Exotic Longhair Cat – New Breed With A Familiar Face
The exotic longhair cat is the embodiment of the cat fancy’s propensity for chasing its own tail and for making distinctions without real differences into cat breeds. This particular chase began more than 40 years ago when the appearance of a number of American shorthair cats underwent noticeable change. You could notice it about the eyes, which grew larger and rounder; about the coat, which grew longer and a tad plush; and about the muzzle, which grew short, shorter and wider.
Although some breeders attributed these enhancements to divine intervention, their wellspring was, in fact, less sacred than profane. American Shorthairs were beginning to look more like Persians because breeders were adding more and more Persians to the American shorthair menu. This practice violated cat fancy precepts, but where there’s a will there’s a way around obstacles, and many breeders resorted to the fine art of paperhanging (falsifying pedigrees), a technique that covers a multitude of wins.
Vice, like virtue, is its own reward, the new-and-improved American shorthairs did swimmingly in the show ring. Eventually, however, the appearance of American shorthairs had changed so dramatically that judges and exhibitors were in danger of suffering whiplash from looking the other way when these cats appeared in the show ring. To forestall this possibility the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) tried to put an end to clandestine breedings between Persians and American Shorthairs by closing the American shorthair registry.
At the time “modified” American shorthairs first appeared, any American shorthair breeder could obtain registration papers for any shorthaired, non-pedigreed cat – real or imagined – for the price of a registration fee and a brief written description of the cat. These “foundation” cats could then be used in breeding programs, or they could be used on paper as the nominal sires or dams of litters, while Persians capable of producing the same colors as these paper cats were employed in the actual breeding. For example, if a breeder with a red tabby American Shorthair male – actual or alleged – had a red tabby Persian male also, that breeder could use the Persian for breeding and claim on the application for litter registration that the shorthaired cat was the father of the litter.
CFA’s well-intentioned closing of the American shorthair registry did not put an end to illicit hybridization. Indeed, this action had the paradoxical effect of making pedigrees even less worth the paper they were written on. With the registry closed American Shorthair breeders who wanted to obtain registration papers for a phantom cat or two merely had to inflate litter sizes in order to do so. If a cat had a litter of three, for example, who was to stop the breeder from claiming there were five kittens in the litter?
Therefore a CFA judge named Jane Martinke suggested creating a new breed called the exotic shorthair. This safe haven, consisting of unions between Persians and any shorthaired cats, would be judged on the same standard as the Persian with the obvious exception of coat length. CFA took Martinke’s advice, and the exotic shorthair cat became eligible for championship competition on May 1, 1967. Since then the official components of the exotic shorthair have been restricted to American Shorthairs, Persians and Himalayans; and in CFA at least, the name exotic shorthair has been shortened to exotic.
Despite CFA’s willingness to let bygones become bylaws, few American Shorthairs cats were re-baptized as exotics after the breed had been accorded championship status. Indeed, so deafening was the sound of no hands clapping that CFA’s executive board voted unanimously on June 20, 1968, to rescind recognition of the exotic shorthair because nobody was showing any. Fortunately, someone at the meeting pointed out that judges were still complaining about American shorthairs that appeared to have Persian relatives. What’s more, if exotics were disenfranchised, people who had begun working with them legitimately would fall victim to the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished syndrome. Happily the motion to defrock the exotic shorthair failed.
Out of the Closet Exotic Longhair Cat
About the time the American shorthair had begun to evolve along un-American lines, a Washington state Persian breeder named Carolyn Bussey, who “was not aware at first of what CFA was doing with exotics,” crossed a Persian female with a Burmese male in hopes of producing chocolate longhairs.
“When the litter arrived and I saw those cute, little teddy bears” with short coats, she recalls, “I said, ‘Forget the chocolate longhairs.’ I decided to produce shorthaired Persians instead.” Bussey was inspired by the velvet-truck cuteness of the Persian-Burmese cross. Other breeders were inspired by the chance to make honest cats of their bogus American shorthairs. Still others, not wishing to risk bursitis and emphysema from the frequent grooming that Persians require, found the wash-and-wear exotic an appealing option.
Whatever their incentive, breeders who sought to create the spitting, a shorthaired image of a Persian had their work – if not their cats‘ type – cut out for them because none of the 10 shorthaired breeds in existence in the late 1960s looked much like the Persian’s kissing cousin. Accordingly, the earliest exotic breeders used American shorthairs or Burmese or Russian blues just often enough to introduce the shorthair gene, which is dominant over long hair, into their catteries. After that, in order to give themselves more breathing room and their cats less, breeders put exotics with Persians for the most part. Consequently, many of today’s exotic pedigrees do not reveal the presence of a shorthaired cat – apart from another exotic, of course – for many generations. Yet the shorthair influence, no matter how remote, is difficult to remove, and even now few people breed one exotic shorthair to another more than once every two or three generations – to do otherwise is to risk lengthening the exotic’s nose while shortening its coat.
The Long Way Around Exotic Longhair cat
The prominent use of Persians in exotic shorthair breeding programs ensures the continued creation of exotics that carry a recessive gene for long hair. When one of these exotics is bred to another exotic carrying that same recessive gene, one-fourth of the resulting kittens, on average, will have long hair. When an exotic with a recessive gene for long hair is bred to a Persian, half the kittens, on average, will have long hair.
In the beginning, these longhaired cats were unshowable for two reasons. The first was proscriptive: They weren’t technically Persians and, hence, could not be registered legally. The other reason these cats could not be shown was practical: They didn’t look much like show-quality Persians.
In time, however, more of the longhaired cats that were the byproducts of exotic shorthair breeding schemes became good enough to pass for Persians, and pass they did, thanks once again to the aforementioned art of paper hanging. Thus it was time to create another Amnesty International breed, the exotic longhair cat- either that or allow longhaired cats resulting from exotic shorthair breeding programs to be shown as Persians.
Beginning with The International Cat Association (TICA), which allowed exotic longhairs cats to compete in Persian classes as of May 1, 1987, most of the cat registries in North America – with the notable exception of CFA – have found a place for these cats in the show ring. Some associations followed TICA’s lead and permitted exotic longhairs cats to compete as Persians because they look like Persians and if bred to Persians will produce nothing but longhaired kittens. Other associations created a separate breed for exotic longhairs (or longhair exotics cats, as one association calls them), but do not allow these cats to be used in Persian breeding programs. For our money any cat that looks like a Persian, reproduces like a Persian and can win against Persians, ought to be registered as a Persian. Besides, in light of the way that polycystic kidney disease is decimating Persian catteries, the breed needs all the new blood it can get.