Tortoiseshell Cats


By Tom Hewitt
Edited by April Jones

For a long time, I thought tortoiseshell cats were a specific breed. Recently, I learned that the term refers to cats among various breeds who have a particular coloring pattern: typically black with patches of gold or orange. Tortoiseshell cats are almost always female. They are often known for being highly sensitive to stimuli and being vocal about their needs. These are generalities, and every individual cat is different, but there is something to the notion of tortoiseshell attitude or “tortitude.”

Growing up, my family owned a tortoiseshell cat named Firefly, who we had adopted from the animal shelter in San Martin. I think we gave her the name because the patches of gold on her black coat reminded us of brilliant fireflies in the night.
Tortoiseshell cats are often known to bond especially close to one person in a household (in our case, that happened to be me). Firefly would often curl up in my lap and enjoy being petted. She didn’t appreciate it when it was time to put her out for the night, sometimes hissing or groaning when I got up. Even after years of the same routine, she still seemed to take it personally!

Because she had a bit of an attitude, Firefly was, let’s say, not quite as popular among the family as our other pets. I had a special bond with her though, and it was sad to lose her. One day driving home at night, I noticed a cat wandering on the road in an odd way, and I thought it looked a lot like Firefly. Once at home, I asked where Firefly was, and no one knew. So the cat I’d seen was likely Firefly—but what was she doing wandering around several hundred feet from home? I ran out to where I had seen her—fortunately she was still there. I scooped her up and she started purring, grateful to have been found. Apparently, she was developing dementia and had become disoriented. Sadly, not long after the incident we had to euthanize her.

Firefly may not have been the most sweet-tempered cat my family ever owned, but when I think about her, I remember her distinctive personality and her strong bond with me—and her gratitude for being rescued from what must have been a frightening experience. If you treat tortoiseshell cats with affection, they will bond with you, and can show great loyalty and love.