10 - "Pussy" - Mig Phoenix

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 10. "Pussy" - 44 Whiskers
       and Snow-White Fur
Who forgot it? Surely nobody! Because the following events took place on the Florida Keys, after the citizens had burned the suspected witch. And this time we don’t have just a historical story full of suspense, but also a biological peculiarity. But back to the beginning:
We remember: Key Largo, a striving metropole at the Caribbean Sea, got in big trouble in the year 1607, allegedly caused by the curse of a witch. In spring 1608 the witch seemed to be found and was burned on the stake in March. But this was not at all the end of the story. Because one of the main evidences to be working as a witch was the possession of a cat. Well, it was none of the usual suspected black cats the woman owned, but a snow-white one – but this small imperfection within the evidence was generally accepted.
That there was something special with this cat, already Key Largo’s local chronicler Seat Altea noted: „The cate beaste, which one was owened bye the thoroughly bade witche, haseth been a absolutely pecurliarily animale. White like da snowe of tha winter time ande very thicke thee fur, the cat gaveth an very cute picture. But as soone as thy tryeth to pet tha beaste, it turneth into a so very baade creatur, whicheth scratcheth, hisseth, ande attacketh eache human foote, which it could gette.” Also, it obviously was not able to say „meow.” Beside that its tail measured exactly one English foot, 30.5 centimeters. And as every animal, especially pets, have to get a name, the citizens of Key Largo gave the witches cat simply the common name “Pussy.”
Yes, she looks nice. But attention! She is a descendant
of the witch's cat: Snow-white fur, 44 whiskers and
sometimes very bad mood are typical for
"biquatrobarbar" cats
And another specialty Altea could report: “When the weirde beaste haseth been arrested together with tha witche, the guarde responsible noteth something very strange. Because on eache side of tha mouthe the animal has accurately 22 longe whiskers. Such never was founde at an cate beaste.”
 
The responsible jail warden, Leo Gali was his name according to the files, even went further according to the chroniclers report. To solve the riddle of the 44 whiskers he started an experiment, in which he teared out some of the poor cat’s hairs. And he performed that with extreme scientific precision, as he pulled out seven hairs from the right and five from the left. But, as Altea noted, the warden to shed some blood: „During these experimente the stubborne beaste gaveth four dozzen of deepe wounde to thee poore guardsman, some of them through the skinne down to the bones of the hande.”
 
But the experiment hat astonishing results too: Because just one day later all whiskers had grown back. The number 44 was complete again. Mister Gali repeated the experiment several times – even had to take some days sick leave due to his wounds, what is recorded in the Florida Key Archive for the year 1608 – but the result was always the same: 44 whiskers one day later!
 
Unfortunately – or fortunately for both involved – the experiment ended at the day, when the witch of Key Largo finished her lifetime burning on the stake. Because one moment of carelessness was enough, “and the bewitcheth beaste escapeth from the hangmanes graspe and fleeeth in tha yelling masse of peoples.”
 
Well, basically nothing special. But when we have a closer look into the files in the archive of the Florida Keys, we find really weird notes. For example, one year later, which means the early summer on 1609, the channel pilot’s log of Key Largo has the entry: “Today a strange white cat beaste with three kittyens were sneaking along the channel and around the African Queen. [Of course he didn’t mean the boat from the movie, located there today, but his black girl friend in his bedroom.] When I had tryeth, to pet the cute kittens, all three ofe them diggeth theyr claws into mine lefte foote. Chaseth them away then.” What he had spotted before: All four cats had exactly 44 whiskers each!
 
Two years later, the island of Islamorada. Village chronicler Casagrande: “We writeth the year of the Lord 1511, some days befor a bearded man arriveth with gifte, white cates the number ten runneth over the islande. Cute beaste, but from time to time reacting very aggressively. Granny Peter had counteth, that alle cates haveth 44 whiskerth at the mouthes.”
 
Then, in 1613, in the “Key Largo Kourier” – again handwritten in 72-dot-italics – the huge headline: “The Witches’ Cat is Back – And Haveth Reproduceth Scaringly!” The author Tordessilas reports, that 44 of the white cats had been counted, and obviously all of them had 44 whiskers, “and sometimes beeth unpredictable.”
 
After a short time the cats seemed to have left the town, because no further reports follow. But instead from Vaca Key (1614) and from Big Pine Key. Here, in the files of the “Old Wooden Bridge Marina”, it is noted under the date May 21st 1615, that an astonishing big number of white cats with 44 whiskers is threatening the marina, already some hotel guests had been hurt. In the basement of the hotel still today an old sign can be found, then standing between the house and the marina directly at the walkway: „Beware from the cates beastes, for eacheth damage our insurance does note paye!”
 
But here too the cats vanished as quick, as they had showed up. The last destination seemed to be Key West, where with a little bit of luck you still today can find numerous descendants of the witch’s cat. Although not all of them are snow-white any more, one thing they all have in common: the 44 whiskers. I have been able to count them at some of them myself.
 
This leads to the question, if something like that is possible at all. What would be easier, than asking the world’s leading expert for cats, Professor Dr. Kitty Whisker-Count from the “Princington School of Catology” in Great Britain.
 
“As with all animals cats too can have inheritable genetic mutations. Just remember the cats with six toes at their front paws – polidactyl is the specialist term – which got famous by Hemingway’s house in Cuba,” Whisker-Count explained on my phone request. “Biquatrobarbaria” would be the term for the deviation with 44 whiskers, which could be nearly “exclusively found in the region of the Florida Keys.” This would be always accompanied by an exact tail length of one foot. 
They roam Hemingway's houses: "Polydactile" cats. The additional toe on the inside is easy to recognize
Even more the professor can tell about these very special species of cats: “The get just very seldom used to the presence of humans. Even, when they take care of them for years, they are never safe of the cats, for the case they are scared or simply just in a bad mood.”
 
What was new even for the cat expert – her main point of effort are genetic deviations of domestic cats and their wild living relatives – was the extensive report from the early 17th Century. Surprised Whisker-Count stated: “Until now we all had been convinced, that their first mentioning was in Darwin’s book ‘On The Origin Of Species’.”
 
So some lessons can be learned from the story. It is pretty likely, that the cats with 44 whiskers on Key West are descendants of the cat, which once was the pet, owned by the alleged witch of Key Largo.
Also their occasional aggressiveness seems to be inherited. And by this Key Largo’s jail warden Leo Gali with his – admittedly very painful for both sides – experiments was ahead of Darwin for more than two hundred years.
By the way, in the meantime the “Princington School of Catology” – of course for good payment – is looking for a picture of Mr. Gali, which should be put on one level with a large portrait of Charles Darwin in the big lecture hall. Should some of his descendants have such a picture: Contact person is Professor Dr. Kitty Whisker-Count, to be reached by the E-Mail address K.Whisker-Count@princington.catology.org
 
And with regard to the subject internet, there are another news to be reported. About three years ago, when the stories about the 44-whisker-cats shortly hit the local media, there were quite some cat owners, who gave their darlings an extensive hair count.
 
And surprise: Not just all cats had the mentioned number of whiskers – some of them even had snow-white fur. Reason enough for smart friends of the cats, to start an own breeding program. Allegedly, to secure the surviving of the rare species and prevent them from extinction.
It is definitely disputable, if it is good for cats to
put them in small parcels with holes in it for
transport overseas. But without any doubt this
is a descendant of the witch cats too.
But what causes doubts in observers and animal lovers, is the way of distribution. That the cats are offered via the internet under the address www.44cats.biz seems to be okay. But the fact, that they don’t have to be picked up or are brought by an animal transport, but are delivered by the postal service like books or DVDs in a cardboard box, gives reason to have some doubts into the seriousness of the company.
 
According to the company’s information, the cats nevertheless are so undemanding, that they even survive tours of several days without any problems. So, if your cat loves to jump into boxes, maybe it’s related to the witch’s cat. Just start to count your cat’s whiskers to be sure.
 
© Mig Phoenix 2008
 
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