There are dog races. Car races. Horse races. And, in Dorset, England… Cat races.
Okay, not really. But there were cat races, more than 80 years ago.
Okay, not really. But there was a report of cat racing, and some faked photographs, and the world newspapers fell for the hoax.
In 1936, some people in the Portesham area of Dorset came up with an idea to promote their town. The result was a widely-dispersed report of the Dorset Cat Races. The course was supposedly 220 yards long, with four lanes. An electric mouse was to be used to spur the cats to chase, in the style of greyhound racing and an electric rabbit. Four lanes were provided, with each cat given a lane.
Anyone familiar with cats should have been suspicious. Cats don’t run in lanes and they don’t run on command; they either run directly toward their prey or they don’t run, as their fancy strikes them. They’re also as likely to attack a nearby cat as they are a prey creature.
Because they’re cats.
It didn’t stop the story from being presented as truth in newspapers throughout the United States and Australia. Using those articles as their sourcing, some trivia and animal oddity books included it as an amusing anecdote. The story continued to have legs for decades.
Suspicious people were finally proven right in 1984, when the son of one of the original hoaxers had a book published about their home.
”The [national] newspapers of earlier times indulged in ‘silly seasons’ when there was a lack of news. And the reader certainly couldn’t rely entirely on the old adage that ‘a photograph doesn’t lie’. Photographers with an eye for a story often contrived pictures -and in a news-less week in 1936, my father’s colleagues filed a story saying that cat-racing was taking place, with an electric mouse, in the village of Portesham. The friendly landlord of the local pub agreed to admitting that it had happened, should he be challenged. Unfortunately, the Daily Express thought it a good enough yarn to warrant sending a photographer, so several stray cats were quickly organised and lined up at the inn, with kitchen scale, as if they were being weighed in. When published, the picture caused a minor uproar in the village. This is mentioned because Portesham is a quiet, dour village.”The Dorset Village Book
At least some kitties got their picture in the papers.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite cat video or cat meme?