Percy the coal black cat is a born wanderer. The former barn cat sleeps by the woodstove in winter. But in summer, he leaves after breakfast and stays out all night. For years, his owners, Anne and Yale Michael, never knew where he went. Then a friend called to tell them that Percy had made the front page of the local newspaper.
The Michaels live in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom, a pretty seaside town on the Atlantic coast. Tourists flock there in summer to go to the beach and ride the miniature train that runs along it. According to the newspaper, their Percy was also riding the rails!
“We were shocked,” Yale says. “I wondered if it was really our cat.” Because the frisky feline was always losing his collar and tags, no one knew who owned Percy or where he lived. But after their friend recognized him in that front-page newspaper article, radio and television stories followed. Percy became famous.
The train station is half a mile (0.8 km) from the Michaels’ home. To get there, Percy has to walk down the alley beside their house and cross the neighbor’s yard and a golf club parking lot (where he occasionally stops for meaty handouts). Finally, he trots over to the sea cliff and through some woods down to the railway. Once Percy arrives at the train station, he dozes on a mat the railway workers have laid out for him until he hears the train whistle. Then, every day, he boards the train, takes a seat, and rides to the Sea Life Centre. Perhaps the smell of fish drew him there originally. But that isn’t why he visits now. The curious cat behaves like any human tourist and visits the marine sanctuary to view the exhibits. The penguins are his favorite. Percy might watch them strut about for half an hour, before he strolls into the office where aquarium workers have been welcoming him for years. When it’s time to leave, the furry penguin watcher hops back on the train for the trip home.
The Michaels rode the tourist train once. “He got off, as we got on,” says Yale. “We said, ‘Hi, Percy.’“ He turned around and came to us.” But only in greeting. Then their popular, wandering pet continued on his independent way. Now that they know about his daytime adventures, they’re waiting to hear what he does at night. Perhaps a local disco?
Percy enjoying the penguins at the Sea Center.
Percy’s choice of transit: The North Bay Railroad running from Scarborough to the Sea Life Centre.
Aline Alexander Newman is a lifelong animal lover who has written more than 50 magazine stories about animals from dogs to cheetahs to dolphins. Her love of cats is reflected in her recently published Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kittens.
MLA 8 Citation
Newman, Aline Alexander. "Percy the Cat." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 13 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Percy-the-cat.
With its red dirt roads, cobalt sky, and deep green forests, Canada’s Prince Edward Island looks idyllic. Yet on October 3, 1994, a horrible crime took place there. Shirley Duguay, 32, disappeared and was believed murdered. But searchers looked for weeks, and all they found was her blood-spattered car.
Then a man’s blood-stained jacket turned up in the woods. Stuck to the lining were several stiff, white hairs. Constable Savoie, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, remembered seeing an all-white tomcat named Snowball at the home of his chief suspect, Douglas Beamish. Beamish was Shirley’s sometime boyfriend and an ex-con. Could those hairs be from Snowball? If so, they would tie Beamish to Shirley’s car—the scene of the crime.
Savoie sent the jacket to the police lab for a DNA examination. Found in body cells, DNA is like a chemical fingerprint. It’s unique to every individual. And the blood on the jacket matched the blood in the car.
But the lab wouldn’t test the animal hairs. “We only do humans,” the scientists said. Frustrated, Savoie called lab after lab. They all refused. Finally, he contacted Dr. Stephen J. O’Brien. Dr. O’Brien ran a laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, in Frederick, Maryland. He was studying house cats in hopes of finding treatments for human diseases. “You’re my last hope,” Savoie pleaded.
Dr. O’Brien asked Savoie for a blood sample from Snowball. That would give him two kinds of fur-ensic, er, forensic evidence—blood and hairs. Then he told Savoie to follow FBI guidelines and pack the evidence in separate canisters, hop a plane, and hand-deliver them.
Dr. O’Brien’s team compared the DNA in Snowball’s hair to the DNA in his blood. Bingo! It was an almost purr-fect match! But Prince Edward Island is small and isolated. What if many island cats were related, with similar DNA?
Savoie went cat-catching again and collected blood samples from a bunch of neighborhood fur balls. To Dr. O’Brien’s relief, their DNA profiles were all different. Statistically, the chance of another cat having DNA similar to Snowball’s was one in forty-five million!
Meanwhile, a fisherman stumbled upon Shirley’s body.
Roger Beamish was arrested. Thanks to Dr. O’Brien’s testimony, he was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 18 years in prison. This marked the first time animal DNA was used to convict a criminal. Score one for Dr. O’Brien, Constable Savoie, and Deputy Snowball!
With veterinarian expert Dr. Gary Weitzman as guide, Aline Alexander Newman helps kids understand what cats are trying to communicate by their body language and behavior. So if you've ever wondered what Fluffy means when she's purring or moving her tail emphatically from left to right--How to Speak Cat: A Guide to Decoding Cat Language is for you! It's full of insights, expert advice, and real-life cat scenarios, and showcases more than 30 poses, so you'll soon learn what each meow and flick of the tail means!
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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