Cats on board ships used to be issued passports.
This summer, social media users have been circulating an old black and white photo that appears to show a cat’s official passport. It lists the name “Herman the Cat,” and “Expert Mouser” as his occupation. Captions and text often accompanying the photos show some variation of claims that “sea cats” needed passports around the turn of the 20th Century.
While cats have well-documented records of serving aboard boats to catch mice, cats did not require passports. Getty Images recorded the 1943 occurrence of Herman the Cat receiving his documentation, complete with footage of his little paw being touched on an ink pad and placed on his paperwork.
The footage has accompanying captions which illuminate the story: Herman the cat… passes through Coast Guard gate at Baltimore… close-up of Herman’s Coast Guard ID.”
The New York Times also ran a story about Herman’s passport. On January 15th, 1943, the paper featured Herman’s photo with the caption, “Port precautions being what they are, even the cat must have his identification card.” Well into World War II, the paper discussed Russian troop movements, German defenses, and American efforts against the Japanese in Guadalcanal.
All instances of the photo show the documentation, which reads at the top, “Identification Only — Not A Pass.”
Pets often require various kinds of documentation, including health clearances from a licensed veterinarian to travel abroad. But they do not require passports, and there is no evidence they required passports at the beginning of the 20th Century. The European Union has created the PET travel system, which issues pet passports and allows them to travel with the owner through certain European countries. The system is not utilized worldwide, however, and most countries do not require a passport to travel, only documentation clearing the animal of illness.