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  • James Meleney


My Life with Maddie

Welcome Home!

We all have a story to tell of how our wonderful pets arrived in our lives. Mine began 15 years ago.

It was a cold November day in 2007. My wife was rounding at the hospital when she called me to come see her, she had a birthday surprise for me.

What a surprise it was - a beautiful little ball of fur and fleas, no bigger than the palm of my hand. I knew immediately this kitten would be special.

Madeline, or Maddie as she would come to be known, was a beautiful tortoiseshell kitten named for the small traditional French cake. She indeed proved to be small yet anything but traditional. Born in a country barn in early October she displays all the unique traits of a “tortie” - fiercely independent, feisty, strong-willed and very, very vocal. Oh, and did I say vocal. Starting at an early age she made her presence and needs known with a constant stream of directed vocalizations (usually at me). I have logged 18 distinct “meows” to “yowls” varying in intensity and volume, especially at dinner and bedtime. More about these later.

At times it seems she has a split personality. One minute she is purring in my lap, the next she is racing around the house literally bouncing off the walls like a crazy cat. She will run to a wall or the side of the couch, jump onto the surface and perform a “flip turn” like a competitive swimmer, changing direction 180 degrees then launching off the wall in the opposite direction she came. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Oh, forgive me. Perhaps you are not familiar with a “tortie”, they are unique in the feline world.

So, what’s a “Tortie”?

Tortoiseshell cats are one of the world’s most visually attractive felines. Coming in a range of colors and patterns, with no two exactly the same, they can make a great companion.

Contrary to what some people think, tortoiseshell cats (nicknamed “torties”) are not a breed. They get their name from the distinctive coloring and patterns on their coats. Combinations of black, brown, amber, red, cinnamon or chocolate with little or no white dispersed in patches over the body. These resemble the shell of a tortoise, hence the name.

Sometimes, the colors are muted. These torties are known as dilute torties. Very dark torties with a lot of black in their fur are often called “chocolate torties.” Occasionally, the typical tortoiseshell colors are also seen in a tabby (striped) pattern; these cats are referred to as “torbies.”

So how do “torties” get their distinctive coloring?

Basically, genetics. A cat’s main color is determined by a primary coat color gene. The tortoiseshell pattern is determined by two co-dominant genes, two genes that are expressed at the same time and affect each other. In a bi-colored tortie, these two genes comingle to produce the characteristic brindled tortoiseshell pattern. In dilute torties, these genes are modified by a recessive gene, which results in softer coat colors.

Most tortoiseshell cats are female, because two X chromosomes are required to produce black, gold and orange coloring. Male cats only have one X and one Y chromosome, so technically it’s genetically almost impossible for a male to inherit the tortoiseshell coloring. Interestingly, a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri revealed only 1 in 3000 tortoiseshell cats are male and are usually sterile.

Ok, enough science, back to our little fur ball.

As feisty as she was in her early days (and still today although a bit more mellow), she was also sweet and loving to our other household cats Samson and Xena, especially Samson (Sam) our big 10-year-old orange male tabby. We found out why a few years later why when we discovered Maddie had a brother, an orange tabby too.

Patient and really easy-going Sam endured a multitude of indignities. Perhaps the funniest were the wrestling-style ambushes from atop the master bed to Sam on the floor. Sam would walk by in his slow plodding manner on his way to his sunny spot near the deck door. Maddie would launch off the bed to literally land on Sam’s back then fall off to scamper away. Sam would shrug off the indignity and proceed on his way. Maddie never seemed to tire of this game, and thankfully Sam always obliged in his carefree, easy-going way.

Luckily, the infamous “tortitude” appeared rarely as Maddie settled into her new home. Between the master bedroom and the living room was a short, narrow hall. This became “no man’s land” with Xena and Maddie.

It was a necessary thoroughfare to the cat boxes. Xena was the undisputed queen of the condo and had full run of the house. When Maddie arrived trying to set her territorial bounds, face-offs were inevitable. When both cats met “in the middle” Maddie would fluff up, arch her back like the preverbal Halloween cat and dance around. Xena would simply hiss as she passed, confident in her own “diva status”.

Alas, this relative peace would not last. When a new member was added to our family, Belle, things would change. But like dinner and bedtime mentioned earlier, that is a story for another post.

In closing, those of us who have come to know and love torties embrace their unique personalities. However, it’s important to remember every cat is an individual. Not every tortie will exhibit the traits attributed to these beautifully felines, but the majority seem to live up to their reputation. From my experience, I believe tortitude is real.

Watch for “Chicken Bones” more “Tortitude” – Life with Maddie coming soon.

To learn more about Tortoiseshell cats, visit:


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