When we decided to adopt Tina, they told me in the shelter that it was hard to find homes for tortoiseshell cats. Tortoiseshell, or tortie, is not a specific breed, but refers to the colouring of the cat. It is like someone took a black cat, a paintbrush with orange paint and shook the paintbrush at the black cat leaving speckles of orange on the coat. There are variations in colour like the blue tortie where the base colour is grey (grey is often referred to as blue with cats) When the cat is mostly speckled but has a white patch, it’s called tortie with white and if the colours are patchy instead of speckled then it is called a calico. Are you still with me?
Even though it is all about the colouring, torties are said to have special tortie personalities that set them apart from cats with different colouring. They call it tortitude. Torties are said to be strong-willed, independent, a bit hot-tempered, moody, very vocal, and possessive of their humans. Hmm, that’s something a lot of cat owners with all sorts of different breeds and colours of cats will say about their cats too.
Now I personally believe that every cat is an individual with a specific personality, despite the colour. I do agree that there might be differences between the different breeds of cats as there is with dogs, but even within those breeds cats have their own individual personality.
Until there is some substantial research into this, I’m more inclined to think that tortitude is an urban myth and not a very helpful one at that. When people read about the moody, hot-tempered and vocal bit, they might think torties are “difficult” cats. Shelters might then have a hard time re-homing them.
Of course, tortie owners don’t mean to portray their cats as difficult as they love them for their personalities and like to think their cats are special. So do black cat owners, tabby owners and every other colour cat owners. To cut it short: all cats are special in their own way and have their own delightful personalities.
When I look at my two: Charlie, the tabby male, is the more vocal of the two. Tina, the tortie lady, was very quiet and insecure when she first arrived. Tina learned by observing Charlie that Charlie got attention and things done by being vocal. Tina is more vocal now too, but not like Charlie. He wins in decibels as well as frequency. He also vocalises more in grunt-type noises. They both have their distinct personalities. Charlie is a real boy who plonks himself down on the floor, belly exposed for a rub. He’s also very impatient and a bit rude at times, taking over when Tina is playing. She sometimes gives him a tap on the nose to show she’s annoyed with him but most of the time she waits patiently until he’s gone and then resumes playing.
Tina doesn’t really like to be handled much but shows love and affection in her own way. She loves being rubbed on top of her head, her neck and on the side of her head. She lies against us on the couch and she comes over to me when I’m working on the computer, stands up at the side of the chair and taps me on the arm for attention. She drags toys around to where we are when she wants to play and loves a good run. When she first came to live with us, she was very nervous and was constantly hiding but now she is relaxed around us and enjoys our company. She is a beautiful tortie. She is strong-willed but also an absolute sweetheart and very patient with Charlie and us. If cats can have a sense of humour, Tina certainly has it, the way she teases Charlie.
Does she have tortitude? Nah, she has Tinatude, and we love her for it. I also love her beautiful shiny coat with all the specks of orange.
So when you go to the shelter to pick a cat for adoption, please don’t overlook the torties. Colouring doesn’t make the difference in personality. Environment and experience does. Some cats have a lot of trust in humans from the start. Others need a bit more time. In a shelter some cats might feel vulnerable and may come across as standoffish or shy. When they come to a house where they can feel safe, where there are places for them to sit, climb and scratch like cat trees and where they get good quality food, then that will help immensely for them to feel at home and develop their own personalities. And don’t forget: cats need playtime, even when they go outside. Playtime also helps with the bonding. In the end it’s worth every bit of time you put in. We love our tortie but we love our ginger tabby with white just as much. They are family now.
Oh, and one thing that came up when I researched torties. In folklore they’re said to bring good luck. Maybe I should pet Tina while filling out my next lottery ticket. I’ll let you know if I win anything.