A Cat Named ‘Dirt’ Is Making Tourists Flock To One Of The Loneliest Places In America

If the internet has taught us one thing, it’s this: adorable animals are everywhere. Whether they’re being dressed in costumes, acting silly, or just being their lovable selves, cute animals are in no short supply, and a quick Google search will turn up thousands of them. But while getting our fill of these animals online is easy enough, how far would you go to see one in real life?

Believe it or not, there’s one animal out there so adorable that fans from all over the world are hopping flights just to give him a belly rub. Located in one of the loneliest places in America, this unusual pet has people falling in love at first sight — and after taking one look at him, you definitely will too!

When people think of Nevada, they often think of one thing: Las Vegas. The bright lights and allure of Sin City are known far and wide, yet the great state of Nevada has plenty more to offer than cocktails and slot machines.

Just north of Vegas lies the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, a railyard dedicated to the preservation of the state’s rich mining and locomotive history. Set along a section of Route 50 known as the “loneliest road in America,” the museum became a major point of interest, though not for reasons you might think.

Nevada Northern Railway Museum

While plenty of train enthusiasts and history buffs visit the museum for the mid-century locomotives and machinery on display, the majority of visitors come for something else entirely — a cat.

Blackbaud Knowhow

Meet Dirt, the resident railway cat and official mascot of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. An 11-year-old stray, the Ely train yard is the only home this adorable feline has ever known.

In fact, Dirt was actually born in the depot, his mother having wandered in and delivered her litter beneath one of the trains. But when she and her babies eventually made their way from the railyard, one frightened kitten was left behind.

The yard workers attempted to coax the young orange-white cat from his hiding place, but no matter what they tried, the kitten just wouldn’t budge. They knew they couldn’t just leave him there to wither away, however, so the workers left a can of tuna for him every night before closing up shop.

Eventually, the kitten began warming up to the men, and before they knew it, he was a regular member of their crew. The little cat’s fur began to turn a dusty grey as he rolled around on the dirt floor and climbed over the trains, and so the workers called him “Dirt.”

“At a young age, Dirt learned not to lick himself clean, like normal cats,” said Eric Mencis, the museum’s social media director. “Being part stray, he likes to stay oily and dirty because it helps keep him tough looking and also in a sense keeps him clean because things don’t stick to his fur and bugs don’t go near him.”

Along with his dashingly dirty good looks, the workers also felt that Dirt’s personality was one of the reason’s why he fit in so well at the depot. To Mencis, it was almost like he was a rail worker stuck in a cat’s body.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

 “Dirt is pretty much one of those old-time railroaders living now as a cat,” he said. “Dirt walks around the shop like he’s the boss, making sure everything is working right… He walks with a sense of pride around his engine house like these are his trains, and he is proud of the men to keep them going.”

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

Yet Dirt wasn’t always the well-known and beloved mascot that he is today. For a time, only those who worked and frequented the train yard and museum knew about him, and even then, he was just plain old Dirt.

Travel Nevada

But with the addition of Mencis and his social media efforts, word of the adorably filthy feline began spreading like wildfire. Surprisingly, however, Mencis initially made no conscious effort to make Dirt a star: instead, it happened totally by accident.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“I first posted Dirt about 2 years ago, and he got some attention from people who have already met him,” recalled Mencis. “Then one day I posted Dirt on a quiet day and said Dirt wants to travel the world, share him and tell us where you are from. It took off and his fans started building.”

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

From there, it was only a matter of time before cat lovers the world over began flocking to the museum for a chance to catch Dirt in action. However, according to Mencis, getting the dirty little furball to make an appearance is no easy task.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

A curious little guy, Dirt is often attracted to the sound of people talking, so the museum encourages guests to make plenty of noise if they’re looking to see him. Visitors are also told to let Dirt approach first, as he’s apt to feel you out before curling up against you.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“[He’s an] old tough railroader on the outside but still a sweetheart on the inside,” Mencis remarked. “Our guided tours can last about an hour long [and] it is common for Dirt to follow the entire group for the tour.”

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

Dirt’s popularity has grown so much over the years that the museum started offering Dirt-themed souvenirs. With t-shirts, keychains, and even his own brand of coffee available for fans to purchase, it’s almost like taking a little piece of Dirt home with you.

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

But for Mencis, it’s not just about getting people to visit the museum or order a few cat-shaped refrigerator magnets online: he’s just glad that Dirt is finally getting all the love and affection he can handle. And with a face like that, he definitely deserves it!

Nevada Northern Railway / Facebook

“I do love when Dirt gets shared other places without the museum’s name attached,” said Mencis. “The biggest thrill of Dirt’s fame is just knowing how much joy he brings to people around the world.”

Steve Crise

Seeing the kind of attention that Dirt gets so regularly, the life of a museum cat sure seems like an enviable one. Yet for one beloved pet at a small Russian gallery, his worldwide celebrity nearly cost him his life.

Master & Margarita

For the most part, the guests that visit Moscow’s Mikhail Bulgakov House Museum want to see a showcase of literature — a memorial to the influential author of the Soviet Union. Others visit the museum for another reason.

Travel Notes

It’s not that the 200 or so daily visitors don’t want to see items including postcards, books, and photos that belonged to the once-banned, Kiev-born author. There’s just another attraction that steals their eyes — and hearts.

A huge, 13-year-old, fluffy black cat named Begemot — Russian for Behemoth — wanders the museum. And somehow, in a typical, nonchalant cat fashion, he weaved himself into the very fabric of the museum. His conquest started in 2005.

Saba Ayres / Los Angeles Times

It was then that a Russian couple — and the original owners of Begemot — discovered terrible news: their newborn baby was allergic to the then-kitten. The two, regrettably, couldn’t coexist.

Sent packing with nothing but the fur on his back, the then-unnamed cat moved into the Mikhail Bulgakov House, where the museum director promptly gave him a tough job.

Bulgakov House / Facebook

The job was to lay around. Be cute. Act as the living embodiment of a character from Bulgakov’s, right, famous 1930’s magical-realism novel, The Master and Margarita. That was no easy task.

The character in The Master — a black cat named Begemot, depicted below — walked on two feet, played chess with the best of ’em, slammed vodka like a seasoned sailor, and tended to mouth off. Back in the museum, Begemot didn’t exactly excel at the role.

Instead of drinking and cursing, Begemot lays in the sunshine and goes for regular walks at about 11 a.m. Despite not meeting his job description, the museum rewards him handsomely.

Free room and board await him every night, a “chef” specially prepares his meals, and personal veterinarians and stylists respond to his beck and meow. And he repays the museum in a big way.

Begemot attracts visitors who want to pet him, pose with him, and purchase the Begemot-themed merchandise that pepper every shelf, cabinet, and wall. In just a few years, the museum became about the cat as much as it was about Bulgakov.

Sabra Ayres / Los Angeles times

But notoriety brought danger. On August 1, 2018, the museum received a rare message on its website: “Why have you let your cat out?” it read. The museum director, Nikolai Golubev, panicked.

Nikolai took the message as “a veiled threat.” Still, no museum employee thought twice when Begemot walked lazily past the front desk and outside at about 11 a.m. And two hours later, he never showed back up. Uh oh.

Then, a woman working in a nearby office visited the museum and confirmed their worst fears: a strange woman picked up the cat while he was napping and took off down the road — towards the crowded Mayakovsky metro station. Was she fleeing?

Museum employees sounded the alarm. Rushing to Facebook, they sent out a message: “An employee of Bulgakov’s House has been abducted!” Because of the cat’s enormous fan base, the news spread like wildfire.

Within minutes, social media users shared the museum’s declaration nearly 3,000 times. Moscow-based newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets blared the headline: “The most famous cat of Moscow…was kidnapped right in the center of the capital.”

Museum employees, social media users, and museum visitors wondered if the cat had been smuggled onto a train out of town. Had the heart and soul of the museum truly been snatched while taking a sunny snooze? Had Begemot been catnapped?

Relief came five hours later. Local police called the museum and informed employees that the catnapper left the “harsh-tempered” grump on the steps of the Mossovet State Academic Theater just up the road. He wasn’t exactly dancing with glee at his rescue.

Still, police officer Vyacheslav Bulavin scooped up the cat, certifying that, on the surface, he looked unharmed. Finally, Moscow released its collective breath when a photo of the officer with Begemot turned up online. But questions remained.

Who had taken the poor cat? Why? And where had the catnapper fled to? Russian authorities and leaders (okay, not really) had no answers. Begemot demanded attention, and he got it — good and bad! So how’d the cat fair from this whole debacle?

Just 24-hours later, Begemot’s personal veterinarian stopped by the museum, where guests and employees no doubt celebrated his return, to give the cat a look over. After all, catnapping can take a tole on a grouchy cat. The expert’s conclusion?

Begemot “is healthy and feels great,” the museum said, noting, however, that he was a bit “discontent.” Begemot was back to his old self. Talk about a tough-minded cat. And so…

With the ordeal behind him, Begemot went back to work, snoozing in the afternoon and sticking his belly up when he very clearly did not want it rubbed. In other words? He gave the people who came to see him exactly what they wanted—and they gave him attention!

Mikhail Bulgakov House Museum / Facebook

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