In the year 2000, I was a complete newbie to the world of feline showing, and my first show was an eye-opener: I had no idea how many cat breeds there were, many of them totally new to me. As an educator and life-long learner, I had a great deal of research ahead of me if I planned to stay in this hobby.
One of the first breeds I met was the Somali. Jan Pitelka, owner of TheCatGarden Somali Cattery in New Lenox, Illinois, introduced her breed to me. Her show cat fascinated me; it had gorgeous, shiny, fluffy red fur with incredible black markings, including mascara. On being told that these cats are known as the “little foxes of the cat world,” I could see the resemblance clearly. Now, twenty years later, I remember Jan’s story well. Living rurally in Illinois, she and her son looked out the front door one afternoon to find a fox in their front yard. Her son quickly reminded her that “the ear set isn’t right.” That is when Jan realized she had been showing too long!
A very intelligent cat, the Somali is vibrantly colored, and its pride is that bushy plume of a tail. “The combination of ticked, dramatically colored fur, striking facial marks, large ears, full bushy tail and britches gives the Somali a ‘little fox’ look which immediately captivates.” (CFA Breeds) Recognized for championship by CFA in 1979, the Somali is a close relative to the Abyssinian and like the Aby, is shown in four colors: ruddy, red, blue and fawn. A very friendly cat, the Somali looks its best with daily grooming, and is highly active and energetic. (Purina)
A Little History
Like many recognized breeds, the Somali’s background is swathed in mystery, but also in controversy. Originally, the Somali was a long-haired Abyssinian, “the result of a recessive gene in the Abyssinian cat” (CFA Breeds) The breed had its beginnings in the United States, and some researchers report “the long-hair gene was introduced into the Abyssinian breed in the early 1900s, but the long-haired variety was not bred specifically until the 1960s.” (Purina) Its name does not indicate an origin in the African nation of Somalia, only the fact that it was given a separate name to distinguish it from its short-coated sibling, the Abyssinian. “The Somali is a cat whose origin is surrounded by many romantic tales. Despite his name, he’s not from Somalia (the next-door neighbor to Ethiopia, formerly known as Abyssinia) but more likely the coast of the Indian Ocean and parts of Southeast Asia. He resembles a small African wild cat but is domestic through and through. Breeds that probably figured in his background include Siamese, Burmese and Russian Blues. The long-haired gene was introduced after World War II when breeders were trying to bring the breed back after the privations of the war.” (VetStreet)
Showing cats was all the rage in Great Britain during the Victorian Era, and Prince Albert’s Crystal Palace was the European home for cat shows. One of the more unusual breeds on exhibition in 1871 was a longhaired cat “captured during the Abyssinian War,” which took third place. Harper’s Weekly published a report of the cat show in its January 27, 1872, issue, but there were no records in existence regarding the origins of the cat. (CatTime) Speculation at the time that the cat “was created in Britain by crossing silver and brown tabbies with cats that had ‘ticked’ coats.” (CatTime)
Living With …
Somali Breed Council Secretary, Tammy Roark, hails from Yacolt, Washington, where her Somali cattery, TamaraKatz, began her Somali journey in 1994, somewhat by accident. Having lost a Himalayan, Tammy asked her vet to recommend a Persian breeder, but ended up meeting up with Polly Lauser of Ciderhouse Somalis. Originally adopted as pets, her two neutered littermates became signature grand champions for both Tammy and Ciderhouse Somalis. Breeding was the next step in her adventure, and her first litter was born in 1997.
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