Hamlet VIII might be the luckiest cat in the world. This sweet-natured, people loving orange rescue kitty is a true rags-to-riches story. Hamlet VIII was born to a feral cat colony on Long Island. The Bidawee cat rescue picked him up, and he ended up living in an animal shelter along with all the other homeless kitties, but that wasn’t the end of his story. The Algonquin Hotel keeps an ear out for a cat who is the right match for their particular needs. They happened to be looking for an orange tabby, so the folks at the shelter gave the hotel a call. They arranged an introduction for the young kitty to meet the Chief Cat Officer of The Algonquin Hotel (a real title) Alice de Almeida. She must have seen something special in this lovely and very people friendly tomcat. Perhaps it’s the calm look he gives or the missing piece of his right ear. This is from practice among the rescue agencies to indicate that a wild kitty has been a part of the trap, neuter, and release program. Whatever the case, she chose him out of all the cats in the New York area. He’s now living the high life as the resident mascot of the Algonquin Hotel.
Cat In Residence
This isn’t some new fad for the classy old hotel, they’ve had a rescued street cat in residence since the 1920s. It’s a long-standing tradition that began with a fuzzy little guy named Billy who wandered in off the street looking for a meal and maybe somewhere warm to sleep for the night. The hotel staff was so charmed by that fuzzy little face that the manager took him in, and Billy got a name and a forever home at this unique and beautiful hotel. Eventually, Billy lived out his long and happy years and passed away. Shortly thereafter, (two days later, to be exact), a homeless orange tabby came to call at the Algonquin doors. They named him Rusty and took him in to replace the beloved and very pampered Billy.
The Algonquin has been home to many artists, writers, and other visitors over the years. During the early part of the 1930’s the actor John Barrymore was one of the famed residents. He was best known for his starring role in Hamlet. Clearly, the staff was honored to have such a famous personage in residence, and they must have been very fond of John. When he suggested that the cat required a far more dignified name, they loved the idea. In order to honor the actor, and also because he suggested it, Rusty was renamed. Thus the first Hamlet joined the staff of the Algonquin.
The Many Cats of the Algonquin
Billy may have been the first, but there have been so many furry rescue kitties over the years. Since the time of Billy, the hotel has rarely been without a cat for more than a few days. Since that time, all the cats of the Algonquin have shared two names. The males are always named Hamlet in honor of Hamlet the first while all the female cats have been Matildas. Passing on the tradition of their predecessors, along with sharing their sweet and personable natures, is just one of the duties of the Algonquin Cat.
Famous Fuzzy Face
One of the cats who lived at the Algonquin was more famous than any other. Though arguably the current Hamlet VIII has enjoyed as much notice as she, we’re still giving one particular Matilda (the third) the “Most Famous Algonquin” title. She was a lovely ragdoll kitty who won the esteemed 2006 Cat of the Year title at the Westchester (New York) Cat Show. This pretty kitty had a personal chaise in the lounge where she graced guests with her purr-fect presence for many happy years. Matilda’s life wasn’t always perfect. Briefly, during 2011, the city health department asked them to confine her on a leash or keep her on the top floor. Of course, being a pampered penthouse kitty isn’t all that bad, but it certainly restricted her freedom. The hotel resolved the issue by installing an electric pet fence to keep her away from the food serving areas of the hotel, and she was otherwise allowed free reign again. She retired, leaving Hamlet the Eighth to take over the principal residence. Matilda passed away in 2017 after a lovely long life (eleven years) as the Queen Kitty of the Algonquin.
Because of the felines who live there, the Algonquin has had another longtime tradition. They hold a feline fashion show every year since the 1930s. Once a year in August, rescue kitties get to share the Algonquin Cat’s good life for a day and hopefully find their own posh new homes. The fashion show is just part of the fun. Guests get cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and a gift bag for participation. They have a silent auction and other fun events for people looking for new fuzzy friends.
Another of the unique and fun facts about being The Algonquin Cat is all the fans. Like other celebrities, Hamlet and his eleven predecessors have gotten fan mail from their admirers. The Chief Cat Officer’s duties have always included handling the hordes of admirers as well as the happiness of the pampered kitty. Part of her responsibilities include responding to the emails for Hamlet and Matilda before him. Hamlet even has his own Facebook page. One of the perks of being famous and having no opposable thumbs is not having to write out your own responses to the fans. It’s alright since he shows his appreciation in other ways.
Housecats have always had ‘the life.’ Sometime around when the pyramids were new, an ingenious feline somewhere figured out the trick to training good humans. The tradition has continued for many generations. The Algonquin Cat is one great example of how centuries of work have paid off. New York may not have a palace or a pyramid, but for one fortunate cat who came from humble roots, a hotel with two indoor treehouses is just as good. Maybe even better.