Monday, February 20, 2012

Curious Long-Haired Cats

Angoras, Persians, and Russians

The first cats shows at the Crystal Palace had one category for all long-haired cats. Harrison Weir, who initiated the first cat show at the Crystal Palace, acknowledged that most long-haired cats he saw were mixes of the original imports of Persian, Angora, and what he called Russian (see Weir's drawing, right).

The Russian cat was a dark tabby, resembling the British wild cat:  the local subspecies of felis sylvestris, which is now well-established as the domesticated cat's ancestor. A domesticated long-haired relative came to America and became known as the Maine Coon Cat, which is still bred today. I read an amusing story about the supposed origin of the name, that it came from a sea captain named Coon.  I have my own amusing story that reveals exactly where the name really came from.

Hershey the coon cat?
Our back yard in Jackson, Missouri used to be a haven for all kinds of wild mammals, including raccoons. One spring afternoon, I looked out my kitchen window to see a raccoon running past. That was strange, because raccoons weren't afraid of anything--the coyotes hadn't moved in yet. Then, just behind it, ran my Persian mix Hershey, then Midnight, then Silver. These three cats sometimes hunted together, but they had never gone after a raccoon. I concluded that the raccoon had caught a glimpse of Hershey from behind, and with his big bushy tail, still full of its winter fur, and had mistaken him for another raccoon. Whether the coon considered him a buddy or a rival, I can't say, but as soon as the mistake was realized, a fight was inevitable. Hershey's feline friends came to his rescue. Take another look at the Russian cat with its striped tail. The coon cat.

Weir preferred short-haired cats to long-haired ones. Despite the exotic. upper-class aura associated with Angoras and Persians, the extra effort involved in having a long-haired cat must have been off-putting. Nobody brushed cats back then (or gave them vaccines, or took them to an animal doctor). I wonder what the long-haired cats looked like in those early cat shows.

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