...In the late 18th century, Westerners in Korea found it very difficult to procure cats. John Sill, the American Minister to Korea in the mid-1890s, obtained two small kittens from an American missionary. The small grey kitten was called Griselda and the little black one was White Foot because her four feet were all white.
In a letter home, Sill's wife informed her family: "Cats are quite necessary members of a family here, for rats and mice are plentiful and bold, and traps do not amount to much after they have been used a few times."
Sill's successor, Horace N. Allen, "secured a foreign cat from one of our [U.S. Navy] ships" and, according to him, "established a fine breed of cats that soon rid our own house and the house of our friends from the plague of rats."
Allen was known for his gruffness but cats ― especially kittens and in the beginning ― seemed to have had a special place in his heart and he often described their exploits in his letters to his sons. In June 1901 he wrote:
"We brought with us a couple of the nicest little kittens you ever saw, but one of them came to grief yesterday by getting stuck to a lot of fly paper on my desk. The boys [Korean servants] washed her in kerosene and got it off, but it has made the kitten sick and she won't eat. She just sits on my lap all the time and looks languidly at my fingers working the type-writer. The kerosene won't come off well enough to let the poor thing lick herself. I feel very sorry for the poor kitten."
As the days passed, the kitten grew stronger and more rambunctious. Typing letters became somewhat trying as the kitten would swipe at the keys, causing several errors in the letters. Allen's wife, Fanny, declared him an "indulgent parent" that allowed the kitten to do whatever she wanted.
In the beginning, these foreign cats lived charmed lives. Living in the legations and homes of the missionaries, the cats were protected ― their only enemies were the dogs and magpies. According to Allen:
"[The magpies] seem to dislike cats as do the Koreans and … will attack a cat on sight. It used to be amusing to see a young and venturesome foreign cat try to stalk a magpie, to the evident delight of the latter who would surely lead the cat on until in good position away from the house, when the bird would turn and before the cat knew what had happened, fur would be flying and he himself would be dashing for safety under the house. One such encounter was usually enough to teach a cat caution."
But as the foreign cats' population increased, their popularity decreased. They soon found their foreign patrons were as dangerous, if not more so, than their Korean hosts. Horace Allen, no longer the "indulgent parent" and angered by the large number of abandoned cats that had taken refuge in the deserted house near the legation, put out meat poisoned with strychnine.
Even his pet cats ran afoul of Allen's temper. A large black one-eyed cat that had only months earlier been praised for its mousing ability soon fell into disfavor when she began knocking tiles off the roof in the middle of the night as she searched for nesting birds. Allen, dressed in his night cap and pajamas, indicated his displeasure by heaving a piece of brick at her but missed.
He was determined to get rid of her as he explained in a letter to his sons: "I have sent her to the country for her health today, as otherwise I should have to give her a dose of medicine as she has become a nuisance. Charlie [Allen's Chinese cook] won't hear to my killing a black cat lest I bring bad luck to the house."