Tag Archives: black cats

Coats of Many Colors

Once again, I return to one of my favorite topics – cats.

I was inspired to write about cats again by a post that showed a picture of a friend’s new cat, which was all black, except for a few white hairs that appeared on the cat’s chest. I commented, “All black cats are required to have at least ten black hairs somewhere on their body. It’s a rule.” I do believe that, and nobody’s going to convince me otherwise.

Dan a never owned an all-black cat, but we have had one that was what’s called a “tuxedo cat,” all black except for a white bib and, in this case, little white feet and magnificent white whiskers.

As befits a cat wearing a tuxedo, she was very dignified and hated it when anything happened to offend her dignity. You could see that she was appalled.

(By the way, it’s not true that black cats are more likely to suffer human predation around Halloween, despite the rumors. It’s an Urban Legend. Shelters will let you adopt a black cat at any time of year, too. But I digress.)

We have owned black-and-white and gray-and-white cats, a couple of gray tabbies and a couple of orange tabbies, plus assorted calicos and tortoiseshells (calicos are actually a variety of tortoiseshell, with white added to the orange and black). I’m generally the one responsible for inviting the calicos and torties into our home, as I’ve always been attracted to their colors. Dan is partial to the orange-striped cats.

Calicos are particularly interesting because they are almost invariably females. Their tricolored fur is a result of genetics. The calico pattern is determined by two X chromosomes. An XY cat is a male and can’t have two copies of the calico gene required to express those colors of fur. Technically, a male cat can be calico if it has two X chromosomes and a Y, but this is very rare and a male calico is almost always sterile.

Another genetic trick that some cats have is heterochromia, or one eye a different color from the other. (Technically, lots of other animals can have heterochromia, including dogs and humans). We have a cat with one green eye and one gold (a calico), but even more striking are all-white cats that have one blue eye and one of another color.

All-white cats have a greater chance than other cats of being born deaf, but how many are or become deaf varies, partly with eye color. White cats with non-blue eyes have around a 20% chance of deafness. White cats with one blue eye are twice as likely to be deaf, and a white cat with two blue eyes has more than an 80% chance of being deaf. Interestingly, a cat with heterochromia (also called an”odd-eyed” cat) who is deaf in only one ear, is usually deaf on the side with the blue eye.

Another fascinating genetic fact (at least to those of us who are fascinated by this sort of thing) is that orange tabbies are most likely male, by a ratio of about 75%. Tabbies don’t have to be orange, though. There are also gray tabbies with darker gray or black stripes. (We’ve had two of these, and both had tan tummies with spots on them. Don’t ask me why. They’re silly-looking, but kind of endearing. But I digress again.)

There are a couple of different varieties of tabbies. The most common one, called the “mackerel” tabby, has vertical stripes that run from its spine down its sides. The “classic” tabby has thicker horizontal stripes that swirl over the cat’s side parallel to the spine. (I always thought it was the other way around. Goes to show what I know, I guess.) All tabbies have a marking like the letter M on their foreheads.

Nose leather (or rhinarium, as it is technically called) is a thing I didn’t even know was a thing until fairly recently. Apparently, nose leather is a touch-based sense organ, which may be why cats insist on sticking them in our faces. Cats also have “nose prints,” analogous to human fingerprints. The color of a cat’s nose leather doesn’t matter, but some of the various colors are pink, black, gray, and even ones called “red,” “coral,” “liver-colored,” “rose,” and “copper.” (I once had a cat whose nose leather I could only describe as “burnt terra cotta.” But I digress. Again.)

The only cat coat I don’t really care for is no coat at all. I understand that the Sphinx cat is highly prized by many and a breed that is often featured in cat shows. They just look disturbingly naked to me.

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Cats, Etc.: Friday the Thirteenth Edition

This being Friday the 13th,  black cats are on my mind. I’m not superstitious, so neither the date nor the cats bother me, but they do bother a lot of people.

A pass-along this morning said that black cats (and black dogs) in shelters tend to be overlooked and are killed disproportionately. Another common rumor is that black cats are adopted at Halloween by Satanists (or teenage wanna-be Satanists) to sacrifice in horrible rituals.

Snopes.com says the evidence is inconclusive on that last point, although they also mention people who want to “rent” black cats as party decorations. I don’t know if this actually happens, but I doubt that it actually works. Cats of any color are more likely to spend a Halloween party behind the sofa or ralphing on the snack table than posing prettily in a tableau of pumpkins. (Digression: Hairballs are pretty grody, so I guess they could be considered decorations, if you’re the horror-fan sort of party-giver.)

I don’t believe cats are bad luck, because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an all-black cat. As far as I can tell, they are required by law to have at least ten white hairs somewhere on their bodies. Show-offs prefer the chest area.

But I have a confession: I have never owned a black cat. (Digression: My mother-in-law has. No comment.) We did once have a lovely tuxedo cat named Shaker. She had, in addition to the white chest, white whiskers and adorable little white feet. She had a lot of dignity, but then spoiled the effect when she jumped off my lap at the vet’s, made a break for it as fast as her tiny little feet would carry her, and ran headlong (bonk!) into the glass door. It was so sudden that she couldn’t realistically pull off the “I meant to do that” look. Nice try, though.

We did have a black guest cat (a foster) that I named Joliet. (Digression: Here’s the story. I had a black friend named Darryl. I couldn’t call the cat Darryl because she was female (Darryl Hannah notwithstanding). My friend Darryl came from Joliet, IL, so I named her Joliet in his honor. It didn’t matter, because everyone misheard it as Juliet and called her that.)

We might have kept Joliet, but she proved to be a brazen thief. (If she were he, we could have called him Joliet Jake. Or Darryl, I guess, except Darryl wasn’t a thief. Never mind.)

One night we were eating in front of the TV and had a large steak on a plate on the coffee table. Joliet did not choose the typical cat ploy of sniffing daintily at the edge of the steak and making the pitiful “nobody-feeds-me” face. She swooped in and grabbed the whole thing, then raced across the living room with it. From our vantage point it looked like a steak with four feet and a long black tail fleeing the scene of the crime. We recovered the steak, washed it off, and ate it anyway. We were not so well off that we could afford to waste a steak.

(Digression: Once I was cruising the cheap meat (reduced for quick sale) section at the grocery. A guy, obviously embarrassed, picked up a couple of steaks and said, “I feed these to my dog.” “Yeah?” I said, tossing some into my cart. “I feed them to my husband.”)

Anyway, we decided that Joliet and another family would be happier with each other. Looking back, we may have made the wrong call. She never brought us any bad luck. We just needed to train her to steal steak from other people and bring it back to us. Then again, trying to train a cat is difficult enough, never mind trying to train one to give away stolen meat.