Here we will continue to add articles written by
Patricia N. Warren back in the mid 70's. Because of her hard work and dedication
(and ability to be published), she was instrumental in the Somalis being
recognized in CFA.
I wanted some history behind the author, and who better to
tell us then the author herself!!
MY FIVE YEARS
AS A SOMALI BREEDER 1975-80
By Patricia Nell Warren
It was all June and Steve Negrycz's fault. One weekend in
late 1974, they rode the ferry from Patchogue out to Fire Island, with their two
Abys and one Somali in cat carriers. I happened to be on that same ferry,
heading for my own weekend on the Island. Though intrigued by Abyssinians, I had
never seen one outside of cat books. I had never been to a cat show in my life.
And what about that longhaired one?
Hey...who can resist cat magic? So I went over and
introduced myself to the Negryczes.
They lived in Brooklyn and worked for Harper & Row
as children's book illustrators. The longhaair was June's Dancing Moon. The
Negryczes patiently explained about longhaired Abyssinians, called Somalis. Moon
had glorious ruddy color -- deep coppery-orange. He'd been born from a mating
between two registered Abyssinians they'd bought from Lynn-Lee Cattery in New
Jersey. There were a few breeders, they said, who were struggling to pioneer
this new breed in the face of prejudice and paranoia from some established
Abyssinian breeders. They didn't want it known that their shorthairs threw a
"surprise" longhair now and then.
I was intrigued. Having grown up on a Montana ranch,
I understood what the Negryczes were talking about. For several generations, my
own family had helped pioneer "the new" in cattle and horses. My
greatgrandfather helped introduce Shorthorn cattle and Thoroughbred horses to
the West. My dad had been one of the top U.S. breeders of Hereford cattle and
Belgian horses. At home our walls were hung with rosettes from top shows across
North America. My childhood was spent at the show ring, 4-H meetings and
stockgrower conventions. Breeds can come to represent a lot of tradition and
conservatism. Anybody with a new idea can be regarded as a threat.
At the time, age 39, newly divorced, back into horses on a small
scale (a few show jumpers), and involvement in wild-animal conservation, I
wasn't looking for a third critter thing to jump into. But cat magic got me --
the beauty of these small cats. There was that fox-like appearance of the
Somali, with bushy tail and ruff and ear tufts that enhanced the lithe
Result: I found myself at the next local cat show,
which happened to be the Brooklyn Cat Fanciers CFF show.
There I met some of the other pioneers, who were
exhibiting as a tight-knit phalanx. Among them were Ina and Marty Rauch of L'Air
de Rauch Cattery, and SCCA vice president Marge Hoff of Margus Cattery. Most
notably, there was SCCA founder/president herself, Evelyn Mague of Lynn-Lee.
Evelyn had been an Aby breeder for many years. She
told me the story of her best Aby sire, Lynn-Lee's Lord Dublin, and how he
carried the recessive gene for long hair, from somewhere back in his pedigree.
"Dubbies," as she called him, sired the Negryczs' cats, so he transmitted LH to
them, resulting in the birth of Dancing Moon. For years, Evelyn had been the
sole U.S. breeder who stuck her neck out and championed the Somali. Putting up
with endless slings and arrows, she had painfully, quietly collected a few
foundation cats from Aby breeders -- the few who didn't follow the customary
practice of quietly "getting rid of" longhair kittens. One early ally of
Evelyn's was Canadian cat judge Ken McGill (Dunedin Cattery), who started his
Somali bloodline with a first-generation longhair from the May-Ling line of
Abys, and began the Somali's acceptance process in the CCA.
As the Somali Cat Club of America formed up, a few
novice breeders had joined these early veterans. When kittens became available,
Evelyn placed them with SCCA's charter members.
I was hooked.
Joining SCCA, I registered the cattery name Foxtail.
This name was meaningful because, in the Western ranch world, foxtail is a pesky
but beautiful species of grass, whose silky seed-heads are shaped exactly like
Somali tails. Then I put myself on the club's waiting list for a Somali kitten.
One day in early 1975 I drove to the Rauchs' home on Long Island, and became the
owner of a sweet-tempered ruddy half-grown kitten named L'Air de Rauch's Rocky
Raccoon. Rocky was already a 3rd generation Somali, and had both U.S. and
Canadian cats in his background. That show season of 1975-76, Rocky became 2nd
Best SCCA Somali.
It's difficult for young breeders today, whose world
is so crowded with a global diversity of recognized breeds, to imagine the
mid-70s. In CFA, then the giant among cat-fancy associations, a handful of
long-established breeds ruled the roost. Norwegian Forest Cats, Ragdolls,
Tonkinese and many others were still struggling for acceptance. All kinds of
political roadblocks loomed in the way of getting a new breed or color accepted.
But smaller associations, fighting to build their membership, were blessedly
more open to new breeds. Somalis were allowed to compete as "experimentals," so
judges and breeders could get to know them.
So I joined the tiny phalanx. Show after show, we
were armed with our pamphlets and our best arguments why the Somali should be
recognized. The Rauchs always came armed with bags of fresh bagels and pounds of
cream cheese, and kept our energies from flagging.
Many judges and Aby breeders looked at our cats and
sniffed. "Poor quality. Dark roots...light ticking...ugh. You'll never make it."
Yes, quality was a problem. Top Aby breeders weren't
letting us have any top-quality Somalis that they might get. They weren't even
letting us have Aby kittens or stud service, so we could upgrade. Most SCCA
members were novices to the fancy. Established breeders felt they had too much
to lose by getting involved with us. In a word, "Somali" meant "kiss of death."
But our numbers grew. In the East, outstanding
novice breeders like John and Betty Bridges (Santgria Cattery) joined up. In the
Midwest, we picked up outstanding additions like the Harrisons (Winery Cattery)
and the Morrisons (Nephrani Cattery). Then, in the West, the first established
breeder, Ann Kimball of Millcreek Cattery, known for her top American
Shorthairs, joined us. The first British and European breeders got in touch, the
first being Mrs. Jutta Broisch of Cologne, to whom I sold a cat. Then several
Japanese breeders. Australian Somali breeders didn't import any cats from us,
because of the horrendously long quarantine there, but we established fond links
Meanwhile we pushed into pedigree research. New York
breeder Walter del Pellegrino (Touch of Class Cattery) shared my interest in
this. All first-generation Somalis seemed to have a similar pedigree background,
pointing to post-World War II foundation registrations -- mystery cats like the
ones behind Roverdale Purrkins in Britain and Begus von Orient in Germany. An
unregistered shorthaired foundation cat could easily carry the longhair
recessive, and transmit it down the line to its descendants.
It was sometimes said that Somali breeders became a
model for how to get a breed recognized. And we did it in record time.
Though we had our in-club cat-fights, SCCA members
were animated by a fierce esprit de corps. The SCCA newsletter, first edited by
club secretary June Negrycz, educated its members about grooming, show
etiquette, ethics. We organized big turnouts at shows, so judges and breeders
could see large classes. We created professional information materials, and
urged our members to get professional portraits of their cats, instead of
relying on snapshots. SCCA's monthly ad in cat publications showcased our Best
Cat each year.
Soon we were on a roll -- recognized in ACFA, Crown,
CFF, NCFA, ACA, TICA. And we were closing fast on CFA. We could register in CFA
now, and worked feverishly to get registrations up to quota, so we could apply
for championship status. Evelyn was always urging, working, tracking our
process in half a dozen different associations.
SCCA members knew our cat had to be upgraded, if it
was to compete with the best in its parent breed, let alone the best of other
breeds. Our professionalism was winning support among some CFA judges and board
members, including Dick Gebhardt, CFA president and celebrated show judge. To
help us upgrade, and in recognition that our gene pool was too small, CFA
allowed us to start breeding back to Abys, provided that shorthaired offspring
of these matings be registered as Somalis, never as Abys.
As a writer, I had big dreams for the breed, and
accepted Evelyn's challenge to help promote our foxy-tailed upstart. My goal
was do a Somali propaganda article for every single cat publication. With time
my byline appeared in Cat's Magazine, All Cats, Cat Fancy, CFA Yearbook,
Cat-Tab, Die Edelkatze, and others. It was Cat World that published my article
on Pellegrino's and my pedigree discoveries.
After that, old-time Aby breeders started writing
us, to fill in gaps in our history. From California, the venerable Janet
Robertson (Roverdale Cattery) wrote me to confirm that the mystery mother of
Roverdale Purrkins was a ticked cat that a British sailor brought home from
somewhere during World War II. German breeder Dr. Brigitte Leonhardt wrote me
the wonderful story of the humble Philippine origins of Pilo von Manila, who
traveled back to Europe with her to become the foundation sire of the Von
Orient line in Germany. Indeed, the emerging science of population genetics,
and some intriguing studies done by cat-loving scientists, showed that Far
Eastern streets abounded in cats with agouti (ticked) coats. This suggested
that tales of the Abyssinian's "noble roots in Egyptian temples" were a myth.
Writing about cats was fun. But I had big dreams as
By 1977, I had gotten rid of the show horses, and
settled on a 12-acre rural property in Pawling, New York. The place was located
45 minutes' drive from my book editor job at the Reader's Digest head office.
Here I teamed up with a friend and noted conservationist,
Reg Riedel, and we plowed our money into a model cat-breeding facility. Under
the first permit ever given to private breeders by New York State Fish & Game,
I assisted Reg's program of breeding endangered species of small wildcats. This
was done under guidelines being evolved in cooperation with the Convention in
Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) by an international task force of zoos,
animal parks, private breeders, biologists, government wildlife personnel, etc.
Our goal was to help keep rare small cats like tigrinas, Geoffroys cats, etc.
from going into extinction.
Around the central building, large outdoor runs were
landscaped like natural habitats, with trees, logs and rocks. This was a new
concept, and Reg helped to pioneer it -- it contributed to his success in
breeding sensitive species. Later on, many big zoos would build this kind of
attractive habitat enclosure.
But I also bred Somalis there, in a different area
of that wonderful facility. (Wildcats and domestic cats did not mix, mainly
because wildcats view domestic cats as dinner.) Pawling veterinarian Dr.
Charles Frumerie smoothed the way for us locally (we complied with local
ordinances, and never had any legal trouble because of the wildcats). Dr.
Frumerie became a loyal supporter and our vet in attendance. With time, Foxtail
became a popular place to visit on Sundays. We kept the coffeepot on for local
folks who wanted to see the wildcats.
At Foxtail I put into action everything learned as a
kid in the livestock business.
With Dr. Frumerie's help, I started with good animal
care and management. Combination vaccinations against distemper and
upper-respiratory disease had just come on the market. New antibiotics were
available to fight URIs. Catteries were faced with the urgent need to start
FELV testing -- feline leukemia had recently been identified, and at that time
there was no vaccine or treatment. Feline infectious peritonitis was also newly
identified. Though it wasn't clear what you could do about FIP, I began a
practice of removing cats from my breeding program and finding pet homes for
them if they weren't 100 percent robust or didn't produce robust offspring.
My inspiration came from Mother Nature, who lets
only "the fittest" breed. Foxtail had a low kitten mortality, because of its
rigorous health policy.
One radical innovation was diet. I fed the domestic
cats the same diet that Reg gave his small wildcats. This was a custom "grind"
of raw beef hearts and chickens (skin, bone and all), with vitamins added.
Wildcats develop osteoporosis in captivity, and wild kittens simply don't
survive, if they don't get raw bone -- cooked bone won't do. With all due
respect for the convenience of canned or dry cat food, domestic cats still have
some of that wildcat need for a high calcium intake, and don't get it from
cooked bone products in standard cat foods. So Reg and I installed freezers and
a restaurant-grade meat-grinder, and made our monthly trip to local meat
wholesalers. (Today, with so much salmonella danger in poultry, this type of
raw grind might not be advisable.)
My domestic cats also got lots of exercise in those
big runs. l didn't believe in keeping show cats caged. Horse breeders know that
mares and colts need big pastures to run in. Human athletes know that exercise
promotes high bone density. There were a lot of light-boned show cats around,
and I was convinced they got that way because of little exercise and a diet
deficient in raw bone.
As a result, our show cats had a recognizable
"God," said one judge, as he thunked one of my
Somalis onto his table. "How do you get bone like this?"
He gently thunked the cat a few more times, so
spectators could hear that satisfying sound of a solid-boned cat's paws hitting
Above all, I laid out a 5-year breeding program. To
succeed as a breeder, you have to be honest with yourself about where you are,
and where you want to go, and how you're going to get there. And you can't spare
the cost. It's no different than trying to breed a horse that will win the
Kentucky Derby. There aren't any short cuts.
First I collected the best in existing Somali
bloodlines, and mixed them and matched them to see what happened.
I was after good outcrosses. Enough linebreeding and
inbreeding had already been done in the Abyssinian. Indeed, it was often an Aby
linebreeding or inbreeding that threw a Somali, because the two parent cats were
closely related and both carried the recessive longhair allele. In my opinion,
close breeding had resulted in a loss of vigor in the Abyssinian itself, and by
extension in the Somali. Livestock breeders favor outbreds, because when you
breed too close, you start seeing a rise in congenital problems and a loss of
vitality and good health. Here too, Mother Nature gave the example -- She
doesn't tolerate inbreeding in the wild.
The good ruddy color in Lynn-Lee cats consistently
bred true, and eventually I found the sire I was looking for. This was
Tir-Na-Nog's Grand Canyon, whose pedigree was heavy on Lynn-Lee. He came to me
light-boned and wispy from being caged by his previous owner. After six months
of wildcat living, he glowed with new energy and substance, and went on to tie
for SCCA Best Somali in 1978.
As for females, I had several good ones, including
J.R.R. Prairie Rose and Marron's Long 'N' Silky. But my best queen came from
Andrea Balcerski of Lapinchat Cattery. This bloodline was characterized by a
floating silky coat, not the heavy fleece-like coat seen on some Somalis. The
Lapinchat coat showed off that lithe Aby body without hiding it, with long
floating ear tufts and awesome tail brushes. The line also had consistent
clarity, color, and many-banded ticking. Andy had bred an outstanding foundation
Somali, Sammy Sun, and I told her I wanted a female as good as Sammy. She sold
me Lapinchat's Kat Dancer.
From Grand Canyon X Kat Dancer, I got a litter of
two show-quality males in September 1978. One of these males, Foxtail's Golden
West, was exported to Japan where he helped establish the breed. The other,
Foxtail's Rio Grande, had everything good from the old Somali lines, all in one
outgoing high-energy package.
But Somali breeders were looking to capture genetic
material from Aby "forbidden territory" as well. If we got our hands on that, we
could beat the best everywhere.
As it happened, the leading Abyssinian breeders at
that time, Carl Smith and Rita Rerat, owners of Soketumi Cattery, had recently
been won over to the Somali cause. Carl and Rita owned Anshent-Won's Manani, and
had shown him to CFA Best Cat and Best Aby. Manani had sired Soketumi Samadari,
who had just gone Best Cat/Best Aby. This grand slam was a first in Aby history,
as far as I know. To me, the magnificent Manani, with his fiery ruddy color,
ticking, clarity and type, represented everything outstanding in the parent
breed -- plus he had proven ability to transmit good stuff to his offspring.
Carl and Rita happened to be friends of mine, and
offered me a stud service to Manani. I sent Kat Dancer over to their Long Island
cattery. Of the kittens from that mating, I kept a ruddy female "shorthair
Somali" named Foxtail Shoshone. Carl and Rita also had some amazing red Abys,
and offered to help me with a red Somali program. (At that time, many red
Somalis were not as good as our ruddies.) This was the kind of support that,
years ago, SCCA had only dreamed of.
Meanwhile, in May 1979, the timing was perfect for
Rio Grande. He had just turned 8 months old, ready for the adult division, and
CFA had just opened championship status to the Somali. As I recall, Donna Davis
was the first CFA judge who had the courage to make a Somali her Best Cat. Best
Cat! Music to our ears! We were in the big time now!
After neck-and-neck competition with Nephrani's
Kubla Khan, an outstanding cat bred by the Morrisons, Rio edged ahead, becoming
the first Somali to grand. Khan granded the following weekend.
Those were the days when CFA rules still allowed
exhibitors to "campaign" cats for the national awards. It meant a grueling
schedule of shows every weekend. The practice was already controversial. But
Rio loved motel rooms. No cat I ever showed was such a relaxed performer on the
show table. Carl and Rita encouraged me. So I decided to "go for the Derby,"
and campaigned Rio with some royalty money from bestselling novels.
It went like this: You studied the show schedule,
entered two or three shows each weekend, then called the show secretaries on
Friday to see which show had the most champions entered. Then off you went to
the show where you had a chance of the most points. (Hopefully you remembered
to cancel any alternative motel and travel reservations you'd made.) My driving
limit to a show was 3 hours, and I drove a Vega station wagon into the ground
Farther than that, Rio and I went by air. I would
finish my Friday at the Reader's Digest, drive to Foxtail to pick up Rio and
show kit, then drive an hour to Kennedy or LaGuardia Airport. From there I'd
fly to Houston or Seattle or Louisville or Tampa or wherever, then bathe and
groom Rio in the motel room in the middle of the night. Sometimes I arrived
back at Foxtail at 7 a.m. Monday morning to drop Rio off, shower and drive to
work. Reg had fed my Somalis while I was gone.
At the end of that exciting 1979-80 season, with a
growing number of top judges putting Somalis up, and growing support among top
breeders, Somalis made a big sweep in their first year. Many Somalis made
all-breed and specialty wins. Now and then, I'd notice that happy look in
Evelyn Mague's eyes. Rio wound up Best CFA Somali and 19th Best CFA Cat...the
first Somali to make the national all-breed awards.
Me I was exhausted and broke. In fact my cat was in
better shape than I was. But Foxtail's wall of rosettes looked like the one
back home at the ranch.
My dad was bemused. When I told him I'd just sold a
show kitten for $1000, he grinned wryly. The cattle market hadn't been good,
and he was getting 60 cents a pound for a 1000-pound steer. "Hell, I'm in the
wrong business," he said.
It was a truism that cat fanciers averaged five years
in the fancy. One exception was Evelyn Mague, who'd been there since the Year 1
and was still going strong, with outstanding cats like Lynn-Lee's Catfish. But
June and Steve Negrycz had already eased out, devoting themselves to Animal
Farm, their new clothing business. Marge Hoff and the Rauchs were no longer
I had started in 1975 -- now it was 1980. The
breeding program was paying off. My Manani daughter, Shoshone, had been bred to
Grand Canyon, and produced a good litter. The one I had kept was Foxtail's Big
Big Sky had everything I'd been working to get. As a
kitten, at the National Cat Show in Madison Square Garden, he became the first
Somali ever to make a Best of the Best win, under Dick Gebhardt. By the time Big
Sky entered adult competition in the 1980-81 season and granded in two shows,
many people felt he would be a contender in the national awards "Derby" that
But I suddenly had lost my enthusiasm for the horse
Animal breeding takes a lot of time, as well as
physical and emotional energy. I suddenly wanted to put that time and energy
into more books, not more show rosettes. About that time, Random House offered
me a lucrative contract to write a Western historical novel. My health was not
good (eventually I was diagnosed with Lyme disease.)
The choice was clear.
Norwegian Aby breeder Kate Reinert had written me
for a couple of years, telling me she hoped to buy my best cat. She got Gr. Ch.
Foxtail's Big Sky. While he was sitting out six months in a private quarantine
station that Kate built him, I was dispersing the rest of my breeding stock. Rio
Grande went to Debbie and Larry Ritter of Silamos Cattery, who had been breeding
some excellent cats. They showed Rio for a while as a premier (he never failed
to "work" the crowd.) By spring of 1981 -- right on schedule, five years from
when I started -- I was out of showing.
Our Pawling property sold. Reg moved his wildlife
breeding operation (which now included rare birds) to a new property at Carmel,
N. Y. I went to California, and started writing the novel.
There were no regrets. I got my health back, and
wrote more books.
Copyright (c) by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.
Now and then, cat news reached me in the book world.
Big Sky won all over Europe, and sired good kittens for Kate. Grand Canyon
became the first DM sire in the breed, and Shoshone the first DM dam. In 1991,
while I was in Colorado Springs for a writers conference, the Ritters came to
visit and brought 13-year-old Rio with them. He was creaky, but still full of
zip and charm. Finally, one day two years ago, an email message came from
Debbie. Subject: "My Best Cat." Even before I read it, I knew that Rio had died,
after a long life in a loving home.
Times have certainly changed. TICA has grown to
giant size. Campaigning as I knew it is gone. Growing veterinary sophistication,
rising costs, new diseases and congenital problems, zoning regulations, media
coverage, the Internet, DNA testing -- as well as paradigm shifts in how
breeding and animal care are perceived by the public --make today's cat fancy a
different world from the fancy I knew.
What hasn't changed is cat magic. It still pulls me
back now and then, to write about felines for different publications...including
SCCA & SBFA web sites and Newsletters.
Hopefully no one is offended if they find their
names omitted from this brief memoir. It's not for lack of appreciation, just
lack of room. I'm happy to know of renewed SCCA interest in the Somali's early
history, and in the hard work and friendships that got our breed going in those