There is a lot of myth and glamour surrounding the Mexican Hairless cat. The history books tell us that in 1902 a couple living in New Mexico, America, were given brother and sister Mexican Hairless cats from the Indians who were a few miles from where they lived. The couple were Mr and Mrs EJ Shinick, if I’m not mistaken.
EJ Shinick wrote that he received brother and sister hairless cats from the Indians and that the old Jesuit Fathers told him that the cats were the last of an ancient Aztec cat breed which were known only in New Mexico. So there we have it; two cats, brother and sister, the last of a rare cat breed associated with the ancient Aztecs. You can see how these siblings were wrapped up in myth, legend and glamour.
In considerable detail, Sarah Hartwell writes on her website about the historical records of these two cats who incidentally were called Nellie and Dick. It is interesting, bearing in mind their rarity, that Mr EJ Shinick did not breed them. He says that he…
“never allowed them to mate, as they were brother and sister, and I thought it might alter Nellie’s beautiful form, which was round and handsome, with body rather long”.
Sadly, Dick who was very powerful and who could have fought off a dog (says Shinick) was killed by several dogs when he escaped his home. He was a full-time indoor cat but he managed to escape. He had been valued at $1,000 at that time which as you can imagine is an enormous sum of money at today’s values. Shinick then decided that he wanted to replace Dick and tried to obtain a mate for his Nellie but failed and he feared that the breed was soon to become extinct.
It appears that the brother and sister were just ordinary cats to the family; just like any other family cat. Shinick’s daughter who became Mrs. Palladino played with them and she said that when Nellie was 15 years of age her father decided that because the breed was so rare the Smithsonian Institute might be interested in having her. He wrote to the Smithsonian and they responded by saying that they would like to have the cat before she died. She fixed up the cat carrier to ship Nellie and she arrived in Washington in good condition. She died a month later. Nellie was mounted as an exhibit in a museum. Shinick’s daughter thought that Dick had been stolen. It appears that her father did not tell her that he had been killed by dogs.
Sarah Hartwell says that the “supposed” Mexican Hairless (or Aztec) breed were a pair of hairless siblings acquired by Shinick and given a fictionalised account of their origin. The origin was romanticised in suggesting that they were the last two cats of an almost extinct and rare breed.
Throughout history there have been hairless cats and there has been the glamorisation of the origins of certain cats. The hairless mutation has occurred, she says, several times since 1902 and even before that. The modern incarnation of the hairless cat is the Canadian Sphynx, the Don Sphynx in Russia and the Peterbald, also a Russian cat breed.
Today breeders still like to give their breeds as glamorous a history to their creations as is possible because it makes their cat breed more interesting to the public. It has always been thus in the cat associations.
The Mexican hairless cat could have been perpetuated. If Nellie had been bred to a non-hairless cat and the offspring bred back to Nellie that, as I understand it, it would have fixed the hairless gene allowing the breed to have been perpetuated. At that time, in the early part of the 20th century, it was possible to have done that so the opportunity was missed.
As to appearance, I’ve taken the liberty of republishing the photograph of Nellie and Dick on this page from The Book of the Cat and I express my appreciation to Sarah Hartwell.
The Mexican Hairless cat was described in 1954 by Katharine L Simms in They Walked Beside Me as “completely furless except for a ridge of hair down his spine”. They look somewhat like the modern Sphynx but less extreme.
As to behaviour, Shinick remarked that he found them intelligent and affectionate family pets. They were quick and smart. They liked a warm bath and loved to sleep under the bed close at night with their daughter. He said that they had mouse coloured backs with necks stomach and legs a delicate flesh tint. Their bodies were always warm and soft like that of a child. They loved to be fondled and caressed and were very playful. The description could be that of the modern day Sphynx.
The entire source of this post is a page on Sarah Hartwell’s website. Thank you Sarah. I hope you and your cats are well. We should meet up again sometime.