The Somali: CFA's Newest Championship Breed
Color Study What should the proper color for a fawn Somali look like? Participate in the discussion!
Breeders and Fanciers' Association, Inc.
CFA's Newest Championship Breed
by Patricia Nell Warren
published in "ALL CATS" Magazine, 1979. Reprinted here with
permission of the author.
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
have circled May 1, 1979 on their calendars.
On that day, their breed marches into championship competition in CFA.
CFA Board Member and Judge William Beck as complimenting the Somali Breeders
on their orderly and professional work to get the breed recognized.
were thrilled. That night, those
who attended the board meeting broke out the champagne in Chicago.
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
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.
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
think the Somali looks like a little wildcat.
I agree. I am a lover of
wildcats, so I can’t help myself!
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 !!
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
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.
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
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
“Whew,” says the visitor as he extracts himself from
Huggy’s ardent embrace. “Somalis
are pretty friendly cats, aren’t they?”
de Rauch Piper of Natchez, one of the first Somali double champions (CFF and
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
The Advantages of Shorthairs
breeders don’t have the patience to work with heterozygous “shorthair
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.
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
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.
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
Abys, react to a loss of condition by dropping their ticking and their color.
And, of course, they drop their coats.
condition is mainly good diet, minimizing stress, baths - and shampoo that
doesn’t fade the color.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
containing detergent are death on Somali color.
Some exhibitors swear by Mycodex. Others use Ring 5 Burnished Bronze.
Lemon rinses have been used successfully.
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
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
Somalis as Pets
It’s ironic -
and somehow fitting - that pet Somalis have done their fair share of promoting
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.
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
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.
have said “The Somali is going to be a popular breed”.
Fine. But not
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.