The classic image of an alley cat that most people have is of a dirty stray cat or a feral cat living in the urban jungle, surviving and surviving quite well. There is a cartoon character called Top Cat who fits the image. There is a cat charity called Alley Cat Allies which focuses on the welfare of all cats primarily street cats because they are the most vulnerable and the most in need.
So an alley cat can be a stray domestic cat or perhaps a community cat in one of the Eastern countries or in the Middle East. Or he or she might be a feral or semi-feral cat. In every instance the alley cat is a cat without the protection of a human home.
However, in America in the early part of the 20th century it was commonplace to refer to a non-pedigree household cat as an “alley cat”. Good examples of these cats were developed as show cats and given the more dignified name of “Domestic Shorthair Cats” (DSH for short). These were random bred cats as opposed to purebreds.
Today it is quite normal to show non-pedigree, non-purebred domestic shorthair cats at cat shows as they have their own category. They can be beautiful cats, just as beautiful as any purebred. There’s a nice 1949 quote by a lady whose name is Marguerite Norton in which she said:
“Some people call the Domestic Shorthair cats “alley cats” and try to give the impression that they are not a distinct breed. To the contrary, these cats…have a definite place in the home, in cat shows, and many can be registered like the Persians and the Siamese.”
Not everyone in the cat fancy agreed. Some preferred to remind others of this cat’s humble origins. One of these was a lady whose name is Milan Greer. She wrote in 1961:
“Many cat-fancier associations now recognize a breed of cat known as the Domestic Shorthair. This is merely an alley cat dressed up in show terms. I do not believe that the alley cat should be a show competitor.”
Today I would be surprised if this sentiment still exists. The random bred cat, a.k.a. alley cat, has a place in cat shows and in our hearts.
P.S. Alley cats are nearly always moggies (random bred) but there will be some purebred street cats and in some countries such as Turkey the Angoras and Vans on the street and in the community are not purebred technically but are more genuine that cat fancy versions.
My thanks to Dr Desmond Morris for the quotes in his book: Cat World.