Friday, July 11, 2014

The Pets the Breeders Reject

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Thanks to &TheresaWiza for suggesting this topic. Photo by Hamia at

If you like cats, dogs, horses, chickens or other lovable animals, these days it's hard to like the American Humane Society: their goal is now to "humanely" eradicate these species by demanding that all pets be sterilized. Commercial breeders aren't much nicer about animals that aren't up to specifications for whatever peculiar genetic combination they're breeding. Manx cats who have complete tails are lucky--though not "show quality" they're the ones whose weaker form of the Manx gene allows them to produce viable offspring, so they're likely to be allowed to breed. Siamese cats who don't show color points, or whose color points aren't one of the four classic combinations? With luck they might be neutered and given to friends, or perhaps sent to Humane Society shelters...

About twenty years ago, I visited a cat sanctuary in Tennessee. About thirty free-range cats were doing their things outdoors; when their humans drove up with a visitor, these cats' "thing" was to gather around and check out this situation, nonverbally asking "Who's *that*, where is it from, when will it be going back, and meanwhile, did it bring us anything interesting?" They all seemed to know that they were up for adoption, and they all seemed to be reserving judgment! Then there was the house cat who escorted us inside and greeted me in the friendliest way, obviously secure in the knowledge that *she* was not up for adoption.

She was a Siamese Tabby, pale warm gray with conspicuous tabby stripes on her "points." She obviously knew her name, and her humans thought she knew several other words. They said she was absolutely, beyond question, the best pet they'd ever had--and before and after they married each other, both of them had lived with lots of pets.

Without much encouragement, they told this cat's story. Technically they had picked her up at the local dump, but they had recognized her distinctive coat and personality. She had been born at the home of someone who was trying to breed Siamese cats. Although some people like the Siamese Tabby look and have tried to establish this genotype as a breed in its own right, to the Siamese cat breeder the Siamese Tabby kitten was a disgraceful throwback to an American Shorthair somewhere back in a supposedly "pure" Siamese bloodline. So at least they hadn't drowned the kitten--just thrown her out to take her chances in life.

Luckily this particular Siamese Tabby was adopted by people who appreciated her. She had house privileges and veterinary care. She'd been allowed to have a few kittens when young and allowed to keep one of the kittens as a companion after the barn started to fill up with homeless outdoor cats. At the time when I met her she was about ten years old.

Sometimes when we see really bizarre-looking animals in shelters or otherwise up for adoption, they turn out to be perfect patterns of some strange breed. The first time I met one of the dogs currently living with another real-life friend, I said, "Wow...what breeds went into that one, or does anyone know?" They did; it seems the dog's wildly, asymmetrically spotted coat, which looks like something Kaffe Fassett might have knitted, is a distinctive feature of a breed of Australian sheep dogs. But then again, sometimes a funny-looking animal has been rejected just because it didn't have the special look somebody wanted.

Palomino horse breeders used to have a terrible problem. In Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses, the problem was explained to children entirely from the human perspective. About half the time, instead of being "gold," a new Palomino foal would be...white! With blue eyes! What a disappointment! Ms. Henry didn't linger on the question some children might have asked--what then became of this foal? You didn't see a lot of blue-eyed white horses...Over time, horse breeders have identified Palomino genetic strains that are more likely to "breed true" and produce Palomino rather than albino offspring, but there's still a high rate of unpopular albinism in the breed. Not surprising, since the Palomino color is an effect of partial albinism.

Sometimes an animal's personality can be affected by its genetic quirks. Dysfunctional genes may cause pain, weakness, or disability. Many albino animals are also blind or deaf. Sometimes having a peculiar look causes other animals to misinterpret an animal's body language, as when other cats think Scottish Fold cats' ears are "folded" as a display of hostility, or other chickens think Araucana chickens' extra-thick neck feathers (hackles) are bristling as a display of aggression. Most domestic animals can become good pets if well treated, but sometimes a peculiar-looking animal needs a little extra care or attention.

Other times an odd-looking animal, like that Siamese Tabby cat, can be described as just like other pets...or perhaps a little nicer. Adopting an animal that doesn't fit the standard specifications for any of its ancestors' breeds can be an excellent way to get a lovable pet at a bargain price.