2012-06-06 / Columnists
Pets Pets Pets
When “talking dogs, I’ve learned you can’t always trust a breed name. For instance, French Poodles aren’t French, and Great Danes aren’t Danish. Both breeds were developed in Germany. Because of this canine confusion, I did some investigating into the origins of three popular cat breeds.
The Siamese is Siamese, if you please. Some accounts say the breed originated in Siam (Thailand) and others say that they can only be traced to the Far East. These cats are mentioned in a 14th century book of cat poems from Ayudhya, the old Siam capital. First called Royal Points, Siamese could only be owned by members of the king’s family. Theft of a Siamese was punishable by death.
Siamese cats were also venerated and important to religious ceremonies. When a member of the royal family died, the cat was entombed with them. Two different versions of the cat’s fate are recorded. One said that the burial chamber had a hole in the roof, so the cat could escape with the person’s soul. The other story is that the cat was sent to live out the rest of its life in luxury at the temple after the royal person died. The cat would have the monks as servants, rest on fancy pillows and dine on the finest foods- all so the cat would intercede with the Supreme Power on behalf of the deceased elite’s soul. Sounds like bribery to me.
Legends from Siam offer explanations for two faults unique to this breed - kinked tails and crossed eyes. One tale says the princess used her Siamese’s tail as a ring stand while she bathed. Another says that all the men of Siam left to defend the kingdom leaving a mated pair of Siamese cats to guard Buddha’s golden goblet. The male left to find a priest to take over the job, but, as is usually the case with married couples, the more responsible female wrapped her tail tightly around the goblet and didn’t take her eyes off the vessel to protect it until delivering her kittens, who had kinked tails and crossed eyes like poor worrisome Mama. Nowadays some Siamese kittens are born this way so the legend stays alive.
It’s quite possible that the first Siamese to enter the US was a gift to the First Lady (the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes) from the American consul in Bangkok in 1879. Mrs. Hayes named him “Siam” and he became a favorite in the White House.
The roots of the laid-back, longhaired, pansyface Persian are also mysterious. Some say these cats come from Persia (Iran) and arrived in Europe with caravans or Crusaders carrying spices, jewels and Turkish Angora cats. Until the 1950s the term Persian and Angora were interchangeable, but now just the heavier boned, flat-faced cats are known as Persians.
Despite hieroglyphic records from 1684 BC that move Persians further west, most feel that Persians derived from the harsh terrain of southwest Asia near present day Iran. The long coats come from a cross of European wild cats and the full-coated Steppe or Palla’s Cat from long ago. The Persian came to the US about the same time as the Siamese.
Finally, don’t expect to find fossils of ancestral Himalayans at the base of Mount Everest. Himalayan cats are an all-American invention. In 1930, a Harvard Medical School scientist and a cat breeder worked together and kept pairing a Siamese and Persian and their offspring until they created this hybrid breed with the color points and a long coat.
The name “Himalayan” was chosen because the new breed’s color pattern resembled that of the goats and rabbits living in the Himalayan area. These cats have light bodies and dark extremities, even though they are born almost solid white. They develop the dark points as they grow up. The darkness in the ears, nose, feet and tail is attributed to lower body temperatures in the extremities. Therefore, my guess is that it must be bitter cold in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the Harvard doctor and cat breeder sculpted this gorgeous creature.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: There aren’t any purebred Siamese, Persians or Himalayans at the shelter currently but there is a gorgeous Siamese mix named “Snowbelle” #2-122 in the lobby. She arrived with her kittens who have since been adopted. Snowbelle would prefer to be an only cat. “Mattingly” the Cocker Spaniel #12-299 was found on Sunrise Highway in Copiague. He is adorable, probably six to eight years old, and will need surgery to repair two cherry eyes. We wish that Mattingly could have the same luck as a younger Cocker clone named “Baker” at the shelter several months ago.
“Baker” was a Cocker pup surrendered to the shelter in January by his former owner’s girlfriend. He had a cherry eye too. I brought him to Last Hope on Feb. 11. Within an hour, a couple came in to look at small dogs. They just happened to be Cocker people. The man asked me about the corrective surgery. I started to explain that there were two ways to fix the eyes, and that the dog need not go to a specialist. He interjected: “I don’t know eyes, because I’m an orthopedist.” It turned out that he was the retired director of surgery at two LI hospitals. By coincidence, one of our Last Hope dog coordinators used to work in his office.
The doctor insisted that Baker have his eyes repaired by a veterinary ophthalmologist. He insisted on paying for the surgery, saying the worst that could happen was that he and his wife would decide not to adopt him, and Last Hope would still have a nice donation toward Baker’s care. The great volunteer who used to be the doctor’s receptionist handled all the adoption/veterinary details. Baker now resides with the doctor, his wife and their older Cocker in remission after chemotherapy.
Some K-9 karmas are just meant to be. “Mattingly” will probably be going to Last Hope this week. Could lucky lightning strike twice?