It’s not just the two-legged creatures that work the waterfront and journey across the oceans, as a mini-exhibit at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath attests. “Fur, Feathers, & Hooves,” tells the story of the roles animals have played in the maritime industries.
Over the centuries, animals have served as companions and many had real jobs to do. Cats kept mice and rat populations down on ships and in shipyards; watch dogs in shipyards deterred ne’er-do-wells; oxen hauled equipment and timber; and horses helped patrol the shore and transport equipment to vessels.
The marine industry does not rely on animals as much today as it did 100 or so years ago, but animals still have their place on ships and the waterfront.
Onboard the schooner Mary Day, which sails out of Camden harbor, captains Jen Martin and Barry King count as part of their sailing crew Colby, a yellow labrador puppy and Gussie, a seasoned sailing cat who still gets seasick the first day on board (“I think it’s more from the car ride to the boat than the boat itself,” Martin says).
Colby is the onboard entertainment, says Martin. She greets people when they board the schooner and starts everyone’s day off on the right foot. “There’s this wagging, happy dog coming down the deck. Everybody’s just kind of sitting there drinking coffee and there’s this great energy coming toward you,” Martin says.
The crew has also trained Colby to do some tricks. A favorite is getting her to find the Staples “Easy” button.
Gussie is a “watch cat”—not as in “guard cat” but as in “I’m keeping my eye on you.” “When the anchor goes down (in the evening) that’s the signal that the cat comes up,” says Martin. “She just wanders around on deck.” As she checks things out, she pays particular attention to certain areas. “All of our cabins have screened skylights,” explains Martin. “She likes to sit on those and look down into the cabins.”
The Mary Day has had a tradition of having tailless cats. Gussie is the third cat in that line, and the second cat Martin and King have had onboard since they became the third owners of the schooner.
“People like to see the animals,” Martin says. “They just bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Gussie and Colby have fairly easy jobs as jobs go, but other animals working the waterfront have more intense roles. Deborah Palman’s German shepherds, Alex and Quinn, are rescue dogs. Palman is one of the founders of Maine Search and Rescue Dogs (MESARD). She’s served as the training director for MESARD for more than two decades. Alex and Quinn are certified in tracking and training, cadaver detection, and water search, among other certifications.
Most of the work Palman and her dogs have done has not been ocean-based, she says, because the saltwater environment is so huge. “We have done some saltwater searches but not with a lot of success,” she says. “Not necessarily because the dogs are wrong, we just never possibly get in the right place. If you have a fairly confined area, (searching is) not hard to do. If it’s a big, big place with lots of currents and movement, it can become quite hard.”
Over the years, Palman and her dogs have searched for people who have jumped off bridges into rivers, islanders who have gone missing and fishermen who have been lost on the water.
“Anytime the dog can shorten the search is good,” she says of the importance dogs play in searching for people. “It’s a tremendous help to the friends and family to know that people care enough to look. Any time we can get an indication and shorten the dive time for the divers or shorten the recovery time, that’s a big help.”
“Fur, Feathers, & Hooves” will be on display through Columbus Day. Visit www.bathmaine.com for information.