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?