What can I say? I am horrified. But I am not surprised. Sarah Hartwell, the internet’s doyenne of cat fancy history, has a shocking snippet of information regarding the early days of the Ragdoll cat breed tucked away within one of her comprehensive articles. The Ragdoll cat breed history is convoluted and tortous thanks to the founder, the eccentric Ann Baker. I won’t go over it here except to mention some pertinent points.
Baker wanted to create a new breed of cat which was very sociable and relaxed. She wanted the cats to be docile and to have the characteristic of going limp when picked up.
I think this idea came from a Persian-Angora cat called Josephine who belonged to a neighbour. After a traffic accident Josephine’s offspring were docile. The accident is probably irrelevant to her kittens’ character but stories developed. The truth probably is that the male breeding cat was different and he had passed on his personality to the offspring.
Anyway Baker created the Ragdoll cat breed using a black Burmese type cat and a female who was an offspring of Josephine. Baker decided to control the breeding programme and created a franchise system whereby other breeders were charged a royalty for each kitten they sold.
Baker promoted the story that the new Ragdoll cats were docile because Josephine had been hit by a car which had mysteriously changed her and that Ragdolls were immune to pain.
A couple working with Ann Baker breeding Ragdolls in the early days, Denny and GeorgeAnn Dayton, bought their cats from Baker. I guess that under the franchise agreement they had to buy special cat food prepared by Baker alone. Denny had the cat food analysed as he was a scientist. He discovered that it contained phenobarbital. This is a barbiturate. It is used to treat epilepsy in humans and it works by stabilising the brain’s electrical activity. It depresses the central nervous system. It helps people to relax and to sleep.
In short the drug gave the cats all the characteristics for which the Ragdoll is now famous: floppy and like ragdolls. When the cats started on a normal diet they lost their laid back character. The Daytons had to work hard to create a cat who genuinely had a nice character.
This strange episode had an impact on the history of the Ragdoll. Ann Baker was not allowed to trademark the breed and TICA would not accept future Ragdolls from Baker.
I will presume that today’s Ragdoll cat breeders try very hard to breed for personality as well as appearance. They have to try and maintain that impossible, drug induced standard of years ago!
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