As many of you know, I was born and raised in England. But even before coming to America, I was simply fascinated with American history. And so it was with great interest that I learned the back story of this simple illustration of a cat, having seen it appear rather mysteriously on Facebook recently.
It turns out the figure can be traced back to the late 1800s or early 1900s, when it was part of the “hobo code.” This was a collection of simple visual signs, typically drawn with chalk or coal on fence posts and barns as a way for migratory laborers to communicate with one another.
And the cat? This little character told anybody who knew the code that “a kind lady lives here.” Perhaps the idea was that anybody with the capacity and compelling desire to come to the aid of a stray cat would be sympathetic to human struggles as well.
In any case, this explains the figure’s current revival as a mascot of sorts for legislation initiated by Best Friends in the Maryland General Assembly. Our bills (House Bill 1473 and Senate Bill 1010) protect good Samaritans who care for community cats, embodying the sort of humble kindness represented in the hobo code’s cat sign.
The measures are elegant in their simplicity, but also comprehensive in how they ensure the basic civil rights of anybody who cares for unowned, free-roaming cats. These generous souls provide an invaluable community service by taking on the responsibilities of feeding, sterilization and vaccination, as well as ongoing care of these cats.
Too often, however, these perfectly lawful activities are misconstrued or misrepresented, resulting in the threat of fines or legal action.
In addition to ensuring that these activities are protected, our good Samaritan bills emphasize that the mere presence of a cat does not constitute a “nuisance,” and that returning a cat in an improved state of health to his or her “outdoor home” does not violate the law. (Nor does this kind deed warrant criminal sanctions!) What’s more, this legislation doesn’t infringe on any common law rights, and it won’t cost taxpayers a dime.
In other words, our good Samaritan bills are simple, ensure the basic civil rights of community cats caregivers, and embody the spirit of generosity and kindness that’s been a core value at Best Friends for 30 years now.
If you are a Maryland resident, please take a moment to let your legislators know that you support these measures. Click here.
Best Friends Animal Society