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Oh-Naturel Sphynx Cattery

Sphynx Breed Profile/ History

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Breed Profile: Sphynx


In 1966 a domestic cat gave birth to a hairless kitten in Toronto, Canada. It was discovered to be a natural mutation and the Sphynx cat, as we know it today, came into existence. This cat and a few other naturally hairless cats have been found worldwide. These have magically been produced by Mother Nature and are the foundation for this unusual breed. Cat breeders in Europe and North America have bred the Sphynx to normal coated cats and then back to hairless for more than thirty years. The purpose of these selective breedings was to create a genetically sound cat with a large gene pool and hybrid vigor. This is a very robust breed with few health or genetic problems.

The Sphynx is not always totally hairless; there can be a fine down on the body, which makes the cat feel like a warm peach. Some light hair is often present on the nose, tail and toes. The texture of the Sphynx skin has been likened to suede, a hot water bottle, or a heated chamois. They can be registered in a wide variety of cat colors. The color is seen in the pigment of the skin and the few hairs that they do have. One of the questions most asked is "Don't they get cold?" Well, of course, if it is too cold for you it will be too cold for a hairless cat too. However, these cats are smart enough to find a warm human, dog or cat to curl up with or they will get under your bed covers.


This is a substantial cat, medium sized and strong, with adult males being larger than adult females. Sphynx have sturdy boning and good muscle development and should have a bit of a belly as if they just finished dinner. They have an open-eyed, intelligent face and a friendly expression. The Sphynx are extremely inquisitive and love to be the center of attention. They perform silly antics for your entertainment and are sometimes downright clumsy…on purpose it seems. They make great show cats because of this "look at me" attitude and they are easy for judges to handle. They prefer human attention but enjoy the company of dogs and other cats. They have an abundance of energy and mischief and are always with you, on you or showing off for you. "Love Mooch" is the perfect term for these amazing cats.

Because of the lack of hair that would normally absorb body oils, the Sphynx needs to be bathed periodically. This is not a difficult task with a cat that has been accustomed to a bath from kittenhood and it takes no time at all to dry a Sphynx.

Some people who suffer from cat allergies can tolerate living with Sphynx cats. However, depending on the type and severity of the individual's allergic reactions, there are still people who cannot live with this breed.


The Sphynx was accepted for registration, and competition, in the Miscellaneous Class by The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in February 1998. Sphynx lovers feel this is one of the most rare and unusual breeds in the cat fancy today…Sphynx are pure enchantment.

Sphynx are rare and most breeders have a waiting list for their kittens. Pricing on Sphynx usually depends on type, applicable markings and bloodlines distinguished by Grand Champion (GC), National, National Breed and/or Regional winning parentage (NW, BW, RW) or of Distinguished Merit parentage (DM). The DM title is achieved by the dam (mother) having produced five CFA grand champion/premier (alter) or DM offspring, or sire (father) having produced fifteen CFA grand champion/premier or DM offspring. Usually breeders make kittens available between twelve and sixteen weeks of age. After twelve weeks, kittens have had their basic inoculations and developed the physical and social stability needed for a new environment, showing, or being transported by air. Keeping such a rare treasure indoors, neutering or spaying and providing acceptable surfaces (e.g. scratching posts) for the natural behavior of scratching (CFA disapproves of declawing or tendonectomy surgery) are essential elements for maintaining a healthy, long and joyful life.

MORE ON SPHYHX HISTORY

Hairless cats have been documented for many years, dating back to at least 1902, when a Mr. and Mrs. Shinick of Albuquerque, NM were given a pair of hairless cats (Nellie and Dick) by the local Pueblo Indians. They were brother and sister, and pictures of them described them as completely hairless with wedge-shaped heads, big ears, long bodies and long whip-like tails. From the descriptions the cats sounded as though they were probably bicolors. They were further described as having very short fur on their backs and along their tails in the winter that would fall off in warmer weather. Their eyes were "amber" and they had long whiskers. The cats were never bred, and Dick was killed by a dog at a young age.



In the 1930's hairless cats were reported in such diverse places as France, Morocco, and the United States. Dr. E. Letard, a veterinarian, documented hairless kittens born to Siamese parents in France.



There has been quite a bit of information available about the "birth" of the "modern Sphynx", beginning in 1966. On 30 January, 1966, a black and white domestic shorthair queen gave birth to a litter of kittens, one of which was a black hairless male. Mrs. Yania Bawa and her son Ridyadh Bawa acquired this kitten, whom they named "Prune", as well as Elizabeth, his mother. They named their cattery after Prune, and he became "Prune of Prune". The Bawas bred Prune back to Elizabeth and on 16 January, 1967 she gave birth to seven kittens, among them two hairless females and two hairless males. Kees and Rita Tenhove also began working with the Bawas, with the cattery name of Dutchie's. Houston E. Smith of Bor-Al Cattery later joined the Bawa's. None of the breedings between Prune & Elizabeth resulted in kittens who were able to successfully reproduce further offspring. Because of this and other reasons, CFA decided at that to time to not allow the Sphynx in to Championship status.



The now defunct Crown Cat Fanciers Association recognized the Sphynx for Championship competition in 1971, and GRC Dutchie's Nefertiti of Mewsi-Kal, bred by the Tenhoves and owned by Sandy Kaiser, became Crown's first and only Grand Champion Sphynx in 1973. Two offspring of Nerfertiti, Mewsi-Kal Starsky (a male) and Mewsi-Kal Johnny (a female... at first she had been thought to be a male, hence the uni-sex name!) went to The Netherlands in 1978 to help Dr. Hugo Hernandez with a beginning breeding program. Starsky was not terribly interested in breeding his sister. She did manage to get pregnant once, but the entire litter, delivered via c-section, died.



Between 1978 and 1980 three hairless kittens were found on the streets of Toronto by local children. They were brought to Shirley Smith, a Siamese breeder. Mrs. Smith kept Bambi, the male (born in June of 1978; more on him below) and sent the two females, named Paloma (born in September of 1979) and Punkie (born in April of 1980) to Dr. Hernandez in The Netherlands.



Starsky was not too interested in Punkie and Paloma either. He also began to spray, and since he was acting like a stud cat in every way except for breeding Dr. Hernandez decided to have him neutered. Punkie did end up pregnant, after Starsky was neutered, but the entire litter died.



Now without a male Sphynx, Dr. Hernandez sent Paloma to live with Hanna Nathans. He decided to try using a Devon Rex to breed to Punkie and Paloma, and a white male named Curare van Jetrophin successfully bred Punkie. The Sphynx was on its way in Europe. Two males from this breeding, Q. Ramses and especially Q Ra (out of Punkie) are quite prominent in many, if not most Sphynx pedigrees today.



From Hanna Nathans (de Calecat) and Tonia Vink (Ajahanda's) the Sphynx eventually found its way to France. Patrick Challain and Guy Patigny were the owners of Chnoem de Calecat, known in the United States as "ET". This cat came to the US in 1986 to do PR for the INCATS show at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately he died in a fire back in France the next year. Aline and Philippe Noel acquired Ajahanda's Atilla Timothy and Ajahanda's Zendila from Tonia Vink, and these two cats have played a very important role in the history of the Sphynx in the United States.



In 1978 Punkie and Paloma's older brother Bambi was born. His story was told in the May, 1985 issue of Cats Magazine. He was found on the streets of Toronto, and by the time Shirley Smith got a hold of him he was in pretty bad shape. His left eye had been punctured in three places and his genitalia was so badly mutilated that everything had to be removed. In 1986 Shirley Smith's health was declining, so she placed Bambi, named for his big doe eyes, with a close friend. In 1990 Bambi's new owner had to find him another home and he ended up with Linda Birks of Aztec Cattery. Bambi was the oldest Sphynx on record, and he passed away in June of 1997, at the age of nineteen. Bambi never produced any kittens of his own, but he helped greatly to propel the Sphynx into the public eye with the Cats Magazine article.



So it appears from all of the written accounts, as well as pedigree information, that the "original" Sphynx from Canada, specifically the Bawas' and Tenhoves' cats, have no bearing on the Sphynx of today. In fact, it was recently written by Bruce Fogle, D.V.M., "The first Sphynx, Prune, was born in 1966, but his line died out." Yes, the other Sphynx from Canada, Punkie and Paloma, are an important part of the breed today, but read on and I think that you will agree with me that the Sphynx is a "North American" breed, not exclusively a Canadian breed.



There have been breeders working with the Sphynx in the United States since the mid 1970's. In 1975 a domestic shorthair cat was abandoned on the farm owned by Milt and Ethelyn Pearson in Wadena, MN. They named the brown tabby female "Jezabelle". Shortly after her arrival on the farm Jezabelle gave birth to a hairless kitten. The Pearsons named the little female "Epidermis". A year later Jezabelle gave birth again, to another hairless female, whom the Pearsons named "Dermis". When Mrs. Pearson's job obligations got to the point where she felt she could no longer give the cats the attention they needed, she reluctantly sold them in 1981 to Kim Mueske of Z. Stardust Cattery. Kim's first attempts at breeding the cats occurred shortly thereafter, to a blue-eyed white American Shorthair, CFA GRC Sailaway Willie. Epi and Dermi produced seven kittens between them, all normal-coated. Three years passed before Kim tried again, this time to an American Shorthair named Red. Epi produced two normal-coated male kittens, and upon the advice of Dr. Solveig Pflueger she bred one of the males, Z. Stardust Sneezy, back to his mother and was rewarded with three hairless kittens. In 1986 Kim planned to have Epi spayed, but Epi had other ideas. Cantaur's Hercules of Z. Stardust, a Devon Rex who was also scheduled to be neutered, and Epi had one last fling and in the resulting litter was born the foundation queen, SGC Z. Stardust's Winnie Rinkle of Rinkurl, OD, TICA's first Outstanding Dam Sphynx and a cat who figures quite prominently in many of today's Sphynx pedigrees. Thank goodness for feline persistence (and sneakiness)! Winnie passed away in March of 2002 at the ripe old age of 16, after a long battle with breast cancer.



Also in Minnesota, down the road from Wadena in Brainerd, Mrs. Georgiana Gattenby was working with hairless cats. Her cattery Jen Jude was named for a daughter and St. Jude. Her three foundation cats, Jen Jude King Tutt , Jen Jude Sheba, and Jen Jude Cleopatra, were acquired from Mrs. Pearson in the fall of 1978. Patricia Jacobberger, a CFA judge and Ellen Ainsworth, an American Shorthair breeder both visited Mrs. Gattenby's cattery in 1980 and took many photos of the cats. On 28 April, 1979 King Tutt and Sheba presented Mrs. Gattenby with her first hairless kitten, Jen Jude Different. Mrs. Gattenby used a few Cornish Rex, referred to in her cattery records as simply "Rex" (Devons were not accepted as a different breed at that time) as an outcross. One of them, Silk Screen Ripples, was bred to Different three different times. Two of their hybrid kittens produced both hairless and coated kittens when bred back to a Sphynx. Mrs. Gattenby sold her last two remaining cats, Jen Jude Yoda II and Jen Jude Girlie, to Brenda S. Pena in 1985 and 1986. Mrs. Gattenby was not in good health sadly, and died shortly thereafter. After repeated attempts, Yoda and Girlie produced a litter of kittens in 1988. Two of them, CH Brenda's Bathsheba of Rinkurl and particularly QGC/RW Brenda's Nefertiti of Rinkurl, OD, can also be found in many Sphynx pedigrees today.



Even when Mrs. Gattenby was working with the Sphynx there was quite a bit of interest in the breed. She had many letters from interested people, and advertised in Cat Fancy in 1985.



THE SHOW SCENE



While there were people working with the Sphynx prior to TICA's acceptance of the breed for Championship competition in 1986, the breeders who put the Sphynx on the map again were Walt and Carol Richards of Britanya Cattery. In 1986 their Devon Rex female Britanya's Aida Lott produced a litter of four kittens, sired by Chnoem de Cal CA in July of 1986, where they created quite the sensation. Lady Godiva went on to become TICA's first Supreme Grand Champion Sphynx and TICA's first International Best of Breed Sphynx, and Lord E became TICA's first Outstanding Sire Sphynx. Britanya cats figure quite prominently in many pedigrees of today's Sphynx, and the Richards' can certainly be accredited with a good part of the fabulous success of the breed both in and out of the show ring.



As the Sphynx gained popularity through its exposure in TICA, other cat associations have followed suit in recognizing them for Championship status. In 1992, thanks to the efforts of Linda Birks (Aztec Cattery) the Sphynx was recognized for Championship competition in the Canadian Cat Association (CCA). Two years later, in 1994 the American Cat Fanciers' Association (ACFA) accepted the Sphynx into the Championship ranks. The American Cat Association (ACA) recognized the breed in 1995. The smaller cat associations such as AACE and UFO included the Sphynx as a Championship breed since their inceptions. And finally, at their Semi-Annual Board Meeting in February of 1998, CFA accepted the Sphynx as a Miscellaneous breed, after a long, long absence. At the semi-annual board meeting in Austin Texas, in February of 2002, the Sphynx were promoted directly to Championship status.



The SPHYNX, above all else, is a hairless cat. The hairlessness of the SPHYNX, of course, results from differences in hair deposition and/or maintenance between the SPHYNX and normally coated breeds. We will discuss empiric, scientific and statistical data as it relates to the physiologic, biochemical and genetic differences that separate the SPHYNX from other normally coated breeds and that allow for variances within the SPHYNX for degree of hairlessness. Sanspelo suggests that you review the discussion on normal feline hair growth before reviewing the discussion of hairlessness.



The history of hairless cats--note that "hairless" is a relative term in this discussion as most hairless cats do have at least a fine stubble of hair--is a repetitious cycle of the spontaneous, sporadic appearance of one or two hairless cats in a litter with other normal coated siblings. As we move through the twentieth century, we see that those naturally occurring mutations are reported approximately once a year somewhere in the world--usually in the northern latitudes of North America or Europe. In our development of the SPHYNX breed, we have worked with a particular gene for hairlessness (hr) which we describe in Mendelian genetic terms as recessive to the gene for normal coat (Hr) and incompletely dominant to the gene for the Devon Rex coat (re). However, in observing our SPHYNX through their life cycles, we note that some SPHYNX known to be heterozygous with the Devon gene (hr re) remain very hairless throughout all conditions of their entire lives, some relatively hairy throughout all conditions of their lives and some vary depending on their environmental and hormonal conditions. Likewise, SPHYNX known to be homozygous (hr hr) also fall into a similar spectrum. Further, we know that this gene site (hr, Hr, re) can determine hair stability (SPHYNX ) and/or curliness (Devon Rex) and that hairs that do grow carry the pigment of their coat color at the site of deposition--this categorizes them as either primary or secondary guard hairs and suggests the lack of Down hairs in the SPHYNX . Lastly, we have observed that the SPHYNX phenotype is associated with a decreased anagen:telogen ratio, early breakage of the cat's whiskers and early loss of teeth, which are similar to hair in that they are also of ectodermal origin thus giving them a commom developmental pathway.

brooke.wallhauser@gmail.com