Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taking a Cat on a Plane

Jubilee is a high-strung Siamese mix,
 but flying with her turned out to be fairly simple.
Flying With Jubilee
I worried about flying across the country with my high-strung Siamese cat, but the whole trip turned out to be quite uneventful. My friend Wanda drove me to the airport. She also happens to be my vet, and gave Jubilee a sedative just before we left. Jubilee meowed at half her normal volume during the two-hour drive to St. Louis, but by the time we got inside the airport, she was totally zonked. She slept on the plane all the way to Seattle, and began to arouse only after we left the airport.

Security at the airport presented a bit of a challenge. I was asked to take off the harness I had put on her to make sure I could restrain her when I had to take her out of the carrier. Duh. Of course they had to x-ray the harness too! Fortunately, my sedated cat lay motionless in my arms. Then I was told to put the cat back in the carrier, and the security woman wiped down my hands to test if I had anything on them, which also would be on the cat.

I had just read about a 50-something guy who stripped naked when security asked to pat him down. He fought an indecent exposure charge and won, when it was ruled that his action was supported under the First Amendment as free speech. Fine, it's free speech. But give security a break. If there are people in the world who will use children as bombs, then why not a cat? I could tell the kitty was actually a bright spot in the lady's day.

We left the cat at my daughter's house while we moved into our new place. My daughter has a black cat, Eloise, the sweetest cat in the world. When the cats met, Jubilee hissed, Eloise jumped back and ran out of the utility room, where her food and litter are. Jubilee took over Eloise's room for the duration of her visit, and poor Eloise had to eat on the porch.

Oh, yes. Siamese. You either have to love them or hate them.

Jubilee has settled in fairly quickly at her new home. She slept the first night on a couch which probably still smelled of her old home, then joined me on my bed the next night, as she always has before. I'm vigilant about knowing where she is when a door is opened, but she seems pretty content.

  • Work with your vet to try sedation medication in advance, to get the right kind and the right dose.
  • Make sure you have a carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you. Not all that say they do, really do! If you can spring for a little extra money, airlines sell carriers that are specially designed for that purpose.  
  • Let your cat sleep and play in the carrier some considerable time before the flight. Sprinkle catnip inside the carrier to make it appealing. The carrier will become a safe haven. 
  • The charge for carrying a cat varies with airlines, so shop around.
  • When you call the airline to reserve a space for kitty, ask about security issues, exactly what to do and what will happen, so you won't be caught off guard like I was.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Special for June, the wedding month, at Safe Habor: Tuxedo Cats

The special cat at Safe Harbor this June is the tuxedo cat, in honor of the bridal month. If you adopt a black and white cat, the fee will be $35 instead of $50. Declawed cats are $50, down from the regular $75.

"Tuxedo cat" actually refers to a low-to-medium grade white spotting on the face, paws, throat and chest of an otherwise black cat. But Safe Harbor won't be so particular. If you fall in love with a black and white cat of any pattern, this month it's in the special.

Black and white cats are also known as jellicle cats, after T.S. Eliot's "The Song of the Jellicle Cats" in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.  I found out the term "jellicle" came from Eliot's little niece, when she tried to say "dear little cat." So the great T.S. Eliot was a cat lover! I always assumed Eliot wrote the cat book for the money, or as a favor. He has been elevated in my esteem.

 Some cats are more white than black; these are called Van-pattern cats. There are three varieties:
·         Seychellois Neuvieme - white with colored tail and head splashes (classic Van Pattern)
·         Seychellois Huitieme - white with colored tail and head splashes plus additional splashes of color on the legs
·         Seychellois Septieme - white with splashes of color on the legs and body in addition to those on the head and the colored tail.
In between are the "moo cats,"  because the pattern reminds you of a Holstein cow. "Cap-and-saddle" cats have black on their head and another black area on the back, separated by white.  "Mask-and-mantle" have continuous black on their head and back.  If the markings are more random, the cat is a magpie."

Solid color bicolor cats occur because the white spotting gene masks the color on the fur it affects, along with a recessive allele of the agouti gene, which evens out the usual striped pattern of the colors of the coat. Nose and pad color may be pink, black pink and black, or pink rimmed with black.

Rescue me!
Black and white cats may be long or short haired, and are found in many pure-breeds as well as mixed breeds. Breeds with black and white colors include the Turkish Van, American shorthair, British Shorthair, Manx, Turkish Angora, and Bombay.

Famous tuxedo or black and white cats include Chelsea Clinton's cat Socks, who lived in the White House from 1993 to 2001, Felix the Cat from the Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the cartoon cat Sylvester. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cat Love

Caterwauling in Laos

I woke up at 4 a.m. in Luang Prabang to loud crying. At first I thought children were yelling; then I heard LaChanda, my daughter-in-law, calling to them. I realized the culprits were two male cats. One was the neighbor's blue-eyed white tom, and the other was a black cat who had been trying to muscle into Blue Eyes' territory.  Later that morning, I met Blue Eyes on the sidewalk in front of LaChanda's house. He limped to a place in the shade and flopped over on his side. His limp was not from the fight, but from arthritis. Blue Eyes is getting too old for the night life.  He would love to retire and be a house cat, but his testicle (he has only one; maybe he lost the other in a fight) won't let him.                                     
Why can't they neuter the poor guy? They just don’t do that in Laos. The only cats and dogs that are spayed and neutered belong to foreigners.

In America, a majority of pet owners think it is politically correct to  de-sex every cat that is not part of an intentional breeding program. It’s not the whole answer to the many abused and abandoned animals, but it helps. Rescue organizations even carry on programs of catch and release—trapping feral animals long enough to de-sex them, and releasing them back to where they were found. They can live as they did before without producing more homeless kittens and puppies.
If Blue Eyes could understand what was going on, I think he would agree with Americans: it is a kindness to spay or neuter.

Kittens as Intellectual Property

So I was surprised when I got back to the U.S. to find a heated controversy raging about de-sexing cats. My email was jammed with messages from my gene-pool yahoo group, which consists mainly of cat breeders plus a few interested observers like myself. The hot topic that generated so much discussion: de-sexing cats at eight weeks or earlier. It can be done, but it often leads to problems, such as failure of the animal’s bones to develop properly. And there is the increased risk of death in administering anesthesia to such a young animal.

People want to adopt kittens as young as they can, of course, and the breeders want to sterilize their cats before they sell them. The breeders used to let the owner get the kitten “fixed” later, but some buyers failed to sterilize their cat, even when they signed an agreement with the breeder to do so.
Why are breeders going to such lengths to make sure their kittens can’t reproduce? One email finally revealed the real concern. Breeders don’t want to sell their kittens as pets only to find they are being used in someone else’s breeding program. Kittens are intellectual property, which is not to be stolen. Not so different from Laos, after all, is it?

But for most of our society, birth control for our pets is still a kindness.

Extreme Lovemaking: Feline Edition

As Blue Eyes demonstrated, the male cat is always ready for sex. He stakes out a territory, marking it with a urine spray, and fights any other male cat who might enter it. If he has developed the habit of spraying, he may continue to do it, even after he has been castrated. Another reason to castrate a kitten before he reaches maturity.  A 4-to-6-month-old kitten is not hurt by the procedure.

Female cats can develop sexually by the age of 4 or 5 months, so they also need to be de-sexed early to avoid an accidental pregnancy. LaChanda waited too late, until her cat Minie was already pregnant. She let the kittens be born, but then Minie was already pregnant again before the spaying was scheduled. This time, they decided they couldn't handle any more kittens. Minie had the hysterectomy, with an abortion.

The first time I had a cat spayed, I asked the veterinarian about the effects of a hysterectomy on a cat. Human females undergo extreme hormonal changes, often requiring medication. What was I doing to my cat? But the vet explained that cats don't go through the monthly ovulation cycle that a woman does. When a cat is in heat, she has an uncontrollable urge to find a male, but she does not ovulate unless mating takes place.

Feline sex is not such a pleasant experience for the female. The feline penis has barbs. After the male has mated, the barbs rake the female's insides, stimulating ovulation and also causing considerable pain to the newly pregnant kitty. That is why cat sex usually ends with the female yowling and giving the future father a swipe.

Even with such an unpleasant ending, the female cat may not be finished. Given the opportunity, she could go on to mate with several more toms while she is in heat, and have kittens by each one of them.

They are sweet, aren't they?


Monday, April 30, 2012

Featured in May: Dilute Calico

Safe Harbor's  special for the month of May is the dilute calico. Ordinary calicos are orange, black and white, and dilute cailcos are cream, gray and white.

Safe Harbor is located at 359 Cree Lane (phone 573-243-9823) in Jackson.

Each month, the facility runs a "special" on a certain kind of cat. In May, dilute calicos will be $35 instead of $50. Declawed cats are $50, down from the regular $75.

Calico cats are usually female, because color is carried on the X chromosone. The two main color genes of a cat are red and black , so normally a male can be either black OR red (yellow). White comes from another gene, the Dominant White gene, that masks all the color on the parts of the cat it affects.
Calicos vary a great deal in their looks, because these three colors can combe in soany different ways.

In rare cases, a male cat may have two or more cell lines, and if one is for red color and another for black color, and the cat also has the white masking gene, then you can get a male calico. Such genetic abnormalities usually result in a sterile animal. To learn more about calico cats, check out Cats Are Not Peas, by Laura Gould, a very excellent and readable book on calico cats and genetics, available at Riverside Regional Library in Jackson.

None of these rare male animals have turned up at Safe Harbor. All the calicos, dilute or otherwise, are female.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Jungle Cat?

In Luang Prabang, I saw many cats like this one, with  big round eyes.

The little black and white cat was typical of many street cats in Luang Prabang:  small, lanky, and enormous round eyes. These wide-eyed cats came in all colors, and most of them had kinked tails. (Not surprising--nearly ALL the native cats in Luang Prabang had kinked tails.) In an earlier post, I had speculated that the jungle cat of Malaysia might have had some genetic influence on the domesticated cat of Southeast Asia, but I didn't expect to see such an obvious clue.

Siamese cats are noted for their "hooded" eyes, and I saw this feature among some of the cats in Luang Prabang. They had small, very slanted eyes, very often blue. Not purebred Siamese, they still definitely had the albino gene, and that seemed to go with the hooded eyes. I've posted pictures of the white cat See Cao several times--he is the most typical Siamese-type cat that I saw. But these round-eyed cats are different.

Minie's eyes are more round than her mate's Siamese eyes.
Hmmm...Weir's Siamese cat, 1888:
its eyes look more round than hooded.

Jungle Cat

Monday, April 16, 2012

More Lao Cats--But No Siamese!

I'm in Luang Prabang, visiting my son. Here are more pictures of Lao cats. The cats appeared in every color and variety seen here in the United States, except that a large percentage of them had the lanky Siamese look. But as more foreigners move in, Western cats and dogs are coming with them. For example, I saw a Shitzu in downtown Luang Prabang.

This cat had the blue eyes of a Siamese. The shop owner was giving her
 away because she didn't have a friendly personality.

The Siamese is not the mother of
these kittens.



This calico expectant mom lived in a remote village, looking
 very Siamese despite her coloring.

Here is See Cao again, the Siamese daddy of my son's cats. I'm posting his picture again because he is still the most Siamese cat I personally saw in Laos. The tan on his legs, tail and ears tell me his white does not come from the Dominant White gene, but from temperature-sensitive albinism which causes the fur to darken at the extremities.

Albinism is recessive to full color. Without careful breeding, temperature-sensitive albinism loses to full color. 

So what happened to all the Siamese cats in Siam? I suspect they were mostly in the palaces and temples of the aristocrats. The king in Laos is gone. His palace is a museum. And there are no cats.

Many of the cats in Laos had crooked tails. Some were little stumps, like Scooter's; about half the length of a normal tail, like Minie's; or full-length but twisted like a paper clip, as in the case of See Cao. But See Cao and Minie produced a daughter, Sarah, with a normal tail. Her coloring was so much like Scooter I had to look at the tail to tell them apart.

Where did the normal tail come from, since both parents had kinks? Ironically, from recessives. A straight tail is recessive to a kinked tail. Mom and Dad must be heterozygotes; i.e., they both carry a recessive gene for a straight tail.

It seems strange that kinks would be dominant over straight tails. Polydactylism, having more than the normal number of fingers or toes, is also dominant.  That is the case for humans as well as cats. But you rarely see people with extra fingers. One can understand why; many people would find it objectionable in a mate. 

Here is what happens:  People with the dominant trait can carry a recessive for the "normal" trait; they're called heterozygotyes. Heterzygotes have a 25 percent chance of producing offspring with the recessive trait, so with a little selective breeding, the offensive dominant trait has all but disappeared in humans. Cats are not as selective.


My daughter-in-law, who has traveled many times to Thailand, says she has seen quite a few Siamese csts in Thailand. But I cannot verify if any of these cats are directly descended from the original Siamese that lived in the palace.   

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Welcome to Safe Harbor in Jackson, Missouri

When nurse Alice Wybert, working with hospice patients, was asked by terminal patients to find homes for their cats, she agreed. Once she got started, she found there was a much larger population of cats--and dogs, too--in need of homes.

On July 6, 2005, Safe Harbor opened at 359 Cree Lane (phone 573-243-9823) in Jackson with  25 cats. Today, it shelters 250 cats and 20 dogs. The good news is that 100 cats have been sent to new homes so far this year!

The cost of adopting a cat is $50, to defray the cost of spaying or neutering the animal, which has already been done. To adopt a cat that has been declawed, the cost is $75.

Safe Habor's facilities
But each month, the facility runs a "special" on a certain kind of cat. In March, the special has been yellow cats--$35 instead of $50. Declawed cats are $50, down from the regular $75.

This is the last week of March, but there is still time to adopt a yellow cat, like this one (right), at the special rate. Yellow (or orange, or ginger, whatever term you prefer) cats are the most friendly and laid back of cats, in my opinion.  They are also "guard cats"--the self-appointed watchcat of the home. When my husband and I arrived at Safe Harbor, this one came up and greeted us, checking us out in a friendly way. He was a boy cat, of course.

Check out my post "Most Perfect Animal" for stories about my own ginger cat, Ezra.

Yellow cats can be female, but there are far fewer female ginger cats. Coat color is carried on the X chromosome, of which males (XY) have one and females have two (XX). If the boy's X gives him yellow, then he is yellow. But a ginger girl has to have two yellow X's. If her other X is for black instead, she will be a tortoiseshell, or if she also has the white spotting gene, she will be a three-colored calico.

In April, the special will be on tabby cats; in May, dilute calicos; and in June, the month of weddings, what else but the black and white tuxedo cat!

Coming in April

All dressed up and ready to go to a new home!
This kitty is adoptable and included in the special during April at Safe Harbor


This April, you can obtain a tabby cat from Safe Harbor in Jackson for $35 instead of the usual $50. Declawed cats are $50, down from the regular $75.

The Tabby cat's name comes from a word formerly used for ribbed silk material. according to Harrison Weir. "The word tabby was derived from a kind of taffeta, or ribbed silk, which when calendered or what is now terms 'watered,' is by that process covered with wavy lines," Weir said in his book Our Cats and All About Them.

My cat Abby has more of the ticked pattern.
She has the thinnest fur of any cat I've ever
 seen. Her ancestors were from Africa, for sure.

The tabby cat is the most common of varieties, found in all parts of the world that have cats, which is everywhere today. Of all domesticated cats, the tabby most closely resembles the small wildcat that inhabited Europe, Asia, and Africa. When there was a land bridge across what is now the Bering Strait, cats roamed in North America also. But the land bridge disappeared, and cats for some reason were trapped on the eastern side. Our present-day cats were brought to America from Europe.

The felis sylvestris is basically the same cat everywhere, with distinct adaptations to its environment. For example, the European cat had long, thick  hair because of the colder climate. African and Southeast Asian cats' fur is short, and much thinner.

Evidence of the first domesticated cat appears in the Middle East. The earliest mummified cats have been found in the island country of Cyprus, located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The fertile crescent is where agriculture began, and it was also the beginning of the relationship between  man and cat.

Wild cats started coming around humans to eat rodents, according to feline researcher Dr. Laura Lyons, at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary MedicineAs humans became farmers, they created grain stores and refuse piles, two things that draw rodents. Humans allowed them to stay around because they protected their food source, and cats in turn tolerated humans because they provided food for them. The cats that were most bold--or tame, from our perspective, got the most food, and they started domesticating themselves.

Human civilization moved to Egypt, and so did the cat, where it was worshipped. The Romans seemed to be a little slower in using the cat for rodent control. Some stories say that the Egyptians attempted to forbid cats from being taken to Rome. But the cat was already in Europe! Nonetheless, Europeans did not use the cat for rodent control at first, but instead relied on the smellier and less tamable weasel. 

Most likely, the European wildcat did not venture so easily to human settlement as the Middle Eastern and African cats. It was more isolated in European forests, and farther away from the humans' food sources. I suspect that the first domesticated cats in Europe did come from Egypt, and then they quickly interbred with the native wildcat.

Felis sylvestris is endangered almost to the point of extinction, especially in Europe, because of its domesticated relative. The wildcat has bred so much with feral cats that scientists are doubtful they can still find a bon fide Scottish wildcat. The African wildcat is also getting more and more rare.

The domesticated tabby cat may resemble the wildcat, but it is not "wilder" than other cats. It is definitely domesticated, and a lot of breeding has gone into even the most ordinary of cats. Harrison Weir proscribed the appearance of the perfect brown tabby in 1889: "[Its] ground color is of a very rich, orangey, dark brown ground, without any white, and that is evenly, proportionably (sic), and not too broadly but elegantly marked on the face, head, breast sides, back, belly, legs and tail with bands of solid, deep shining black." There is more, but you get the idea--the tabby was bred for specific features desirable by its owner.

A Mackerel:
Come get me! I'm waiting!

Blotched tabby:
This adoptable cat is beautiful!

A tabby is any cat that has a distinctive coat that features stripes, dots, lines or swirling patterns, usually together with a mark resembling an "M" on its forehead (See photo, right). Tabbies are not a cat breed. Its features are found in many breeds of cats. The Maine Coon Cat is a long-haired tabby, and the Norwegian Forest Cat comes in a tabby variety.  In short-hair varieties, there is the British shorthair tabby and the American shorthair tabby--the two differ mainly in the breed standards established by the two countries.

(By the way, Safe Harbor has at least one long-haired tabby, too, although I don't have a photo.)

There are four recognized kinds of patterns in the Tabby family. 

The Mackerel Tabby pattern has vertical, gently curving stripes on the side of the body. The stripes are narrow, and may be continuous or broken into bars and spots on the flanks and stomach. Often, an 'M' shape appears on the forehead. Mackerels also feature a 'peppered' nose, where black spots appear along the pink tip of the nose.

The Classic (or 'Blotched') Tabby, tends to have a pattern of dark browns, ochres, and black. Classic Tabbies have an 'M' pattern on the head similar to that of Mackerel Tabbies, but the body markings are different, having a whirled and swirled pattern with wider stripes that make what are referred to as "butterfly" patterns on their shoulders, and usually a bullseye or oyster pattern on the flank. The legs and tail are more heavily barred and the pattern is variable with respect to the width of the bands.

The Ticked Tabby pattern produces hairs with distinct bands of color on them, breaking up the tabby patterning into a salt-and-pepper appearance. Residual ghost striping or "barring" can often be seen on the lower legs, face and belly and sometimes at the tail tip.

The Spotted Tabby may not be a true pattern, but a modifier that breaks up the Mackerel Tabby pattern so that the stripes appear as spots. Similarly, the stripes of the Classic Tabby pattern may be broken into larger spots. Both large spot and small spot patterns can be seen in the Australian Mist, the Bengal, the Egyptian Mau, Maine Coon, and Ocicat breeds.

The tabby striping is in the genes of every cat, purebred or plebian, but other coloring makes it hard to see in the case of solid cats. In cat genetics, pattern is unrelated to color, so the tabby coat pattern can show up in combination with a variety of coat colors, including tortoiseshell (Tortoiseshell Tabby cats are called 'Torbies'). White spotting of any degree can also appear in combination with tabby patterns. White is the only coat color that does not have any tabby markings, because, as you can read in my blog post "In Search of White", the white gene masks all color in the fur.

Friday, March 16, 2012

In Search of White

Harrison Weir's purpose in starting cat shows was to promote the welfare of all cats, not just special breeds. Many cat blogs promote and sell a particular breed of cat. This blog promotes cats who are found in shelters. Sometimes shelter cats are purebreds, and as I find them, I will post them here. But I love mixed breeds, who combine the traits of several different cats.  I write about purebreds, too, and I have no intention to disparage them, any more than a Siamese cat site intentionally disparages Persian cats. But I love the mixed breed; this is what I am "selling" on this particular post.

Daisy is a sweet, friendly 5-year-old white cat with blue eyes who is up for adoption. Her owners had to leave her when they moved. She is used to other cats. She is spayed; she has all her claws.

Daisy is hard of hearing, not totally deaf. Hearing problems are common with many beautiful blue-eyed white cats. Her fur is soft, like a chinchilla rabbit.

 If you are interested in finding out more about her, contact Deer Ridge Animal Hospital in Jackson, MO, at (573) 243-3200.

If you don't live around Jackson, MO, contact a shelter near you. I'm sure there are lots of other beautiful white cats waiting for a home!

Why are white cats often deaf?

Somewhere between 65 and 85 percent of solid white cats with blue eyes have congenital deafness. It is caused by the Dominant White gene, which suppresses the production of melatonin and thus all color in the cat's fur and skin. Every cat has a gene for the expression of color, but in the white cat, that gene is "turned off." It may affect the cat's eyes, creating the blue eyes, and also may prevent the inner ear from forming correctly, thus creating a deaf cat. Cats that are white but only have one blue eye and one eye of another color are often only deaf in the ear that is on the same side of the head as the blue eye.

Because White is dominant, if a cat has only one W gene and one w gene, carrying color, it will always be white. Whether the cat is WW or Ww, breeders still have not developed a fool-proof way of breeding white cats that are never deaf.

Persians, Turkish Angoras, and Turkish Vans are long-haired cats that can be pure white. In the shorthair variety, there is the domestic shorthair, and the White Oriental--a cat that looks like a Siamese but without the points.

 Jubilee lost her whiteness as she got older, like all Siamese--
a great disappointment to 19th century breeders who were
 in search of "white" from the albino cat.
 The Albino Gene

Siamese cats, which are born white, get their white color from a different gene--the albino gene. This gene has a spectrum of expressions, ranging from full color to full-blown albinism, in which the animal has totally white hair and skin, and pink eyes. In between these extremes are the burmese allele, which results in muted color; the temperature-sensitive albinism allele, which creates the Siamese cat; and the blue-eyed albino.

This gene is not related to deafness. However, as with albinism in all species, there can be vision problems. Albinism inhibits the normal development of the visual cortex, so that the animal does not develop stereoscopic vision. This is often the cause of crossed eyes in the Siamese. Still, it does not present a serious vision problem to most cats.

The Siamese cat is born white, but does not stay all white, especially when taken out of the tropical climate from where it was bred. For centuries, breeders have sought to develop a white cat that did not have the threat of deafness in its genes and maintained its beautiful white coat throughout its life. The albino gene was not the answer.

And then they were one!

In the 1962, breeder and cat geneticist Pat Turner began mating Seal Point Siamese with White Domestic Shorthair cats. Her goal was to create a white Siamese with blue eyes, but without the genetic trait that can create deafness in cats.  The Foreign white is basically a white Siamese with blue eyes. Introducing the Dominant White gene into the breed again risks deafness, although the breed is carefully monitored.

All white cats, whether or not their hearing or vision is impaired, have a greater risk of skin cancer.

Humans love white cats, but nature doesn't. So why did nature provide for the possibility?

The White Spotting Gene

There is another gene in the cat genome that creates white by masking color: the white spotting gene. It is responsible for the white locket, the white mitted feet, and the various white markings on any part of a cat's body. Occasionally,  this gene creates a cat that is essentially all white.

Tiger's white chin and feet help her blend
into the natural environment.
The S gene works exactly the same as the W gene, and if by chance it should touch the cat's ears, it makes the animal deaf in the same way. But most of the time it doesn't. It just adds interest to the cat's looks. Humans select for the prettiest arrangement of white--the feet, the face, and the underbelly. Less attractive arrangements are largely phased out by human selection. But nature likes the white spots for a different reason--they have a camouflage advantage. In the forests where the European wildcat originated, white spots mimic beams of light streaming through the trees.

The W gene may have been a mutation of S that nature made by mistake, which humans loved so much that they kept it going.

And what of the albino gene?

As already mentioned, the albino gene comes in a spectrum of effects. Complete albinos are at a serious disadvantage, but what about muted colors? Gray instead of black? Tan instead of brown? Pretty, but also a pretty good camouflage if the cat lives on the sandy shore of the Mekong River, where the Siamese breed originated. The burmese allele is commonly found in the street cats of Thailand. One step beyond that is the Siamese allele, and that is not so bad, either.

Vanilla and chocolate varieties of the street cats in Laos


This Siamese kitty blends in with the light sandy soil.


Blue eyes are beautiful, too!

Blue eyes are found randomly in cats that are not all white. Usually, they have some white, thanks to the old White Spotting gene.There is another relatively new breed claimed to have blue eyes NOT linked to coat color. The Ojos Azules (Spanish for blue eyes) breed may be found in any color, but white patching on the peripheral parts of the cat, particularly the tips of the feet and tail, are a common manifestation of the Ojos gene. Less white is considered most desirable, except in colorpoint, where the typical white peripheral tipping is necessary to illustrate that this is a true Ojos Azules and not a colorpoint Oriental.

Ojos Azules have deep blue eyes. Because this supposed gene is not linked to any certain fur color or pattern, it gives the opportunity to have cats with dark coats and blue eyes. It does not cause squinting, deafness, or cross-eye.

But the breed is not without its problems. When the "gene" is homozygous (the cat has the trait from both parents), it causes cranial deformities, white fur, a small curled tail, and stillbirth. However, when the gene is heterozygous (from only one parent), those lethal genetic mutations do not manifest. The result is that breeders must cross the blue-eyed cats with non-blue-eyed cats, assuring a litter of about 50/50 blue/non-blue-eyed kittens. Although only half of the kittens are then part of the Ojos Azules breed, this avoids having much of the litter comprise deformed and /or dead kittens.

This is not a real breed, then, if another breed must be introduced every generation.

I found some experts that even doubt this breed really exists, saying that the pictures might be doctored. In Massimo Picardello's book on feline genetics, no such gene is mentioned.

Fake or not, this cat's blue eyes do seem to present a problem even more serious than that of the other breeds.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Most Perfect Animal"

Tiny tiger, little emperor without an orb: the well-pampered house cat.

"[The cat] is a visible part of our household, and is both useful, quiet, affectionate, and ornamental."

Harrison Weir

Weir explained in the beginning of his book, Our Cats and All About Them, that his desire in creating cat shows was to elevate the status and treatment of all cats.

"I conceived the idea that it would be well to hold "Cat Shows," so that the different breeds, colours, markings, etc., might be more carefully attended to, and the domestic cat, sitting in front of the fire, would then possess a beauty and an attractiveness to its owner unobserved and unknown because uncultivated heretofore."

Weir's goal was realized in England, in America, in Europe, and gradually wherever the industrialization and modern life has touched the globe. He realized his dream in England hardly more than a generation after the cat was still being declared to be nothing but an unfriendly though necessary barn animal.

In Animals, Their Nature and Their Uses, Charles Baker writes in 1857, "The Cat must be considered as a faithless friend, brought to oppose a still more insidious enemy. The domestic cat is the only animal of the tribe to which it belongs, whose services can more than recompense the trouble of its education, and whose strength is not sufficient to make its anger formidable. Supple, insinuating, and artful, it has the art of concealing its intentions till it can put them into execution. Whatever animal is much weaker than itself is an indiscriminate object of slaughter, - birds, bats, moles, young rabbits, rats, and mice, - the last named being its favourite game." To Baker, the cat's value is that it preys on agricultural pests, while being small enough not to be a threat to humans.

The Reverend J.G. Wood complained in the same decade that the cat was unjustly maligned. "In the eyes of any one who has really examined, and can support the character of the Domestic Cat, she must appear to be a sadly calumniated creature. She is generally contrasted with the dog, much to her disfavour...The Cat is held up to reprobation as a selfish animal, seeking her own comfort and disregardful of others; attached only to localities, and bearing no real affection for her owners. She is said to be sly and treacherous, hiding her talons in her velvety paws as long as she is in a good temper, but ready to use them upon her best friends if she is crossed in her humours" (Illustrated Natural History).

Charles Darwin opined that the cat's "nocturnal rambling habits" (Origin of the Species, 1859) made long-term cat breeding impossible. He said that only women and children valued cats--insulting cats, women, and children all in the same sentence! 

The Rocky Road to Royalty

"Still it is better, under certain circumstances, to be a cat than a duchess." (Helen Winslet)

But the road to a higher status was not a smooth one, even for more special cats.  Helen M. Winslet, an American pioneer in cat breeding in the 19th century, wrote about her Pretty Lady, a long-haired cat "of Angora or coon descent." Pretty Lady was a pampered cat, but when the family vacationed in the country,  she was put outside to run freely, despite the fact that Mrs. Winslet noted the cat acted afraid. The cat fared well enough until Mrs. Winslet left her on the farm while she visited elsewhere for several weeks. Pretty Lady got lost, and was found only five weeks later, starving. It seems inconceivable today that a valuable cat used for breeding would be treated with such lack of care.

And, in the days of total ignorance about genetics, the hit-and-miss means of establishing the desired characteristics of a breed meant that a prized mother cat produced scores of litters, only to have most of her offspring drowned as "plebians," unattractive rejects. Mrs. Winslet told the story of her Lady Betty, who produced four Angora kittens (i.e., long-haired) in one litter. The royal Lady Betty was given a "wet nurse." Jane, whose own two "plebian" kittens disappeared (drowned), was put to nursing the Angoras. Adding insult to injury, Jane was Lady Betty's offspring, too, a plain cat kept only to nurse her mother's more special babies!

My cats enjoyed the luxury of being inside-outside cats
for many years, having an acre and a half of suburban land
to play in. But the yard is no longer safe. Ezra fell victim to
coyotes in the back yard.

My cat Ezra would certainly be considered "plebian" by Mrs. Winslet--a ginger cat like several I've owned over the years. My son Chris adopted him from the animal shelter. Yellow tigers are among the most friendly, easy-going cats, and usually fairly intelligent. Chris taught him to turn a somersault, with a little help.

He became mine when Chris moved away from home.  I then discovered few other tricks Ezra had learned. His nightly game was to turn over the kitchen trash container and look for food bits in it. In the winter, when we let the cats stay in the garage, I would leave the garbage cans outside. When my husband expressed concern about animals getting into the garbage, I told him I was far more worried about the varmint inside the garage. 

Ezra also climbed up the screen door, making holes in it. That was what an inside cat did for fun, indulged by his lenient young human. I solved most of these problems by letting him go outside, which he loved.

I was awakened one morning to a cat howling outside my bedroom window. And the bedroom was on the second story! Ezra was on the ledge, having climbed up the timbers of our English Tudor house. I let him in the window, which was a mistake. He was there the next morning. After that, I went downstairs and let him in the door. It took several more days to break him of climbing up to the window.