You might not expect to meet a future scientist at a Cat Show. Nevertheless, two prospective researchers showed cats at Oregon’s International Cat Show last weekend. Fifteen-year-old Heidi Christenson showed her cat, Oh Henry, in the Household Pet category because a birth accident resulted in amputation of a leg, disqualifying him from breed classes. Twin sister Hailie showed Sweet and Spicy, an 8-month-old female in the Bengal class.
The cats are products of breeding of the girls’ design. Heidi’s love of mathematics and Hailie’s fascination with genetics help them understand the most probable outcomes of their breedings. How do young women develop an interest in animal breeding?
4H participants since kindergarten, the sisters have exhibited animals since age 8, the youngest allowed by that organization. In addition to breeding and exhibiting cats, Heidi breeds dogs while Hailie breeds cavies (aka guinea pigs). Heidi now focuses on the Lapinporokoira, a little-known Finnish herding dog. Reindeer herders send Lapinporokoira out to move the herd to new grazing locations. Amazingly, the herder doesn’t need to accompany the dogs. Because of the breed’s independence and work ethic, Heidi believes she can breed individuals suitable for work as police or rescue dogs.
These Ridgefield, Washington students attend class at the Insight Academy Online. They plan to join the Running Start program in Arts and Sciences at Clark College in the fall before moving to a four-year program. One wishes to become a researcher to help eliminate the genetic diseases that often result from breeding programs. The other sister is interested in sociology. What we don’t know is which animals they’ll choose to study. Perhaps the sisters’ ambitions result from a nurtured long-term interest that drives their curiosity. One has to wonder how many scientists’ careers were started with an interest in cats, dogs, or cavies.