The Himalayan Cat – Pinnacle of Success
Such is the charm of the Himalayan cat that if breeders had not developed this beguiling hybrid, nature would have been obliged to do so. The Himalayan sports a delicate Siamese mantle draped over a solid Persian frame. Like the Siamese, the Himalayan Cat is a blue-eyed cat arrayed in stunning color patterns that consist of a light body tone accented by darker hues on the cat’s points, i.e., face, feet, legs, and tail. Like the Persian, the Himalayan Cat is a heavy-boned, well-balanced, medium-to-large cat with resounding depth across its shoulders and chest. The Himalayan’s broad head, tiny ears, full cheeks, large, round eyes and short, snub nose conspire to produce a sweet but extreme expression that few people can resist. The Himalayan’s sweet, docile manner is equally irresistible.
The Shortest Distance …
Nature had already invented the essential Himalayan cat elements –Persian and Siamese cats– long before anyone tumbled to the notion that foursquare Persian type and blue-eyed Siamese point color would make a killer combination. Having framed that idea, all breeders had to do was figure out a way of superimposing Siamese markings and blue eyes on a chockablock Persian frame.
That task, however, proved only a tad less difficult than playing three-dimensional tick-tack-toe. Long hair, blue eyes, and the pointed color pattern are the handiwork of recessive genes, which must be present in both parents in order to be observable in their offspring. Consequently, crossing a Persian and a Siamese does not produce a Himalayan cat. It produces, instead, non-pointed kittens with short hair, copper-to-yellow eyes, longer noses, bigger ears and daintier scaffolding than Persians are expected to display.
Yet each of these first-generation ducky uglings carries the genes for long hair, point color, and its genetic soulmate, blue eyes; and crossing two Persian-Siamese hybrids will produce — once in every 16 kittens on average — the desired longhaired, blue-eyed, color pointed outcome. One such outcome, to be sure, does not make a breed. The Himalayan cat required years of backcrossing, calendar watching and nail-biting before it was solidly established.
A Debutante Is Born – Himalayan Cat
The earliest known premeditated crosses between Siamese and Persian cats occurred in the United States and Sweden in the early 1920s. We are not privileged to have records that indicate what, if anything, resulted from those breedings. In 1931, however, Virginia Cobb and Clyde Keeler, both of whom were associated with the Harvard Medical School, set about producing a Persian cat with Siamese markings. Five years later their efforts yielded a Himalayan kitten Cat named Debutante and an article in the American Journal of Heredity that detailed the recipe by which Debutante had been produced.
History is silent regarding the fate of Debutante, but we are safe in assuming that she did not immediately give rise to a new breed. Nearly two decades elapsed before Himalayans were first officially recognized as a new pedigreed cat. Part of the reason, The Book of the Cat explains, is the fact that Cobb and Keeler’s work had been undertaken “to solve problems in cat genetics,” not to develop a new breed of show cat. This despite the fact that Cobb was active in the Siamese Cat Society. Therefore, the Himalayan cat did not make its official cat fancy debut until 1955 in England, where it was called the “colorpoint longhair.”
Go Forth and Multiply – Himalayan Cat
Meanwhile, back on this side of the genetic pond, Marguerita Goforth, a California artist, and cat breeder, agreed one day in 1950 to take care of a cat for a friend who was moving. A Persian and Siamese breeder of some tenure, Goforth described the cat, which her friend had obtained from the San Diego Humane Society, as “a mixed Siamese-Persian” with seal-point coloring.
Such a cat, as we have noted, is the work of at least two purposeful crossbreeding and enough luck to make your point when the odds are 15-to-1 against you. Thus, one is inclined to wonder what immortal hand or eye had framed the presence of this unspayed cat, named Princess Himalayan Hope, in an animal shelter on the West Coast. Be that explanation as it may, Goforth has written, “The longer I had this cat … the greater became my interest in what might be done toward developing a cat of Persian type but with the striking coloring of the Siamese, so with her owner’s consent, I began a breeding program.”
At about the same time, north of the 49th genetic parallel, a rancher and cattle judge in Southern Alberta named Ben Borrett began working on a similar breeding program. Borrett and his wife, Ann, imported colorpoint longhairs from Brian Stirling-Webb, a British cat fancier who had played majordomo in getting the colorpoints officially seated in England. In 1957 at an American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) show in Calgary, the Barretts exhibited two of their imported cats. Subsequently, they were asked to write a breed standard for the Himalayan cat, a name the colorpoint longhair had acquired somewhere in transition between England and Canada. The name was, no doubt, borrowed from the rabbit, goat or mouse fancies, where the same color pattern appears. Indeed, that pattern has subsequently been grafted onto other breeds of cats.
The Company They Keep- Himalayan Cat
In 1958 the four-year-old ACFA became the first North American cat registry to accept Himalayans for championship competition. At first — in ACFA as well as in other cat registries that eventually recognized the Himalayan as a separate breed — cat fanciers were not permitted to breed Himalayans to anything but other Himalayans. Yet fanciers are a pragmatic lot, and the Himalayan Cat is supposed to look like a Persian. The shortest distance to that goal lies in breeding Himalayans to Persians, so beginning in 1960 the Persian gradually became a sanctioned Himalayan outcross in cat associations. The Siamese was no longer needed as an outcross because the only jewels the Siamese had to contribute to the Himalayan crown — blue eyes and point color — did not have to be contributed ad infinitum.
Solving the problem of making the Himalayan cat look more like a Persian — as solving a problem often will do in the cat fancy — led to the creation of another problem: What to do with the non-pointed kittens resulting from Himalayan-Persian crosses? Like the prototypical crosses between Persians and Siamese, breedings between a Persian and a Himalayan will not produce Himalayan cats. Such crosses will produce longhaired cats that carry genes for the Siamese pattern. Because such genes are recessive, breeding one of these “colorpoint carriers,” as they are known, to a Himalayan will produce, on average, two Himalayan kittens in every litter of four.
As Himalayans began to look more and more like Persians, colorpoint carriers did, too. Nevertheless, for a number of years, colorpoint carriers could not be shown in any cat association. In time, though, the proscription against showing these non-pointed Himalayan-Persian hybrids was rescinded by several associations. The byzantine nature of the cat fancy in North America –there are 10 associations, each with its own rules and regulations, that register cats and license shows — prevents us from discussing which associations do and which do not permit colorpoint carriers in the show hall. It is worth noting, however, that two registries — the Cat Fancier’s Association and the American Cat Association — no longer consider the Himalayan cat a separate breed. Both groups have concluded that it is simply another Persian color.
Top of the Pops – Himalayan Cat
The pointed, blue-eyed cat that is supposed to look just like a Persian has made 180-degree, about-face progress since the days of Debutante and Princess Himalayan Hope. The modern Himalayan cat and colorpoint carrier can go nose-to-virtually-nonexistent-nose with the most extreme Persians being shown. What’s more, the Himalayan cat is now the most popular breed in the United States; and when registration figures for the Himalayan and its Persian and colorpoint relatives are combined, the result is a staggering presence in the world of pedigreed cats. In 1996 the Cat Fancier’s Association, which is the largest pedigreed-cat registry in the world, enrolled a total of 68,948 new cats and kittens. Of that total, 62 percent were “Persians,” a designation that includes Himalayans and colorpoint carriers. As far as Himalayan cat fanciers are concerned, we are still living in the heyday of the Age of Aquarius, where long hair and bright colors are the prevailing vogues.