The doctor’s mouth dropped in astonishment, and she couldn’t figure out why. She fretted, thinking there must be something wrong with her cat. She had spent weeks nursing it back to health, and she didn’t know if the prognosis would be positive. The doctor’s reaction worried and confused her. But when he told her the reason why, it took her aback as well. It was something she never even thought possible -- especially for a cat like this.
Holly was no stranger to cats. In fact, she had a special place in her heart for these furry creatures. She regularly fostered stray and feral kittens, making sure they were healthy before finding loving homes for them. She thought she knew everything about cats, but she was about to be proved wrong. And it all started with a fateful encounter in a nearby dumpster -- and a cat that was like none she had ever met before.
Holly lived in Nottaway County, Virginia, where a disturbing trend had emerged in recent months. She had heard news of puppies being abandoned in dumpsters around town, and it happened a few times. The puppies had been lucky that someone had found them, although not all of them made it. It broke Holly’s heart to hear about it. But she decided that she was not going to let that happen in her part of town.
Holly started monitoring the dumpsters in the streets near her house and work. For a few weeks, she found nothing. Then one day, as she was walking home, she heard a strange sound. She stopped to listen closer. It sounded like distorted baby cries. But Holly knew better. She recognized the sound as the cries of a kitten, and it was coming from a dumpster. She rushed toward the sound and found that she was right.
The kitten inside the dumpster was barely one week old. And it was in a very bad shape. Its front leg was broken and one of its back paws looked infected. She rushed it to the vet, who managed to mend the broken leg but couldn’t save the back paw. He told Holly that the kitten was not out of the woods yet, and it would need a lot of care to make it. Luckily, she knew just what to do.
Holly drew from her experience fostering kittens to try and give this little one a fighting chance. She knew it would need to be bottle-fed every 2-4 hours and helped with elimination. It would also need to be kept constantly warm as newborn kittens can’t regulate their own body temperature. It was a big commitment, but she was ready for it. She watched it round the clock like a hawk. Soon, she started to see the results of her efforts.
Despite having lost a paw, the kitten seemed to be fighting hard to survive. Touched by its perseverance, she decided to name it “Martyr.” As the weeks passed, the kitten started to crawl around and its eyes were finally wide open. Best of all, its beauty was starting to shine through. Holly realized the kitten was a calico -- its fur was white with patches of black and orange around its head and back. That’s when she made a decision.
Although she had planned to foster this kitten like she did all of the others, Holly felt much more attached to Martyr. She didn’t know why, but she decided she couldn’t give it to someone else. All it had to do was pull through and survive. But its odds were looking better and better. Then, when it was eight weeks old, she took the kitten to the vet for a checkup. But she didn’t expect what she was about to find out.
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As soon as they walked into the clinic, the vet took a look at Martyr and told Holly she had done a good job. The kitten looked perfectly healthy. Still, they went into the examination room to make sure. Cats’ genders are notoriously difficult to determine at a young age, but now Martyr was old enough. The vet examined the kitten’s anatomy and suddenly gave a loud gasp. Something wasn’t right.
“Martyr’s a male,” the vet told Holly with a surprised look on his face. She was confused at his reaction. After all, it didn’t matter to her whether the kitten was a male or a female. She was going to keep it anyway. But then the doctor told her something that she wasn’t expecting. It turned out Martyr was more than a stray -- he was a very special kitten.
Holly didn’t know this at the time, but most calico cats are actually female. In fact, only one out of every 3,000 calicos is born a male. That comes out to a 0.03% birth rate, which made Martyr a very rare kitten indeed. Holly was very surprised to find this out, although she didn’t understand why. Well, it all comes down to chromosomes.
Coat color in cats is determined by the animals’ chromosomes. The black and orange coloring that calicos have is carried in the X chromosome. Since females have two X chromosomes, they are able to have that mixed coat color. Males only have one X chromosome so they can only have either black or orange coats, not both. Except if they’re like Martyr.
Martyr’s calico coat is the result of a random genetic mutation. Although this kitten’s external reproductive organs are those of a male, in fact, he carries two X chromosomes and one Y. Three chromosomes is a phenomenon that happens in many mammal species, including humans. But there are some issues that come with this mutation.
Because animals like Martyr carry two X chromosomes and one Y, they have some gender markers for male and others for female. It’s possible that they might have male external reproductive organs but female internal ones, which makes breeding impossible. It is estimated that only one in 10,000 male calicos are able to reproduce. That said, that wasn’t an issue for Holly. She loves him just the way he is. And, as it turns out, so do a lot of other people.
Given that male calicos are so rare, they are quite sought after by cat lovers. Some people would pay upwards of $2,000 for a cat like Martyr. But there was no way that Holly was going to sell him. They had gone through a rough journey together, and come out on the other side as best friends. He is affectionate, and cuddly, and loves to sit on Holly’s shoulder. So this very special kitten is staying put.