Cornish Rex Cat – Breed Cat Totally Eclipsing
On Wednesday, August 11, legions of druids and scientists, thrill seekers and journalists, sun watchers and mystics, tourists and vacationing students — joined by a goodly number of the just plain terminally curious — will matriculate to Cornwall, England. These various and sundries, from 750,000 to as many as 4 million strong, will converge on the southwesterly tip of Great Britain to revel in the implications of a two-minute-and-six-second total eclipse of the sun.
Not to take anything away from the total eclipse, but Cornwall is already doing quite nicely in the mystic, quaint and strange departments. Tintagel castle (the alleged site of Camelot), the largest collection of pre-Roman field monuments in western Europe, those fun-loving pirates of Penzance — that’s a fair amount of the fantastic for a 1,376-square-mile county, a peninsula really, not much larger than Rhode Island. And let us not forget the Cornish Rex Cat.
The first rex cat born in captivity, a cream male subsequently named Kallibunker, arrived with a retinue of four straight-hair littermates on July 21, 1950, in Bodmin Moor, a rocky, windswept highland in Cornwall. Kallibunker and his friends belonged to Nina Ennismore, who owned their dam, Serena, a tortie-and-white straight-hair cat. (Kallibunker’s sire, it has been said, was “perhaps” a full brother to Serena, but “perhaps” doesn’t prove paternity.)
Nina Ennismore had formerly bred and shown rex rabbits. As a consequence of this hare-raising experience, she knew that Kallibunker’s spiral coat was the work of a mutated gene, a gene similar in effect to the ones that had also raised their curly heads among rats, mice, and horses.
On the advice of cat fancier Brian Stirling-Webb and geneticist A.C. Jude, Ennismore bred Kallibunker to his mother. A litter of three from this union — a female and two males — was born in August 1952. The female was normal-coated, the males were both rexes. One of those died at seven months; the other, named Poldhu, joined Kallibunker as one of the early fathers of the Rex breed, which was called the Cornish Rex Cat after its place of origin.
After Nina Ennismore had inbred her rex cats as far as prudently possible, she began to outcross to ordinary shorthair cats so as not to risk the rex cats’ health or reproductive ability. She could have introduced the rex coat to any breed, but she and other rex fanciers chose to confine the gene to shorthairs for two reasons: Prevailing taste dictated that longhair rex were the aesthetic equivalent of investment bankers with dreadlocks. Moreover, the longhair rex coat was considered too vulnerable to matting.
As Ennismore’s cat population grew — she had more than 40 cats at one point, a figure well above red line — she discovered that she wasn’t able to sell enough kittens to defray expenses. She elected, therefore, to put a number of her cats to sleep in 1956. Kallibunker and Serena were among that unfortunate lot. Their son, Poldhu, suffered an untimely, though less decisive, fate when two veterinarians performed a testicular biopsy on him to determine whether he was a plain blue-tabby-and-white male or a rare, siring blue-cream-and-white. The vets had assured Ennismore that this procedure “would in no way affect” Poldhu’s ability to reproduce, but the biopsy was the unkindest cut of all for he never sired again. And as though to add ineptitude to irony, the tissue sample taken from the unsuspecting cat was lost in the laboratory along with his virility.
Nina Ennismore had stopped working with rex cats entirely by the late 1950s, but Brian Stirling-Webb was determined to see the rex established as a breed. As of 1960, however, only one rex male remained in Britain. The following year Stirling-Webb learned of the existence of another rex male, a 1-year-old named Kirlee, who lived in Devon, the county immediately east of Cornwall. The dam of this kitten was a tortie-and-white stray who had taken up with Beryl Cox. The sire was a feral, rex-coated male who lived in an abandoned tin mine near Cox’s home.
Cox was a cat fancier, but not in the uppercase sense of the term. She delighted in Kirlee’s unique appearance, his intelligence and warmth, his ability to walk a tightrope, and the charming way that he wagged his tail like a dog whenever he was praised for this achievement. Yet she had no inclination to create an entire curly-coated breed.
Nonetheless, when Cox heard about Stirling-Webb’s interest in rex cats, she offered to send Kirlee to live with him in the hope that Kirlee would provide some new blood for the new breed. When Kirlee was introduced to a few rex ladies from Cornwall, however, each kitten that sprang from those matings had unsprung, straight hair.
“Eureka,” said Stirling-Webb, or words to that effect. There are two separate mutation genes and two separate rex breeds at work here. As Stirling-Webb knew, the rex gene is recessive — i.e., the rex coat appears only when a kitten inherits two copies of the gene for that trait, one from each parent. Therefore, if the gene responsible for Kirlee’s mutation was the same one responsible for Kallibunker’s curly coat, all the kittens born from breedings between their curly-coated descendants would have to have wavy coats. When the twins never met, Stirling-Webb knew that instead of Kirlee contributing to the development of Cornish Rex Cat, he would wind up contributing to the development of an entirely new breed of his own.
(Meanwhile, in East Germany in 1958, a wavy-haired, black female cat — which had been adopted by a cat-loving doctor named Rose Scheuer-Karpin seven years earlier — produced two curly-coated offspring after having delivered nothing but straight-hair kittens in several previous litters. This cat, whose name was Lammchen, had been living on the grounds and in the basement of the Hufeland Hospital for five years before Sheuer-Karpin adopted her. Subsequent test matings between members of this German rex strain and Cornish Rex Cat proved that those two families were compatible.)
Before giving up her cats altogether, Nina Ennismore had sent several rexes to breeders in the United States. A female named Lamora Cove, who was bred to her father, Poldhu, before his unfortunate biopsy, was sent to a breeder in California in 1957. Two of Cove’s offspring — Diamond Lil of FanTCee and Marmaduke of DazZling — are cats from whom all Cornish Rex Cat in America descend. For a time breeding stock was scarce in the United States, but dedication, ingenuity, and Siamese outcrosses were not. The latter contributed the fine bone, distinctive head type, large ears and the sporty, greyhound look that is characteristic of today’s Cornish Rex Cat.
The Cornish Rex Cat was a straightaway success in North America. In 1963 the breed was accepted for championship competition by the Canadian Cat Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association. Eventually, all the other cat registries in North America recognized the Cornish Rex Cat as a separate breed. For a time, however, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) did not acknowledge the difference between Cornish and Devon Rex, despite genetic evidence to the contrary. CFA registered all rex as Cornish until 1979, when it finally agreed to create a separate breed designation for the Devon Rex.
The Building Code of Cornish Rex Cat
The Cornish Rex Cat is a small- to a medium-size cat with an extremely soft, wavy coat, fine bones, and a race-car chassis. Its torso is long and slender, though never tubular; its hips are muscular and somewhat heavy for its body (hence the breed’s slight tendency to hind-leg lameness); its back is naturally arched; and it sports a commanding tuck up The lower line of the abdomen curves upward toward the spine, which ends in a long, slender, tapering, extremely flexible tail.
A pleasing confederation of curves, the Cornish Rex Cat has a long, graceful neck that leads to a comparatively small, narrow, somewhat egg-shaped head. A rounded forehead, a distinctive Roman nose with a high, prominent bridge, a pronounced muzzle break, medium to large, oval-shaped eyes (a full eye’s width apart), and large ears (erect, alert, and set high on the head) give the Cornish Rex a signature appearance.
The rex coat — short, remarkably soft and silky — is characterized by a relatively dense, tight, uniform marcel wave, lying close to the body and extending from the top of the head across the back, sides, hips, and tail. The size and depth of wave may vary, while the hair on the underside of the chin, on the chest, and on the abdomen is short and noticeably wavy.
Personality Profile of Cornish Rex Cat
Anyone who appreciates a jolly personality in a cat will love the active, amazing and agile Cornish Rex Cat. Just as this breed’s conformation reveals the Siamese influence, the Cornish Rex Cat personality has been shaped by its Oriental ancestors as well — with certain modifications.
“They don’t look for heights as much as Siamese do,” said one Cornish Rex Cat breeder. “They’re quieter than Siamese, and they have longer attention spans. They’re great at opening doors and cabinets, and they have very good feet. Because there’s no fur on the bottom of their feet, they’re able to pick marbles up with them.”
Cornish Rex Cats are also known, she said, for their self-confidence, their desire to interact with people, their penchant for giving kisses, and their faster-than-a-speeding-bullet activity level. “The Cornish Rex Cat is not a cat for those who are looking for an ornament to match their furniture.”
Nor is the Cornish Rex a cat for persons seeking a hypoallergenic pet. Some people who are allergic to cats can tolerate a rex because its short coat doesn’t hold dust, dander, and saliva, as well as a normal coat, does, but others have a reaction to the rex coat. Anyone with allergy problems interested in any breed of cat should spend some time visiting with and handling that breed before deciding whether to not to take one home.
Different Twists of Fate
The Cornish Rex Cat is distinguished from the Devon Rex in a number of ways, including the following. The Devon has a shorter, less plush and less wavy coat than the Cornish does, even though the Cornish lacks guard hairs — the course, an outer layer of a cat’s coat. What’s more, the Devon Rex has a decided stop to its nose (a depression in the face at the junction of the forehead and muzzle), while the Cornish has a Roman nose. Finally, the Cornish sports a dramatic tuck up to its underbelly; the Devon rex does not.