Monday, September 19, 2016
Cat Breeds: Somali
Most breeds that are both ancient and have an exotic look about them have short hair. But sometimes, as breeds are strengthened using controlled outcrosses, an unintended gene creeps in. In the late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, Abyssinian breeders were forced to outcross simply to maintain genetic diversity. At least one of the non-Abyssinian cats used in Abyssinian breeding program had the recessive gene for long hair.
Recessive genes rarely stay that way for long, however, so it should come as no surprise that longhaired Abyssinian kittens were sometimes produced. These undesirable kittens were typically given away, never to be used in breeding programs. But eventually things came full circle, as they often do. It was 1969 when an Abyssinian breeder named Evelyn Mague was working in an animal shelter in New Jersey. One day, when Mague was working, a kitten named George was brought to the shelter. He was not only a longhaired Abyssinian, but one of the kittens Mague herself had bred a few years earlier. Appalled by the way he'd been treated, Mague had him neutered and placed in a loving forever home.
But George's story stuck with her. For a pedigreed cat to be treated as so unwanted just because he'd had the misfortune to be born with long hair was a travesty. Mague decided to not only find and show the longhaired cats, but to have them accepted as longhaired Abyssinians. This didn't go over well with Abyssinian breeders, so Mague pursued the idea that the cats were their own breed, one she labelled the Somali.
Producing more longhaired kittens wasn't difficult. She still had George's parents, after all, so she was able to add approximately one out of every four kittens to her new Somali breeding program. And since the longhaired gene was recessive, breeding Somalis to Somalis produced nothing but longhaired kittens.
It took some time, but Mague managed to find a few other breeders working with longhaired Abyssinians in both the US and Canada. By 1972 there were enough breeders to found the Somali Cat Club of America. It wasn't long before Somalis were registered with National Cat Fanciers' Association (which no longer exists). Other associations, including TICA, soon granted the Somali Championship Status.
The Somali is a man-made breed. It is not the result of a spontaneous mutation, as some Abyssinian breeders claim, and breeders from all over the world were responsible for the introduction of the longhaired gene. Ideally, the Somali should have been recognized as simply a variation of the Abyssinian. It was not to be, however, and so the Somali was born.
The Appearance of the Somali
Because Somalis are really just longhaired Abyssinians, almost everything about them is exactly the same as their parent breed. The head, the body, the conformation...everything is just like the Abyssinian. Somalis should be lean and muscled, giving them an impressive agility. Ears are just a little large and eyes are shaped liked rounded almonds. Just like the Abyssinian.
Even the coat colors are the same as the Abby. Blue, chocolate, cinnamon, fawn, lilac, and ruddy are all acceptable colors. Other colors are sometimes produced, and some registries even accept these colors. Typically, if a color is accepted for the Somali, it is also accepted for the Abyssinian, and vice versa.
The only real difference between the two breeds is the coat length. For a Somali the coat should be long and soft and the tail should have a lovely plume. The neck should have a ruff and the legs should appear fluffy. Somalis look almost like little toys cats, so fluffy and beautiful as they are.
The Personality of the Somali
Somalis are sweet, loyal, and affectionate. Highly intelligent, they will explore every nook and cranny of your home and follow you around looking for new mischief to get themselves into.
This adorable little breed loves children, other pets, and all the people. All the people. He's constantly looking for someone to give him love and attention, so he's a good cat for large, busy households. He'll play games all day, especially if these games involve running and jumping. He's an athletic breed, so make sure he has plenty to keep him happy and occupied.
If you're looking for a sweet cat with the look of the Abyssinian, but you want something with a little more fluff, the Somali just might be for you.