Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/White cats
Albinism in man and in the inferior animals has been always attended by peculiar traits of character and constitution; but in no animal, except the cat, has it been accompanied with deafness.
Dr. Sichel, a French naturalist, communicated the fact some years ago, that, after many observations and experiments, he had found that cats with perfectly white coats and blue eyes are invariably deaf! Make any sound you will near them, except such as are of a nature to convey vibrations—as shaking the ground, striking the floor with a hammer—and the animal will remain perfectly indifferent. Crack a whip as loudly as you will, imitate the barking of a dog, clap the hands, in fact, make any noise, except such as may convey vibrations, and the result will be the same—indifference on the part of the animal.
If, however, there is the smallest spot of black, brown, or grey on the coat of the cat, or if the iris be any other colour than blue, or greyish-blue, then the power of hearing will be the same as in another animal.
This naturalist had a cat, which he procured while a kitten, the coat was perfectly white, and the eyes were perfectly blue. This cat, which at sight of a dog made off with rapidity, paid not the slightest attention to his barking, if she did not see him. At the end of a few months the iris became of a deeper colour, and the cat began to show signs of attention when a bell was sharply rung about a yard from her ear. But unfortunately the further progress of the experiment was interrupted by the death of poor puss, she having been worried in the street by a dog whose barking she had not heard.
Professor Hevsinger, a German, has drawn attention to another extraordinary peculiarity of white animals; viz. their inability to resist the injurious effects of external agents, which to other animals are perfectly harmless.
And we are told by Carillo, by Marinosci di Martini, and by Menni di Lecce, that in Naples and Sicily eating of Hypericum crispum, or, as it is called there, Fumulo, acted perniciously on white but not on black sheep; causing in the former the wool to fall off, the head to swell, and death itself to supervene in a couple of weeks. On this account, in Tarentino, where this plant is very common, black sheep alone are kept.
Spinola, in his work on the Diseases of Swine, says that buck-wheat, Polygonum fagopyrum, if eaten at its time of flowering, causes diseases in white and partially white swine, which are not produced by the same agent in black animals.
Another fact bearing upon the point of the inferiority of white animals, in strength and power of resistance, to otherwise harmless agents, is related by a Mr. Youatt. He says: “A cow, for the most part white, but having some black spots, fell sick, and became bald in every part of the white surface. On “these parts the epidermis detached itself from the subjacent true skin, while the dark spots continued perfectly healthy.” A similar fact is related by a veterinary surgeon named Erdt.
To this day, in Ireland, the thrifty housewife will always call out for the white calf to be killed; and if you ask her why—little versed in Natural History, but shrewd enough in experimental observation—she remarks, “The white calf is ever dawny [sickly], and the white cow is a bad milker.”
A few years ago, there was a dinner-party given in the city of Dublin by an eminent dignitary of of the Church, famed for learning and eccentricity; and in the course of the evening, during the “feast of reason and flow of soul,” the host proposed the following strange conundrum: “Why do white sheep eat more than black ones?”
Taken aback at once by the strange simplicity of the question, which, on account of the well-known ability of the interrogator, was supposed to involve a moat intricate maze of solution, not one of the noble, learned, and accomplished guests could give an answer! They were fairly nonplused. Said the Archbishop: “Do you give it up? Do you give it up, Miss Lind?” (for the world-famed and accomplished cantatrice was present.) “Do you give it up, my Lord Chief Justice? Do you give it up, Mr. Vice-Provost? What! all give it up? Well, then, it is because there are more of them!”
This may do very well for our country; but were the learned and accomplished prelate in Tarentino, his question might possibly have been reversed.