When the name of this column changed to Nature Notes two years ago, it was so I could write about anything related to nature, not just plants or gardens. I had pushed the limits of “garden” anyway, but now the world was my oyster. Nature encompasses so many things.

That’s why I’m using my privilege of latitude in subject matter to talk about cats. Yes, I’m a cat lover who hasn’t yet achieved Crazy Cat Lady status just yet, though over the last 20 years or so, we’ve cared for more than 25 strays and ferals that have shown up here. Just a couple made it to permanent inside status, but the others got excellent care and love, too.

Many years ago, our neighbors had a tortoiseshell cat that would sit in the front yard as we walked by. Its facial markings were such that it looked angry all the time, but it was a pretty sweet cat, from what little we knew of it. I called it Mr. Ugly, but that was back before I knew that nearly all tortoiseshell cats, like calicos, are female.

Here is where nature gets interesting. I’m perpetually fascinated with genetics and the part it plays in how we and everything on the planet looks. With infinitesimal combination possibilities, it’s what makes each of us unique. Cats, too.

First of all, I was shocked to find out that not all cats in a single litter always have the same father. A litter of five kittens could each have had a different father. That’s part of the reason litter mates sometimes look nothing like each other.

I’m partial to torties, as tortoiseshell cats are affectionately called. Like calicos, torties are almost always female. The color and pattern are sex-linked to females and occurs in many different breeds. On the rare occasion that either are male, they are likely to be sterile.

In addition to the black/red (torties) and black/red/white (calicos) coloring, there is also a genetic mutation that causes these colors to be muted to gray and cream. These are called dilute calico or dilute tortoiseshell. If there is tiger striping to a tortoiseshell cat, it’s called a torbie (tortoiseshell + tabby). Who knew there was so much involved?

A few months ago, I started floating the idea around here that I wanted another inside cat. We already had Baby, a black-and-white domestic shorthair, whom we rescued from a muddy field nearly 18 years ago, along with her four siblings. She is the lone remaining member of her litter and shows no signs of leaving this world anytime soon. My husband is clearly Baby’s person, unless he’s not around. Then she chums it up with me. But the minute he gets home from work, I’m invisible.

Hubby didn’t want another cat. We’d been a two-cat household in the past, but the other one we had for 17 years – Simon – was a long-haired Maine Coon who was definitely high maintenance and temperamental. He had catitude in spades. I reminded my husband of this, explaining that this cat wasn’t likely to be that way. He knew it was no use to argue and that it was just a matter of time before a tortie came to live with us.

I signed up for email notifications from Petfinder and Adopt-a-Cat for any female cats a year or younger. Since torties are almost always female, they would show up about every other week. The problem was, every time I’d click on one I was interested in, she was already gone. Torties are considered to be good luck by those who are superstitious and in general are quite popular, so they’re adopted fairly quickly.

But then one showed up in an email that was still available. She was at Fort Defiance Humane Society and was estimated to be one year old. She was an anonymous drop-off several months ago that they named Cleocatra. Cute. Like her.

I submitted an application for adoption and after four long days, we were approved. Last Friday, I drove to Defiance and picked her up. We renamed her Bessie, after my paternal grandmother, Bessie Hartwig. The shelter told me she was almost the perfect cat when it came to her personality, and from what we’ve experienced so far, it’s true.

The jury is still out, as far as Baby is concerned, but she’ll come around, I’m sure. My husband will too, since it’s no secret that he’s got a soft heart for animals of every kind. This week, as we honor the late Betty White on the occasion of her 100th birthday (Jan. 17th), please consider joining the Betty White Challenge by donating to a local shelter so they can continue to care for animals that need love and care. Even better, if you’ve got the room in your home and heart, adopt one of your own.