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Breeder of 'Hemingway' type cats under fire for playing God

By Nikki Weingartner     Feb 27, 2009 in Environment
Earnest Hemingway's special gift of the six-toed cat has prompted a long running history of the unique genetic mutation, polydactyly. However, a more severe, yet similar form of the mutation has created quit a stir. Presenting the "twisty cats."
With concerns of certain facets surrounding medical science getting into the hands of corrupt humans on the rise, advocates for the "cause" will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned when it comes to playing God. In the process of natural selection, the weak are slowly eliminated via the presence of weaker traits and deformity, with cats being no exception.
One feline abnormality of the paws called true polydactyly caused by the dominant Pd gene can leave a cat with as many as seven claws, which enables them to perform feats not observable in non-polydactyl cats. In essence, it is as if the cat now has an opposable thumb. It is not considered a debilitating abnormality, nor is it life-threatening to the cat. However, they require extra care and attention, as their claw are thicker and are prone to growing into the toe pad. The mutation is not specific to the United States.
Another more severe malformation that is said to mimic polydactyly in simplistic form is called Feline Radial Hypoplasia (RH), which can cause crippling deformity in cats. Although radial hypoplasia typically only affects the paws (not to be confused with true polydactyly and the Pd gene), cats with the gene for RH can produce offspring with stubs for front paws, some resembling kangaroos or squirrels in both appearance and even action. Far worse, the bones of the forelegs can become twisted and the long bones of the cat's legs either shortened or completely absent.
But what happens when we, even once, indulge our curiosity by playing God and intentionally breeding a litter for this severe malformation?
A woman in Texas who breeds horses and the true polydactyl cat has been under fire by animal rights groups as well as some news groups who have linked her self-proclaimed one-time act of breeding the malformation of radial hypoplasia to starting a new species. On a website with extensive copyright and anti-disclosure statements, the breeder explains that the radial hypoplasia cat is not being intentionally reproduced after one isolated litter produced in the late 90s following interest in the malformation. However, the results of nature (ie...not being able to control the outcome) may have played a role in the stopping of the breeding process.
On an episode of Animal Planet's Weird, True & Freaky, the malformed cats were given their fifteen minutes of TV fame and even showed off their adaptability. However, it seemed as if they were presented in a "twisted" light, leading viewers to believe that the breeder intentionally cashed in on the deformity despite that she was shown on the episode as specifically stating that her "twisty cats" were not for sell, were indoor cats only and were not available to the general public. What was obvious as well is that she took incredible care of the three "twisty cats" shown, all who were healthy and into their second decade of life just as a normal cat.
It is also stated that she has been working to "outcross" the line of deformity, implying somehow that she was trying to undo what might have been done accidentally. Still, there are some who have taken the information and created petitions and cause for action against the breeder based upon inflammation of what may be an isolated mistake.
Animals as pets have been the creation of cross breeding and breeding mutations for centuries, with popular pets such as the Rottweiler said to be "created" by the cross breeding of a Mastiff and some type of herding dog and the hairless cat, where breeders continually monopolized on the mutation which in turn led to genetic heart defects.
Weaker animals in a litter at times die off, especially if in the wild. Pets, however, may experience a longer life even with a deformity because of the extra safety and care they would not otherwise receive as wild animals. The "twisty cats" are a natural malformation that should not be bred, as it can cause severe defects, sometimes crippling.
All breeders have a responsibility to their practice and the animals however, allegations without facts that a breeder is intentionally breeding and selling or promoting the breeding of a crippling deformity is irresponsible. In this case, it seems as if the inflammatory mention may have been due to her breeding of the true polydactyly.
Seeing an individual show love and care for her "special needs" children and show accountability for her mistake, which could be held on a parallel to a human intentionally having a child at 40-years old who significantly increases the risk of having a Down's Syndrome child to a chance of 1 in 100, which is up from 1 in 900 under 35-years of age, is far more redeeming in the grand scheme of things.
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