Cat Sanctuary

Extra Toes!

A group of cats who were placed in the front courtyard were all given singers’ names by the med staff.  I introduced Carly Simon and Celine Dion back in January, and in June Cher had her moment in the sun. Somehow I’ve missed the fourth cat named after a singer – Christina Aguilera!

Christina came in at the same time as Cher, surrendered by a man who told us that the two ferals had been hanging around his home. When they came to us, they were caged for a while, as usual, to acclimate them to the space and the other cats around. Once the cages were open, Cher quickly emerged and made her presence felt, but Christina remained hidden behind her drape, hissing and swatting at anyone who dared peek at her. It took her a little while to decide that we really weren’t as dangerous as all that, but once she started to feel secure she progressed by leaps and bounds.

We have our share of cats with the manx tail mutation – from the totally tail-less rumpy (and the cats with manx syndrome) to cats like Abby with a tail that’s slightly shortened. Christina has another mutation common in cats – she’s a polydactyl, with extra toes on both front feet. This can be a result of breeding or it can occur spontaneously. I understand that it’s most common in western England and Wales, and on the US eastern seaboard. That would make sense, since apparently polydactyl cats were popular on ships – the theory was that their bigger feet made them more secure on a ship, and therefore they were better mousers!

Polydactyls are sometimes known as Hemingway cats, because one of the areas that they are more commonly found is in Key West. The writer Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain, and his house, now a museum, is home to 40-50 polydactyl cats – many of them likely descendants of that first cat.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a polydactyl cat at the Sanctuary; the last one was Danny, a beloved favourite, who passed in 2010.

Christina tends to be the cat that walks by herself – she’s not aggressive in any way to cats or humans, but she’s still a little wary. However, that’s improving all the time, with attention from volunteers and visitors. Just don’t try to touch her paws – she’s not yet ready for that degree of intimacy!

Blog by Brigid Coult
Photos by Michele Wright