The term ‘Canary in a Coal Mine’ is a familiar one and refers to the practice of using canaries to help detect dangerous gases while miners worked. Canaries were apparently used right up to the 20th century and phased out in the UK as recently as 1986. Besides these commonly used birds a wide range of other animals were also employed in mine work, including cats.
At first glance it may appear that cats were running around in coal mines, however a little further research revealed that cats in a coal mine were used to help to keep the rodent population under control in the pony stables, thankfully the cats never actually entered the mines.
Four feral cats including Leia, pictured above, who worked at the North Yorkshire mine in the UK kept the stables clear of mice and rats and in turn they received food, shelter, water and care from the miners.
James Hodgkison of the Cats Protection York Adoption Center said the charity was called in to assist, trap and help transition the cats to new homes after the mine was slated to close last month. He said that the cats were “very much valued by workers for keeping rodents in check…and had been well cared for by the miners…they were in great condition.”
The new owners, who were very happy to provide homes for the cats, see them as an important part of mining history. They report that they are doing well and are continuing to work hard as mouser’s. Amanda Beal, who named the two cats she adopted Leia and Solo, tells Your Cat that while Solo is still “very feral…Leia very quickly decided that she likes some creature comforts and moved into the house.”
While researching this piece I came across an urban legend that says cats were “thrown down closed coal mines in England during the Thatcher years by cruel people wanting to dispose of their pets.” According to the story, many years later, it was found that the cats had survived the fall and had “mutated into a community of blind cats with huge ears who were adapted to living in the complete darkness of the mine shaft.” More on this myth and how it was debunked can be read here under the Blind Coal Mine Kittens.