Simanaitis Says

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HELLO, KITTY—FROM FERAL TO FRIENDLY

THREE RECENT events got me thinking about the world’s most popular pet, Felis silvestris catus, the domestic cat. First of all, Los Angeles hosted the first Hello Kitty Convention. Then an article on feline genome studies appeared in Science. And, finally, on a personal note, my no-longer-feral pal, Πwacket, is close to becoming an inside cat.

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“The Genes That Turned Wildcats into Kitty Cats,” by David Grimm, is in the November 14, 2014 issue of Science, the weekly magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It describes analyses of the first high-quality sequence of the cat genome, including a contrast of 22 domestic cats of various breeds with genomes of two Near Eastern and two European wildcats. See http://goo.gl/hg4BII for an abstract of the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 10, 2014.

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The Near Eastern wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, is ancestor of the housecat. Image from Science, November 14, 2014.

Scientists identified at least 13 genes that changed as cats morphed from feral to friendly. These, in turn, allow researchers to assess the human genome as well. Observed Kerstin Lingblad-Toh, a genomicist at Sweden’s Uppsala University, “We’re hitting on genes that allow our brains to develop and make us interact socially.”

The study revealed 281 genes showing signs of (relatively) recent selection. It’s generally understood that cats entered human society about 9500 years ago, not long after people in the Middle East started farming. Wildcats hunted rats in grain storage and came to accept human company.

“Accept” is the operative word.

By contrast, dogs have had human interaction for 30,000 years. Thus the feline genome appears to have undergone less intense and more recent change.

Yet why not a canine equivalent of the Hello Kitty craze?

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Hello Kitty, from Sanrio (http://www.sanrio.com).

Hello Kitty is a sweet fictional character created in 1974 by artist Yoku Simizu while employed by the Japanese Sanrio company. Originally 名前のない白い子猫, “the white kitten with no name,” Hello Kitty has had her own evolution. She is now known as キティ・ホワイト, “Kitty White,” born in the suburbs of London. This being outted as a non-cat (?) was not without controversy.

So is she a cat or not? Says Sanrio, “It’s going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat.”

The Geffen Museum of Contemporary Art in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, was the site of the first Hello Kitty Convention, the week of November 2, 2014. This carnival/tradeshow celebrated her 40th anniversary with musical performances, panels on licensing and globalization, shopping opportunities and people sporting Hello Kitty gear.

 

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An assemblage of Hello Kitty images, several from Daughter Suz’s collection.

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Darth Kitty was uploaded by Count Dookie. EVA Airlines is based at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Suz’s pizza looks yummy. And I love the exhaust tips.

Our current pair of real felines are ex-ferals. Rose and her kid Swizzle Stick seem to prefer life with us to the streets. Also, I’m three-for-four on capturing/fixing/releasing a backyard cat and her three kittens. Miss Hissy Fit is destined to remain feral, except twice daily when there’s food around. One of her kids already has a home, courtesy of the vet. Another is Boston Blackie or Emma Peel, yet to have its vet visit. The third is Πwacket, my rendering of Pyewacket, witch Kim Novak’s familiar in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, based on the play by John Van Druten.

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Bell, Book and Candle 1958, with an amazing cast, including James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester.

It took patience and time, but Π appears close to swapping his backyard life for indoor comfort.

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Is Πwacket destined to have a career in automotive journalism?

According to dear Myrna, Wife Dottie and I are only one cat short of becoming “those crazy cat people.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

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