The Way We Were:
Excerpts from the 1963 CFA Yearbook, Part 4

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The Incomparable Domestic Shorthair, Part 1

by Mrs. Kay McQuillen

Mrs. McQuillen is a CFA judge, well known for her work with the Domestic Short Hair. Her cattery, Silver Quest, was established in 1938 and she bred Domestic Shorthairs for over 36 years.

There are no authentic facts as to just when the cat appeared on this earth. Legend tells us that cats were created at the wish of Noah for inclusion in the Ark. Apparently the rodent was known at that time, and the cat was necessary to protect the Ark’s food stores. Unfortunately these legends don’t tell us the type of cat included, but one might assume that it was a shorthair.

Our first real knowledge of the domesticated cat comes from the earliest history of Egypt, about 4000 years ago. Findings of archeologist indicate that the pet cat of the ancient Egyptians was probably a descendent of the Kaffir cat, a grayish-brown, medium-sized wildcat that roamed southern Africa. Both the Kaffir cat and the cat depicted in early Egyptian pictures have markings very similar to today’s domestic tabby cat. It is believed that the Phoenician traders took the Egyptian cat to the continent of Europe on their ships about 900 B.C., and that the cat then traveled on into England with the Roman invaders. This Roman cat is thought to have bred with a small wildcat known to have been in the British Isles in those days, the resulting breed being a medium-sized cat, yellowish-gray in ground color, with dark brown or wavy stripes on the body and legs and with dark rings on the tail.

There is no definite indication that there were any domesticated members of the cat family on this continent before the Pilgrims landed. However, there is a report that there was a “shorthaired cat of many colors”, on the Mayflower (probably a tortie and white) who later is said to have given birth to a litter of kittens of various colors, some with tabby markings.

Today the Domestic Shorthair is, numerically at least, the most popular of all breeds. If a door-to-door census were taken, we would probably find the majority of the cats found would be the familiar, strong, dependable, intelligent Domestic Shorthairs. The term “Domestic” has been chosen for this breed in this country to replace the older “alley cat” or “barn cat” because this cat truly fits the dictionary definition of “domestic”… “tame, devoted to home duties, pertaining to the household or family”. The Domestic today is easygoing, faithful, most affectionate and even-tempered, active and playful, perceptive, and easily trained. It is a hearty breed, with great physical endurance and as a rule is a good eater and not fussy about diet. The Domestic cat has changed very little in form, although considerably in coat, as the years have passed. They are still a working cat, however, and able to fend for themselves when necessary, being robust, muscular, and alert.

Although the first cat show held in England was in 1871, the first record that I have found of specific interest in the Domestic Shorthair (or the British Domestic as it is called there) was the formation of the Shorthair Cat Society in 1901 by Mr. G. Boulton, which encouraged breeding and showing of the shorthaired domestic cat, dividing them into three sections: the self (or solid) color, the broken color, and other varieties. In this country the earliest recorded cat show was in Chicago in 1899. Not having access to the records of that show, I do not know if there were any Domestic Shorthairs shown at that time. In the earliest CFA Studbook that I have (Volume IV, published in 1915), there are eight shorthaired cats registered. Some had backgrounds given and some did not. There were three female Silver Tabbies, one male Silver Tabby, one male Smoke, one female White with blue eyes, one Blue male, and one not defined.

As time went on, more breeders became interested in breeding and showing the Domestic, but they were very few in number. It took long and heartbreaking years to produce the show-type Domestic, and then to educate the public to value these animals. The public was not interested at first in paying for a breed that they felt could be found on any streetcorner. As new breeders entered the fancy and breeders of the Longhairs added the Domestic to their catteries, we all worked to convince the public that the Domestic with careful, selective breeding behind it is superior to the free-running alley cat. It takes many generations to establish a bloodline and to insure a “pure-breeding” cat – one that will produce true to its type and pattern, and this is just as true with the Domestic Shorthairs as it is with the Persians and the Foreign Shorthairs.

I recall that when I entered the fancy in 1938 there were still very few Domestics shown; there was little interest in them, and as a result not all the colors and patterns that we have today were available for breeding purposes. We often hear it declared that there are better cats running loose than at the shows. This is true in many cases, for the aim of the Domestic breeder has been to perfect the basic Domestic cat with the certified pedigree so that it will be a more satisfactory cat, both for show and as a pet.

Through the years, while we have been developing this breed, many Domestics have been shown as listed cats, without particulars, and many of these cats of unknown lineage have won over the pedigreed cats in the shows. This has been a source of unhappiness to the dedicated Domestic breeder, as much time and money have gone into the development of the breed to show standards, only to have it apparently wasted when the stray cat wins in the shows. Associations have been petitioned at various times, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to bar these unpedigreed Domestics from the show rings and to prohibit them from registration. However, the contention has been made that not enough bloodlines exist today in enough different colors and patterns to allow a good breeding program for all the interested breeders. Also some believe that allowing people to show their unpedigreed domestic cats will help build a wider interest in the breed. We must not lose sight of the fact that our Domestic show cats of today came from cats without backgrounds, and it is through selective breeding that we have developed all the various colors and patterns that are so popular today. Some breeders feel that the Domestic breeding has not advanced enough yet to bar good quality Domestics whose only fault may be a lack of known parentage, and that we need these cats for breeding purposes if they meet our standards in every other way.

It has only been within the past ten to fifteen years that we have seen fairly large classes of Domestics in our shows, and the development of specialty clubs for the domestic breeder is also fairly recent. I myself can recall not too many years back that when we Domestic breeders paid our entry and arrived at a show, we often found no cages available, and no trophies or rosettes offered in the Domestic classes. The Domestics were only tolerated as extra points for the other cats. This situation has been changing rapidly though, and today the Domestic cat is coming to be recognized as a vital part of the show world.

There is still much to be done. For instance, our standard in CFA should have definite points assigned to the different parts of the standard. Also we need drawings or pictures in color of cats that are as close as possible to the standard, so that the judges, the novice breeders, and the public can better understand what the various terms mean that are used in the standard. Today the CFA show standard for the Domestic calls for the same coat and eye colors as the Longhair standard, while some other associations permit a wider variety of color and pattern in the Domestic standard.


This article will continue in a future issue...

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