Today’s mysterious and sad news is that Frank and Louie has died at the age of 15. “Has” is the correct verb since Frank and Louie was a Janus cat, a feline with two functional faces on one furry frame. Frank and Louie holds the Guinness world record for the longest-living Janus cat.
As everyone born in January knows, Janus is the Roman god with a face for the past and a face for the future (this would have been the proper place for a Joan Rivers reference but it’s too soon, although Joan would probably approve). Janus cats and other two-faced animals suffer from diprosopus or craniofacial duplication, an extremely rare disorder whereby parts or all of two faces appear on one head. Diprosopus is caused by abnormal activity of the protein SHH (sonic hedgehog), which governs facial features. It can occur in both animals and humans, usually with other congenital disorders, and those suffering from it rarely live long past birth.
Frank and Louie (yes, it’s really Frankenlouie but let’s have some respect for the deceased) was a rare exception. Born on September 8th, 1999, in Millbury, MA, he was adopted the following day by Marty Stevens, a veterinary school employee who didn’t want the kitten to be euthanized, as is the case with most kittens born with the condition.
According to Leslie Lyons of the University of Missouri’s Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, who specializes in feline genetics, Frank and Louie was indeed a lucky cat. He was adopted by a caring and knowledgeable person and he had a crucial life-saving feature:
In this particular case, one [side] didn’t have a lower jaw or esophagus. If you had both sides of the face eating, I don’t know what kind of complications that would cause. Initially the complications are going to be with the ability to eat and breathe properly.
Frank and Louie ate and breathed for 15 years, liked to be taken for walks and managed to live a long and somewhat normal life, thanks to Marty Stevens. Somewhere in cat heaven, there’s a two-faced cat scratching on a pearly gate.