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2012-07-11 / Columnists

Pets Pets Pets

Cats are clamoring for equal time. Since last week’s column suggested several dog destinations for canine connoisseurs inclined to take a road trip, this week’s “Pets” will list some spots that feline fanciers may like to visit. Just be forewarned that you may be dipping into your frequent flyer miles for the first two destinations.

Three US spots that cat lovers may like to see:

#1-Ernest Hemingway’s Key West Home & Museum at 907 Whitehead Street is also home to over 50 polydactyl (which means they have extra toes) free roaming cats, descended from Papa Hemingway’s polydactyl “Snowball” given to him in 1935 by a ships captain. Polydactyl cats have long been popular with sea captains sailing the Atlantic. The Hemingway cat colony draws visitors to the stone mansion that Hemingway inhabited from 1930 to 1939. Nowadays resident cats lounge all over the property. They even have a miniature replica mansion and a pet cemetery where predecessors named for celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Errol Flynn are buried.


Hemingway in Key West with his cat “Boise” (photo from JFK library) Hemingway in Key West with his cat “Boise” (photo from JFK library) At the Hemingway Home, a team of vets maintains vaccines, flea, ear mite and heartworm control, but it’s unclear if the cats are altered or are left to breed freely which would touch a nerve with any rescue folks who visit Key West. The term “Hemingway cat” has become synonymous with a polydactyl kitty. See hemingwayhome.com.

For entertainment outside of Hemingway’s property, Catman Dominique’s Flying House Cat Show is another Key West attraction. Dominique LeFort, an animal trainer, and his talented troupe of rescued cats perform circus-style stunts at nearby Westin Pier.

We see polydactyl kitties at the shelters all the time. Normal cats have 18 toes- five on each front foot; four on each hind paw. A polydactyl cat has a genetic abnormality that causes the cat to be born with extra toes- most common on the front feet only; less common on hind paws only; rarely on all four feet. Some polydactyls have more manual dexterity; others are a bit clumsy when jumping and landing on their mitten feet. It can be a bit tricky when clipping their nails, especially the thumbs.

#2- In 2011, the Cat Fanciers’ Association Foundation, the world’s largest registry of pedigree cats, opened the Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio to conserve the history of cats and show the development of the cat fancy through the acquisition of fine art, artifacts and literature. Among the first show acquisitions was the silver collar and medal worn by “Cosey,” the winner of Best In Show at the first cat show held at Madison Square Garden in 1895. Cosey was a brown tabby Maine Coon. (To compare, Westminster Kennel Club was here in Babylon at that time and had already hosted 12 annual shows at the Garden by 1895.)

The Maneki Neko Special Collection will be on view through October. This art exhibit includes 160 Japanese welcoming cats with the trademark raised paw. See felinehistoricalfoundation.org.

#3- The Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway has a collection of cat mummies from Egypt with linen wrappings in varying styles of complexity, including one laid to rest inside a limestone sarcophagus. See brooklynmuseum.org.

During certain periods of Egyptian history, cats were worshipped and sacred to the cat goddess Bastet. The practice of mummification was extended to them, and the respect that cats received after death mirrored their revered treatment in everyday life. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that in the event of a fire, men would guard the fire to make certain that no cats ran into the flame. Herodotus also wrote that when a cat died, the household would go into mourning as if for a human relative, and would often shave their eyebrows to signify their loss.

But sometimes mummified cats did not die of natural causes. Cats were often killed and mummified to accompany their owners in death. They were also popular religious offerings brought to the goddess Bastet, in the way votive candles are offered at churches today. The feline mummification process was similar to that of humans, and the practice was so common that cat cemeteries were needed to bury the feline offerings.

In 1888, a huge tomb with 19 tons of animal mummies was uncovered outside the temple to Bastet. The farmer who made the discovery sold much of it to be ground up as fertilizer but local kids also plundered the cemetery and sold the cat mummies as curiosities to travelers. Some mummies “survived” and are now in the custody of museums.

In 2009, the Brooklyn Museum together with the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan x-rayed the cat mummies as part of the feline genome project. Long leg bones were donated to the project. The radiologists were able to confirm that the mummies were definitely cats, and were able to detect clues to age at death. By examining skull shape and teeth, the scientists were sometimes able to suggest whether the mummy was a domesticated or a certain small wild species of cat native to ancient Egypt.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Snow” is one of the mystery strays to show up unclaimed at town shelters all over LI. She is a young, sweet, recently shaved Cockerpoo found in Copiague. Why isn’t anyone looking for her? Their loss will be someone appreciative’s gain. The Kit n’ Kaboodle shown represents the overflow of kittens and cats currently waiting for homes at the height of kitten season. These cute tabbies are in Cage 4 in the shelter lobby. They have been spayed/neutered and are ready for adoption.

Dogs: male & female Beagles found at Tanner Park; “Pinky”- older Shih tzu; “Shorty”- Shepherd/Pit mix pup.

Cats: “Tango” - the Uncle Sam kitten featured last week; “Tabitha” Maine Coon mix; “Snowbelle”- Siamese mix.

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