Cat Sanctuary

Ginger Genes

Orange cats are favourites for many of us at the Sanctuary – and their personalities are as diverse as the cats themselves. They range from cats that are loving and attention-seeking to the ones who hide away and hope you won’t notice them.

All orange cats are tabbies of one kind or another, though with some the tabby patterning may be hard to distinguish. They are predominantly male – one in five (perhaps slightly more) is female. The red colouring is on the X chromosome; females (XX) need both parents to carry the colouring pattern, males (XY) only need it from one parent. However, the same colouring patterns can create tortoiseshell and calico cats – and those cats are predominantly female.

We’ve had a good example of this nearby. One of Richmond’s many recreational areas, the Bridgeport trail was built on a former CN rail corridor. The pathway has become well used by walkers, but also by coyotes, raccoons and an assortment of feral cats, who have found hiding places in adjacent properties. Retired RAPS volunteer Elizabeth must hang a feline “welcome” sign out, since she had brought us several cats she has trapped over the years, and trapper Stephanie knows the area well. It was Stephanie who brought us two orange boys back in 2018 – one long-hair and one short-hair, and likely brothers. She named them Rocket and Pocket – when they came to us Pocket was for some reason renamed Sprocket. In the course of the inevitable testing and neutering, it was found that Rocket was FIV+, and he was placed in the New Aids are;  Sprocket, after the obligatory cage-stay, was released in the back courtyard.

Both boys had obviously never been handled – they were true ferals.  After an initial period of hiding from everything, Sprocket made friends with Double-Wide buddy Tiger, and when Tiger was adopted, with a number of other back courtyard cats; he learned from them that humans were not as scary as they looked. He is still a little wary, but much more confident; he will allow touch, though he’s not a lap-cat, and he loves to explore.

Rocket, on the other hand, buddied up with a bunch of FIV+ cats who were as feral as he was, and for some time, all we would see of him would be a disappearing tail. He knew every hiding place in the pen, and when he finally ventured into the cabin, it was to get as high up and out of the way as possible.  It has taken a lot of patient work on the part of Kitty-Comforters and volunteers, but he is now allowing himself to be found within reach, and to be petted and given treats. The boy who wouldn’t allow us to look at him is now rumbling like a motor when stroked, and starting to look for attention.

In the summer of 2019 a growing colony of cats was tracked down and trapped in the same area. All the youngest ones were tamed and adopted out; but a group of then-adolescents were too old for taming to be an easy prospect and were popped into Pen 6. The majority of the colony were black – the two males we think were the primary sires (Zeus and Pax) were black, but there were a number of tortie females – and there’s that genetic link for the red colouring.

One of shyest of the teens was an orange boy we called Mercury, and as he has grown, and become less terrified of us, it’s become obvious that he is related to Sprocket and Rocket, though he’s at least a year younger.  We’ve occasionally encountered Mercury and Sprocket staring at each other through the gate like mirror images.

Right now, the Pen 6 cats are still too wary to be released, but they are making steady progress, with play and food on offer. When they finally emerge, I will look forward to watching the two ginger boys meet in person!

Blog by Brigid Coult
Photos by Lisa Brill-Friesen & Karen Nicholson