Devon Rex Cat Breed – Ring Up the Curtain

Devon Rex Cat Breed
Devon Rex Cat Breed
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Devon Rex Cat Breed – Ring Up the Curtain

The Devon Rex Cat is an enchanting little gamin(e) that looks as if it was on the other end of the line when E.T. phoned home. Gigantic, extraterrestrial ears — low-slung and ultrawide at the base — ensure that this alert and the active cat doesn’t miss a dial tone anywhere in the universe.

Like a series of diminishing parentheses, three narrowing pairs of convex curves — formed by Devon’s huge ears, prominent cheeks, and round whisker pads — frame the cat’s small, softly triangular head. Large, wide-set, oval eyes, in green, hazel or gold, slope toward the outer edges of the ears. Full cheeks, short muzzle, firm chin and short, curly whiskers are the remaining parts of a wholly captivating appearance that answers to the descriptions elfin or pixie.

Mine Over Matter of Devon Rex Cat

The father of the Devon Rex Cat breed was an unnamed cat who kept the house in a derelict tin mine near Buckfastleigh in Devon, England. This wild tom had a wild and wavy coat that was the handiwork of a spontaneous genetic mutation. Such gifts of nature occur because nature is not content to let humans have all the fun when it comes to modifying her creations. She’s been known to switch area codes on genetic telephone numbers herself.

The tin-mine cat is believed to have consorted with a tortie-and-white stray that later produced a litter of kittens in a field at the foot of a garden sometime in 1960. The garden — and hence the kittens — belonged to Miss Beryl Cox, who lived not far from the mine. One of the kittens — a brownish-black male whom Cox named Kirlee — turned out to be the spit-curled image of his father. (Since the rex gene is recessive and must, therefore, be present in both parents before its effects can be seen in their children, many people assume that the tortie and white were herself a straight-coated offspring of the unnamed and uncatchable tin-mine troubadour. In the world of cats, the family that plays together often reproduces together.)

Beryl Cox was a cat fancier, though not in the “professional,” cages-in-the-basement sense. 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 whenever he was praised for this achievement. Yet despite Kirlee’s fetching personality and offbeat looks, Cox had no inclination to create an entire curly-coated breed.

A Sterling Idea

Brian Sterling-Webb, a fancier of cats and rabbits, was interested in creating a new breed. A well-known experimental breeder, Sterling-Webb had owned a curly-haired male named Kallibunker, who had been born in a litter of barn cats in Cornwall, the next county east of Devon, 10 years before Kirlee’s arrival. Kallibunker sired only two litters before he died, but Sterling-Webb was using two of Kallibunker’s sons and his mother in an effort to establish a curly-haired breed. Sterling-Webb called that breed Cornish Rex Cat, borrowing the rex part from the name that had been given to rabbits with the same kind of coat.

When Cox heard about Sterling-Webb’s cats, she offered him her beloved Kirlee. Several breedings between Kirlee and Cornish Rex, both purebred and straight-coated hybrids, produced nothing but normal-looking kittens. Observing this never-the-strains-shall-meet effect, breeders concluded that the gene responsible for the curly coat in the Cornwall rex was not on the same wavelength as the gene responsible for the Devon Rex’ curls. Thereafter, Kirlee and his descendants were known as Devon Rex Cat and were developed as a separate breed. (Kirlee was eventually neutered and sent to live as a pet with friends of Stirling-Webb.)

Since the Devon wouldn’t mix with the Cornish — and since there weren’t many Devons to mix with — the Devon gene pool was established with help from other breeds. These outcrosses were chosen to produce as many colors and patterns as possible, including the colorpoint pattern of the Siamese. Outcrossing also produced physical differences between Devon and Cornish Rex Cat. The Devon has a shorter coat that is less plush and less wavy than the Cornish coat, even though the Cornish Rex  Cat lacks guard hairs — the course, the outer layer of a cat’s coat. The Devon Rex has a decided stop to its nose; the Cornish has a Roman nose. Finally, the Cornish has a noticeable tuck up to its abdomen, and the Devon rex does not.

Atlantic Crossing

The first Devon Rex Cat to arrive in this country were imported by Marion White of Austin, Texas, in 1968. Four years later the American Cat Fanciers Association became the first North American registry to accept Devon Rex Cat for championship competition. The breed is now recognized in every association. Because of its limited gene pool –all Devon rex can be traced back to Kirlee — Devon breeders are allowed to outcross to other breeds: British Shorthair, American Shorthair, Burmese, Bombay, and Siamese, depending on the association with which a cat is registered. Because the rex gene is recessive, first-generation kittens from outcross breedings will look like garden-variety cats, not like Devon Rex Cat with straight hair. The Devon gene apparently controls not only the coat but also the cat’s physical appearance.

Devon Rex Cat – Warm As a Brick 

If unique had a superlative form, the Devon Rex Cat could claim it. Indeed, the Devon is so unique, some of its advocates say, that in order to appreciate its appearance, “you must put aside all your preconceptions about what a cat should look like.”

To be sure, a full appreciation of the Devon rex also requires you to put aside your preconceptions regarding how a cat should act. Devons, like their founding father Kirlee, are born crowd pleasers. They don’t simply check in at mealtimes. They want to check out everything you’re doing. They also have the decency to refrain from shedding in blizzardlike amounts the way some breeds do. At the end of the day, however, one of the Devon’s most endearing qualities is its physical warmth. The Devon is the feline equivalent of the heated bricks that innkeepers used to provide for their guests’ beds. There is nothing in the world like a warm Devon on a cold night. Well, maybe two or three warm Devons, a hot toddy and room service.

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