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“Hello, I Must Be Going”: Groucho joins the family


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The purportedly hypoallergenic Devon rex breed is known for being trainable and mischievous

I was about to name our 14-week-old kitten Barney Fife, but my wife, Robin, said, “I can only think about that purple dinosaur, and our cat isn’t purple.” In fact, this Devon rex kitten is a rare seal point with a mustache, and a funny-looking mustache at that. I needed a better name.

Groucho Marx, of course!

As the philosophical comedian once said, “If a black cat crosses your path, it means that the animal is going somewhere.”


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I’m a fan of the Marx brothers—I even own a bow tie once owned by Groucho.

Groucho famously loved dogs, although I’m not sure how he felt about cats. He once said, “Cats are like many of the women in my life; you never know what they’re thinking. And if you did know, you’d be better off not knowing.”

Roxy, our 19-year-old Devon rex, died just 3 weeks before we picked up Groucho. When Roxy passed away, the hole in my heart was more like a crater. Although Lap of Love made the ending gentle, I was broken. We’ve all been there. Working in the profession doesn’t make loss any less hurtful.

My wife and I have had Devon rex cats in the past. Ricky was a famous cat in his day. I have played the piano and loved going out into the world to perform recitals. Back before YouTube, training a cat was unheard of. Ricky became a TV star, from National Geographic Explorer to Pets: Part of the Family on PBS, and even FOX News. When Ricky died very young of feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), I initiated The Ricky Fund1 with the Winn Feline Foundation (now EveryCat Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps fund cat health studies) to learn more and ultimately manage HCM. To date, we’ve raised more than $300,000 and have funded many studies. As a result, a genetic test was created to determine if a gene defect for HCM exists for 2 feline breeds, and more studies are underway.two

When Ricky died, we brought another Devon rex, Ringo, into our lives. It’s not something I can talk about easily because he died of feline infectious peritonitis as a kitten. We were, of course, heartbroken.

Roxy followed and lived to the ripe old age of 19. But she had lymphoma and severe osteoarthritis. Her quality of life was pretty good, given her age and her medical issues, but it was still work to care for her, which we gladly did.

Kittens bring joy, and we were elated that Whiskerbreak, a cattery just outside of Chicago, Illinois, had one available. I had asked around about the breeder and put them through a barrage of questions—but this is what all potential buyers should do. Via FaceTime, we saw the cattery before going there in person. It was spotless, the owner does not breed the cats often, and his responses to our questions were honest.

My niece, who is allergic to cats, motivated us to originally check out the Devon rex. The breed was created from a spontaneous mutation in Devonshire, England, and is known for its presumed hypoallergenic properties. Devon rex cats do have a single curly coat, not to be confused with the follicly challenged sphynx cat, which has very little hair, or the sleek Cornish rex with a similar coat to the Devon. The 3 are different and distinct breeds. What we know is that although allergies may perhaps be less severe among these breeds (no evidence, solely anecdotal), no breed is truly hypoallergenic.3

In fact, humans are allergic to Fel d 1, a protein found primarily in all cats’ saliva, as well as in their anal glands, sebaceous glands, skin, and fur. Cats groom themselves, and then when they shed or rub up against a wall or sleep on the sofa, the protein sticks.4 Purina Pro Plan LiveClear contains an antibody that neutralizes the Fel d 1 protein, which then inhibits the sneezing, wheezing, and other cat allergy discomforts in humans.5

Devon rex cats tend to be attached to the hip of their owners. Some will sit on your shoulder and instruct you on how to shave or apply your makeup. They are active, affectionate, and trainable. The Cat Fanciers’ Association breed description calls the Devon rex cat “a cross between a cat, a dog, a monkey, and Dennis the Menace.”6

When we took out the cardboard carrier at the breeder’s home, our new cat instantly jumped inside. He purred and perhaps sang to himself that Groucho tune “Hello, I Must Be Going.”

Still, I am terrified, paranoid, and nervous. Once you’ve had a kitten with FIP, you never really get over it. We weigh our little kitty twice daily and watch carefully to ensure he’s eating and playing.

When Groucho met our 13-year-old Chihuahua/terrier mix, Hazel, he hissed. Hazel looked the other way as if to say, “What cat? I don’t see a cat.” He’s a confident little dude.

references

  1. Special funds. EveryCat Health Foundation. Accessed May 31, 2022. https://tinyurl.com/3kybvk7r
  2. Dale S. Video presentation: Ricky the piano-playing cat and raising money for heart disease in cats. Steve Dale’s Pet World. September 29, 2021. Accessed My 26, 2022.https://stevedalepetworld.com/blog/video-presentation-ricky-the-piano-playing-cat-and-raising-money-for-heart-disease-in-cats /
  3. Fogle B. The Encyclopedia of the Cat. DK Publishing; 1997:198-202.
  4. Bonnet B, Messaoudi K, Jacomet F, et al. An update on molecular cat allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Feld 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2018;14(14). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13223-018-0239-8
  5. Landmark Purina study: pivotal step towards reducing cat allergens. Purina Institute. September 2, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2022. https://www.purinainstitute.com/science-of-nutrition/neutralizing-allergens
  6. About the Devon Rex. Cat Fanciers’ Association. Accessed May 26, 2022.https://cfa.org/devon-rex/

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