The Isle of Man's Best Friend: The Manx Cat
By Cindy Lou Dale
With Viking ancestry and a history predating Christ, the legendary Isle of Man, which lies between Ireland and Scotland in the Irish Sea, is overly influenced by pagan rituals and legends.
Like the myths surrounding the tailless Manx cat, a breed first discovered on the Isle of Man several hundred years ago.
Some locals will have you believe that Noah caused the breed to be tailless by closing the Ark’s door as the Manx was entering, severing its tail.
Another myth goes back as far as the 9th century when invading Viking warriors took to decorating their steel helmets with the furry tails of local cats and, fearing for their young, the mother Manx’ would bite off their kitten's tails, preventing this brutal harvest.
A further legend claims that cats and rabbits mated, and their offspring became the Manx cat. This does seem a logical conclusion to draw when you consider the Manx has no tail and has long hind legs, giving the impression that they hop as opposed to stride when running.
Scientists claim the distinguishing characteristic of this breed is a mutation of the spine, producing cats of varying tail lengths.
Rumpies and Stumpies
Mostly those are Rumpies, the entirely tailless variety, or Stumpies, which have but a mere stump for a tail, and finally the Rumpy Risers, which have small cartilage protruding from the base of their spines. Yet there are also Manx cats with near-normal tails.
Not all Manx cats are born with this mutation but carrying Manx genetics, their descendants can be born without a tail, even if their parents had tails.
The Isle of Man has celebrated the Manx as a symbol of its native origins and have Manx images portrayed on the islands currency, company logos, and postage stamps.
I recently traveled to the Isle of Man where I met Sue Critchley, the owner of the Mann Cat Sanctuary.
I entered the property through automated gates and was met by Sue, a buxom lady who, if you looked closely, masked a weary sadness with a cheery smile.
I mistakenly assumed Sue would guide me through her home, which in turn would lead to the cat sanctuary I’d come to see - somewhere out back, a converted garage maybe.
An Oasis of Tranquility
Nothing could have prepared me for what lay beyond the large wooden entry doors of the dwelling we were about to enter, adjacent to her home.
“Welcome to the Mann Cat Sanctuary,” she said, waving a hand in the general direction of the Irish Sea.
I stepped into an oasis of tranquility when I entered the barn conversion, which offered two large sun-drenched rooms with views over a patchwork landscape in hues of willow, lime, and sage green.
Meditation music was softly playing on surround sound. The gentle tinkle of a water fountain had attracted a number of cats who had made themselves comfortable on numerous sofas and other soft furnishings in close proximity.
Comfort, warmth, textures, pleasing sounds, numerous surfaces at varying heights, hidey holes - definitely a stimulating environment to any traumatized cat, I thought.
Whilst Sue was shoo-shooing a rescue turkey, Cedric, from the feline quarters I did a quick reconnoiter and discovered a little brown hen dozing in a cat’s basket in a dim corner; she opened one beady eye and considered me for a moment, then puffed her feathers and settled back down again. Evidently I held no threat to her.
Sue returned, escorted in fact, carrying a large bowl. Her feline fans, all cheering her along were quite clearly different from everyday cats. These were a big-boned, stocky, and solid breed, with compact bodies.
They were short in length and tall in the hind legs, with wide chests and looked to be in the 5.5kg weight region.
I asked Sue (who was busying herself with the dozing chicken) what other distinguishing characteristics the Manx breed had.
“Take a look at their heads – they’re broad-jowled with round eyes, and the ear-set are very distinctive.”
She twirled a nearby cat around showing me the back of his head.
“See? The ears and the top of the head form a cradle shape and their ears are broad at the base and taper to a narrow, rounded tip.”
We sat on two of the vacated seats in the cats ‘lounge’ and spoke.
“They’re a highly intelligent breed. They’re mellow, even-tempered, friendly, affectionate and are fierce, dedicated hunters; and as you can see, they’re sociable. They have a strong desire to be with people – even follow you around the house, 'helping' with whatever you happen to be doing.”
A Distinctive Trill
The Manx voice, I noticed, is usually quiet, and has a distinctive trill most often heard from regular female cats talking to their young, but with which the Manx ‘talk’ to their owners.
Sue founded her self-funded charity in response to the increasing problem of unwanted cats and kittens on the isle. She aims to provide a safe rehabilitation facility for them and, where possible, re-home them.
All the cats are provided with a comfortable and secure environment, and if they are not re-homed, live out the rest of their years with Sue at the sanctuary.
The cats, now satisfied following their nibble, one by one returned to reclaim their cushions, no matter if it was occupied. At one point two cats and a large dog staked claim to my lap, another cat climbed into my camera bag and a further one draped itself over my shoulder.
Sue was equally over-accessorized. Unpeeling one cat managed only to attract two more in its place.
Their Only Vice
Four Manx’ were running figure-eights around the room. Despite the absence of tails, they clearly had no problem with balance.
“If there are multiple Manx cats in a household, an owner might notice that they chase each other frequently. This,” claimed Sue, “is a common behavior for Manx cats; they like to chase each other. That said though, they are usually quiet, so this is typically their only vice.”
Sophie, a silky soft long-haired Manx sauntered up to me. Sue explained that Manx cats show two coat lengths.
“The short-haired Manx has a double coat with a thick, short under-layer and a longer, coarse outer-layer. The long-haired Manx, like Sophie, has a silky-textured double coat of medium length, with britches, belly and neck ruff.
Take a look at her feet – see the tufts of fur between the toes and look at her full ear decor.”
Sue left me to bask in the cat therapy and returned with coffee. In the interim, Cedric had found another way in and headed for the bowl containing the cat’s pellets.
“Out with you. Out!” Sue demanded, gesticulating wildly at Cedric, who grudgingly left the room, but hid around the corner. “Don’t know where that bloomin’ bird gets in.”
A Sad Story
A white-breasted tabby sauntered in. “That’s our Smokey. Smokey’s getting on a bit – 16-years old now. He's got a sad story.” Sue told of how Smokey’s elderly owner needed to be hospitalized 18 months earlier and had to part with her cat.
“But Smokey is regularly taken to visit his owner in hospital,” Sue added. “Sends letters and photos too – showing what a fine life he has here at the sanctuary.”
I asked Sue about fundraising and was told that, other than selling a selection of Mann Cat Sanctuary goods, collecting boxes in stores, donations and sponsorship, the sanctuary has a ‘Tree of Life’, which explained away the skeleton of a small tree at the entrance to the cats’ quarters.
“When visiting the sanctuary, guests can buy leaves to help bring the tree to life. With every donation received, we add a leaf to the tree - £1 feeds a cat for a day; £3 de-fleas and de-worms a cat; £5 buys a micro-chips; £10 helps keep the cats comfy and warm; and £50 neuters a cat. I hope that our tree is soon filled.”
“Where do you draw the line?” I asked. “When is it enough?”
Sue contemplated my question for a moment. “It’s never enough.”
She gently stroked one of the many cats on her lap, saddened somewhat, then added. “As long as there are people, animals will need to be protected from them.”
I considered Sue’s statement, desperately searching for inspiration on the horizon, but found none. I understood why she felt so saddened but could offer no comfort other than adding a knowing nod.
The Savior of Cats
“What a sight you lot are!” announced a young volunteer worker. “Two sad, middle-aged ladies, surrounded by some 121 cats.” She proceeded to place two mugs of tea beside us, startling Cedric who had managed to sneak in unseen.
“Looked like you girls needed a cuppa - so here you go then.”
The shenanigans at the Mann Cat Sanctuary were somewhat amusing. I watched the self-proclaimed Savior of Cats, bring about order and caught a fleeting glimpse of Sue chasing after the turkey with a broom.
For More Information on the Mann Cat Sanctuary:
Traveling to the Isle of Man is only available (by air or by sea) from mainland Britain and Ireland. Airlines servicing the Isle of Man are Aer Arann, British Airways, Flybe, Alpha One, Eastern Airways, VLM Airlines, and Euromanx. Flights take about 30 minutes. The Island's ferry operator is the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company which sails to and from Liverpool, Dublin, and Belfast. Journeys take around 90 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY:
Aaron House is a grand and sympathetically restored 12-bedroomed Victorian home, built in 1897, with truly splendid views across Chapel Bay. Owned and managed by the Berrie family, Aaron House was re-created in authentic Victorian flavors, complete with staff dressed in period costumes, bringing an authentic nineteenth-century atmosphere into the home.
Aaron House can accommodate up to ten people in five double bedrooms, with en-suite or private bathrooms and Victorian roll-top baths. All the bedrooms, most of which have views across the bay and harbor beyond, are individually colored and decorated with a diverse combination of fixtures such as brass beds and other ancestral pieces, with quality soft furnishing from Laura Ashley’s.
The cook takes great pride in serving food made from superior locally sourced foodstuff’s - free range this, corn-fed that, organic the other. Guests at Aaron House receive continuously varying menus with an assortment of remarkable fruit compotes, caramelized grapefruit and peaches poached in wine, home-make mueslis, bread, scones, and muffins, served with an assortment of preserves and marmalades. There is also a vast selection of cooked dishes such as creamy porridge, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausages.
Aaron House is a non-smoking and alcohol-free guest house and is not suitable for young children. They have been awarded a five-star diamond rating by the AA and nominated for a best ‘Bed and Breakfast’ award. Tel: +44 1624 835702 aaronhouse.co.uk. Tariffs: £35-£49 pp night (for double occupation); £59-£89 pp night (single occupancy)
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Cindy-Lou Dale originates from a small farming community in Southern Africa and has a nomadic lifestyle that moves her around the world. Currently she lives in a picture postcard village in south-east England, surrounded by rolling green hills, ancient parish churches and designer sheep farms. Cindy has been featured in international publications around the world, including GoNOMAD, TIME and National Geographic Traveller.