WORCESTER, Mass. – Frank and Louie the cat was born with two faces, two mouths, two noses, three eyes — and lots of doubts about his future.
Now, 12 years after Marty Stevens rescued him from being euthanized because of his condition, the exotic blue-eyed rag doll cat is not only thriving, but has also made it into the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records as the longest-surviving member of a group known as Janus cats, named for a Roman god with two faces.
"Every day is kind of a blessing; being 12 and normal life expectancy when they have this condition is one to four days," Stevens said, stroking Frank and Louie's soft fur as he sat on her lap purring. "So, he's ahead of the game; every day I just thank God I still have him."
Frank and Louie's breeder had taken him to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where Stevens was working at the time, to be euthanized when he was just a day old. Stevens offered to take him home, but experts told her not to get her hopes up.
Janus cats almost never survive, and most have congenital defects, including a cleft palate that makes it difficult for them to nurse and often causes them to slowly starve or get milk in their lungs and die of pneumonia. The condition is the result of a genetic defect that triggers excessive production of a certain kind of protein.
But Frank and Louie did not suffer from most of the common Janus problems. Stevens used feeding tubes to nourish him for three months, hoping that would also save him from the danger of choking on food going down two mouths.
It turned out she didn't have to worry about him choking, because Frank and Louie used just one of his mouths to eat.
"The condition itself is very rare, and I think that the fact that this cat became an adult, a healthy adult, is remarkable," said Dr. Armelle deLaforcade, an associate professor at Cummings and head of the emergency services section.
Colleagues at the veterinary hospital told Stevens that trying to raise Frank and Louie might not be good for him — or her.
Still, she "stood firm and stood by the cat, and I'm really glad she did because this cat really has fewer problems than many cats that have very normal anatomies," deLaforcade said.
Frank and Louie's two faces have a complicated relationship. Both noses work, but one mouth does not have a lower jaw and isn't connected to his one esophagus, so he can't eat with it. Stevens discovered that only after the cat got an MRI later in life.
The animal can see out of only two of his three eyes. The middle one can't even blink and makes Frank and Louie appear to be staring even when his other eyes are closed.
Frank and Louie does not seem to be bothered by his condition and has developed a friendly personality. The breed is known for its soft and silky fur, docile temperament and penchant for relaxing in a person's arms like a rag doll.
He is "very, very laid back, not afraid of people, very friendly and he's actually more of a dog than a cat," Stevens said. "He walks on a leash, he goes right in the car; he loves car rides."
People often want to touch Frank and Louie's long, luxurious fur while Stevens is out walking him.
"It's funny because people walk up to him thinking it's a nice, fluffy white cat and they're walking up with a big smile on their face to pat him, like, 'Oh, what a beautiful cat' and I see a look of horror come over their faces when they actually see his face," Stevens said, laughing.
Thirty years ago, a cat like Frank and Louie might not have been given a chance to live.
Said deLaforcade: "You can look at a cat like this as either a very strange and bad omen, or you can look at this cat as a miracle."