The Princess was not happy. One of her hind legs was sticking out at an inelegant angle - and it hurt! Even though she is a feral-born cat with zero tolerance for humans other than her own, she knew she needed help.
She condescended to let her person and me to take her to the vet.
Signing in on the usual form, the Princess's person looked up, puzzled.
"What's her breed?" she asked.
"DLH," I said, "Domestic Longhair."
"But she's not domestic, she's feral," my friend pointed out. Feral and domesticated are at the opposite ends of the scale for feline socialization. The midpoint, the dividing line between feral and domestic, is that the cat permits human touch. At either side of that point are countless degrees of feline/human interaction.
But in veterinary circles, the word "domestic" does not refer to sociability. Neither does "house cat" mean the cat lives in a house. Both terms, used interchangeably, refer to the familiar, bewhiskered creatures that live in cottages, castles, barns and alleyways around the world.
They are descended from cats who still live in the wild, independent of human civilization. Scientists call the wild ones Felis silvestris.
Over the years, some of those cats have adapted to living in a symbiotic relationship with humans. The domesticated ones are called Felis cattus to distinguish them from their wild forebears.
In Turkey, where Silvestris lives in the desert and Cattus hangs out in town, not even DNA can tell them apart. Desert-born siblings may go either way. It isn't genetics, but lifestyle that sets them apart.
Throughout the world, the great majority (about 97 percent) of domestic cats are the result of generations of random breeding. They come in countless colors, coat textures, body shapes, sizes and personalities.
They also have hybrid vigor, a term you may remember from high school biology. Survival of the fittest and random breeding within a large gene pool produce strong, smart, adaptable cats.
The British call them "moggies."
Here in the U.S., we have no comparable term. So, by default, we say "domestic" or "house" cat to mean any cat that doesn't belong to a recognized breed, such as Persian or Siamese.
Veterinarians subdivide domestic cats by the length of their hair. That's the cats' hair, not the vets.'
A shorthaired cat may have a very short, plush coat suggestive of Polarfleece. Other shorthairs dress in layers, wearing a very short undercoat overlaid with longer hairs that are coarser and lie flat. The overall appearance is smooth. The coat closely follows the body contours.
The medium-haired cat is fluffy in places. You'll find a downy undercoat that may be long enough to mat. Longer "guard hairs" lie close to the body on back and sides, but fluff up around the perimeter. Most medium-hairs have puffy bibs, ruffs, bloomers and tails. The sleek shape of the body is rounded by the coat.
A cat who resembles a dust mop or feather boa dropped in a chair is a longhair. When longhairs get up from their naps, they look rumpled. It takes grooming, not just a quick shake, to become presentable. They are fluffy all over, the hair concealing the body shape and size.
The unhappy Princess of this story is well now, and her person learned that Her Royal Highness is correctly described as "domestic longhair - orange tabby." The color (s) come after the hyphen, followed by a word or two that describes the coat pattern or markings. You'll see descriptions like "black/white tuxedo cat" and "brown /black tiger."
No color is given for tortoiseshells and calicos because, by definition, the tortoiseshell coat is orange and black marbled together; the calico is tri-colored with distinct patches of orange, black and white. If the colors are lighter shades of orange and black, more like camel and gray, the cat is described as a "dilute" tortoiseshell or tabby.
So what kind of cat do you have?
Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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