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

The allegedly hypoallergenic Devon rex breed is known to be trainable and mischievous

I was about to call our 14 week old kitten Barney Fife, but my wife, Robin, said, “I can only think of this 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 mustache to boot. I needed a better name.

Groucho Marx, of course!

As the philosopher humorist once said, “If a black cat crosses your path, it means the animal is going somewhere.

I’m a fan of the Marx brothers, I even have a bow tie that once belonged to Groucho.

Groucho liked dogs, although I’m not sure how he felt about cats. He once said, “Cats are like many women in my life; you never know what they are thinking. And if you knew it, you better not know it.

Roxy, our 19 year old Devon rex, died just 3 weeks before we picked up Groucho. When Roxy died, the hole in my heart was more like a crater. Although Lap of Love made the ending sweet, I was shattered. We have all been there. Working in the profession does not make the loss less hurtful.

My wife and I have had Devon rex cats in the past. Ricky was a famous cat in his day. He played the piano and loved going out into the world to give recitals. Before YouTube, training a cat was unheard of. Ricky has become a television 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 started The Ricky Fund1 with the Winn Feline Foundation (now EveryCat Health Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps fund cat health studies) to learn more and ultimately manage HCM. To date, we have raised over $300,000 and funded numerous studies. As a result, a genetic test was created to determine if a genetic defect for HCM exists for 2 feline breeds, and further studies are underway.2

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 a 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, considering her age and medical issues, but it was still work caring for her, which we gladly did.

Kittens bring joy, and we were thrilled that Whiskerbreak, a cattery just outside of Chicago, Illinois, had one available. I had inquired about the breeder and I had asked him a deluge of questions, but that is what all potential buyers should do. Via FaceTime we saw the cattery before going there in person. It was spotless, the owner doesn’t often breed cats and his answers to our questions were honest.

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

In fact, humans are allergic to Fel d 1, a protein found primarily in the saliva of all cats, as well as in their anal glands, sebaceous glands, skin, and coat. Cats groom themselves, and then when they molt or rub against a wall or sleep on the couch, the proteins stick.4 Purina Pro Plan LiveClear contains an antibody that neutralizes the Fel d 1 protein, which then inhibits sneezing, wheezing and other discomforts associated with cat allergies in humans.5

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

When we took the shipping box out to the breeder, our new cat instantly jumped inside. He was purring and maybe singing to himself that Groucho tune “Hello, I Must Be Going”.

Yet I am terrified, paranoid and nervous. Once you’ve had a kitten with FIP, you never really get over it. We weigh our little cat twice a day and watch carefully to make sure he is eating and playing.

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

References

  1. Special funds. EveryCat Health Foundation. Accessed May 31, 2022. https://tinyurl.com/3kybvk7r
  2. Dale S. Video presentation: Ricky the cat who plays the piano and raises funds for heart disease in cats. Steve Dale’s world of pets. 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 Cat Encyclopedia. DK edition; 1997:198-202.
  4. Bonnet B, Messaoudi K, Jacomet F, et al. Update on cat molecular allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2018;14(14). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13223-018-0239-8
  5. Purina Landmark Study: Crucial Step Toward Cat Allergen Reduction. Purina Institute. September 2, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2022. https://www.purinainstitute.com/science-of-nutrition/neutralizing-allergens
  6. About the Devon Rex. Association of Cat Lovers. Accessed May 26, 2022. https://cfa.org/devon-rex/

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