ST. PETERSBURG, September 9. /TASS/. Four cats living in St. Petersburg’s famous Hermitage Museum have been taken to a veterinary clinic after a fire in the building’s basement, Anna Kondratyeva, the museum’s veterinarian, told TASS on Friday.
"Smoke was very thick and four cats that were staying in the premises at the moment got intoxicated with carbon oxide," she said. "Now they are undergoing oxygen therapy at a veterinary clinic. Their lives are out of danger."
She said the animals had been in such a serious condition that fire fighters thought them to be dead. One of the cats, Dusya, is still in serious condition but veterinarians say she will survive.
The fire broke out in the Hermitage’s basement at about noon. It consumed an area of three square meters and two meters of pipe insulation. A total of 120 people were evacuated from the premises. The fire was put out promptly. No one was hurt. Museum attendants opened windows to air out the premises. The museum continued to work routinely.
The cats have been living in the Hermitage, originally a tsar’s palace, since the 18th century after Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, the founder of the city, issued an order to bring mice-catching cats from the city of Kazan, famous for its rat hunters at that time.
Now, from 50 to 70 rat-catching cats roam the Hermitage’s basement and they also appear on the neighboring embankment and square. Their population is regulated to avoid territorial disputes. In the recent years, the cats of the Hermitage have become a popular tourist brand in the city.
The city has even established a special holiday - the Day of the Hermitage Cat. Apart from that, it offers a tourist trail, Cats of St. Petersburg. In 2015, the British press put the Hermitage Museum cats on the list of the world’s most unusual tourist attractions. One of the Hermitage cats, white-furred Achilles, was an official oracle of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, and will go on predicting the outcomes of FIFA World Cup matches in 2018.