Creature Feature: Naughty torties & fiery gingers

22 Jun

My two girls, Missy and Carrie, loved curling up together for a snooze. I wouldn't call Missy a 'naughty tortie' but she was mischievous, hence her name. Carrie, who had the look of a Balinese, was a cuddler and liked to be carried around on my shoulder. (Photo/RO)

(Originally published 7/29/09 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

BY RHONDA OWEN

Does the color of a cat’s fur say anything about its temperament? Is an orange cat calmer than cats of other colors?

Some people believe that you can predict a cat’s temperament by the color of its fur, but just as many others are quick to dismiss the notion. The fur/temperament issue is probably like the stereotypes we apply to people based their hair color — blondes have more fun, redheads have hot tempers, brunettes are even-tempered — in that sometimes they’re valid, but more often they’re not.

Animal scientist Temple Grandin would seem to be among the believers that fur color is significant. The Colorado State University professor says in her 2009 book, Animals Make Us Human (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt), that people looking to adopt a cat with a “friendly, bold temperament” should consider one with black fur. 

“Shelter workers in England call black cats ‘laid-back blacks,” Grandin says, noting that conversely the workers describe tortoiseshell cats as “naughty torties.” The description of black cats “is supported by a handful of studies showing a relationship between fur color and behavior. Black cats especially are friendlier than other cats, more able to deal with crowding and urban life, and have greater aggregative tendencies, which means they’re more inclined to live in groups of cats.”

She also mentions orange male cats, saying that they are more aggressive than black male cats. “That’s logical because orange cats are shyer than black cats and you would expect fearful cats to have more fear aggression. I’ve noticed that neutered orange males and females can be very affectionate,” Grandin says. “Some orange cats will rub on you all day. However, orange cats can startle and scare easily.”

After making these statements, Grandin backpedals: “Fur color isn’t a guarantee that a cat will have one kind of personality or another. When you choose a kitten, you have to go by the individual personalities of the kittens regardless of color.”

Sarah Hartwell of UK’s Cats Protection writes on petpeoplesplace.com that she’s one of those shelter workers who refers to black cats as laid-back and torties as naughty. She also says that “ginger cats” (orange cats) are “said to be spirited and fiery (and sometimes mean-spirited and sly) — very apt considering their fiery color.”

There are other stereotypes, she says: White cats are “dim” or “a little timid,” black-and-white cats like to wander, and “blotched tabbies” are homebodies or curl-up-by-the-fireplace cats.

“Most color/personality ‘information’ is anecdotal,” Hartwell explains, “but there have been studies where owners or veterinarians were asked to associate particular colors with particular personality traits. Profiles are only available on two particular breeds and these ignored the breed-specific traits and concentrated on traits associated’ with the color/pattern.”   

Other sources offer similar explanations about possible or imagined links people make about fur color and temperament, but they also note that genetics and, perhaps more significantly, early socialization of kittens play more of a role in shaping a cat’s personality.

I’ve had neutered and spayed cats of different colors and most conformed to no stereotypes. I’ve had two black cats: the female was skittish, the male never met a stranger. Both of my male tabbies (one orange and one gray) were aggressive and tried to dominate the other cats in the household. My blue-eyed female Siamese mix was a love, as was my female tortoiseshell. The black-and-white male was spirited and extremely sociable.

The skittish black cat was dumped on a busy street when she was about 6 weeks old, so I assume she didn’t come from a friendly and loving environment. The same goes for my gray tabby. The other cats, however, all came from shelters or homes and had lived the first couple months of their lives with littermates, and had been handled gently and often by many people. So my vote for what affects a cat’s personality and temperament goes to early socialization rather than fur color.

Is it OK to walk my dog on pavement in the summer or will the heat hurt his paws?

Arkansas summers can be brutal, so it’s recommended that dogs be walked only in the evening or early morning when temperatures or cooler. Walking on hot pavement can burn their paws, the same way it can burn your feet, so the general rule is: If it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot on the sidewalk or street, then it’s too hot for your dog.

Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Family section.

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One Response to “Creature Feature: Naughty torties & fiery gingers”

  1. Donna McGowan June 22, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Neat discussion!

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