I’m well aware of mail and messages sent by carrier pigeon. You can even collect pigeon post stamps, which are the first air mail stamps ever produced!
But this week my husband introduced me to this children’s book, which is based on a true story, about a city in Belgium that attempted to us cats to deliver mail. So of course, as a philatelist and a cat person, I had to dig in and do some research on this fun little bit of postal history.
The experiment of using cats for mail carries takes place in the Belgian city of Liège, located in the primarily French-speaking Walloon region. Apparently the idea for the post came from a group called the Belgian Society for the Elevation of the Domestic Cat. It sounded good in theory: Cats, like pigeons, have a very good sense of direction! So surely they could deliver messages in a similar manner?
According to an article in an 1876 issue of The New York Times, 37 cats were carried in bags away from Liège to neighboring villages along the Meuse River. The cats were released and left to find their way home. The quickest of the cats managed to find its ways back to its home in Liège in around five hours, and the rest of the cats arrived safely home within a day of their release.
The group, apparently pleased with the success of their experiment, hoped to set up a regular mail service by attaching waterproof mail bags around the cat’s necks. Villagers could then send mail to Liège whenever the cats arrived.
Needless to say, the service never caught on. But while cat delivery turned out to be unreliable, the trial run did apparently inspire a new sport in the area. While searching for additional information about the cat post, I found the following article about 18 Liège cats that were released for racing, with bets taken on which cat would arrive home first.
If you’d like to hear more stories about post office cats, check out this Purr-n-Fur webpage.
As for my own cats… well… I don’t think they’ll be running a mail route anytime soon.