When did Breeding start? It started in the United Kingdom (specifically England) in the late 1800s and the first cat show was in 1871 at the Crystal Palace in South London. It was organised by the father of the Cat Fancy, Harrison Weir.
Around this time the principle of genetics became better understood when Gregor Mendel published his well-known work on the inheritance of dominant and recessive traits. Before then people had bred farm animals and dog companions had been bred for thousands of years before them as utility animals.
Bred For Appearance
People interested in breeding cats – i.e. the cat fancy – began selectively breeding domestic cats for appearance. It is noteworthy that the breeding was not for functional purposes but for aesthetic reasons. The first breeds were the Persians and British Shorthair for instance. The intention was to create certain coat colours. The first cat show featured Persians, Russian Blues, Siamese, Angoras and Abyssinians.
Reasons For First Cat Show
It’s worth making the point that Harrison Weir’s reason for conceiving the idea of a cat show was to allow the public to see the beauty in the domestic cat by observing “the different breeds, colours and markings.”
He wanted to promote the domestic cat. It seems that he wanted also to improve cat welfare through better respect of domestic and stray cats. He even went to the lengths of inviting a friend who hated cats to the first cat show. He met his friend on a train while travelling to the show itself. He was nervous about the show and whether it would be successful. His friend was converted.
“This is not a solitary instance of the good of the first cat show in leading up to the observation of, and kindly feeling for, the domestic cat.”
He wanted to educate the public as well as show off the best cats. Perhaps it is fair to say that today his objectives have been lost because from my experience cat shows are now more like a private club run for cat breeders, by cat breeders. The public can attend but they seem to be an afterthought. Harrison Weir was very fond of British Shorthair cats. He disliked the fact that they will being crossbred with cats such as Persians.
Modern Cat Breeding
As mentioned, in the early days cat breeding was quite an innocent or benign hobby. It has developed into a commercial enterprise although still a hobby enterprise. Sadly the cat associations which sprung up quite soon after the beginning of cat breeding developed some rather strange ideas about how domestic cats could be ‘refined’. This led to extremes such as found in the contemporary Persians and modern Siamese cats. Refinement was based on the aesthetic preferences of senior cat fancy personnel. A poor way to proceed. The cat fancy hates reasonable criticisms.
Number of Breeds
People want to know how many purebred cats there are. You will see umpteen different answers. As I recall, the Cat Fanciers’ Association recognise 44 breeds at at Jan 2019 but in my estimation there are nearer 104 breeds in total. The International Cat Association recognises more breeds than the CFA partly because they recognise wild cat hybrids such as the Savannah and Bengal.
I would argue, in typical human fashion, that cat breeders and the cat associations have lost their way. Having focused exclusively on appearance and de-prioritised cat health and behaviour they ended up with extremes of appearance in some instances with reduced robustness in health such as with respect to Persians and modern Siamese cats. They need to go back to basics as stated by Harrison Weir before the first cat show in 1871 in London.
The first American cat show took place on May 8, 1895. The winner was a brown tabby cat. There were no breeds in 1895. The winning cat was described as a ‘native of America’ which at the time were referred to as ‘Maine cats’. The cat was therefore from the state of Maine and was a brown tabby. The cat may have looked like today’s Maine Coon.
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