A Look of Their Own
All cats are beautiful, and different people have different ideas about which breed is best. Here are 10 cat breeds that you may not have seen before—and a word about what makes each of them so special.
Very likely the first cats to be domesticated, the Abyssinian is often equated with the Egyptian cats worshipped for their skill in keeping the rodent population from eating precious grain. It is true that these cats closely resemble ancient Egyptian artwork, and their remains have been found mummified and buried in tombs of worship to the cat goddess Bastet. Genetic research now tells us that they most likely originated on the west coast of India and migrated to Africa. This breed was the first to exhibit the ticked tabby pattern reminiscent of felis lybica, a wildcat ancestor of domestic cats. At first called bunny cats because of their resemblance to wild rabbits coat, they were brought as souvenirs from Abyssinia to England in the 1860s. They are an elegant cat with supreme self-assurance and high intelligence.
Often compared to a wild bobcat, the American Bobtail is a true American creation. Possessing no wild blood, this breed was carefully created using domestic cats found all over the country. They all have the short, flexible and expressive tail and, despite being born thousands of miles apart, share a striking resemblance in body structure. The natural mutation creating the bobbed tail is unique to this breed and does not share genetics with any other bobtailed breeds. It is a strong and healthy breed because of its diverse background and comes in a wide variety of colors and both long and short hair. Easygoing cats, they still enjoy stalking and playing with their toys and show great devotion to their human families.
Another strictly American cat is the American Curl. They all descend from a single longhaired black stray who wandered into a backyard in Lakewood, California, one day in 1981 to mooch a meal. Soon named Shulamith, she became the center of genetic study and debate because her ears uniquely curled back in a graceful arc. Her adoptors, Grace and Joe Ruga, worked patiently with others to set the foundation for a new and exciting breed. They determined that a cat with the curled ears could be bred with a straight eared cat and produce the distinctive curl, a trait known as autosomal dominant to geneticists. No defects were found in any of the early crosses and the breed is known for its health and outstanding temperament. They come in many colors, and both long- and short-haired cats require little grooming.
The Bengal breed began in 1963 with the cross of a female domestic cat to an Asian leopard cat, one of the many small wildcats found in Asia. The plan was to create a truly domestic cat with the exotic rosetted spots and white belly of the wildcat. The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) considers them to be domestic when they are six generations away from the wildcat. Bengal cats come in a wide range of colors but only two patterns: spotted/rosetted and marble. The most dramatic are those with the rosetted pattern of light spots surrounded by a dark outline like the markings on a jaguar or leopard. Bengals are curious and athletic with an affinity for water that often leads them to join you in the shower.
Devons are a pixie-faced cat, looking like they have just arrived in an alien spaceship. In truth, they originated in Devonshire, England, in the 1950s with the discovery of Kirlee, a stray kitten with elfin features and wavy curls in his coat. With careful selection to create a healthy gene pool, Kirlee became the founding father of a breed that has been described as a cross between a cat, a dog, a monkey, and Dennis the Menace. The Devons are intensely social and remain kittens at heart forever. They are food hounds and have no shame in craftily snatching a bite from your plate. In addition to their oversized ears and impish face, these playful cats come in over 300 different color and pattern combinations. They are low maintenance, although not hypoallergenic as is sometimes claimed.
Currently one of CFA’s most popular breeds, the Exotic has been described as the lazy man’s Persian. Like many of man’s experiments in breeding, it began as something quite different. Early American shorthair breeders tried using an outcross to a Persian to bring the Shaded Silver pattern into their cats. Although originally accepted, complaints soon arose because of the change in the head structure caused by the cross. Ultimately, the decision was made to offer these outcrosses the opportunity to become their own breed, trending more toward the Persian than the American. Today they are almost identical to the Persian except for their coat, which is thick, plush and short. They have the comfortable nature and quiet voice of the Persian.
This relatively new breed can easily be described as a designer cat. Developed in the 1960s by Ann Baker in California, they originate almost entirely from a free-roaming colony of cats. Centered on Josephine, a long-haired white female, Baker concentrated on producing cats of a sweet and endearing temperament. They are gentle cats who enjoy being held, hence the name Ragdoll. Available in longhair only, these large cats can easily top the scale at 15 pounds. They all have blue eyes and a pointed pattern. They can be colorpointed only or have white mitts or more extensive white (bi-color). Their semi-long coat is plush but silky and requires minimal grooming.
Unique among all other CFA-registered cats, the Sphynx is hairless. Another of Mother Nature’s mutations, breeders began in 1966 to seriously work with cats from Canada that exhibited the hairless gene. Not totally bald, these cats can have short hair on the ears, toes and tail and a fine down on the body that makes it feel like a suede hot water bottle. Their body structure is distinct with a full belly and strong boning. The skin is loose and wrinkles especially around the head and shoulders. Color can be determined by the pigment on the skin. Periodic bathing is necessary to remove the body oils that would normally be absorbed by the hair coat. These cats have lots of energy and are mischievous with few health problems. They appreciate a sweater in very cold weather.
American breeders have been particularly successful in developing a single cat with a unique mutation into a pleasing and healthy breed. The Selkirks descend from a housecat found in a shelter in Montana. Several substantial breeds were used in developing the gene pool to produce a cat with sturdy boning like a British shorthair. The defining feature of the Selkirk is its plush, curly coat. The shorthair has been likened to a lambswool, while the longhair has a much looser curl. Normal coated cats can also occur in the litter; breeders can identify the curly coated kittens at birth because they have curly whiskers! This breed is patient and loving.
This ancient breed originated on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea off the coast of England. Unique because the cats are often tailless, they were exhibited at the first cat show at the Crystal Palace in London in 1861. There are several myths attempting to explain the lack of a tail, but, in truth, it is caused by a dominant gene isolated in a small area. Because it is not completely dominant, a Manx can be born with a full or shortened tail, and these varieties are very important in the breeding program. The Manx body is often described as a series of circles with a round head and a definite arch to the back rising from the shoulders to the rump. They are playful and intelligent cats.
Carolyn Osier is a retired Cat Fanciers’ Association Allbreed judge.
Gerald Tonkens commissioned the office of Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build his residence, The Tonkens House, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1950s. Mr. Tonkens’ daughter had a cat named Felinus and she requested a residence for the cat as well, so the office designed this cat house. This important piece of feline design was acquired by the CFA Foundation’s The Feline History Museum. More information about the CFA Foundation and the Feline History Museum at FelineHistoricalFoundation.org.