Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Frank and Louie; photo by Steven Senne, AP
Frank and Louie is just one cat, but he has two names because he has two faces.  He is a ragdoll cat, like our foster kitty Astrid, but she only has one face, which is plenty, since she has bad teeth and bad breath and drools.  But anyway, Frank and Louie is what's called a "Janus cat" because he has two faces, like the Roman god Janus.

Janus is always shown with one face looking forward and one looking backward.  That's because he is the god of beginnings and transitions, and also of gates, doorways, endings, and time.  The month of January was named in honor of Janus because that's when we are starting a new year, but we are also still looking back at the old year.

Usually, when a Janus cat or any other animal with two faces is born, it doesn't live long because it also has a bunch of other health problems.  But Frank and Louie turned 12 years old on September 8, 2012, which is the oldest that any Janus cat has ever been.  And because of this, he got to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Another word for the "Janus cat" condition is diprosopus, from a Greek word that means "two-faced."  Or you can also call it craniofacial duplication.  This is not the same thing as being a conjoined twin.  Animals that have diprosopus are born that way because of a protein called the sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH), named after a video game character called Sonic the Hedgehog.  I think this might mean that certain scientists have spent way too much time playing video games, but no one asked my opinion, as usual.

A Janus kitten named Harvey Dent;
sadly, he only lived a couple of days.
Anyway, the job of this SHH protein thing is to decide how wide your face will be, and if there's too much of the protein, your face can get too wide, which means there's more room for extra stuff, such as an extra eye or two, an extra nose, and so forth.  If there's not enough SHH, you might end up with only one eye, but people and animals like this usually don't survive long enough to even be born.  Or if they are born alive, they only live for a few hours.

Most animals with diprosopus have had other congenital problems that kept them from staying alive.  There was a pig named Ditto who had the condition, and he lived to be an adult.  But he got pneumonia because he breathed through one muzzle while eating with the other one.  So the food went down into his lungs and that's how he got pneumonia and died.

Janus Cat by Felesya; daily-cat.com
Frank and Louie was born in Millbury, Massachusetts, and when he was only one day old, his breeder took him to the Tufts University Veterinary School to be put to sleep.  But a woman named Marty Stevens who worked there said she would take him home and try to save him.  People told her not to get her hopes up because cats like that didn't usually survive.  But everyone was amazed that he really did survive, and now he is 12 years old.  Probably what helped Frank and Louie was that he has only one esophagus that works, and he may only have one trachea that works also.  So this means he is not as likely to choke on his food like Ditto the pig did.

Frank and Louie going for a walk;
photo by Steven Senne, AP
Ms. Stevens likes to take Frank and Louie out for walks on a leash.  People come up to pet him, and then they are shocked to find out that he is a Janus cat.  "I see a look of horror come over their faces when they actually see his face, it's funny," Ms. Stevens says.

Anyway, that's the story of Frank and Louie.  I'm happy that they made it into the Guinness Book, but I don't think I would want to live with a cat who can look at me from all different sides of his face, because that would be a little creepy!

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