Myth Monday: Why Dogs Chase Cats and Cats Chase Mice (Ukrainian Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Cats_17_2835956a by Vzatikyan wikimedia commons

Okay, the internet’s cooperating enough again that I can star posting blogs for one of my favorite themed blog months–and August is cat month!!

Many years ago in a great city in the Ukraine, cats, dogs and mice were all great friends. However, the dogs all ran wild through the city, barking at all hours of the day and night, helping themselves to whatever they could reach on the dinner table, spooking the horses, tracking their muddy paws everywhere, chewing on shoes, and leaving unpleasant messes right where everyone would walk. It wasn’t long before the human citizens of the city became frustrated with the frolicking dogs and decided that the canines must be brought under control. Several men were elected to become dog catchers, and every day they would set out and capture whatever dog they found, locking them away in a large pen with no bones to chew on.

This of course was very upsetting to the dogs; they used to run free all the time, and the thought of being penned and leashed was not an attractive one. After discussing this amongst themselves, the dogs sent a delegate of their own to approach the king and plead their case. This ambassador requested an audience with the king and, because the king adored dogs, he was more than happy to let the creature approach and speak.

“Dearest, wisest king,” said the dog ambassador, who, like most dogs, was exceptionally good at showing devotion to people. “I come to you humbly, seeking to make peace with you and your human subjects. We dogs used to roam freely and cause no one harm, but now a dog catcher has been established to chase us down and lock us away like criminals. This causes us great grief, as we have tried to serve the humans by guarding them, barking when a stranger or wolf approaches, keeping our owners warm at night by sleeping in their beds, and showing delight when they return. I ask you, dear king, is this any way to repay our love?”

The king nodded solemnly. “I hear your plight, and I agree with you. Dogs have done much to serve humans, and to round them up like vermin is indeed cruel. I will issue a license to you and your kind, declaring you free from arrest. Show this order to the dog catcher, and he will not take you away. But remember to keep the document safe—I can issue only one, and you must be able to show it when needed.”

The king then immediately ordered his scribes to create the document, which was rolled up, sealed and given to the dog ambassador. His tail wagging wildly, the dog rushed back to show all of his canine compatriots as they waited in the city square. There was such gleeful barking that it soon drew the attention of the city’s cats, bringing them streaming down from the rooftops to join in with the celebration.

“Congratulations, dogs,” said one cat, a mighty tom with a fluffy gray and white coat. “This is a wonderful victory for you.”

“It is indeed,” said the ambassador dog. “As long as we have this decree, the dog catcher cannot take us.”

“Where will you keep it?”

The dog’s wagging tail faltered a beat. “Keep it …?”

“Yes.” The cat stared at the dog, arching an eyebrow as the dog stared blankly back.

The cat frowned. “You need a place to keep the license safe.”

The dog blinked. “I was just going to carry it around.”

Inwardly, the fluffy cat winced; while dogs were wonderful at adulation, they typically weren’t the smartest of creatures. “Well, all right, I suppose you could do that. But what if it gets torn up or wet? It won’t do any of you any good of it’s ruined.”

“Oh, I didn’t think about that.” The dog looked down at the rolled parchment by his paws. “I don’t know where I could put it.”

The cat’s green eyes lit up. “Oh, I think I have just the place. I’ll keep it in the rafters of my home, where people can’t get at it. It’s dry, so it won’t get moldy. Whenever you need it, us cats can go and get it for you.”

All the city cats nodded in agreement and all the dogs barked their gratitude. The dog ambassador thought this was a wonderful idea, and he passed the rolled document to the cat. The cat clamped his sharp teeth down on the seal and swiftly carried it back to his house, tucking it away high in the rafters where it would be safe, in a notch just under the thatched roof.

With the decree safe, the dogs resumed their daily romps through the city. The humans were irritated, but hesitated to act, since a rumor had spread that the king had issued a decree to the dogs that they could not be rounded up and locked away. After a year of putting up with the dogs’ chaos, the humans finally lost their patience and summoned the dogcatchers.

The men went to work quickly, netting and roping all the dogs they found lounging in the sunshine or prancing down the street. The dogs yelped and whined, crying, “Stop! You can’t take us—we have the king’s permission to run free!”

“Oh really?” sneered one dogcatcher as he dragged the poor mongrels back to the pens. “Permission from the king, eh? Can you prove it?”

“Of course we can!” the dogs snarled. “Our friends the cats have the parchment. They’ll get it, and then you’ll see.”

“Fine. Bring me this mythical parchment. If it’s true, we’ll never bother you again.”

As luck would have it, the same tom who had secreted the document away witnessed the dogcatchers at work, and he rushed back to his house to find the document. Easily springing up to the rafters, the cat made his way to the corner of the roof where he had hidden the license.

As the cat approached the small notch in the wall, he jumped back in surprise as a portly brown mouse came racing out of the hole, disappearing up into the roof. His heart sinking, the cat rushed to the notch and stuck his paw inside, hooking his claw onto the parchment’s ribbon. Pulling it out, the cat gasped in horror when he saw the tattered shreds of the royal document … the mice had torn it completely apart.

Devastated, the cat collected what he could salvage and rushed back to the dogcatchers’ pens. As the smirking dogcatchers waited, and the whining dogs pressed their noses to the fence, the cat tried to piece the decree back together, but it was no use—the mice had destroyed too much of it.

The dogs were outraged. “How could you let this happen?” they howled from their pens. “You said you would keep it safe for us! You didn’t keep your word!”

No matter how much the cats tried to plead their innocence, the dogs didn’t believe them, calling them liars and traitors. From that day, cats and dogs were no longer friends. The resentful dogs chased the cats whenever they could, and the bitter cats in turn chased the mice, seeking revenge for their ruined friendship.

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