Sunday, December 30, 2012

How Special Are Six-Toed Cats?

Jonah Goldberg comments on the rights and freedoms of the cat family descended from Ernest Hemingway's legendary tomcat, Snowball:

Polydactyl cats aren't especially rare. After having one kitten with Graybeau (who didn't live long) and two healthy litters with Pounce, our Bisquit fell for a polydactyl tomcat. Her polychromatic and polydactylous daughter, Candice, had three brothers--two polydactyls, all three promptly adopted. Candice chose a normal mate, but passed down her polydactylism to one of her daughters, Heather. So the Cat Sanctuary is now the home of two six-toed, three-colored cats.
Heather is one special kitty. Not only is she six-toed, and technically a calico (orange and black mottled above, white patches below), but she's also a highly social and intelligent Listening Cat. And a formidable hunter.

There is just one problem with Heather and the three classic calico kittens born to Heather and Candice last spring. (Note: no kittens were born to Grayzel, and the surviving non-calico kittens have been adopted.) All calico cats come into this world knowing that they are special and wanting to believe they're more special than other cats...and the only way I can come close to identifying a favorite, among the Cat Sanctuary cats, is to say that Candice isn't it.
Candice does not cuddle. Candice definitely blamed me for banishing her brothers, and has never really liked me since. Any time she acts as if she likes me, I know she wants something. Candice is, however, a big strong healthy cat with good hunting skills and excellent DNA, and is welcome to stay and have kittens.

As for Candice's daughters Heather, Iris, and Irene, and Bisquit's daughter Ivy...currently Irene is on the large and lazy side, like her father. Iris, who started out the biggest and liveliest kitten, seems to have stopped growing and become more cuddly and clingy; I hope it's just a stage and not a serious health problem. If I had a lot of money I'd take her to the city and have tests run. Country vets tend to say "Would you rather try an antibiotic, knowing it might kill or cure a kitten, or just have it put down now?" and I tend to say "Neither." Click here to contribute to the Diagnosis For Iris Fund.
Ivy is the most vocal, but she's a Listening Cat. For a while after Bisquit died, Candice and Grayzel and I all reacted to her meowing in a way I verbalized as "Poor little orphan Ivy." She's almost a week younger than her nieces, and for a while she was smaller. Then one day I noticed: "Ivy, you have three mothers. Everyone loves you. You can stop whining now." She didn't completely stop whining on that day; another day I had to say, "Enough whining, Ivy. Enough!" I had said that to Bisquit almost daily, all Bisquit's life; it did no good; Bisquit was a talker not a listener. But Ivy listened...and although she still has a loud, annoying meow she can deploy at will, Ivy is no longer a whiny cat.

But Ivy has only five toes on each fore and four on each hind paw, like most cats. Heather has six toes in front and five behind. Candice actually has seven toes on each forepaw, but, as seems to be usual, the seventh toes aren't completely separated and serve no noticeable purpose--except that if Candice ever does need to attack anybody, she can sink in fourteen rather than ten claws.
Heather is an interesting cat. As a young kitten she was smaller than her litter mates and spent a lot of time hiding in a back corner. Then there was the day she refused to stand up and run to me when called, but pulled herself along the porch on her side. Made me look, but apparently she was just having fun; she got up and played later in the day. As the kittens reach adolescence, Heather is now the longest and tallest, and acts more dignified and mature than the other kittens.

They're all very purry and cuddly, especially in cold weather. In really cold weather they go down cellar and stay out of the wind. In most of what humans have been calling cold weather, so far, they crowd into a bin on the porch where they keep each other warm, waiting for chances to pop out and call attention to themselves when anybody passes by.
And they all like rice. I didn't know that cats could eat rice until I took Magic to be spayed, and the vet said, "After the operation, brown rice may be easier for her to digest than regular kibble." Ever since then I've shared my brown rice with my cats. Most cats prefer kibble to rice (Grayzel does), but Candice, Heather, Iris, Irene, and Ivy prefer rice to kibble, and will eat rice even when it's not been cooked with meat.

They have also learned to like pumpkin seeds. Before Magic's reign, I lived with a cat who would eat cantaloupe seeds and rinds; I thought that was bizarre. A friend's vet says, "Actually, pumpkin and similar seeds are good for cats. They're high in protein and nutrients, harmless to mammals, and often fatal to intestinal parasites." Cats who hunt often pick up intestinal parasites from their prey, so from time to time the Cat Sanctuary cats get a tablespoon or so of pumpkinseed meal mixed into one of a tin of meat, fish, or fish-flavored "treats." Some cats try to eat around the pumpkinseed meal as much as possible (Grayzel still does), but Candice, Heather, Iris, Irene, and Ivy will all eat pumpkinseed meal by itself if it's fresh.

But, are the polydactyls, Candice and Heather, more special than the normal-toed cats? That one's just too close to call. To be fair, it's hard to imagine how any cat could be more special than the whole Patchnose Family have been and are. They hunt as a team. They can and do catch adult squirrels. Iris, Ivy, and Grayzel seem to understand more words than Heather, and Heather seems to understand more than Candice and Irene, but all of them know their names and several words...and if one of them's late, the others will show me where they last saw her when I call her name. Each of them may be convinced that she's the most beautiful and lovable cat on Earth, but all of them are social cats who know their family and make a distinction between friends, whom they insist I feed with them, and strangers, whom they tell me to feed separately--they don't seem to make enemies. This whole family seems to consist of, well, cats you won't meet every day.

And they don't inbreed successfully, so you too can add your name to the list of potential adopters for next year's male kittens.