A VERY PURRCULIAR PRACTICE 25: THE SAGA OF THE PERSIAN CHIN DYNASTY
One unspayed female cat can, in just 5 years, be responsible for 25,000 descendants so we had to count ourselves lucky that we only had thirty cats to deal with. It began, as always, with a plea for help over the phone.
"I was told you can help me with a problem ..." Mr X explained in a protracted phone call, over a background noise of mating cats and mass purring.
The problem was that the caller had been given a Chinchilla Persian six years ago. Unaware of the fecundity of cats, not to mention the persistence of the local tomcats, he had not had Missy spayed and over the intervening 6 years, darling Missy had consorted with a couple of local toms of doubtful pedigree to found her own dynasty.
"We have rehomed some of the cats ourselves over the years, we never had much trouble as they were so pretty," he explained, "But we've sort of run out of homes for them to go to. The housing association say I can keep two of them if they're fixed."
The housing association had found out that Missy's dynasty had reached critical mass and was now poised for a takeover of his household. The neighbours had finally grown weary of hearing thirty cats arguing over the right to mate with their own relatives. Mr X had gone from novice cat owner to accidental cat breeder in six short years and was now experiencing the problem of supply outstripping demand.
"Are any of them neutered?" I enquired, experiencing a brief rush of hope over experience.
"Well, no," he said, "Every time I got one of the cats to the vets she was pregnant and he wouldn't do it."
The story emerged that after the first two litters he had sensibly confined Missy indoors. In fact, she'd never set foot outdoors again after that date. Oh, apart from the time she slipped out when Mrs X was paying the window-cleaner, but she (Missy, not Mrs X) had returned the next morning, so no harm done. But had he had her spayed? Sadly no, what with Missy always being pregnant. He hadn't had any of her offspring neutered either, figuring that she would not commit incest with her own sons and that her children would not commit incest among themselves. Mr X had had a bit of a shock when Missy and several of her daughters simultaneously produced litters despite all of them having been confined indoors.
"What about the toms? Have any of them been castrated?" I asked, suddenly aware that I should have euphemised my words, "I mean have any been snipped?"
"Well, I didn't like to. I mean, it would have been like .... well," he said and giggled, "And if the girls had been done it wouldn't have mattered would it?"
I'd heard that one before. Men. You'd have thought they were the ones being snipped, not the cats. On the whole, women were a lot more sensible! The house must have reeked of tomcat pee - no wonder the neighbours had reached breaking point.
Unfortunately for Mr X and his accidental dynasty, cats were domesticated in Pharoanic time and their breeding habits still mirror those of certain ancient Egyptian dynasties. Whether the ancient Egyptians got that idea from cats at the same time they got the idea for black eye-liner from cats, or whether cats picked up the idea (incest, not eye-liner) from their domesticators is an interesting thought for discussion at some other time.
As Mr X had found out, cats found dynasties along Pharoanic lines, marrying within their own families. However in the case of Mr X's cats it wasn't so much an attempt to keep bloodlines pure and ensure the throne stayed within the family, as having to make do with whatever suitor was on hand and on heat at the time. Mr X had discovered, to his horror, that cats do not have incest taboos. Nor do they carry condoms or practice coitus interruptus. Mrs X had been practising cattus interruptus every time she found two of them 'at it' but the cats just hid behind the sofa and did it out of sight.
You see, unlike humans, where mating does not automatically result in pregnancy, for a cat sex equals babies (in the plural) every time. Mr and Mrs X no doubt indulged in a spot of recreational nookie, but their cats were more into creational sex. Only when Mr and Mrs X had cats on every shelf and chair and he'd run out of family on whom to off-load surplus stock, had the caller finally realised that he was up to his neck in fat furry trouble. And that was where we came into the equation.
On our first visit to the small semi which Mr and Mrs X shared with 5 children and a blanket of living silver, grey and black fur, it appeared that the situation was both better and worse than we'd realised. There were far more than thirty cats. Missy and her daughters had had a fair crack at the 25,000 mark and judging by the way a few of the cats were waddling about, the next batch was on its way. One of the Longhair rescues was taking the most typey cats. They had a waiting list of people who wanted Persians and some of Missy's progeny were, as far as looks alone could tell, as near as dammit Persians. Moreover, the people on the Longhair rescue's list knew about caring for longhaired cats and weren't too bothered about all the fancy paperwork:
"I don't have the actual pedigree, but from the look of him he's from the Such'n'such line. He's probably related to Such'n'such Thinga-ma-jig, the one who got a record number of Best Ins. May have been from that line produced when she - oh what was her name? - started outcrossing to that American Ooja-maflit cat to get a some really good silvers. He's certainly got 'the look'."
Though if he was related to Such'n'such Thinga-ma-jig, he was born the wrong side of the cat blanket. Still, a little fantasising doesn't hurt so long as the cat gets a good home and doesn't compete outside of the Household Pet class.
A neighbouring shelter and a privately run cat shelter got a dozen or so cats each. A few others were fostered out with individuals who worked for cat shelters. The administration was made easier by the fact that Mr and Mrs X had long since given up giving cats individual names.
"So," said the lady from the private rescue, "We have 12 cats, 11 of which are called Fluffy and one is called Tiger," she sucked the end of her pen, "Two of the cats are obviously female," she said peering at two heavily pregnant Fluffies, "and we'll work out what sex the rest are when we get back to the shelter."
The three volunteers from our neighbouring branch counted up six Tigers, a couple of Blackies and a few Smokeys. Another couple of Blackies and a Patch went off with a fosterer and a Snowy (goodness knows where that one came from!) went off in another direction. Somehow, Missy's bloodline had given rise to a sort-of Smoke Point Himalayan, which was almost the victim of a custody battle before it went off with a fosterer who had beaten the Longhair rescue lady to it, and a range of what Mr X called shorthaired Persians.
"Has anyone round here got a Siamese cat?" asked one of the volunteers from our neighbouring branch.
"I've not seen one," Mrs X told us, "but there was that night when she got out while I paid the window cleaner and the lady over the road used to have a Birm-something-or-other which she said our Siamesey-looking Persian looked a bit like."
The Siamesey-looking Persian was now revelling in the name of Mercedes and the lady who'd won the custody battle was going to adopt him permanently. We were still left with about thirty cats of assorted colours, including a few colours which none of us had seen in any of the breed books.
The end result of six years’ inbreeding (with one accidental outcross to a Birm-something-or-other) provides an interesting study into what geneticists call a ‘limited gene pool’. The original mix of Chinchilla Persian and tabby toms had, over several generations, produced a variety of longhaired and shorthaired (and everything-inbetween-haired) cats which variously resembled their Persian dynastic mother, their shorthaired dynastic fathers and several body shapes inbetween, plus eye colours ranging from orange, through yellow, to green and a few blue-eyed cats which hinted at something a little more erotic, sorry, exotic in the mix.
Our share of the end result of six years' inbreeding were mewing plaintively in the back of the van on their way to a cat shelter and appointments with the vet who, with any luck, was sharpening up his snipping equipment in anticipation (that's what he told me, our vet has a strange sense of humour).
The colour varieties were yet more interesting. Mendel can forget his experiments with smooth and wrinkly peas; he could have had a field day with the ‘Chin Dynasty’. Our share of the dynasty included sparkling silvery Chinchillas in the 'old style'; there were Shaded Silvers which looked as though they were wearing grey capes, and Black Smokes whose silvery undercoats were only visible when they were combed. There were conventional brown tabbies, silver tabbies and golden tabbies (with or without white bits - the Chin Dynasty caters for all tastes).
The inbreeding had also produced cats which resembled Golden Chinchillas and Shaded Goldens while a few of the colour combinations simply defied description. One kitten was a sort of shaded silver with black tabby markings on top, all patched onto a white background. A littermate (with the females pooling their litters it was impossible to work out who'd produced whom, never mind who'd fathered whom, but since everyone suckled everyone else's kittens we'd tried to share them out equally among nursing cats) seemed to have random patches of shaded silver and shaded golden all mixed up with tabby bits and white patches. Some of the cats could have masqueraded as old-fashioned Persians; but the rest were equally attractive for one reason or another.
"I'm not calling anything Fluffy or Blackie or Smokey," announced Elvira, "They need proper names." Elvira's idea of proper names meant anything to do with motorbikes. "That pretty silvery one can be Sprocket and his brother can be Double Overhead Cam-shaft, sorry just joking. Sprocket and Sparky. Harley and Honda."
"Sturmey and Archer," quipped Joyce.
"Throttle and Choke," I suggested.
Of course, around half of those thirty cats were female and around half of those females were obviously pregnant while the rest were rolling about in wild abandon trying to entice the males. The males did not seem particularly competitive with each other and apart from loud arguments over who was going to go first, they seemed content to form orderly queues for the attentions of the various hopeful females. Their patience, and the females’ hopefulness, were in vain now that they had reached the shelter. I could almost hear the sound of vets' scalpels being sharpened.
Our first problem was where to put thirty adult cats in an already nearly full cattery. All the free kittening pens were pressed into use as emergency accommodation for up to 5 cats in each with a few doubled up in the roomy hospital pens. Luckily the Chins, even the toms, were all very sociable with each other and were far happier being housed in groups than singly. Luckily they were also very sociable towards people. Unluckily, they were so sociable with people that they mobbed the feeders who had to sit down and spend half an hour submerged under a blanket of heaving, loving, cat fur before the cats even considered eating. The owners had obviously grown used to sharing their beds with the best part of eighty cats, thus reducing winter-time heating bills and eliminating the need for hot water bottles or electric blankets.
Our second problem was how to neuter all the neuterable cats as quickly as possible so that they could be homed and pens freed up for the expectant mothers. We had been considering a local ‘Neuterathon’ and our vet had agreed to reserve an entire day for neutering an endless procession of cats brought in by the public. Then we'd heard about our share of a Persian dynasty and our vet had agreed to block book three afternoons for us. In the event, the Neuterathon became a purely cat shelter affair during which twenty or so members of the ‘Chin Dynasty’ were snipped.
The pregnant females had apparently become pregnant at the same time and were ready to produce the next generation of the Chin Dynasty. Even after moving neutered cats to homing pens, we had only four available kitten pens between eight of them (a few inconsiderately pregnant strays had turned up and were not willing to share). It was a case of two mums per pen, combining their litters and resources. In one case it was three cats in one pen, because a male member of the dynasty, nicknamed "Katoey" (it's Thai for transvestite) because of his alternative sexual orientation, was inseparable from his ‘sisters’ and minded their kittens while the girls had a well earned break. He proved a better ‘mother’ than either of the females and they soon decided to let him do the kitten-cleaning so that they only had to feed their offspring.
A fortnight after "Operation Chinchilla Mop-Up", the former owner of the Chin dynasty decided to give an interview to a local paper. He told the paper that we had confiscated all his cats and they had all been put to sleep. There was a heart-rending description of how his children had sobbed as we'd taken away their cats to be destroyed. His kids had actually helped pick up the cats, solemnly kissed each one between its furry little ears (five kisses per cat) and said "Bye, bye Fluffy. Be a good a cat." It had slowed down proceedings considerably, not that we'd minded since it reassured the kids.
The interview said that Mr and Mrs X had been unable to sleep because of what they'd done, how they'd signed their cats death warrants and how, if only they'd realised, they'd never have parted with their cats. One of the neighbours got a single line quote saying "Bullshit, the cats went to rescue centres for rehoming." The housing association managed a footnote in small print saying "He faced eviction if he didn't reduce the number of cats to a manageable level," and Mr and Mrs X told readers (in larger print) how much they regretted giving up their cats to feline concentration camps who had probably taken the cats straight to the death chamber.
An embarrassed Mr X retracted his statements about cats being destroyed when the same newspaper printed group photos of our thirty (now more than fifty thanks to a superb display of synchronised kittening by eight Chin females and a confused Katoey who'd thought he was pregnant) very much alive cats and kittens. The other rescuers got their two penn'orth in as well and Mr X admitted that maybe he'd exaggerated, but he was pretty upset about losing eighty cats at once and was bound to be emotional, okay?
In the period between his article and ours, we received so many abusive phone calls from people who'd read his interview and so many threats of withdrawn supports that we avoided the telephone as much as possible until our interview had appeared in the paper - bringing in several offers of homes from people who still thought the cats were on the verge of being put down; a nice trickle of donations from people who knew the cats weren't going to be put down, plus some anonymous five pound notes from people who had presumably given us an earful the week before. We, or rather Elvira, had had the foresight to mention the cost of upkeep in our interview.
In fact, after our article, we had so many offers of homes that we were in danger of running out of cats and found homes for every vaguely Persian-looking or silver tabby cat on our waiting list that could reasonably be passed off as a member of the Chin dynasty. There was a grave danger of fisticuffs as people tried to pre-book Chin dynasty kittens. A longhair tortie stray obligingly help us out by producing a larger than average litter of fluffy kittens which became honorary members of the Chin dynasty.
And no, we didn't name anything Throttle and Choke. Those names were vetoed by our vet on the grounds of bad taste. He said that cat rescuers have a strange sense of humour.
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