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Reykjavík Catwalk: A Brief History Of Cats In Iceland

Reykjavík Catwalk: A Brief History Of Cats In Iceland

Nanna Árnadóttir
Photos by
IcelandicKnitsbyAnna on Etsy
Ben Van Domelen

Published February 7, 2018

You see these cats on these streets? Of course you do. Reykjavik has all the cats. There are so many questions to ask about these fluffy little loaves roaming 101, begging for pats and fish treats. Why do we love these assholes? Where do they come from? What are they doing here?

First cat from 870

Menja von Schmalensee, a biologist and ecologist at the West Iceland Centre for Natural History, knows more. “Cats were most likely imported to Iceland by the early settlers, between the years 870 and 930,” she says. “Cats were already very popular in the Nordic countries at that time due to their efficiency in controlling mice and rats, and were also valued for their fur.”

In fact, cat furs were once a legally approved currency in Iceland, worth more than Arctic fox furs.

More than 20,000

A committee on the protection of animals in Iceland estimates that there are currently more than 20,000 cats in Iceland, and more than 20,000 dogs too, and yet it seems like there are more felines faffing about on the streets. This might be because dogs are more often found in the countryside. And why might that be? Paperwork.

“In Iceland, you have to apply for permission to keep a dog in many municipalities,” said Menja. “This is a process where someone might get a rejection, but it’s more a formality—an attempt to register the number of dogs in the [city] and their whereabouts. Dog owners also have to pay a yearly fee for this permit, but you don’t have to pay a fee for your cat.”


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