Wednesday, November 23, 2016


You might remember that when Finnegan the Feral Kitten showed up he looked different than other cats around here.  Not only was he longer bodied and limbed, but his coat was dots and stripes in a nearly wildcat pattern.  And his attitude was, well, WILD.  Now I think I know why.  He probably has Bengal blood.

I had no awareness at all that Bengals, a human-created domestic cat breed, even existed until I “spotted” this photo on Twitter.  They were deliberately bred to have the fur patterns of the “big” cats like tigers and leopards.  One story is that a veterinary researcher who was trying to research feline distemper by crossing the vulnerable domestics with the immune — or at least resistant— wild cats, specifically Asian leopard cat (ALC), Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis — discovered that the cross-bred males were often sterile but their unusual coats made them attractive for pets.

Asian Leopard Cat

There are also claims and theories that a woman deliberately saw the potential for a new kind of cat and created the earliest versions.  At first it was a problem to get the wild behavior genes out, the ones that made them hyper-alert and aggressive.  In the case of Finnegan, they didn’t altogether disappear, but that aspect of his personality was late emerging.  At first he just seemed an usually dot-and-dash cat with long legs and a lot of energy.  He was not orange with leopard rosettes, alas.

Bunny on Finnegan

As often happens with bad boys, Blue Bunny, the gentle little female kitten raised by Smudge without any sibs, fell madly in love with Finnegan, who naturally got her pregnant.  Tuxie and Douxie are the products of that liason.  Finnegan contributed nothing to their upkeep and neither did I, since the Blue Bunny took them down under the floor of the house into a far corner of the dirt crawl space.  I didn’t even hear them and suspected they had died.  But I left the trap door open just in case.

One day I heard a little squeaking noise down in the dark.  Going down with the flashlight, I found a little gray kitten that fit in my hand.  That was Douxie, the sweet cuddly one.  (Doux is French for soft.)  She looks as though someone had stroked a stick of white chalk across her back.  

I knew the second kitten was black and white, but it didn’t come staggering out of the dark for another day.  I call him Tuxie for Tuxedo because he’s a slender little black cat with a white bib and tummy.  When he sees you’re watching, he struts with his head and back arched, tail straight up, prancing as though he were in a New Orleans parade at Mardi Gras.  In the middle of his white lower jaw is a black soul patch.  He might not be a “he.”  Cats can be such trannies.

Out in the garage the granny mamacat had five kittens.  Three remain, nearly grown.  One is short-legged, white with patches where his father the Bull Tomcat had black, but his are sort of tweed.  That’s “Shorty.”  One who had a terrible cough for a while is white with orange patches which is the usual on this street.  I call her “Mimi” for the beautiful dying courtesan, but she got well.   And the third is “Duckie” who is marked like a little wild duckling, mottled, striped and blotched.  I think female.  Wilder and softer than the others, always hungrier, spookier.  Finnegan’s git.

Finnegan has been back, but only briefly and we weren’t particularly happy to see him.   He’s clearly thriving whatever his address now.  But if someone wants Duckie in order to experiment with back-breeding to get more Bengal kittens, I’ll hand her over.

Douxie, Duckie, Tuxie

The assumption is that calico cats are always female because the third color is on the leg of the X chromosome that is missing for males.  They’re usually pretty good mothers and mousers.  I always preferred them and they raised a lot of wild babies when I was with Bob.  (No ducks.)  Gray striped were just as capable, but not so fancy.

Black cats have their fans, but some of them are Siamese cats who’ve lost the gene that normally controls their coat color.  It’s a gene that supplies bleaching for warm areas so that only the cool extremities are black: legs, tail, ears.  But that doesn’t lose the temperament, Barbra Streisand crosseyes and voice typical to Siamese, nor their ability to dive into water and catch fish since they were originally bred to be boat cats.  But their voices are operatic which doesn’t appeal to everyone.

Ginger or red cats — even paler tints like yellow — striped or not, are thought to be friendlier and a little more intelligent than other cats.  As with people, sometimes the thought that they are a bit above the others makes it come true.  Special care, attentive listening, a few treats, and most creatures get friendlier and smarter — even people.  All attempts to use objective scientific tests to determine coat color equivalences to personality have been ambiguous.

Bengal kittens

Back to Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis , they are everywhere in the world, but more often in warm climates, and often arboreal.  Finnegan’s idea of the perfect place was up as high as he could get.  I thought it was maybe to escape the devotions of Bunny.  But it does seem as though something anciently genetic was still coming with him, though it was expressed in personality rather than body.  After his first weeks before he arrived here, his life was the same as that set of kittens, but he wasn’t the same.

In some ways it’s self-indulgent to have these cats, though one must be swift and brutal to NOT have them because they press in on the humans all over town.  If they’re here, it seems negligent not to study them the way biologists study any animals.  The best early studies of street dogs were made by a man who couldn’t get a grant to study wolves.  

The stand-out characteristic of these cats is how social they are, how they form a group — not a pack but more of a web.  But Duckie abandoned his mother in order to join Bunny and then all three lined up along her belly.  Until recently.  She’s trying to wean them by seeming to tear out their throats and raking their bellies with her rear feet.  This does not work.  They still try to nurse.  It’s a hard impulse to break.  They don’t make pacifiers for kittens.  I’m sure if the marketers thought of it, they would try.

Granny Mamacat makes her kittens wash up after lunch.

Cats are baby-like and know it.  They fling themselves into one’s arms and cuddle down, gazing into one’s face.  The post I wrote entitled “Kitten Panic” (10-2-16) has 1527 hits.  The one entitled “Intimacy Culture” has got 1081 so far.  (11-8-16)  Sex=cat=mom.  Just sayin’.  Careful about grabbing if it’s a bengal.  Even though Grandma mamacat has no bengal blood, she’s a quick slasher.  And if you get one of these cats pregnant, you have to take the kittens home with you.

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