Bombay cat Breed Information
Despite the exotic association evoked by its name, the Bombay Cat is an American cat, as
American as the Kentucky Derby or the Louisville Slugger. Indeed, the Bombay cat shares a hometown – Louisville, Kentucky – with these American icons.
The Bombay cat was the inspiration of the late Nikki Horner, who was something of inspiration herself. Horner began breeding cats in 1943 at the age of 16, a time when most young people are satisfied with simply owning a cat.
“I’d get these magazines that had pictures of all the good cats in them,” said Horner, “and I’d tell my mom and dad, ‘I want this one. I want that one.’ They bought me some really nice cats. I had fine parents who helped me along.”
Horner was also helped along by a jeweler’s eye for quality and a drill sergeant’s devotion to order. Siamese was her breed of choice at first, but before she was through imposing her will on the genetic process, her Shawnee cattery also produced Persians, Burmese, Himalayans, American Shorthairs, Bombays, Manx, and rex.
Like many cat fanciers, Horner kept track of the number of cats she bred that earned the cat fancy’s highest title: grand champion. Trouble was, she bred so many grand champions she had to stop counting at 100. She also recorded the name of each of her cats that won best-in-show honors, but she had to call off that reckoning at 500 – or else hire an accounting firm to keep track of her cats’ achievements. (While Horner’s cats were doing all this winning, she laid claim to a title of her own by capturing the Miss Kentucky pageant in 1954.)
Bombay Cat Over the Moon
As John Fitzgerald Kennedy was rewriting the rules of engagement in American politics, Nikki Horner was redefining the measure of success in the cat world. In 1960 she won the cat-of-the-year award with a magnificent white Persian male named Shawnee Moonflight. Thus cloud of impeccably groomed fur became the cat fancy’s one and the only back-to-back cat-of-the-year winner by repeating that feat in 1961. Then, in 1963, Moonflight took the title an unprecedented — and as yet unmatched third time.
An interesting subtext to Moonlight’s dominance was provided by two other Shawnee cats: Shawnee Soapsuds, who was Moonlight’s litter sister, was a best-opposite-sex cat in 1960. Shawnee Whitewash, a Soapsuds’ daughter, was a best-opposite-sex cat in 1961, ’63, and ’65.
Horner’s other top gun at that time was Grand Champion Shawnee Trademark, a silver classic tabby domestic shorthair male, who was cat of the year in 1965 — the first cat of his breed (which is now called the American shorthair) to achieve this honor.
In Search of Black Gold
While Horner was claiming one cat-of-the-year title after another, she was also producing some of the finest Burmese in the country; but as fine as they were, they weren’t fine enough to suit her.
“There seemed to be something missing,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t they be absolutely gorgeous if they were black with copper eyes [instead of sable with yellow eyes]?’ Then I said to myself, ‘Well, that’s one thing I haven’t done yet — create a new breed.'”
Horner decided to call her creation the Bombay cat, “after the black leopard and the city in India. I think the name has a ring to it. It’s very exotic sounding. Of course if I had known in advance the expense and all the work it would take to establish a breed, I’m not sure I would have done it.” (The paperwork, politicking and litter-pan cleaning involved in getting a new breed of cat recognized makes starting a corporation look like opening a lemonade stand on the front lawn.)
Horner’s first attempt to produce a copper-eyed black cat with Burmese conformation was a thumping failure. One of the few things she didn’t get right in her career.
“I crossed black domestic shorthairs and Burmese, but the cats I produced were big and horsy. They looked like poor American shorthairs. Besides, their coats were too long, and their eye color wasn’t any good. So I had to start all over again.”
The Building Code of Bombay Cat
The Bombay Cat is a muscular black cat with a medium-sized body and a round head. It’s gleaming eyes, gold to copper in tone, are set far apart and contribute in no small measure to the cat’s sweet facial expression. When the Bombay Cat is viewed in profile, its head should reveal a moderate, visible stop, i.e., a slight indentation at the bridge of the nose. The Bombay’s Cats ears, medium in size and set well apart, are broad at the base with rounded tips and a slight, forward inclination. A shimmering, fine-textured, close-lying coat is standard issue on all Bombays.
Bombays Cats have been described as the breed “for people who have always wanted a panther, a dog, or a monkey.” Perhaps that explains the tiny number of Bombays produced last year, when only 67 new Bombays Cats were registered with the Cat Fanciers’ Association. Nevertheless, if you fancy a smart, agile cat that requires little grooming, the Bombay cat has much to recommend itself, regardless of your feelings about panthers, dogs or monkeys.
The second time around Horner found a black domestic shorthair male in Minneapolis. He had the burnished-copper eye color that she had been seeking, so she bred him to one of her best Burmese females. Then she bred one of her best Burmese males to a black domestic shorthair female, a half-sister to cat-of-the-year Trademark. Horner kept all the kittens from these litters, crossed them with one another, and she was on her way; but a long and winding road it was.
“When I tried to get people interested in the breed,” said Horner, “they would say, ‘I’ll wait until you get them recognized, then I’ll buy one.’ That attitude really delayed acceptance. I had to show my new cats in provisional (nonchampionship) classes forever.”
She also had to find homes for a lot of unshowable kittens. When Horner crossed a black American shorthair with a Burmese, she got black kittens, black being dominant to sable; but each of those kittens carried a recessive gene for sable, and when she bred two of those cats together, half the kittens were sable and were, therefore, unshowable.
Because Bombay Cats are supposed to resemble Burmese in general conformation, Horner continued to use Burms in her effort to develop the Bombay cat. This strategy also resulted in a number of sable kittens that might have resembled Burmese but could not be shown as such because they weren’t “purebred.” Present-day Bombay cat breeders, who continue to use Burmese to refine their Bombays, have the same problem. Most associations, with the exception of The International Cat Association, will not permit breeders to show sable- colored Bombays as Burmese.
Lifetime Achievement Award of Bombay Cat
In 1976 the Cat Fanciers’ Association became the first registry to recognize the breed that Nikki Horner liked to refer to as “the patent leather kids with the new-penny eyes.” By that time, after thousands of miles and hundreds of kittens, Horner was feeling a little crispy around the edges.
“Getting the Bombay cat recognized just about did me in,” she said. “It was so tiring, I’d lost interest in cats altogether. I promised myself that if I got this breed recognized, I was going to take a break. So I got out of cats the year Bombays were accepted.”
You can get out of cats, to be sure, but you can’t always get cats out of
your system. By 1986 Horner was back in the hunt, showing a Burmese and a Bombayand doing quite nicely once again. She had the highest-scoring Bombay cat in the country in 1987.
Facts and Figures of Bombay Cat
The Bombay cat enjoys championship status in all cat associations. Cat Fanciers’ Association new registrations for 1999: 67 Change from previous year: -20 percent Rank in popularity: 34th out of 37 breeds
Horner hadn’t lost any of her style or verve during her sabbatical, either. At one show when a judge was presenting one of her Bombays with an award, he mentioned that this cat was “a lovely man-made breed.”
The judge, said Horner, wasn’t particularly amused by her observation. “I said it jokingly, and this particular judge was one to do a lot of joking around in the ting; but for some reason, the judge got really angry and told me afterward, ‘You got me good, but I won’t forget it.’ And that judge never, ever gave me another win with that cat.”
“When I walked into the show hall with those sky-high ceilings that had big white banners hanging down over each breed section, and I saw the one that said Bombay cat, I thought, ‘By golly, people won’t remember all the cats and all the wins I’ve had over the years; but when I’m gone, the Bombay cat breed will still be here.”