Tag Archives: calico 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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How I Learned I Was a Cat Person

cat-pet-furry-face-162319.jpegI looked around at the rooms full of cats. Black cats, white cats, orange cats, gray cats. Cats sleeping, playing, hiding. But I wasn’t a cat person. Or was I?

When I was a kid, we never had cats – only dogs. Back in those days, dogs didn’t live in the house but also weren’t allowed to run loose. So they usually had a length of chain or a fenced yard to circumscribe their limits. Only tiny fluff-dogs such as Pomeranians had the run of the house. My mom, it turned out later, liked little fluff-dogs, but my dad didn’t. So our dogs, first Blackie then Bootsie, lived in the garage, with a chain to run on.

I never really bonded with either one. Another thing that was uncommon back then was dog obedience school, so when I went out to feed the dog, he would jump all over me with muddy paws. And when he got to ride in the car for long weekends away, he would drool, track mud on the towel we laid down for him, and vomit (until we learned to give him half a Dramamine before we started).

I longed for a cuddly pet and one that I could call my own. My next pet was a rabbit, which I named Christina, the most beautiful name I could think of. This was also in the days before rabbits became indoor pets, so Christina lived in a wood and chicken-wire cage, in the yard in summer and in the garage in winter. No real opportunities for cuddling or bonding.

So it went. No pets in my college dorm. No pets in the apartment complex where I lived after I graduated. But I began to think more and more that what I needed was a cat. My father had hated cats because one had once bit his mother. Perhaps it was time for generations of antipathy to stop.

At last I got an apartment which was four rooms on the second floor of a house. I asked the landlady if I could have a cat – just one – and was given permission (if unenthusiastically).

The obvious place to find a cat was at the local Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA). And the obvious person to bring along to help me was my fiancé.

SICSA had rooms full of cats (and other rooms full of dogs). Some were in individual cages and others shared larger rooms with other cats. I thought I might want a calico cat as I found them the most attractive, but there were none at the shelter that day. There were, however, a few tortoiseshell cats.

Tortoiseshells are a variety of calico with mostly black fur, mottled with some orange, thanks to the same genetic arrangement that causes the distinctive calico pattern. Some people find them unattractive, but I was drawn to a little tortie. She was shy and quiet and gentle, the opposite of the dogs my family had had.

But there were other cats that attracted me too, to the point that I was overwhelmed. “Which cat do you think I should get?” I asked my fiancé.

“I don’t know, honey. They’re all nice cats,” he replied, proving that I had indeed chosen the right man to marry.

I took the little tortie home and called her Bijou. (Her nametag said, “Bejeau,” but I assumed it was a typo.)  She spent the first night sleeping across my throat. She was otherwise so shy that she didn’t want to be picked up. But every day when I came home from work, I picked her up and gave her a kiss and set her back down. Eventually, she gained enough confidence to sit with me on the sofa and watch the Today Show and for me to carry her around.

Ever since, I have had up to five cats at a time, and almost always a calico or a tortie – or both – among them. Bijou, Anjou, Julia, Laurel, Louise, and Dushenka have fulfilled my need for a calico or tortie to call my own. Not that I haven’t loved the orange tabbies and gray tabbies that my husband favors and the tuxedo cat, the gray, and the black-and-white spotted cat we’ve also lived with.

But the calicos and torties hold a special place in my heart. They taught me that cats were what I really needed.