American Shorthair: The Working Cat

American Shorthair: The Working Cat
American Shorthair: The Working Cat
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American Shorthair: The Working Cat

Nothing is as American as work. Our jobs help us provide better lives for our families and fuel a robust economy that is the envy of the world. Work structures our days and gives us a sense of purpose. Most importantly work defines us, supplying a cornerstone for our sense of self-worth, not to mention a surefire response to the inevitable party question, “So what do you do for a living?”

America was literally built by hard-working women and men, and they are included in many of the most famous images from our country’s history. In the 1860s, the photograph of railroad workers gathered around the Transcontinental Railroad’s golden spike signaled that the two parts of our nation were finally linked as one. Construction workers perched effortlessly on the steel skeletons of New York’s skyscrapers symbolized the economic boom of the 1920s, and during the 1940s, pictures of women courageously assuming the factory jobs of their husbands, gone to war, showed the world we would spare no effort to make the world safe from fascist tyranny. Today you are more likely to see a computer programmer or high-tech engineer when picturing the typical American worker, but the fact remains that hard work forged our country into a world power, and only hard work will allow us to keep that status.

The history of America’s cats is a working one, as well. Since the first settlers arrived on these shores, cats have been employed to keep houses, warehouses, and barns free of food-stealing and damage-causing vermin. Although the majority of Americans no longer need a mouse catcher for their barn, cats still “work” in almost all facets of business and industry, from lumber yards to insurance offices to florist shops. Many of these working cats have been profiled in the pages of this magazine as part of our regular “Cats at Work” column – this month’s column features Charlie Holman, the “assistant manager” of a commercial building in California.

American Made of American Shorthair

If any breed exemplifies the cat’s working heritage in this country, it’s the American Shorthair. In fact, the breed is perfectly designed for long days of hard labor. These are solidly built, powerful and muscular cats with well-developed shoulders, chest, and hindquarters that indicate power, agility, and endurance.

Males are often significantly larger than females, with the mature males weighing 11 to 15 pounds and the mature females weighing eight to 12 pounds. Breed members achieve full growth at approximately three to four years of age, and they typically have a hardy constitution to accompany their solid construction, with an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

Although a born laborer, American shorthairs lack nothing in the appearance department. Well-balanced and symmetrical, the breed has the athletic good looks of an Olympic athlete. Its head is large with a full-cheeked face and a sweet, open expression. The muzzle is square and leads to a medium-length nose. The slightly rounded ears are medium-size as well. The breeds eyes are large and wide, with an upper lid shaped like half an almond and a lower lid shaped in a fully round curve.

The color of the eyes depends on the color of the coat. Colors are broken into four divisions: solid colors – black, white, blue, red and cream; particolors (combination of two or more colors) – tortoiseshell, calico, blue-cream and bicolor; shaded and smoke colors; and tabby patterns (classic, mackerel and patched) – brown, red, blue, cream and cameo. The most common American shorthair color is the silver tabby with dense black markings on a sterling silver background.

Catching Mice on Plymouth Rock

The first domestic cats arrived in this country with the first European settlers. Evidence suggests the Pilgrims employed cats aboard the Mayflower as mouse catchers, and upon arrival in what is now Massachusetts, these felines were put to work in the barns and fields of Plymouth. Many more ship’s cats followed, and before long they were spreading out across the New World, some living wild but most continuing to act as domestic rodent-destroyers.

The harsh North American climate quickly shaped the domesticated European cats. Their coats became thick, hard and dense enough to protect them from the moisture and cold of a long winter’s day hunting. With more natural predators around, these cats evolved to be bigger than their European cousins and more capable of self-protection. To survive these cats needed to be confident and dependable, and eventually, they developed an even-headed, calm temperament that enabled them to face their adversaries with cool confidence.

There was no lack of rodents in the New World, and a hardy mouse catcher soon became a valuable commodity. During the great California gold rush, cats were so highly valued as mousers they were selling at $50 each, a huge price to pay in the middle of the 19th century.

By the beginning of the 20th century, some examples of these domestic, working cats started to appear at cat shows. Classified as “domestic shorthairs,” they included some exceptional individuals but were often given less attention because of the preference for the more glamorous foreign breeds that were being imported from Europe. Aside from beginning a type of class warfare among cat enthusiasts, the import of foreign breeds also began to dilute the bloodlines of the original American shorthairs. Concerned that the marvelous characteristics of the domestic cats would soon be lost forever, a group of American breeders set out to establish these cats as an official breed and began a selective breeding program to preserve the natural beauty, mild temperament and hardiness of the American cats.

Ironically, the first official member of the new domestic shorthair breed was a pedigreed English cat named Champion Belle of Bradford. An orange tabby, Belle was imported by Jane Cathcart. In 1904, the first home-bred, truly American domestic shorthair to be registered was a male smoke named Buster Brown, which also belonged to Miss Cathcart.

Despite its many fine qualities, the domestic shorthair suffered a long period of discrimination. Ingeborg Urcia, a noted cat fancier, commented on the domestic cats’ second-class status. “Those who raised the new exotic breeds looked down upon the American cats,” wrote Urcia. “Rumors circulated that the breeders of the domestic got their breeding stock from the animal shelter, and their cats were disdained and neglected. At some cat shows they were not even benched . . . Domestic breeders found no cages available for them at shows, and no rosettes or trophies were provided for the domestic shorthair class.”

As Urcia noted, early breeders battled confusion between their carefully bred American shorthairs and random-bred domestic cats, although the difference then, and today, is straightforward and obvious: a non pedigreed domestic cat may look like a pedigreed American shorthair, but the mix of uncertain genes means that the domestic generally will not breed true; you cannot count on type, temperament, and length of the hair in a random bred cat as you can with a purebred American shorthair.

After World War II, domestic shorthairs finally started winning prizes at American cat shows. A group of enthusiasts met in the early 1960s and decided the word “domestic” was an obstacle to the continued success of these cats. To honor the breed’s long history in this country, they changed the name to “American Shorthair” in 1965. The same year, the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) awarded a silver tabby male named Shawnee Trademark best cat, and the breed finally began to receive some hard-earned respect in the cat fancy. As intended, the new name spurred interest, and by the 1970s, the American shorthairs were fully established as one of the most popular cats at pedigree shows.

Feline Fireworks American Shorthair

Thanks to the work of those early breeders, the American shorthair maintains the dependable, even temperament of its hard-working ancestors. Today the breed cat is known as a hearty, healthy cat with a good-natured and friendly disposition.

Breeders often employ the term “happy medium” when describing the American Shorthair for it applies to many aspects of the cat’s personality. These all-American cats are medium in size, build, type and temperament. They’re active but not hyperactive and neither overly distant nor cloyingly affectionate. This makes the American shorthair the perfect breed for the person who wants a cat that enjoys sitting in your lap from time to time but doesn’t follow you around the house begging for attention all day. American Shorthairs are known for their quiet voices and adaptable personalities; they are sociable, easily trained and adapt well to children and other animals. They generally do not like to be picked up, and as with Pilgrim companions who left England to find independence, they cherish their freedom.

The breeds’ rugged self-dependence is as American as its work ethic. Today’s American shorthair probably doesn’t have to earn its keep as a mouse-catcher, but thanks to its long, proud history, it remains up to that job or any other. Images of barn cats and warehouse mousers might not spring to mind when thinking of the working heritage of our country, but our cats performed their task as well as any other man or beast. As we celebrate our country’s anniversary this July 4th, don’t forget to include the American shorthair when thanking those who built our country with their hard work.

Purchasing an American Shorthair Kitten

Breeders usually make kittens available between 12 and 16 weeks. After 12 weeks kittens have had their basic inoculations and developed the physical and social stability necessary to be moved to a new environment.
ricing on American shorthairs usually depends on the type, applicable markings, and bloodlines.

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