Apr 6, 2009

Hemingway Cats

I have several kitties but three of them... Windsor (Mr. Digits to most,) Binky and Koda all have multiple toes...It's a strange sight and I get a lot of comments from those who watch my cats' webcam about how unique they look (yes, my cats have their own webcam, hello...I'm a witch!) There's an interesting story about how multi-toed cats earned their fame so I thought I would tell you a little bit about how it all came about...

Ernest Hemingway, the famous writer and also an inveterate cat-lover, loved the spirit and independence of cats and acquired his first multi-toed cat as a gift from a ship's captain in Key West, Florida... where he made his home for a number of years. This cat which may have been a Maine Coon... had extra toes (technically known as polydactyl... Latin for "many digits".)

Today approximately 60 cats... half of them polydactyl... make their home in Key West...protected by the terms of Hemingway's will. At least some of those cats are descendants of Hemingway's first cat and are given fanciful names as he once did.... after movie stars and even characters in his book. The cats of the Hemingway Museum are so popular and so well-known, that the nickname "Hemingway Cats" or "Mitten Feet" have often been given to polydactyls.

The trait for polydact comes from a dominant gene and only a polydactyl cat can parent another polydact. Although the Maine Coon (whose ancestors are also thought to have immigrated to the U.S. aboard ships) is believed to have been the first breed to have this trait... polydact is considered a fault in that breed and indeed in every other breed except the Pixie Bob... a relatively new breed. So, rather than a breed, polydact is just a genetic trait somewhat like the genetics for the tabby pattern.

Instead of the normal 18 toes (five on each front foot and four on the rear) found on most cats, polydacts have six or more toes on the front feet and sometimes an extra toe on the rear. However, unlike the popular tabby whose pattern can be found in many breeds, the polydact is frowned upon by breed registries. Why.....? Although not inherently dangerous, there is a possibility that the extra toes could be malformed, either with two toes fusing such as Koda who has two extra toes are on top of his left foot or with ingrown toenails like those that had to be removed from Windsor (aka Mr. Digits.)

Although not approved as "purebreds," polydacts are adored by their human companions. Whether called "polydactyls," "Hemingway Cats," or "Mitten Feet," these many-toed cats warm the hearts and hearths of those people (and witches) fortunate to share a home with one.

(Pictured is my Mr. Digit's... he has seven toes on each front foot and five on his back feet....)

1 comment:

Brigitte said...

I us to look at the Hemmingways Cat Cam, and I se the cats walk around there!