A warm welcome today to Regan Walker, book reviewer, blogger and historical romance writer extraordinaire. Her latest novel, Wind Raven is a pirate romance set upon the high seas. She is sharing a post today about one of her characters in Wind Raven, a polydactyl cat. Don't miss this post!
The Polydactyl Ship’sCat
by Regan Walker
When I was researching the proper ship’s cat for my pirate Regency WIND RAVEN, set on a schooner (and other places) in 1817, I came across some interesting information about cats, specifically the ones with too many toes—polydactyl cats.
It probably seems fundamental that a cat could be, and was, a valued member of the crew, particularly for ridding a ship of mice and rats. But how much more exciting if that cat was special—with very intelligent green eyes and huge white paws!
The cat in WIND RAVEN is named “Dutch Sam’ for the English boxer Samuel Elias, who died the year before my story begins, and who was known as the deadliest puncher in London. The tribute was appropriate as my ship’s cat (actually a female the heroine calls “Samantha”) is a gray cat with intelligent green eyes and two huge white front paws.
And why are they so large?
Dutch Sam is a polydactyl cat, a cat with a congenital physical anomaly called polydactyl (or polydactylism), also known as hyperdactyly, a genetic mutation that causes the cat to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of its paws, so that the paws appear huge. The condition is commonly found in cats along the East Coast of North America (in the United States and Canada) and in Southwest England and Wales.
Although there is some controversy over whether the most common variant of the trait originated as a mutation in New England or was brought there from Britain, there is no disagreement that it spread widely as a result of cats carried on ships originating in Boston. In fact, the prevalence of polydactylism among the cat population of various ports correlates with the dates when they first established trade with Boston.
Sailors valued polydactyl cats, not only for their ability to rid the ship of rats and mice, but for their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities. It turns out that polydactylism does appear to improve the dexterity of the animal. For example, a common variation with six toes on the front paws, with two opposing digits on each (comparable in use to human thumbs) enables the cat to perform feats of manual dexterity generally not observed in non-polydactyl cats, such as opening latches or catching objects with a single paw. Wouldn’t that seem to make them more intelligent, too?
Thank you for stopping by and sharing this post, Regan. I love tidbits like this from history and so do my followers. I saw 45 of these cats recently at the Hemingway House in Key West! Don't miss Regan Walker's latest novel Wind Raven.
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