On this day two years ago I brought home a wee three-month-old kitten who quickly turned my flat into a home. The first night, she slept on the armchair in my bedroom; the second, at the foot of the bed. The third night she slept by my pillow and that has been her spot ever since.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I adopted a tortoiseshell kitten. I hadn’t even heard of ‘tortitude’, though I quickly learned that Willow has tortitude in full measure.
The term ‘tortoiseshell’ refers to the unique blend of black, brown, orange, and cream-colored fur. Like calico, tortoiseshell coloring is somewhat rare because it requires the red-coloring gene to be present in both X chromosomes. Because both calicos and tortoiseshells require two X chromosomes, nearly all calicos and tortoiseshells are female. (The occasional male calico or tortoiseshell is often the result of a mutation and is sterile.) The difference between calico and tortoiseshell is that calico cats have large patches of solid orange, white, and black, whereas tortoiseshell cats have little white coloring and the colors are mixed together. Although tortoiseshell cats can be nearly any breed, there seems to be a consensus among cat owners that tortoiseshells have such distinct personalities that these traits are generally referred to as ‘tortitude’.
What does tortitude look like?
These multi-colored cats are sometimes referred to as the ‘red heads’ of the cat world. Alternately called ‘divas’ or ‘princesses’, these cats certainly have minds of their own and are not afraid to make their wishes known.
Some of the characteristics of tortitude are:
- Bold and curious
(Of course, the academic in me will point out that there is very little scientific evidence to support the idea of tortitude, and that it’s likely that discussions of tortitude are the result of widespread confirmation bias. Take this as you will.)
Willow is certainly a talkative and companionable cat: She runs to meet me when I come home and often is already standing on the shelf by the door when I come in. She lets me know when she wants to go out or to play (though she doesn’t always get her way: she is only allowed outside on a leash). If I do not give in to her whims, she will curl up near me and give an audible, long-suffering sigh. She purrs not only when I come home or when I pet her, but also when I talk to her, play with her, sometimes even when I just look at her: whenever she has my attention. I fall asleep and wake up to her purring by my pillow.
Left: Playing beneath the bedsheets while making the bed; Right: batting at the egg on her climbing wall.
She loves to play and can be incredibly silly. Willow is still a relatively young cat and has the energy to match. I’ve wondered if I ought to adopt a second cat just so Willow can have someone who can keep up with her running and jumping and crazy climbing up the walls! Her curiosity and cleverness sometimes get her into trouble: It’s not for nothing that she’s called ‘Miss Adventure Paws’ (depending on the adventure, it might be Misadventure Paws).
However, she is also very possessive of her home and her human. She scolds my parents when they visit; she has a particular tone of meow she uses just for them. She fusses at me when I watch videos by TinyKittens or the Kitten Lady, jealous that I’m looking at other cats instead of at her. She even gets jealous of the phone or computer and will let me know when she thinks I have worked long enough. It is because of her possessiveness that I wonder whether she would get along well with another cat (not unless it had a beta personality and wouldn’t challenge her rule).
The combination of her getting to be a bit older and of me being ill for six months has resulted in Willow turning into more of a companionable lap cat. She seemed to know that I was unwell and was always nearby, ready for a cuddle. It is much more common now for her to stretch out next to me or on my lap when I read or work on the sofa. When she does, she almost always has one paw extended towards me or over me. We have spent many a quiet evening and Caturday in this manner.
There is no doubt: I am her human.
Her sassyness can be exasperating; her demands for my undivided and active attention exhausting after a long day at work. Her mood will change in a flash, or she’ll have several moods simultaneously, and she will bite me for petting her while wanting me to pet her. I may not have known what I was getting into when I brought my tortie girl home, but it was her tortitude that won me over. Even though she can be such a diva, with extremely finicky tastes and the tendency to boss the people around, there is no question:
She is my girl.