Most of the animals pictured cannot breed together, contrary to popular opinion. (Photo: David de Koninck, via Wikimedia Commons)

In December of 1970, a man named Roy Tutt told the world that he had accomplished what science deemed impossible: he had bred a dog and cat.

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The nature-defying paramours were a black cat named Patch and Scottish terrier called Bones, according to a Reuters article. After placing an ad in a local paper advertising “Half cat-half dog. Offers invited.” News spread and captured the attention of the press; reporters and photographers were dispatched to his home in an English village.

Tutt informed Reuters that the animals had dog’s heads and cat’s whiskers, fur and legs. “I didn’t think much about it at first,” he said, improbably. “But now I feel slightly overwhelmed by the whole thing.”

Tutt’s story ricocheted across the Atlantic, where newspapers across the United States reported and republished versions of it. According to one account, he made television appearances and talked to international reporters, who flocked to his home. News organizations labeled them dog-cats, dats, cogs, kuppies, dittens, puppy-cat and pussy pooch.

Tutt, who was 50 at the time, and whose profession was reported as both a pet shop owner and bookmaker, said he had been trying to mate the animals for ten years and that he fed them a mixture of cat and dog food.

“They are docile and good-tempered and should make good pets,” he was quoted as saying. “They will eat meat or fish and they make a noise between a yap and a meow.”

Pictures of the astounding offspring also accompany the stories: they are tiny, adorable, black and fluffy with floppy, triangular ears, and round trusting eyes

They are also obviously dogs.

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It’s always too good to be true: this is a hybrid story from 1937. (Photo: Messy Beast)

Scams and hoaxes involving animals are all-too frequent and often dip into the fantastic, yet we buy into them, whether they’re stories of impossible births, impossible hybrids or tales of gullible would-be pet owners being duped into raising an un-cuddly or dangerous species. It’s as if the world of nature itself weren’t captivating enough.

Tutt wasn’t even the first to announce that particular brand of interspecies mingling. In 1937 the story of a Miami alley cat giving birth to dogs also captivated readers throughout the United States. Laura Bedford, who went by the nickname “Mom” and ran a barbecue stand, swore that her Maltese cat had produced three cats and two dogs. According to a United Press article, a veterinarian declared that “if” the incident was a hoax, that “somebody certainly went to a lot of trouble to match them up.” A day later, the same news service reported that three witnesses had come forward to discredit the “buxom” Bedford. Bedford stuck to her story.

A hybrid (very simply put) is an offspring produced from crossbreeding. And they do exist—mules, for instance, are the result of a horse and donkey mating. But creating hybrids of animals that are very genetically distinct from each other – such as a dog and a cat – are impossible, as is one species giving birth to an entirely different one. It does not stop people from hoping.

In 1977, the story of a “cabbit” captivated the nation. A New Mexico rancher named Val Chapman claimed to be in the possession of a cat-rabbit mix that meowed like a cat, had hind legs like a rabbit, ate both cat food and carrots and excreted rabbit-like poop, according to a story in the Farmington Daily Times. Chapman named the creature Ricky Raccit and took it to California where the cabbit appeared on The Dinah Shore Show and Johnny Carson. In the midst of the media blitz, several experts tried to put the genetic impossibility in context. A curator at the Los Angeles Zoo told United Press International: “Let’s put it this way, can you mate a butterfly and a fish?” There have been stories of moose-horse matings (a “hoose”), pig-sheep hybrids, sheep-dog hybrids, and jackalopes. During the 1700s, the world was even briefly enthralled by a woman who made the gruesome claim that she had delivered a collection of animal parts.

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The desire to see cats and dogs, living together, is an old one. (Photo: Unknown Master, Italian (active mid-17th century) via Wikimedia Commons)

Stories of scientifically impossible couplings and births are likely as old as the history of naming animals, according to Sarah Hartwell, an engineer with a keen interest in genetics, history and cats. On her website, Messybeast, she has exhaustively chronicled a zoo of supposed hybrids, from the possible to the impossible, with an emphasis on fantastic cats. She has researched stories of cabbits, squittens, catacoons, guinea cats and more.

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“The Latin name for a giraffe is camelopardalis, hinting at a strange cross between two familiar creatures–a camel and a leopard,” Hartwell wrote in an email to Atlas Obscura.

The oldest documented case of impossible feline birth that Hartwell has encountered dates back to 1686 when a German physician, Gabriel Clauder, published an article stating that a cat had conceived a squirrel. (Hartwell surmises it is likely the cat simply adopted a baby squirrel.)

Before the study of genetics existed, it’s possible that such stories were the result of people trying to make sense of their world and the strange animals that sometimes passed through it. Modern perpetrators may be hoping for a bit of fame and money. And there are those who simply refuse to accept the facts, says Hartwell, who gets emails from “people who just don’t like rational explanations.