Balinese Cat, Cats Breed with Hair Apparent
Unlike dog breeders, who compose in all manner of verse from haiku to epic poem, cat breeders are obliged to write their genetic masterpieces within the cabined and cribbed confines of the sonnet form, a medium that imposes certain restrictions on the creative process. The difference between the largest cats (the ragdoll and the Siberian) and the smallest cat (the Singapura) is little more than a dozen pounds and less than one square foot – scarcely enough poetic room to swing a cat in, if you’ll pardon the expression. Yet within these parsimonious limits, nearly 50 breeds have been defined.
Courtesy of Quarto; Balinese Cat
Given the restrictions of this medium, it is not surprising that the work of cat breeders frequently constitutes subtle variations on existing themes – splitting hairs genetically, one is tempted to say. An efficient manner in which to vary a theme is to vary the extent of its lines. This technique has produced several pairs of breeds that are virtually identical but for the length of their coats. These related pairs include the Cymric and the Manx, the Somali and the Abyssinian, the exotic shorthair and the Persian, the Javanese and the colorpoint shorthair, the Himalayan and the pointed exotic – in addition to longhair, look-alike versions of the Scottish fold, the Oriental Shorthair and the Siamese.
Fuzzy Beginnings for Balinese Cat
The long hair version of the Siamese is known as the Balinese. At least one such cat was registered in this country in the Roaring Twenties, but the breed did not make its first recorded public appearance until 1961 in the AOV (Any Other Variety) non-championship class at the Empire Cat Show in New York. For many years before this debut, longhair kittens had raised their fuzzy little heads on occasion in litters produced from shorthair Siamese parents. Most breeders were no more happy to see these longhair offspring than relatives of the deceased are happy to see a long-lost nephew turn up for the reading of a wealthy uncle’s will. Consequently, Siamese kittens with black-sheep coats, one early breeder reported, “were discarded or quietly given away as undesirables.”
One shudders to think what that writer meant by “discarded,” but fortunately a few Siamese breeders were intrigued by their undesirable kittens. Two such breeders – Marian Dorsey in Southern California and Helen Smith in Seaford, New York – decided to play their cards a little differently and to work for the establishment of longhair Siamese as an individual breed.
The cat fancy being the sometimes finicky institution that it is, people who supported longhair Siamese knew that they would not be able to call their cats by such a straightforward, descriptive name. Siamese breeders wouldn’t hear of it. Therefore, Smith settled on the name Balinese because the graceful movement of her cats brought to mind the dancers from the island of Bali. Such a leap of the imagination may have been possible when the breed was first developed, but the use of Siamese outcrosses in Balinese breeding programs has shortened the Balinese coat considerably since the breed was first accepted for championship competition by the Cat Fanciers’ Federation in 1963. Ruffs and britches disappeared long ago, and there isn’t much to distinguish a Balinese from a Siamese today except a wispy fringe on the underbelly and a meek plume of a tail.
Even with the change of names from longhair Siamese to Balinese – an ironic choice in light of the Balinese’s red-white-and-blue origins – the road to acceptance was “a long, tough trail,” said Sylvia Holland, an early advocate of the Balinese, in an article written in 1971. The preceding year the Cat Fanciers’ Association had become the last cat registry in North America to grant championship status to this breed.
If members of the Siamese nobility were offended by the sound of long hair attached to their cats, they were even more offended by considerations of its source. Perhaps Balinese breeders shared this concern, perhaps they were unfamiliar with basic genetics, perhaps they were not willing to admit that their cats were hybrids instead of a naturally occurring breed, or perhaps they simply feared the frenzy of Siamese breeders, who were even less able to admit that their breed was not entirely pure. For whatever reason(s), many Balinese breeders have insisted that the semi-long coats on Balinese are the result of a natural mutation. There are even some “cat writers” who repeat the claim that long hair on a Balinese is “an act of God.”
It isn’t – unless God has nothing better to do than to repeat a series of identical “acts” in the same breed in a few of the same bloodlines within that breed. This faith in the Almighty notwithstanding, a more logical explanation for the appearance of long hair in Siamese litters would attribute its presence to the influence of shaggy-haired ancestors in the Siamese family tree, ancestors like the Turkish Angora, which had been used, many secular thinkers report, to rejuvenate the Siamese breed in England after the ravages visited by World War I on the cat fancy overseas.
Another non-theosophical root of long hair in Siamese might well have resulted from attempts in this country during the 1930s and ’40s to produce a longhair, pointed cat. Among the “undesirable” byproducts of these experimental breedings between Siamese and Persians were pointed, shorthair cats that resembled Siamese. It is not unreasonable to suspect that most of these cats were placed in pet homes, but that some were registered as Siamese – whether intentionally or unintentionally – because it was possible at that time to register cats of “unknown” origin. Thus, a number of Siamese-Persian hybrids that carried a recessive gene for long hair could have made their way into Siamese breeding programs. Whenever two of these longhair carriers were bred together, the chances of getting semi-longhair Siamese kittens were one out of four on average, and on the average, this happened frequently.
Coming Up Shorter
Although one early breeder referred to Balinese as “the future Afghans of the cat world,” the Balinese coat has grown shorter since the breed was first accepted for championship competition by the Cat Fanciers’ Federation in 1963. Full ruffs and britches have disappeared in the meantime – as though a sculptor had been chipping away at a preliminary draft of a statue, making it progressively more refined – and now there is little to distinguish a Siamese from a Balinese except a subtle padding to the body, a belly with a fringe on the bottom, and a plume-like tail.
This reductionism has occurred, says one Balinese breeder, “because breeders are still using a lot of Siamese to improve type in the Balinese.” (Unless a Siamese happens to be carrying a longhair gene, Siamese-Bali hybrids will all be shorthairs, and the longhair descendants from those and other hybrids will have their coats modified in the direction of short over time.) What’s more, “too much coat can make a Balinese look horsy,” which detracts from the stovepipe chassis of the traditional Siamese.
So if the twins, while not exactly meeting, come almost close enough to touch, what is it about the Balinese that represents an improvement over its Siamese cousins?
“I stand on the fifth because I love the Siamese. I think the coat on the Balinese makes the cat look absolutely gorgeous. And if the Balinese is bred right to retain the Siamese look, the coat presents itself very nicely. But I would never say that coat makes the Balinese a better animal.”
When you’re restricted to composing in the sonnet form, however, different is often as good as better.
The Building Code of Balinese Cat
The Balinese, a willowy cat with long, tapering lines, and a lithe, muscular body, is chiefly distinguished from its Siamese relatives by a slight fringe on the underbelly and a modest plume of a tail. Otherwise, the Balinese, too, is a fine-boned, but firm-muscled, the cat with a medium-sized body – graceful, protracted, and svelte – that is equally slim at the shoulders and hips. Its legs are long and slender, the hind legs being slightly longer than the front; its paws are dainty, oval, and small; and its coat, according to one registry, should be “two or more inches” long; but in reality the fine, silky coat reaches that length mainly on the tail.
The Balinese head is a blend of sharp angles modified by softening curves. The long, tapering wedge that defines the head originates at the nose and flares out in straight lines, without a break at the whiskers, to the tips of remarkably large, pointed ears, open wide at the base.
Medium-sized, vivid, deep blue eyes – almond shaped and slanted toward the nose – peer from behind the Balinese mask, which covers the entire face. Neither protruding, recessed, nor crossed, the eyes should be separated by no less than the width of an eye.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) believes that Balinese occur in four colors only: seal, chocolate, lilac or blue point. Balinese-type cats with other point colors are regarded by CFA as a separate breed called the Javanese, but no other registry makes this distinction.
Personality Profile of Balinese Cat
“As might be expected,” notes The Book of the Cat, “Balinese share many characteristics as pets with Siamese. They are acrobatic, liking to run, jump, climb curtains, and ride on the shoulders of their owners. They are very affectionate and demand affection in return, and yet at the same time retain an indefinable air of aloofness that characterizes the Siamese.” All of which demonstrates that as breedings are inclined, so is the breed.