Categories: cat fancy

America: tame wild cats exhibited at cat shows 1895-1903

Miss Frances Simpson. Photo in the public domain due to passage of time.

Miss Frances Simpson was one of three major personalities in the early years of the cat fancy in England. She wrote a book called The Book of the Cat which was published in 1903. In that book she refers to the first American cat show held in the Madison Square Garden, New York, on 8 May 1895. She also took the time to mention the wild species that were exhibited at the early American cat shows. I find it very strange that tamed wild cat species were exhibited at cat shows. It does, however, provide some insights into the propensity for some wild cat species to be domesticated. This is always interesting to people who like the idea of living with an exotic wild cat species. Personally I disagree with any attempt to domesticate a wild cat but that is my opinion.

Canada lynx

Canada lynx with huge paws

Miss Frances Simpson refers to the lynx. I will take the liberty of quoting her verbatim which I can do because I believe her copyright has expired.

The next in order is the lynx, and though this animal is pictured as very fierce, there is as much evidence to show, in other ways, that if taken young and domesticated, the lynx is amenable to reason and is very intelligent, full of humour, and not afflicted with excessive nervousness. I have seen specimens exhibited and one in particular that was the constant playmate of a little child; and this cat spent four days in a show playing most of the time with all the children that came along, and was the coolest and most unconcerned cat in the hall.

Clearly, the lynx can be domesticated and that was known as early as the late 1800s in America. She must be referring to the Canada lynx.

Ocelot

Frank Yturria with ocelot in days gone by.

Ocelot coat 1957 – Photographer Gert Kruetschmann

She also refers to the ocelot, which is a small wild cat species with a glorious coat. Its coat has been the species’ demise because it has been hunted to extinction in America in order to create coats for glamorous ladies. Sadly, the ocelot, in the assessment of Miss Frances Simpson, is not a good specimen for domestication. She says that “they are handsome and can be reared and left to run about the house till a year old”. But as they become adults they also become impossible and hopelessly savage and “will kill anything put in his cage that he is capable of handling, and even to his keeper he is a problem”.

Miss Simpson discovered that ocelots cannot be domesticated and make very poor pets.

Margay

Tame Margay Cat. Photo by Mark Low!

She also refers to the margay (she spells the name “Marguay”). A margay was exhibited by the zoological Society of Chicago at a cat show and Miss Simpson was enamoured by the cat’s beauty and personality. She writes:

I cannot help thinking that if obtainable and kept pure this would make one of the most beautiful of exhibition cats. Small, of a reddish-brown colour, and clearly spotted all over, with beautifully shaped and small ears, which are black-and-white, this cat is gentle, sweet, sizeable, and possible as a pet. I have never seen it excelled by anything among the cat tribe; and having handled this cat a good many times during the show, I may say it was one of the tamest and best-natured cats I have ever come across in the show-room, and certainly the most beautiful short-haired cat possible to imagine.

Miss Simpson doesn’t write about any other wild cat species but that doesn’t bother me because I found her reports on these three medium to small wild cats intriguing. Of the three, there’s no question that the margay is a small wild cat species which can be domesticated. Indeed, they are domesticated today. However, it should not happen because it means that poachers and commercial enterprises take cubs from their mothers in the wild, ship them to the West and sell them as pets. The whole process is unpleasant, immoral and incredibly bad for conservation. Do not, please, have a margay as a cat companion. There are enough beautiful unwanted rescue cats at shelters in America to supply the most demanding of potential adopters.

Miss Frances Simpson was an educated and disciplined woman who never married but she kept busy by occupying herself with her involvement in the cat fancy. She writes very nicely in typical Victorian style. I think I would have liked her. I am sure that a lot of Americans who like cats would feel the same way.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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