Ocicat A Circular Success Breed cat
In 1965, the year the first ocicat was exhibited, astronomers discovered that Venus rotates in a different direction from the other planets. The same might cordially have been said of Virginia Daly, the Berkeley, Michigan, breeder who created the ocicat. Instead of working with one or two breeds at a time, as most cat fanciers did, Daly juggled as many as four breeds simultaneously in addition to cultivating “rare, unusual, newly developed varieties.” Her Dalai cattery was also larger than life, and for years she housed 40 cats, a number of which had litters annually.
Before Daly became involved with ocicats she had bred the first redpoint Siamese female in the history of the American Cat Fanciers Association to earn the grand champion title. That singular moment occurred in 1950. Daly also produced – by crossing a red Persian and a Siamese – the grandmother of the first All-American flame point Himalayan kitten. Along the way she produced a few waves among breeders, too, some of whom looked upon innovation with the same warm affection the National Rifle Association reserves for President Clinton. Indeed, one of Daly’s critics made the push that turned to shove that turned Daly’s attention to ocicats. That self-appointed censor, Daly recalled, “incomplete scorn of my ‘mongrels’ exclaimed in derision, ‘The next thing you’ll be making will be an Abyssinian-pointed Siamese.'”
Those were famous first words. “Until then I had never dreamed of such a thing,” said Daly, “but I decided to take up the challenge.”
Ocicats – Mixing and Matching
The challenge Daly took up required her to breed a Siamese cat whose points – face, ears, legs, and tail – would be the color of an Abyssinian instead of the traditional Siamese colors: seal, chocolate, lilac or blue. The first step in that direction was to breed a Siamese to an Abyssinian, obviously, and Daly just happened to have some around. The Siamese she chose was a seal point female named Tomboy Patter, whom Daly bred to a ruddy Abyssinian male named Dalai Deta Tim of Selene. The resulting kittens looked like Abyssinians, but they carried the recessive gene for the Siamese pattern, a gene they had inherited from their mother.
When Daly bred one of these Siamese-Aby crosses – a female named She – to a chocolate point Siamese male named Whitehead Elegante Sun, She (or she) produced an Aby-pointed Siamese, a cat whose points displayed the Abyssinian ticked tabby pattern, in which two colors occupy alternating bands on each hair from the shaft to the tip. She also produced, in her second breeding with Elegante Sun, “a large, ivory cat with bright golden spots and copper eyes,” whom Daly named Tonga – and whom her daughter christened the ocicat because of his resemblance to the spotted wild cat.
This resemblance notwithstanding Daly never considered the possibility that Tonga might be charter member number one of a new breed of cat until after he had been sold – for $10, with a neuter agreement – to a medical student named Thomas Brown. About a week later Daly saw an article in the erstwhile Journal Of Cat Genetics wherein Clyde Keeler of Georgia University suggested that someone ought to try to reincarnate the long-extinct Egyptian spotted fishing cat. Daly wrote to Keeler saying she had done precisely that, and the cat had been sold recently.
Keeler urged Daly to retrieve Tonga and to breed him back to his mother, but Tonga was never available when She was in season. Tonga’s father was able to oblige, however, and a subsequent breeding between him and She produced a litter of seven that looked like remnants from Joseph’s coat: a classic tabby, a mackerel tabby, a lynx point, a black, a seal point, the desired Aby point, and an unexpected – but even more desirable – fellow with bright golden spots on an ivory-colored background, whom Daly called Dalai Dotson.
Let ’em Breed Cake – Ocicat
This second coming of a spotted cat marked the end of any interest on Daly’s part in working with Aby-point Siamese. “There are enough Siamese in the world,” she said. “Why would you continue with bread when you can make a cake?”
Although Tonga didn’t get to do any baking of his own, he did have a brief show career, beginning with an appearance at the Detroit Persian Society’s 41st Championship Show on February 20-21, 1965. Tonga was one of 16 cats entered in a “Special Exhibit” that, according to the show catalog, contained the “breeds of the future.”
The ocicat’s future actually began at the Detroit show the following year when Tonga caught the imagination of the late Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) judge Jane Martinke. Not long after the Detroit show, CFA announced that the ocicat would be accepted for registration, the first step on the path to qualifying as a new breed of pedigreed cat. Yet by October 15, 1970, only two ocicats had been enrolled in CFA. In a late-’70s newsletter to prospective ocicat fanciers, Daly explained that one reason for the breed’s spotty progress was a pet limitation ordinance passed by the town council where she lived.
We were “limited to only three adult cats instead of our [longtime] 40-cat cattery,” wrote Daly. Readers with a sense of history and irony should appreciate that this ordinance was passed 30 years ago – long before the appearance of the San Mateo ordinance in the fall of 1990, legislation generally credited with setting off the current debate about the righteousness of imposing population limits and other restrictions on pet ownership and breeding. The Berkeley, Michigan, ordinance came in on little cat feet because it, like many others, was passed before the age of fax machines and the Internet.
The three-cat ordinance wasn’t the only speed bump on the road to the ocicat’s official recognition. “My 87-year-old aunt, who had just broken her hip, came to stay with us, which made the cats take a back seat for a while,” wrote Daly. That “while” lasted 11 years. As a result the ocicat – which Daly had hoped was on the verge of moving from registration to provisional status in 1966 – didn’t get off the verge until February 1986, when CFA at last granted the ocicat provisional status, making it the slowest overnight sensation in the cat world.
The following year the ocicat was granted full championship status not only by CFA but also by The International Cat Association (TICA). Ultimately the ocicat was accepted by every North American cat registry. Coincident with their provisional acceptance ocicats could no longer be bred to Siamese or American shorthairs. Breeders will be allowed to breed ocicats to Abyssinians until 2005.
The ocicat might have been a slow overnight sensation, but sensational it was. Ocicats International, a breed club that was formed in 1984 with 22 charter members, sported a membership of 200 within three years. There were only 99 ocicats registered with CFA between 1966 and 1980. There were nearly 400 registered by early 1987, and by the following year the ocicat ranked 14th among the 35 breeds then registered by CFA. Most recently, in 1998, the Ocicat ranked 13th among the 37 breeds registered by CFA. The breed’s 728 new registrations for the year were 11 percent lower than they had been the preceding year, when the ocicat ranked 12th in CFA’s hierarchy.
Obviously, there was more to the ocicat’s resurgence than the death of Daly’s aunt, who never much liked cats anyway. Lively promotional work by Ocicats International helped put the ocicat in the spotlight, where the ocicat’s resemblance to spotted jungle cats, its impressive size, commanding presence and winning personality all helped to ensure its popularity.
The Building Code – Ocicat
The ocicat is a large, athletic animal with a powerful body, substantial bone, a level back (or a slight rise from shoulder to tail) and ribs that are somewhat sprung. A graceful, arching neck supports the ocicat’s modified wedge-shaped head, which curves gently from muzzle to cheek and exhibits a mild rise from the bridge of the nose to the brow. The ocicat’s compelling expression is the handiwork of large, almond-shaped eyes ringed with mascara markings. The eyes, which angle moderately upward toward the ears, are separated by more than the length of an eye.
The ocicat has a broad, well-defined muzzle, with a hint of squareness, that shows good length in profile and betrays no suggestion of snippiness. The chin is strong. The whisker pinch, moderate.
Alert, modestly large ears complete the ocicat’s head. The ears should be set at the corners of the upper, outside dimensions of the head.
Each hair on the ocicat’s short, satiny, close lying and lustrous coat – with the exception of those hairs on the tip of the tail – accommodates several alternating bands of color. At the spots where these bands coalesce, they fashion distinctive, thumbprint-shaped markings composed of dark tones on a lighter background. Rows of spots march along the spine from shoulder blades to tail. Spots scatter across the shoulders and hindquarters, extending far down the legs. There are broken bracelets on the lower legs and broken necklaces at the throat – the more broken the better. Large, well-scattered, thumbprint-shaped spots proliferate on the sides of the torso into a subtle suggestion of the classic tabby’s bulls-eye pattern. Even the belly is well spotted.
The ocicat wears any of 12 colors well: A tawny ocicat has black or dark brown spotting on a ruddy or bronze ground color. Two colors – chocolate and cinnamon – appear against a warm ivory ground color. Five additional colors – chocolate silver, cinnamon silver, blue silver, lavender silver, and fawn silver – arrange their spots on a white ground color. Blue ocicats have blue spots on a pale blue or buff ground; lavender ocicats have lavender spotting on a pale buff or ivory ground; a fawn’s spots are set in a pale ivory ground, and an ebony silver’s spots are black on a pale silver/white ground.
Personality Profile of Ocicats
Ocicats have been described as “almost dog-like in their devotion to humans” and “very eager to please the people they own.” Breeders also report that ocicats are voice sensitive. They don’t like being scolded. If reprimanded, they stop what they’re doing, and don’t repeat the unwanted behavior, at least not right away.
Ocicats are also praised for their extreme intelligence and sociability. “They want to be wherever you are. They’ll follow you anywhere and everywhere. If you want to take a shower, you’d best make sure you shut the door, or you might have a cat in the shower with you.”