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2010-06-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why certain “desirable” dogs or cats languish at a shelter. For the last month a handsome, friendly young Siamese cat has been waiting to be discovered at Babylon Town Shelter. I named him “Yul” after the star of TheKing and I. This generated some interest but no takers, so now we are vocalizing louder. Move your ear closer to the column, and you can almost hear Yul chanting the Siamese duet from Lady & the Tramp:

“We are Siameeiz if you pleeiz. We are Siameeiz if you don’t pleeiz. We are former residents of Siam. There are no finer cats than we am. We are Siamese with very dainty claws. Please observing paws containing dainty claws…..” dainty claws…..”

“Yul” is a Sealpoint with gorgeous blue eyes. He is about 4 years old. He was turned in by someone who kept him outdoors. He was neutered via the shelter, and will sit with you on the couch in the Meet n’ Greet room or hang out without begging while you are having a bagel. He even let the director groom him.

Siamese cat depicted in Thai manuscript predating 1767. Siamese cat depicted in Thai manuscript predating 1767. Siamese cats trace back to Thailand (called Siam until 1939) but the breed name was an Anglo addition when the first ones were imported to the U.K. and U.S. during the late 19th century. The first Siamese in America was a gift from our consulate to the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879. The cat aptly named “Siam” traveled from Hong Kong to San Francisco on a steamship and then by express to Washington.

Ayudhya was the capital city of Siam from 1350 until 1767 when the city and its temples, palaces and libraries were burned to the ground by the Burmese. Several treasures survived including a manuscript called Tamra Maew (Cat Book Poems). It contains sketches, incantations and verses of feline archetypes resembling various breeds we now consider exotic such as Siamese, Korats, and Tonkinese, many which were once revered and were only the property of aristocracy.

Tamra Maew is presently in the National Library in Bangkok. Keep in mind the local people would have called all their cats “Siamese.” Among the 17 cats shown in the ancient volume is “Wichien-mass” which means “jewel” or “moon-diamond” in Thai. This Adam or Eve cat seems to be what we call “Siamese” today. Take a look. He is a Sealpoint just like Babylon’s Yul.

Siamese cat history is intertwined with fanciful folklore; even a Biblical tale that insists when an ape fell in love with a lioness on Noah’s Ark, their unlikely union produced the first uniquely marked Siamese kitten. Some legends claim that Siamese could only be kept at the palace; others say they were guarded in Buddhist temples. Another practice clarifies that the cat’s residence was probably both places. When a person of high rank died, it was customary to select one of these venerated Siamese cats to receive the deceased person’s soul. The cat was then removed from the royal household and sent to the temple to spend the rest of its nine lives in ceremonial luxury, attended to by the monks and priests as servants. The departed’s family provided the finest foods and furniture for the cat as a way to garner blessings and good fortune. Once a temple cat, the Siamese was said to have special powers and could intercede on behalf of the soul of the dead person.

Originally, crossed eyes and kinked tails were characteristics of the breed. The ancients explained that a Siamese had a kinked tail so a princess could use it as a secure ring holder while she was bathing. However, both physical oddities are explained by another story. Once all the men of Siam went off to war, leaving a pair of Siamese cats to guard Buddha’s golden goblet in the temple. The male got restless and took off but his mate was more faithful to her task, wrapping her tail around the cup while never deflecting her glance. When her kittens were born, they had the same afflictions as Mom- a bent tail and crossed eyes. In present time a kinked tail and crossed eyes are considered flaws and have been largely eliminated with careful selection by breeders.

The actual biology behind Siamese appearance is amazing. The blue eyes and the colored fur points are derived from a partial albino gene. This mutation, a defective enzyme, is heat sensitive. All Siamese are born as solid white kittens but develop darker points over time on their cooler extremities such as feet and face. Because of the same defect, most Siamese do not have colored retinas. That’s why the eyes appear blue and reflect red in photos. In the past, crossed eyes compensated for the neural wiring of a restricted visual field, but this cosmetic problem too has been bred out by show people.

Siamese cats are an acquired taste. Theyare social, intelligent cats, known for their talking. Their vocalizations can sound like a baby crying or the word “Wow”. Just like Huskies opera singing or Beagles baying, you either love or hate the sound. Siamese can be high strung, persistently seeking their human’s attention, and may do better when they have a feline friend. They should not be outside cats. Yul is vocal, and even tries unsuccessfully to open his shelter cage with his paw.

Yul # 20296 at Babylon Shelter is being moved to the Cat Colony because in his smaller cage few realize he is there. He sure would like to find a home so he can chant the last lines of the Disney song: “Now we lookin’ over our new domicile. If we like maybe we will stay a while.”

Also Adoptable at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: This tiny Chihuahua # 93360 came in as a Wyandanch stray. Friendly and young, he likes people and other dogs. There is also a sweet female Pomeranian #93349. Both enjoy being carried.

Male: “Bradley” Beagle Cage 2; great tuxedo kitten in lobby #20315.

Female: top Pit mix choices-“Bella” Cage 27; “Jinni” carries her bowl Cage 45; “Star” veteran shelter gal Cage 29.

Two Upcoming Events: Last Hope Wine Tasting Fundraiser at the Walt Whitman birthplace in Huntington on Fri. June 18 from 6 to 9 pm- Blue Grass entertainment; raffle baskets. Tickets $45.

Also Last Hope’s Free Dog/Cat Rabies Shot Clinic to be held at Babylon Town Shelter on Sun. June 27 from 11 am to 3 pm. Rain or shine. No appt. necessary. All LI dogs/cats are eligible. See www.lasthopeanimalrescue. org for more information about both.

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