or gee/haw leaders. Nevertheless, some dogs who don’t understand these commands are used as leaders anyway, based on their instinctive ability to find trails even in snow-blown country. Directly behind the lead dogs are the backup leaders who assist the leaders in their tasks, called point or swing dogs. Behind the swing dogs, directly ahead of the sled, are the wheel dogs; because the wheel dogs were used to help the musher keep a heavy load on the trail, they were traditionally chosen as larger dogs. All dogs who run between the swing dogs and the wheel dogs are referred to as team dogs, being the ones who produce the endurance and power to actually pull the sled.

Sled dogs are typically Siberian or Alaskan Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Chinooks, Canadian Eskimo dogs, or Greenland dogs. The Alaskan Husky is the breed most commonly used for dog sled racing, and Malamutes were the dogs of choice chosen for hauling and messenger work in World War II. Canadian Eskimo dogs were also used to help Inuit hunters catch seals, Muskoxen, and Polar bears, and the Chinook breed was developed as a drafting and sled dog in New Hampshire. Greenland dogs, of which there are more than 30,000 living in Greenland, are a primary mode of transportation during the winter; most Greenland hunters favor them above snowmachines because they were more reliable.
Among famous sled dogs are Togo, Balto, and Anna, and there are numerous stories of blind dogs who persist to run despite their deprivations.


Appaloosa Horse

The Appaloosa is a horse breed originated in the United States, and the original American breed was developed by the Nez Perce. The Appaloosa was known by settlers as the Palouse Horse, perhaps after the Palouse River which ran through Nez Perce territory, and the name evolved gradually into Appaloosa.

The Appaloosa horse is a breed recognized for the colorful spotted patterns on its coat. It varies from the leopard coat, a spotted Dalmatian-like pattern, to a few-spot leopard coat or a ‘blanket,’ a ‘snowcap’ of spots. Most representatives have mottled skin and striped hooves, and when the eye is in normal vision the sclera, or the white of the eye, is visible.

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Left-right: Blanket, or snowcap; leopard horse pattern

The Appaloosa horse is currently one of the most popular horse breeds in the United States. In 1975 it was named the official state horse of Idaho, and the Appaloosa has been in many movies and is the mascot of the Florida State Seminoles. The bloodlines of the Appaloosa have influenced other horse breeds, among them the Pony of the Americas and the Nez Perce Horse. The Appaloosa is used chiefly in western riding disciplines, but it is a versatile breed which has adapted to other kinds of equestrian activity. The registry of the modern breed allows the addition of some American Quarter-horse, Thoroughbred, and Arabian horse blood.

The weight of the Appaloosa horse ranges from 950 to 1,250 pounds, and the original breed of Appaloosa was a tall and narrow-bodied horse and rangy horse. According to the ApHC (Appaloosa Horse Club), the Appaloosa is favored to be a reliable family horse and has an easy-going disposition.

Homing Pigeon

Messenger pigeons are a domestic breed derived from the common rock pigeon, bred selectively for its ability to find its way home over a long distance. They are believed to use magnetoreception, which is a sense using the detection of the earth’s magnetic field for navigation. During wars, homing pigeons were used for their service in carrying messages as messenger pigeons.

Research has been performed with the intention of determining the cause of homing pigeons’ navigational ability to find their way back to far-distanced locations after being transported to places they’ve never visited before. Scientists discovered that there was a large number of iron particles on the top of their beaks, which acted as a compass aligned for determining their home. Some research suggests that homing pigeons use low-frequency sound for their navigation. It was observed that sound waves as low as 0.1 Hz disrupted or redirected pigeon navigation. The ear of a pigeon is too small to interpret such long waves, directing them to circle around after first taking flight, in order to mentally map such long low-frequency waves.

(Homing Pigeon)

Pigeons use landmarks to guide them as well. Other research indicates that some pigeons navigate with the guidance of man-made features, like roads, and making 90-degree turns and following habitual routes which are mentally marked for their navigation. According to GPS studies, gravitational anomalies also play a role in their navigation.

As postal carriers, homing pigeons were able to carry as much as 2.5 oz on their backs. A German apothecary named Julius Gustav Neubronner was known to use pigeons for delivering urgent medication. In 1977 a carrier pigeon service was set up between two English hospitals, for the transportation of laboratory specimens. Until the closure of one of the hospitals in 1983, the 30 carrier pigeons were used to deliver unbreakable vials back to Plymouth. A similar system existed in the 1980’s between two French hospitals, located in Avranche and Granville.

Birds were used extensively during World War I and World War II. Among the pigeons used during war were the Irish pigeon, Paddy, the American G. I. Joe and the English Mary of Exeter, all of which were awarded the Dickin Medal. Cher Ami, a homing pigeon used during WWI, was famous for delivering 12 important messages despite serious injuries. Birds were of vital use in the Invasion of Normandy, as radios could not be used for fear of interception from the enemy.

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(Left to right: Cher Ami and Paddy)