How the genetic trait started and expanded is something of a mystery to this day. “How polydactyl cats came to be is up for debate, but there is general agreement that polydactyl cats were caused by a mutation that was carried on ships originating in Boston, which then spread them to a number of port cities soon after,” Lippman explains.
And spread they did.
Polydactyl cats once held a prize position aboard ships. Sailors and fishermen valued the large-pawed cats for their hunting and climbing abilities; the extra toes were thought to give the cats better balance on swaying vessels, and polydactyl cats were instrumental in keeping rodents at bay while out at sea. Some sailors even believed the cats to be good luck — and Harvey tells her clients the same thing.
The special cats even have a famous fan. Ernest Hemingway became an aficionado of polydactyl cats after being given one as a gift from a ship's captain. The author's Key West estate is now home to between 40 and 50 polydactyl cats, many of whom are descendants of the original cat, Snow White.