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Scotland has made a great many contributions to the world. Haggis. The inspiration for Braveheart. “Auld Lang Syne.” Ewan McGregor. Kilts. Ewan McGregor wearing a kilt. And now it can add “public art installations devoted to cats” to the list of attractions, alongside castles and the birthplace of Sean Connery.
The small town of St. Andrews recently raised $8,000 for a bronze statue of Hamish McHamish, a local cat celebrity and the proprietor of one of history’s greatest ridiculous cat names. Hamish is a proud owner of Scotland’s signature ginger hair and a Twitter account where he is described as "Author and bon vivant."
Here’s the unveiling of the statue earlier this month:
There are conflicting reports on whether Hamish is a stray. Some outlets report that he is the cat of a woman named Marianne Baird and simply spends his days running about town, while others report that he is 100 percent a man of the streets. In any case, Hamish is the town’s most beloved street cat, making regular appearances at local shops and roaming the streets of St. Andrews, bringing joy in the form of aloof distaste, as all great cats do. So naturally, the people of the town saw fit to build a monument for him.
As evidenced by the photos below, he really puts the “ham” in Hamish as he poses regally alongside his bronze likeness.
The decision to spend such a sum on a bronze cat statue has rubbed some the wrong way. When the absolutely adorable story emerged, the Internet hand-wringing commenced in earnest. Why not give him a HOME and FOOD instead? Couldn’t the money have been better spent on building capacity at a cat shelter? Isn’t this a false idol who will awaken the wrath of a jealous god who will surely send a plague of locusts? Okay, I made that last one up, but I’m sure that someone thought it. The Internet is a very big place.
First of all, there are a lot of words that I can use to describe Hamish by looking at him. Sophisticated. Handsome. Erudite. Approachable. Results-oriented. Entrepreneurial. But “starving” isn’t one of them. He is a well-known and well-loved local fixture and has the meat on his bones to prove it. As for a home, if it is true that he doesn’t have a primary caregiver, I am the first to admit that cats without forever homes break my heart.
But in many cases, as people who are familiar with feral cats, strays, and the TNR process, sometimes the best option for a street cat is to remain one. Without knowing his whole history, we can’t assume that Hamish is being forced to wander the town as part of a bizarre folksy spectacle rather than as a matter of his lack of adaptability to domestic life. If people are willing to pool together eight grand for his statue, I’m sure that more than one of them has been willing to adopt him and it simply wasn’t the best option.
As for the money being better spent on a cat shelter, this argument spirals quickly into an infinite hole of moral spending arguments. Yes, it would be “better” spent on building shelter capacity. But then again, any money spent on high-quality cat food would be “better” spent feeding lower-quality food to a larger volume of cats. Two hours spent lounging with your own well-adjusted cat would be “better” spent cuddling homeless cats at a shelter. The production costs of My Cat From Hell would be “better” diverted to erecting catios for house cats who need exposure to the outdoors.
But that is taking a highly utilitarian look at cats. The arguments fail to recognize cats as cultural markers, as members of families, and as individuals with lives and histories that have a place in our popular culture. If we make that argument, we must also admonish everyone who has ever bought a painting of a cat (guilty as charged) or spoiled their cat with luxuries rather than keeping them on a subsistence diet in order to feed other cats (also, guilty as charged).
Making cats part of highly visible public art elevates their status, making them not just the silly indulgence of pet owners but of collectively important contributors. And considering the fact that the cat is a traditionally maligned animal that plenty of people still consider a verminous nuisance, that elevation is significant. This particular artistic celebration of a cat is not actually for Hamish. He hasn’t a clue that there’s a statue in his honor. He doesn’t know what a statue is. He doesn’t know what honor is. Hamish just really can’t be bothered, frankly.
For me, part of this is personal. I live in a neighborhood with a large stray population that is very unwelcome to many community members. Unwelcome as in, people have been known to poison local strays and are never held accountable for it. And unfortunately, cat-haters of this variety are not uncommon. I think that a community putting up a bronze statue (yes, an expensive and kind of silly-looking bronze statue) signals that St. Andrew’s is a place where intolerance of cats will just not fly. Cats are friends of this city, so enemies beware! I’d love for more artists and city arts committees to take notice.
Just don’t tell my cat, Keith. He would expect me to commission one in gold right away, and I just don’t have the cash right now.
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About the author: Alana Massey is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY, with one cat named Keith and a number of inanimate objects that are far less exciting. She writes about animals, fashion, celebrities, feminism, and religion. She is a graduate of NYU and Yale Divinity School, where her favorite thing to do was talk about St. Francis of Assisi.