We’ll admit it…Beekman 1802 Farm can be an eccentric little place.

In fact, some people have called us a freak show. We take that as a compliment.

Because we are full of strange and wondrous creatures (present company included.) But perhaps our greatest oddity is one of our barn cats…Jolene.

Jolene was a kitten when she was dropped off at Beekman 1802 Farm after being found by a friend of Farmer John’s under a car in the school parking lot. Most times, these feral or abandoned drop off cats are just passing through. They rarely even let us close enough to pet them. (If we can catch them, we’ll spay them.)

Generally Bubby, the Chief Mouser, determines whether they can stay based on some criteria known only to him. For Downton Abby fans, he’s like the Carson of the barn.

For whatever reason, Jolene passed Bubby’s muster and got her Beekman Green Card.

Recently we posted this picture of Jolene online and some of you noticed something about her…

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Yes, our Jolene is a polydactyl cat. A VERY polydactyl cat, in fact.

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Polydactyl cats are specific genetic mutation that results in extra “toes.” A “normal” cat (ugh, we hate the word “normal”) has 5 toes on each front paw and four on each back paw.

Jolene has seven toes on each front paw, six on one rear paw, and five on the other. That totals 25. Approximately. But it’s kinda hard to count. Some of her toes have claws, and some slight appendages that don’t look like toes also have claws. Plus not every toe has a pad. Nor does every pad have a toe.

Put it this way: Jolene’s got a lot of strange things going on below the knee, and as you’ll see in the following photos, she doesn’t much care for you poking around and staring at her, thankyouverymouse.

Here’s Jolene’s rear left foot with six toes. Please take note of her face in the upper right corner and how much she’s enjoying us showing this to you.

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Here’s a shot of her other rear foot:

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Back claws, upside-up:

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Now that we have you enraptured in cuteness…a little history about Polydactyl cats:

Throughout history, these extra-digital cats were prized by ship’s captains and crews. It was believed that their extra toes made them better mousers, both by having more claws to catch with, and by providing better “sea legs.” Perhaps because these cats kept the ships food stores free of vermin, they were also thought to bring overall good luck to a voyage. Furthermore, some sailors believed ship cats could control the weather with their tails.

This is Pooli, who served aboard the USS Fremont during the Second World War. She earned three service ribbons and four battle stars for her service in the Marianas, the Palau group, the Philippines and Iwo Jima. We salute you, Pooli:

Pooli

Many folks become aware of the existence of polydactyl cats after visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West Florida. Hemmingway was given a gift of a polydactyl cat named Snowball by a sea captain. Many of the forty-plus cats that roam the rooms and grounds today are polydactyl descendents of Snowball, and all are protected in perpetuity by Hemingway’s will. This is why many folks call all polydactyl cats “Hemingway Cats.”

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But back to Jolene. Who is not a Hemingway Cat. She’s more likely an “Ithaca Cat,” or “Ithacat.” This name refers to a population of polydactyl cats that can be traced to Ithaca, NY, about 100 miles (as the cat walks) from Sharon Springs. Little is known about this population. Most polydactyl cat populations in the U.S. are found in port cities (for reasons cited earlier.) But as far as we know, the origins of the Ithacat are a mystery.

Here are Jolene’s front paws. Aren’t you glad you’re not a mouse?

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Jolene let us get this picture of the underside of one front paw:

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After hearing the sounds beginning to emanate from Jolene at this point, neither John nor we felt comfortable pushing for a reveal shot of the the second front paw. She was making that guttural growl that sounds like a chainsaw in the distance. Coming closer and closer.

Here’s the best shot we could get of the other front paw:

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Here’s Jolene after we let her go:

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That squint means we are fairly certain that those were all of the photos of Jolene’s feet that you will ever see in her lifetime.

Jolene also has a side gig as PolkaSpot’s sidekick in the Diva’s new comic book: PolkaSpot: My Life in Pictures. Available here.

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Nancy

I am sure Charlie must be related, Megan’s yard is so close to the school! Must get photos of his toes!

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Elaine Holmquist

Another Polydactyl is the Maine Coon, the first recognised American purebred. Some, however, do not have the multiple toes. Very affectionate, not big talkers and generally pretty large, long haired cats. Some have said that they’re a dog in cat fur. My tuxedo, Lovie, is a rescue cat and seems to like my feet. After the second night in my house, I awoke to this big guy softly stroking my face….no claws drawn. No, he is not named after NFL coach Lovie Smith, but luckily that was the name he came with as we thought he was a she when he first came to us.
My condolences for the loss of your Bubby. Truly a beautiful and wonderful companion.

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Susan

Adorable kitty. We have a polydactyl named MayFlower who, like Jolene, is very spirited…and incredibly smart. These special kitties look like they have catcher’s mitts for feet!

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Michelle M French

We had a polydactyl barn cat named Ronald. He walked the fields with us like a dog. I’ve never heard the term “Ithacat” (though I was born there and live an hour away). Nor have I heard “Hemingway cat”. Hmmmm…. Ronald was all grey with white “bra and panties”. And boxing gloves! Now there’s a feline-gender-lingerie-sports mash-up!

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Karla

Just stopped in to see whats up and loved the pictures of Jolene’s feet. How great that she was made welcome by Bubby. She’s home…

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lemniscate47Annie

Fab feet, but, Woah!! That Face.. during n after the show n tell!! Yikes!!
Love the photo of her in the 2013 Babies folder.. balancing along the top rails of the pens checking out what’s going on.

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Teri

Wish she had made an appearance during our tour of the farm…we looked for her and Bubby both but Farmer John said they were both hiding from the paparazzi !!!
Thanks for sharing(and taking your life in your hands to get the pics) !!

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Paula Julian

Our last two cats, Fergie and Diana, passed on 2 years ago. Fergie was a “Hemingway” cat (named because of the infamous toe sucking incident with Duchess Fergie). Best cat ever. Sorry we did not meet you John when we passed through Sharon Springs last month. Like you, I have the cry gene.

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Centralia Heart

When in Key West i made it a point to pet as many Hemingway cats as i could. i think i got to about 18. Jolene looks just like my cat Christmas, mine however, just has the regular number of toes. I once had a polydactyl and named him Goodyear for obvious reasons. What an incredible set of treads? Polydactyls need extra care with claw trimming as their extra claws can become stuck in their pads. I am sure you already know this. She is a beautiful cat. Best wishes from my almost a farm to your real farm. Centralia

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Kim

I had a family of polydactyl cats, which had a range of 20-25 toes per cat. One very special one named Caesar, had the ability to fold his “extra” toes in kinda like a thumb and tried to use it as such. He was a great mouser too. I love the pics of Jolene, thanks for sharing!

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Robin

Just kick ass,Jolene. This is the kind of farm that will enjoy the spice of a successful woman in charge of her own career!

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Susan

Love the pics! She is beautiful. Had at least two polydactyl cats growing up in PA. Thanks for sharing. Love to all humans and creatures on your farm.

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Lise Messier

My cat Memphis has 6 toes per foot. He is rescued cat and a sweetie. He does not got outside so he can’t chase mice. Love the article. Thanks!

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Gina

My favorite cat in the whole world was a most beloved 17 yr old polydactyl. Kudos to Jolene!

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Sarah van Leer

Sweet. Our late Jorge had 7 on each front foot and 5 on each rear foot, so he wasn’t quite as “poly” as Jolene. He was the first I’d seen with extra rear toes. Growing up, my family always called these “Boston paws.” My mother always said that the mutation originated in the Boston-Salem MA area, thus the regional nomenclature. Love the pix of Jolene!

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Tia

Instead of normal, you can say typical! That just means specific to a type that is usually one way but sometimes it just isn’t. Normal has an air of, if it’s not this way, it’s wrong, whereas typical is more of, if it’s not this way, it’s different.

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Kavod

Normal is a term akin to “average” or “typical” and should have no moral connotation. Things which are exceptional in positive ways are just as “abnormal” as things which are exceptional in negative ways.

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NowaDiver

Aww – she’s great – I have two polydactyls and honestly, you did a much better job getting pictures of Jolene’s toes than I could’ve with my two (who are house cats and we) I’ve seen that same squint on my girls’ faces just after letting them go from toe-nail trimming – I’d say that you assessed it correctly. 😉

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Annieman

So interesting! I never knew about Ithacats or Pooli. We briefly considered calling our polydactyl cat Flipper. But, since is a MAJOR fur bearer, my husband named him Fluff Daddy instead. He definitely thinks he is Uber Cat. We neuter/spay strays too, if we can catch them. It makes their lives so much easier. You guys are the best.

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RAY

Jolene is really a pretty cat. Very interesting indeed. I love her role in the PolkaSpot: My Life In Pictures comic book. So much fun to read and enjoy. The digital version for NOOK is really fun as well. Thanks!!

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Theresa

I have had occassion to hear that same, low, gutteral, “chainsaw in the distance” noise. Jolene must really like you, most cats give one hiss or short growl before…well, carnage.
Love your updates, so nice to see after a long day.

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Barbara S. Bates

I showed my hubby these pictures…he stated she is one cat that can “toe the line.”

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Denise

very interesting!! I always learn something from reading your newsletters! Jolene is a real cutie!! I suspect that Bubby allowed her to stay so she wouldn’t swat him with those incredible paws!!!

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Bev Redmond

Several years ago, I saw an ad posted for kittens, calling them “Rare Polly Dackles”. I laugh again about that, every time I see a polydactyl cat.

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tammy franks

we have a cat just like this one ,but Lesey only has 6 toes on her front ,she looks like she is wearing mittens . She also is the same color as yours.I will have to send you a pic someday soon.

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sue tolbert

Thanks for the informative blog on polydactyl cats. We often see many come into GCHS but I don’t recall any with as many toes as Jolene. She was very sweet when I was at the farm but I have to say not as sweet as Buddy. Thanks for helping cut down on over population by ‘spreading the word’ on spay/neuter of the cats. sue t.

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Bev Nan Murphy

I am so wobbly on my own poly feet….is J. more sure footed and a a better climber
and catcher of mice? We humans call those things hammer toes and bunions. It would be nice to know with these “gifts” one can scale higher heights and be a supercat. She is , anyway. Love them all.

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Kayley

Makes me wonder if my poly cat in MN was a transplant or a one of a kind. Either way she was sweet, fluffy and loved using her extra toes to her advantage! Miss you, kitty!

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Heather

Delighted that you have an Ithacat. We have 7 of those at our Ithaca farm, none of whom contented themselves to remain feral, as they now love to sleep on our heads. 5 are black and white… related to Jolene, perhaps? L. Frank Baum, author of the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, was a frequent visitor to Ithaca in the 1880s… his future wife, Maud, was a student at Cornell University. Ithaca city roads were paved with yellow brick in those days… it is said that Ithaca was the original Emerald City. Jolene can be proud of her whimsical home town.

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Ken Newman

Your cats are good natured sweet hearts. Good examples of nature vs nurture, in caring homes, with time, the fear and feral aspects go away. Whenever we’ve visited the farm Bubby and Jolene have always been very approachable and friendly, as was Orangey-White.

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Jane

I learned something new today. I too live in an old farmhouse and have seen many wild cats. They don’t let you get close so I have no idea about their feet! (just that they have them☺!)

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jennifervizzo

Polydactyl cats are considered good luck….Maine Coon cats are sometimes polydactyl. I had a polydactyl male cat when I was in Germantown….his name was Walter Mitty. Since he was a travelin’ man, it’s possible that he wandered east to Ithaca. When he returned him, I surgically removed the impetus to travel. Are you going to spay Jolene?

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Susan Elwood

Jolene,
This is an interesting story about you! I have numerous barn cats and they were jealous to hear you landed at the”Beekman” and they at ” Evermay” in Ga. (but they know they’re spoiled) Your purrrrfect, feet and all!!!!
Must say I love the little cap on Pooli’s head!

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Deb Costa

I see that Jolene is also a tuxedo cat…we have a beautiful long hair domestic female, named Isabella who is a tuxedo-a “cap and mantle” on be exact. Of course we love her very much. Glad that Jolene has found such a great home!

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