The Best Cat in the Whole World
“Sensitive to cold, thin, unaesthetic and not much admired by cat-lovers, these bald cats have only a technical interest. They are a flirtation for the specialist. The mutation has been fixed, but the breeding of bald cats hardly seems to have a great future.”
Ha! These words were written in 1968 by a Fernand Mery (where is he now?) in The Life, History and Magic of The Cat. Fast forward to 1980, in the very well known Book of the Cat, where it is written “Bred by a few breeders in North America, the Sphynx is regarded by many others as the negation of almost all they admire in the cat.”
Ha! Fast forward again to as recently as 1991, where Roger Tabor calls the Sphynx “a disadvantaged animal” that “deeply offends many people”, as well as an “abomination to most.” Also, “the hairless Sphynx would be quite unable to fend for itself and is therefore fully dependent on human beings.”
How wrong the authors and editors of these books were! The Sphynx, as many people know, has taken its place in TICA as one of the more popular breeds of shorthair cat. Many times the Sphynx entry at TICA shows outnumber those of such popular shorthair breeds as the Siamese and Abyssinian to name just two.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Hairless cats have been documented for many years, dating back to at least 1902, when a Mr. and Mrs. Shinick of Albuquerque, NM were given a pair of hairless cats (Nellie and Dick) by the local Pueblo Indians. They were brother and sister, and pictures of them described them as completely hairless with wedge-shaped heads, big ears, long bodies and long whip-like tails. From the descriptions the cats sounded as though they were probably bicolors. They were further described as having very short fur on their backs and along their tails in the winter that would fall off in warmer weather. Their eyes were “amber” and they had long whiskers. The cats were never bred, and Dick was killed by a dog at a young age.
In the 1930’s hairless cats were reported in such diverse places as France, Morocco, and the United States. Dr. E. Letard, a veterinarian, documented hairless kittens born to Siamese parents in France.
There has been quite a bit of information available about the “birth” of the “modern Sphynx”, beginning in 1966, On 30 January, 1966, a black and white domestic shorthair queen gave birth to a litter of kittens, one of which was a black hairless male. Mrs. Yania Bawa and her son Ridyadh Bawa acquired this kitten, whom they named “Prune”, as well as Elizabeth, his mother. They named their cattery after Prune, and he became “Prune of Prune”.
The Bawas bred Prune back to Elizabeth and on 16 January, 1967 she gave birth to seven kittens, among them two hairless females and two hairless males.
Kees and Rita Tenhove also began working with the Bawa’s, with the cattery name of Dutchie’s. Houston E. Smith of Bor-Al Cattery later joined the Bawa’s.
The first breeding of Elizabeth to Prune showed some omen of what was to come for the new breed. At nine months of age one of the hairless females in the litter showed signs of convulsions for around 18 hours, could not be brought out of them, and died. No cause of death was determined from the necropsy, performed at Guelph Laboratories. Five other females from the Bawa’s breeding program suffered from these convulsions from the ages of six weeks to three years of age. Two of them died and treatment was found for the others. Prune’s Kyran had her first attack at eight weeks of age, another one at two-and-a-half years of age, and a third mild attack around 24 hours after giving birth in 1971 at three years of age. She was treated and survived, but the cause of the attacks were never found.
The treatment for the convulsions, which only occurred in the females, was 1/2 cc Cortisone Acetate injection. This created some understandable concern about the viability of the Sphynx of that time. As Mr. Smith wrote to the CFA Board of Directors on 1 December, 1970: "If this might have been termed a “lethal” factor in the beginning, now that the cure is known, we no longer consider it “lethal”.
But what is the causative factor?
Is it a genetic problem connected with the gene for hairlessness?
Is it because of the extreme inbreeding practiced in the early days of breeding these cats?
Is it a hormonal problem since it affects “teen-age” females and one female of ripe years, never bred?
We feel these questions must be answered before the cat is pushed into competition.
” CFA accepted the Sphynx as a Provisional Breed in 1970. In the above quoted letter Mr. Smith requested that the Sphynx be reverted from Provisional to Experimental Status “until such time as we can hopefully answer some of the questions posed in this brief”.
On 25 March, 1971 Mr. Smith sent another letter to the CFA Board. In it was included a letter from Mrs. Bawa herself. She documented her experiences with the breed from the acquisition of Prune and Elizabeth, the occurrences of the convulsions, and then expressed her concerns regarding the future of the breed. Some of the things she said are timely even today (not only for the Sphynx), including distress “that other breeders who have been working with the breed have not given the full facts to purchasers, and in fact have denied the existence of any problems. Basically, it’s the old question of who comes first, the breed or the owners, for myself, Mrs. Elliotte (Marg Elliotte, who was working with the Bawas and the Smiths), and the Smith’s it’s the breed..... to me the Sphynx is still and will remain for a number of years an Experimental Breed and should be shown this way, but I agree that all this time in CFA, they should remain “Exhibition Only” status as I feel that the cats are being pushed too fast for recognition.
How can one write a standard for a breed when there are so few examples and we the breeders don’t yet know where we are going type-wise?”
The CFA Board complied with the request of the breeders and revoked the Sphynx’s Provisional Status, which would remain that way for 26 years.
The now defunct Crown Cat Fanciers Association recognized the Sphynx for Championship competition in 1971, and GRC Dutchie’s Nefertiti of Mewsi-Kal, bred by the Tenhoves and owned by Sandy Kaiser, became Crown’s first and only Grand Champion Sphynx in 1973.
Two offspring of Nerfertiti, Mewsi-Kal Starsky (a male) and Mewsi-Kal Johnny (a female... at first she had been thought to be a male, hence the uni-sex name!) went to The Netherlands in 1978 to help Dr. Hugo Hernandez with a beginning breeding program. Starsky was not terribly interested in breeding his sister. She did manage to get pregnant once, but the entire litter, delivered via c-section, died. Between 1978 and 1980 three hairless kittens were found on the streets of Toronto by local children. T
hey were brought to Shirley Smith, a Siamese breeder. Mrs. Smith kept Bambi, the male (born in June of 1978; more on him below) and sent the two females, named Paloma (born in September of 1979) and Punkie (born in April of 1980) to Dr. Hernandez in The Netherlands. Starsky was not too interested in Punkie and Paloma either. He also began to spray, and since he was acting like a stud cat in every way except for breeding Dr. Hernandez decided to have him neutered. Punkie did end up pregnant, after Starsky was neutered, but the entire litter died. Now without a male Sphynx, Dr. Hernandez sent Paloma to live with Hanna Nathans. He decided to try using a Devon Rex to breed to Punkie and Paloma, and a white male named Curare van Jetrophin successfully bred Punkie.
The Sphynx was on its way in Europe.
Two males from this breeding, Q. Ramses and especially Q Ra (out of Punkie) are quite prominent in many, if not most Sphynx pedigrees today. From Hanna Nathans (de Calecat) and Tonia Vink (Ajahanda’s) the Sphynx eventually found its way to France.
Patrick Challain and Guy Patigny were the owners of Chnoem de Calecat, known in the United States as “ET”. This cat came to the US in 1986 to do PR for the INCATS show at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately he died in a fire back in France the next year. Aline and Philippe Noel acquired Ajahanda’s Atilla Timothy and Ajahanda’s Zendila from Tonia Vink, and these two cats have played a very important role in the history of the Sphynx in the United States. In 1978 Punkie and Paloma’s older brother Bambi was born.
His story was told in the May, 1985 issue of Cats Magazine. He was found on the streets of Toronto, and by the time Shirley Smith got a hold of him he was in pretty bad shape. His left eye had been punctured in three places and his genitalia was so badly mutilated that everything had to be removed. In 1986 Shirley Smith’s health was declining, so she placed Bambi, named for his big doe eyes, with a close friend. In 1990 Bambi’s new owner had to find him another home and he ended up with Linda Birks of Aztec Cattery. Bambi was the oldest Sphynx on record, and he passed away in June of 1997, at the age of nineteen.
Bambi never produced any kittens of his own, but he helped greatly to propel the Sphynx into the public eye with the Cats Magazine article.
So it appears from all of the written accounts, as well as pedigree information, that the “original” Sphynx from Canada, specifically the Bawas’ and Tenhoves’ cats, have no bearing on the Sphynx of today. In fact, it was recently written by Bruce Fogle, D.V.M., “The first Sphynx, Prune, was born in 1966, but his line died out.” Yes, the other Sphynx from Canada, Punkie and Paloma, are an important part of the breed today, but read on and I think that you will agree with me that the Sphynx is a “North American” breed, not exclusively a Canadian breed. There have been breeders working with the Sphynx in the United States since the mid 1970’s.
In 1975 a domestic shorthair cat was abandoned on the farm owned by Milt and Ethelyn Pearson in Wadena, MN. They named the brown tabby female “Jezabelle”. Shortly after her arrival on the farm Jezabelle gave birth to a hairless kitten. The Pearsons named the little female “Epidermis”. A year later Jezabelle gave birth again, to another hairless female, whom the Pearsons named “Dermis”. When Mrs. Pearson’s job obligations got to the point where she felt she could no longer give the cats the attention they needed, she reluctantly sold them in 1981 to Kim Mueske of Z. Stardust Cattery.
Kim’s first attempts at breeding the cats occurred shortly thereafter, to a blue-eyed white American Shorthair, CFA GRC Sailaway Willie. Epi and Dermi produced seven kittens between them, all normal-coated. Three years passed before Kim tried again, this time to an American Shorthair named Red. Epi produced two normal-coated male kittens, and upon the advice of Dr. Solveig Pflueger she bred one of the males, Z. Stardust Sneezy, back to his mother and was rewarded with three hairless kittens. In 1986 Kim planned to have Epi spayed, but Epi had other ideas.
Cantaur’s Hercules of Z. Stardust, a Devon Rex who was also scheduled to be neutered, and Epi had one last fling and in the resulting litter was born the foundation queen, SGC Z. Stardust’s Winnie Rinkle of Rinkurl, OD, TICA’s first Outstanding Dam Sphynx and a cat who figures quite prominently in many of today’s Sphynx pedigrees. Thank goodness for feline persistence (and sneakiness)! Winnie passed away in March of 2002 at the ripe old age of 16, after a long battle with breast cancer.
Also in Minnesota, down the road from Wadena in Brainerd, Mrs. Georgiana Gattenby was working with hairless cats. Her cattery Jen Jude was named for a daughter and St. Jude. Her three foundation cats, Jen Jude King Tutt , Jen Jude Sheba, and Jen Jude Cleopatra, were acquired from Mrs. Pearson in the fall of 1978. Patricia Jacobberger, a CFA judge and Ellen Ainsworth, an American Shorthair breeder both visited Mrs. Gattenby’s cattery in 1980 and took many photos of the cats. On 28 April, 1979 King Tutt and Sheba presented Mrs. Gattenby with her first hairless kitten, Jen Jude Different.
Mrs. Gattenby used a few Cornish Rex, referred to in her cattery records as simply “Rex” (Devons were not accepted as a different breed at that time) as an outcross.. One of them, Silk Screen Ripples, was bred to Different three different times. Two of their hybrid kittens produced both hairless and coated kittens when bred back to a Sphynx. Mrs. Gattenby sold her last two remaining cats, Jen Jude Yoda II and Jen Jude Girlie, to Brenda S. Pena in 1985 and 1986. Mrs. Gattenby was not in good health sadly, and died shortly thereafter. After repeated attempts, Yoda and Girlie produced a litter of kittens in 1988. Two of them, CH Brenda’s Bathsheba of Rinkurl and particularly QGC/RW Brenda’s Nefertiti of Rinkurl, OD, can also be found in many Sphynx pedigrees today. Even when Mrs. Gattenby was working with the Sphynx there was quite a bit of interest in the breed. She had many letters from interested people, and advertised in Cat Fancy in 1985.
While there were people working with the Sphynx prior to TICA’s acceptance of the breed for Championship competition in 1986, the breeders who put the Sphynx on the map again were Walt and Carol Richards of Britanya Cattery. In 1986 their Devon Rex female Britanya’s Aida Lott produced a litter of four kittens, sired by Chnoem de Calecat. The four, SGC Britanya’s Lady Godiva, QGC Britanya’s Lord E I’m Naked, OS, TGC Britanya’s Baroness Quizzit, and CH Britanya’s Gremlin of Petmark were exhibited as kittens at the INCATS show in Anaheim, CA in July of 1986, where they created quite the sensation. Lady Godiva went on to become TICA’s first Supreme Grand Champion Sphynx and TICA’s first International Best of Breed Sphynx, and Lord E became TICA’s first Outstanding Sire Sphynx.
Britanya cats figure quite prominently in many pedigrees of today’s Sphynx, and the Richards’ can certainly be accredited with a good part of the fabulous success of the breed both in and out of the show ring.
THE SHOW SCENE
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