From Iceland — On why there are so many cats in downtown Reykjavík

On why there are so many cats in downtown Reykjavík

Published July 3, 2009

On why there are so many cats in downtown Reykjavík

Haruki Murakami attended The Reykjavík International Literary Festival. The following year, he published an article about his visit in the local newspaper Morgunblaðið. He writes about puffins, how few people make up the Icelandic population, the northern lights, the vastness of the country; i.e. all the usual things. But Murakami, being a writer, also observes the little things. Walking around Reykjavík’s city centre he cannot help but notice the staggering number of cats around. He also remarks on how well mannered they seem, coming when called and not being in the least afraid of strangers. And he is right, of course. 101 Reykjavík is crawling with cats. So we asked: why?
Cats vs. dogs
Everyone has heard of dog people and cat people. Supposedly, there is a debate. Supposedly, you need to pick a side and then stick to it. But what exactly are the traits of a dog person or a cat person? If you hear someone talk about how sneaky, self-centred and unreliable cats are, then that is probably a dog person (although a situation where one would need to rely upon a cat is far fetched). And if you hear another complaining about how dependent and subservient dogs are, that is most likely a cat person speaking. But is there a material difference between dog and cat persons? Well, dog persons, having to walk the dog frequently, are probably fonder of the outdoors than cat persons. And haven’t you heard the saying that getting a puppy is the closest thing to having a baby? And cats are more independent, and require less attention. Cats also require a lot less space than big dogs. Dogs are also probably more expensive to keep. Plus, if you have a dog you probably want to take it places (with it being so dependent and all) and as they are not allowed on buses, you rather need to have a car.
So, to sum it up: a cat person probably does not want to be very bound by his/her pet, does not like the outdoors too much, does not have a lot of money, probably doesn’t have a car and lives in a small apartment. Those familiar with the residents of 101 Reykjavík might recognise one or two of those traits.
The law-abiding citizens of the centre
Maybe the people of 101 are simply more law abiding than the rest, as keeping dogs is in fact illegal in the city of Reykjavík. Instead of applying for dog permits, people apply for exemption from the law. The good city of Reykjavík has just under 200.000 citizens, and according to Örn Sigurðsson, the head of the city’s Environmental and Transportation division, there are currently 1.964 exempt dogs living in Reykjavík, plus a few permits pending. The statistics on dogs per neighbourhood are sadly unavailable at present time, but delving into those numbers would surely be an interesting study.
Cats are also supposed to be registered and given a 1984-style microchip under the skin, but unfortunately no record is kept of the number of registrations. Örn remarked that although there are indeed lots of cats in the downtown area, very few of them are strays. “Stray cats tend to live in the Elliðarádalur valley or the cemeteries. It’s easier for them to find something to eat there.” So most of the cats Murakami saw were not stray cats, as he, having the keen eye of the writer, did not fail to notice. He writes: “All of them have collars around their neck where their names are written. There is no doubt as to where they live”.
When asked for his thoughts on why there were so many cats in the city centre, Örn answered: “I guess people in the centre just like cats more than dogs”.  
It’s as simple as that.

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