Somalis 
History of the Somali
Beginnings  Early articles on the breed

   The Somali: CFA's Newest Championship Breed

   The Search for Roots

   The Search Progresses

   My Five Years as a Somali Breeder


Characteristics  What is a Somali like?
Genetics  Where did the Somali originate?
Colors in which the Somali is available
Health of the Somali

Color Study What should the proper color for a fawn Somali look like? Participate in the discussion!

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THE SOMALI

CFA's Newest Championship Breed

by Patricia Nell Warren

 First published in "ALL CATS" Magazine, 1979. Reprinted here with permission of the author.

 

Lapinchat’s Sammy Sun of Chapaka, showing off his lion-like mane. He is now owned by Vickie Torrance of Shaman Cattery, who is breeding some big-coated kittens from him.

Somali Breeders have circled May 1, 1979 on their calendars.  On that day, their breed marches into championship competition in CFA.

Quarterly quoted CFA Board Member and Judge William Beck as complimenting the Somali Breeders on their orderly and professional work to get the breed recognized.

Somali breeders were thrilled.  That night, those who attended the board meeting broke out the champagne in Chicago.

Now, serious Somali exhibitors are readying their best kittens for the May 1 deadline.  The moment of truth is at hand - when we find out how our cats stack up against all-breed competition in the world’s biggest cat association.

A Little Bit of History

Ironically, the Somali started as something no one wanted.  Yet, when backed by more and more people who believed in the cat, the breed really caught fire and made a lot of progress in a few years.  Not until after 1970 were Somalis shown with the intent of getting them recognized.  The Somali’s medium-long coat is a recessive gene that has been floating around in the Abyssinian bloodlines for decades.  How it got there has been the subject of much controversy.  Old Abyssinian pedigrees, laden with English and European foundation registrations, show that these foundation cats may have been the little furred Trojan horses who sneaked the longhair gene into the Aby gene pool.

At any rate, for years, Aby breeders had quietly disposed of any surprise longhair kittens by giving them away as pets.

In the United States, the first breeder to create a Somali line and work for recognition was Evelyn Mague.  She founded the unaffiliated Somali Cat Club of America in 1972 and has been its president ever since.

Her ruddy Aby male, Qd. Ch. Lynn-Lee’s Lord Dublin, sired a total of six Somalis.  Dubbie’s grandchildren include two Somali Cat Club of America Best Cats - namely, June’s Dancing Moon and Tir-Na-Nog’s Grand Canyon.  Dubbie died in 1978 at the age of twelve and one-half.

In Canada, Judge Ken McGill also started a foundation line.  He worked with a longhaired Aby from the May-Ling Cattery, a ruddy male named Tutseita.  This cat’s name now appears on 25 percent of Somali pedigrees.

In fact, for a time, the small size of the Somali gene pool had Somali breeders very worried.

Today, well over 300 Somalis are registered with CFA.  Around 50 are red.  In CFA, ruddies and reds will be judged in separate color classes.  Around 40 breeders are active in CFA.

The breed is now recognized everywhere in North America, save in ACA and UCF.  With Somalis also being actively shown and bred in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it’s clear that the Somali has planted his flag on the world map of the cat fancy.

Pocket-Sized Wildcats

All breeders can wax poetic about their breeds.  Somali people are no different.

I saw my first Somali in 1974 when June’s Dancing Moon strolled into a room where I was having a cup of coffee with his breeder/owners, June and Steve Negrycz.  One look at Moon was enough to change me from a lifelong pet-owner to a potential breeder.

Many people think the Somali looks like a little wildcat.  I agree.  I am a lover of wildcats, so I can’t help myself!

When my photographer, Alice Su, comes up to my cattery to take pictures, we often take the cats into the woods to pose them.  There, the Somalis look wonderful as they pause for a moment on a big rock or a dead tree with their foxy tails hanging down.  Or, they walk softly across the autumn leaves and the ferns, their woodsy colors blending into the forest scene.

Some wildcats are ticked, like the Somali.  Many have those rich reddish tones in their coats.  When in full winter coat, the Somali can even grow big cheek-tufts, like a lynx.  And the long bushy extravagant tail reminds me of a jaguarundi’s.

The Somali even has a cheerful little chirping voice like the jaguarundi’s !!

Most provocative of all is the Somali’s perky black or chocolate ear-tufts.  They’re a minor detail, maybe.  But they do complete the picture of a little feral cat.

The Somalis who have ear tufts get them from Abys, of course.  Few Abys have them now, and the Aby standard no longer mentions them.  But the Somali standard calls them desirable.  The gene for ear-tufts is recessive.  So you can recapture tufts on your cats if both parents at least carry the gene.

Where the Abys get their ear-tufts is anybody’s guess.  My guess is that they come from something feral, far back in the Aby’s background.  Only five of the thirty-five species of feral cats have ear-tufts.  The tufts are an important clue to taxonomists, who try to classify feral cats into basic families.  Cats wearing tufts are all either in the lynx family, or distantly related to it.

When my tufted Somalis prick their ears, I am reminded that the little wildcats developed their ear-tufts as an extra little listening device.

This little championship hopeful is Sant’Gria’s Toreador, bred by John and Betty Bridges of New Jersey and owned by Diane Kosa of Hudson, NY

The Somali Disposition

Somalis certainly don’t act like wildcats, though.  Your average well-brought-up Somali is a meatball.

Like their Aby progenitors, they are mellow cats.  I like to sit visitors down with two of my friendliest queens, Marron’s Long ‘N’ Silky and Margus Alpha.  The two girls literally inundate the visitor.  Silky drapes herself across the visitor’s neck like a living mink stole, and blows gently in his ear.  Meanwhile, Alpha kisses him all over his kisser.

After that, I introduce the visitor to my male, Grand Canyon.  This cat got his nickname, “Huggy”, very honestly - by wrapping his arms firmly around one’s neck and gazing into one’s eyes with a melting expression.

 “Whew,” says the visitor as he extracts himself from Huggy’s ardent embrace.  “Somalis are pretty friendly cats, aren’t they?”

L’Air de Rauch Piper of Natchez, one of the first Somali double champions (CFF and Crown)

Adult Somalis are vigorous, curious and intelligent.  Translated into English, this means that they will climb your drapes, rummage in your purse, scatter your pencils - and charm you into accepting this chaos as a normal way of life.

Kittens of every breed are delightful.  And Somali kittens are manic baby versions of the above-mentioned chaos.

At this writing, I have two five-month-old sons of Grand Canyon at home.  When I call them, they come stampeding into the room.  They climb right up me like I am a tree.  Once on my shoulders, they surround me with purrings, lickings, kissings, whisker-ticklings and paw-pettings.

Somalis are healthy animals too.  According to the latest CFA figures on the mortality of young cats and kittens, the Somali has one of the lowest mortality rates in the cat fancy - even lower then the Aby.

There’s a reason for this, of course.  New breeds are usually more vigorous than older breeds where more line-breeding has been done.  And because of the small size of the gene pool from which they started, Somali people have been conscientiously looking for every legitimate opportunity to outcross.

All in all, the nice dispositions of these cats, and their soundness, make working with them a pleasure.

Nephrani’s Faro, a good red male who is showing currently. Owned by Ruth-Robert Morris

The Current Show Scene

In just a few short years, competition has become fierce.  The Somali has already reached the point where it is a waste of time to run a second-rate cat for top awards.

Every year since 1975-76, the Somali Cat Club of America has made its Annual Awards.  These awards are based on Somali competition all over North America.  A Somali gets a point for every Somali that it actually defeats in a breed class.  This means that Somali exhibitors actively look for big classes.  Even before CFA recognized the breed, Somali people were out there campaigning like crazy for these coveted SCCA rosettes.

And Somali classes are getting big.  Classes of 5 and 6 are fairly common now.  In CFA, 29 cats turned up at one Ohio show in 1977.  The 1979 Empire show in New York may see an even bigger class.

The AA show-entry statistics for 1977-78 show an interesting trend.  Three newer longhair breeds - the Somali, Turkish Angora and Maine Coon - jumped dramatically in entries over the previous year, close to 50 percent.  By contrast, some older breeds declined in entries and some newer breeds stayed about the same.

So far, the only Somali grands are in ACFA, where the breed was given championship status in 1977.  The first grand was a ruddy premier, Daila’s Tangleweed of Winery.  In 1978 came the first red grand - Baraka’s Rufani.  Several other Somalis are close to ACFA grands.

So breeders who decide now to get into Somalis should do their homework before they by.  Go to shows.  See what’s winning in your association.  Talk to different breeders.  Study pedigrees - the SCCA has a file of sketch pedigrees available to members.

Time was that you could buy a show Somali for $100.  That is what my foundation stud, L’Air de Rauch’s Rocky Raccoon, cost me in 1975 - and he went on to be 2nd Best SCCA Cat.

Today, a couple of top Somali breeders now get in the $400-$500 range for their best animals.  Several others who have excellent cats get in the $200-$300 range. I paid $300 and up for each of my best queens (and every one was worth it).

A first generation Somali who has a big coat, Du-Ro-Al Gorgeous George of Nephrani, owned by Bob and Ruth Morris

One thing to bear in mind, when buying, is that Somalis are slow developers - slower then Abys.  Kittens frequently go through an “ugly duckling” stage between 12 weeks and 8-9 months.  They seem to be all legs and big feet - often with no coat and little color.

But suddenly, they become colorful little longhairs - almost overnight.

So if you insist on buying a young kitten, and the animal has been honestly evaluated, be patient with your purchase.  Give it time to grow and fulfill its promise.

On the other hand, if you want to be more sure of what you’re getting, buy an older kitten, or young cat with some show wins.

Looking for Quality

Over the next few years, the most active Somali breeders are looking to upgrade their cats.

One problem is “dark roots”.  This is a problem that our cats inherited from the Abyssinian.  “Roots” is a band of charcoal grey in the undercoat, next to the skin.  It behaves like a dominant gene.  And unfortunately, this gene often travels together with the gene for good ruddy color.

Many good Abys have roots too.  But roots are more obvious in Somalis, because of the longer coat - and because of the plushy coat’s tendency to break apart and reveal the undercoat, the way  a sheared beaver pelt does.

Judges in CFA and ACFA are starting to insist on clarity - though they are sometimes overlooking the roots in a cat that has outstanding color, ticking, coat, type.

Lately, Somali coat length is much discussed.  Like the Turkish Angora standard, our standard merely says that the coat is to be medium-long - without being exact as to inches.  Yet Somalis vary greatly in coat length.

The longest coat in the breed right now may be the one owned by a ruddy female named Lapinchat’s Kat Dancer.  When she is in show condition the guard hairs on her body can go over 3 inches.  Her long floating tail hairs come close to six inches.  By contrast, some Somalis have a skimpy coat, and a mere wisp of a tail.

Some judges go for the longer-coated cats.  But these, unless they stand very tall on their legs, can give the illusion of being long-bodied and short-legged.  Some judges also distinguish between a silky coat and a plushy coat in the Somalis.  A plushy coat, if it is very long, can create the illusion of a cobby Somali - even though the body under the coat isn’t cobby at all.  Whereas the silky coat lies down flatter, and masks the body less.

This is why some judges go for the short-coated Somalis - they make for a better illusion of the Aby type.  And a Somali is suppose to be a longhaired Aby.

The final word is had by the Somali standard.  It says that preference is to be given to a cat with a full-coated look.

Currently, Somalis are getting a shot in the arm - quality wise - from some top Aby bloodlines.  Several Somali breeders have been able to bring in some fine new outcrosses, either through stud services to top Abys, or through breeding and showing Abys with these top lines.  All this happened thanks to the support of some Aby breeders who felt that the Somali could best upgrade by having access to the best in the gene pool.

A few years from now, when Somalis from these new outcrosses start entering the show ring, they will probably be top-notch cats.

Currently, all cat associations allow the Aby to be used in the Somali breeding program.  CFA allows breeding of Somalis back to Abys with no restrictions - except that the offspring of Aby/Somali matings must be registered as Somalis. (This is done so that the heterozygous shorthair won’t find their way back into Aby bloodlines where the longhair gene is non-grata.)

CFF and ACFA, however, place some extra restrictions on Somali breeders’ freedom to work with Abys.  To find out what the current rules are, contact the Somali breed secretaries for these associations.

The Advantages of Shorthairs

Some Somali breeders don’t have the patience to work with heterozygous “shorthair Somalis”.

“I can’t show it,” they complain. “And I’ll have to find pet homes for the shorthair kittens that it will throw.”

This is a shame, because they’re missing some pluses for their breeding program.

The best Somali ticking is found in cats who have at least one shorthair parent.  In my cattery, every Somali with one or more shorthair parents has ticking superior to Somalis with two or three generations of longhair X longhair behind them.  One of my best queens, Pala’s Gillian, has up to 12 to 15 bands of ticking - she is out of an Aby X Aby mating.

Other breeders have noticed this phenomenon too.  It seems that, when Somali is mated with Somali for several generations, the true banding fades to a kind of shading.  At this point, the best way to fix things is to breed to a shorthair with good ticking.

Some of the longest Somali coats also come out of shorthair cats.  One would think that the opposite would be true - that the longest coats would come from several generations of selective matings between longhairs.  But, in Somalis it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

The genes for a given coat length in a given Somali line seem to originate in the Aby lines behind it.  In other words, some heterozygous Aby X Aby matings throw very long Somali coats - and others throw very modest coats.  Lapinchat’s Sammy Sun of Chapaka has one of the longest coats in the breed - yet he is out of two Abys.

This ruddy Somali kitten, with his black ear-tufts and his cheek tufts, has that lynx-like look. (Editor’s note: This kitten was not identified in the original article, but is identified in another source by the same author as CH Foxtail’s Krizma of Nephrani)

Grooming Somalis for Show

Somalis, like Abys, react to a loss of condition by dropping their ticking and their color.  And, of course, they drop their coats.

Maintaining show condition is mainly good diet, minimizing stress, baths - and shampoo that doesn’t fade the color.

High-quality fat is a must in the Somali diet - for developing the most in color, and keeping the coat soft.  With the least dryness, the super-soft Somali coat gets fly-away and unkept.  I add Hygliceron to my cats’ diet.  And I also feed Jespy Chicken, which contains uncooked chicken fat - another kind of high -grade fat.

Like Abys, Somalis also get “redder” by being out in the sunlight.  And cold, damp weather doesn’t harm their coats at all.  My cattery has big outdoor runs, and the cats can go out there anytime, using little flap-doors in the cattery wall.  Even after a heavy snow, they are out there frisking around.  The very type of exposure that would blitz the coat and color of a black Persian seems to suit the Somali.

Unlike Persians, Somalis do not need constant combing.  They do not mat, save possibly behind the elbows and between the hind legs.  In fact, too much combing thins the Somali coat.  Every hair is sacred!  And one has to be extra-gentle with the tail.  That big foxy brush takes almost a year to grow in - or grow back.

For most Somalis, a pre-show bath is a must.  Especially for adult males.  That super soft coat can get amazingly greasy if it isn’t kept squeaky clean.

Unfortunately, baths temporarily strip off the natural hair oils from the coat.  It’s a couple of days before traces of oil return -  and til then, a Somali looks a bit faded.  Some breeders deal with this by bathing 2-3 days before the show.  Others bathe the day before - and then bring the color and ticking back up with a light dressing of Dromorecide.

Winery’s Ice Bucket, Ruddy, another young hopeful from a leading midwest cattery

Shampoos containing detergent are death on Somali color.  Some exhibitors swear by Mycodex. Others use Ring 5 Burnished Bronze.  Lemon rinses have been used successfully.

Some novice exhibitors try puffing their Somalis.  It never works - the coat is too short and resilient to stay puffed!  And it’s the natural look that best fits the cat.  The coat should be combed with the grain, so that the ticking isn’t mussed.

Just because Somalis need less combing, however, it doesn’t mean that they will be perfect cat for a lazy exhibitor.

A top national Aby breeder that I know spends a major part of their waking hours to keep their current winning cat glowing with condition.  After May 1, a top Somali is going to need that kind of expertise and dedication.

Somalis as Pets

It’s ironic - and somehow fitting - that pet Somalis have done their fair share of promoting the breed.

People who were given those closet Somali kittens back in the 1950’s and 1960’s are often satisfied customers.  When their first Somali dies of old age, they contact the SCCA to find out where they can get another one.

Then there was Neffi’s Boy.  He was a second-generation Somali, bred from a pair of Neffi first-generation Somalis in the early 1960’s.  He was exhibited a couple of times, then retired to a happy home life in Darien, Connecticut.  He died a couple of years ago, and his owner Margaret Waage, says she plans to get another Somali soon.

Often a pet Somali spurs its owner to get involved in breeding.

Last year, a southern Aby breeder shipped an unwanted female longhair kitten to a pet shop in New York City.  A Florida woman, Carole Dunham, was visiting the city and bought her.  She named the kitten Fleur, and took her back down south again.  Sad to tell, Fleur died at 9 months of a reaction to anesthesia while being spayed.  But her owner was hooked on Somalis by then.  Today she is one of our most active southern breeders.

Somalis make fine pets.  Because of their soft voices and their easy-going ways, they are nice to have around the house.  Pet owners like their snarl-free coats too.  Somalis usually get along well with other breeds.

One couple I know live in a small apartment with their 6 Somalis, 2 Abys and one American Shorthair.  All the cats are neutered.  The place is spotless.  The cats are such a jolly crew that it’s always a joy to visit these people.

The interest in showing Somalis as premiers is growing.  Suzanne Tyndall of Delaware is one SCCA member who supported the Somali cause by taking her ruddy neuter, Lili-Pet Taurus, to many shows.

The Road Ahead

As the Somali Breeders uncorked their champagne in Chicago, they knew that the hard work of recognition was over.  But they also knew that more hard work lies ahead.... the work of improving and protecting the cat.

Several judges have said “The Somali is going to be a popular breed”.

Fine. But not too popular.

SCCA members are already concerned about the possibility of overbreeding and commercializing.  It is club policy that queens should not be bred more than twice a year, and that members should not sell to commercial interests.

Another problem is maintaining soundness.  In our pursuit of show perfection, we will hopefully not lose hold on the vigor that the Somali now has.

My father, who has spent his life breeding purebred cattle and horses, is fond of telling me “Breed for size and bone, and you can’t go wrong.”

“Bone” is a genetic principle that holds true for all purebred animals, from fancy parakeets up to thoroughbred horses.  Bone is the yardstick of genetic vigor in the animal.  The loss of bone - mainly through in-breeding and line-breeding - results in small, frail, light-weight animals.  The mortality rate rises.  So does the incidence of congenital defects.  Disease resistance drops.  And these fragile animals often have breeding failures.

Many cat breeders mate brother to sister, and son to mother, with a cheerful recklessness that amazes livestock people. (In horses, for instance, granddaughter to grandfather is thought of as a close breeding.)  This is done to “fix” quality, and cat breeders do some wonderful things with it.

Sooner or later, though, a breed where mother nature gets abused will pay the price.  A grand-champion queen is worth nothing  if she can’t have a live, healthy litter.

Ironically, the Somali probably came about because of the old-time Abyssinian’s need for new blood.  A look at pedigrees of the 1910’s and 1920’s shows a tiny handful of registered Abyssinians from the pre-1900 bloodlines.  And these Abys were religiously mated with a number of unregistered cats.  Without these outcrossings, the Abyssinian cat might have been bred to death by 1940.

Today, fortunately, the Somali has a good start.  It is a sound cat, with registration rules that give it all the genetic fresh air and quality that is possible in the gene pool.  And it is backed by a group of people who have been concerned about good management at every stop of the way.

So the future looks bright for this new longhair breed.  And it will be bright, if Somali breeders put wisdom alongside of ambition in the years to come.                            

Copyright © by Patricia Nell Warren.  All rights reserved.

Pat Warren is president of the International Somali Cat Club (CFA) and CFA Breed Secretary.  She has written widely on Somalis for Canadian and U.S. Cat-Fancy publications.

The 1978 CFA yearbook contains a 16-page photo feature in full color, about the Somali.v

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