Cats haven’t been in New Zealand as long as their old enemy, dogs, but they are just as beloved in the capital city.
They first came to these shores on ships where they were used to keep rats and mice under control. Later they became beloved pets and, as photography came in, they began to be seen hanging out with their owners.
This was a long time before a cat meme could break the internet, but the principle was there.
They have waged their private wars against mice, rats, possums and rabbits across the streets of the city since it was first laid out.
Wellington has never had a cat quite as famous as dogs Paddy the Wanderer or Toot, but felines have been adopted as mascots by parts of the city for years.
Barolo, a stray who wandered into a Kelburn wine shop, became well known around the suburb in the early noughties.
In the city today, Lola, the Aro Valley cat, has a devoted following and gets treated like the queen of Aro Park.
Stray cats, too, had their day. Complaints about their numbers in the early editions of The Evening Post – even in the city centre – crop up with a frequency that would make Gareth Morgan blush.
In 1908 the Post referred to them as “a plague”, complaining they spread disease, fleas and mess.
“There are hundreds of feline vagrants and they live partly by picking and choosing among the scraps in the rubbish bins . . . and partly by the theft of food once set aside for human consumption.”
Modern cats did not even bother to hunt rats and mice, spending most of their time yowling and stealing from people’s larders, the paper wrote.
Like Morgan, some people were concerned cats were killing native birds as well, although few realised the damage they could do.
Whatever admonitions were made, strays were still a problem in the 1930s and on into the post-war years. In 1935, 32 cats were found in one yard on Manners St.
The SPCA has had to deal with them for years, and it’s hardly likely to stop anytime soon.
In 2006, 40 were trapped and shot in Otari-Wilton’s Bush.
But the best face of the cat remains as a pet. Cats and kittens were often a subject for children’s poetry on the young people’s pages.