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The Ocicat


by Jim DeBruhl, Sonja Moscoffian, and Shana Otis-Kuhnert

The French writer Fernand Mery said it best: "God made the (domestic) cat in order that humankind might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger." The Ocicat is a breed of cat descended exclusively from pedigreed domestic ancestors that were selectively bred to closely resemble a jungle cat. This breed continues to gain worldwide acceptance and popularity simply because this spotted cat is a successful mimic of its jungle cousins in appearance while possessing a temperament and adaptability which makes it a welcome addition to many households. The innate human desire to somehow co-exist with an animal in the wild has, at one time or another, surfaced in the dreams of most people. It has been said that the Ocicats of today resemble the "Egyptian Fishing Cat" or look remarkably like a direct ancestor of all domestic cats called the "Indian Desert Cat." However, to breed a totally domestic feline that looked similar to a cat in the jungle was not the original goal of the first Ocicat breeder. That part of this breed's history will forever belong to a lady named Virginia Daly.

The first Ocicat literally occurred quite by accident; not an accidental breeding as such, but a breeding that was intended to produce a totally different outcome. On a dare, Mrs. Daly set in motion a plan with her original goal being to produce an Aby-pointed Siamese. She then planned to breed the most promising of this litter back to the Siamese, convinced that the intended outcome could be realized. It is important that a historical perspective be kept in mind. This was the 1950's and 1960's when such "experiments" were viewed somewhat more positively than in today's environment of restrictive breeding laws and animal overpopulation arguments. This was not Mrs. Daly's first attempt to create something "different." Feline breedings engineered by her resulted in lynx pointed Siamese, pinto Siamese, and lavender and chestnut Siamese. To her credit, the results of some of her test breedings produced, in 1950, ACFA's first Grand Champion female flame point Siamese, and by crossing a Siamese with a red Persian she produced the grandmother of the first all-American-bred flame point Himalayan. The production of a "different looking spotted kitten" from one of these breedings was actually even a surprise to her.

The original Dalai Ocicat line began with an offspring of an imported male Aby champion named Raby Chuffa of Selene, who was assumed to have passed the golden gene (presently known as cinnamon, previously known as sorrel) to one of his sons named Dalai Deta Tim of Selene, a ruddy Aby. Chuffa is also listed quite often on Somali pedigrees. Tim was bred to a seal point Siamese female named Dalai Tomboy Patter, a large Siamese even by the standard as written in 1960. The resulting litter were all phenotypically Abyssinian. Mrs. Daly kept only one female from the litter and named her Dalai She, a ruddy Aby-coated hybrid. Still working on a dare and being urged on to achieve the Aby-pointed Siamese, Mrs. Daly bred Dalai She to CH Whitehead Elegante Sun known as "Sunny," a large, wellmuscled chocolate pointed Siamese with dark coloring. In the first litter, and in subsequent litters, the much-sought-after Aby-pointed Siamese were produced along with mackerel tabbies, a lynx point, a solid black, and classic tabbies. In the second litter, a "spotted" kitten was produced and upon seeing it Mrs. Daly's daughter remarked, "It looks like a baby ocelot, let's call him an Ocicat." This baby ocelot look-alike was named Tonga, and on that chilly day in Berkley, Michigan, an entirely new breed of cat was born.

However, Tonga, a spotted cat, was not what Mrs. Daly had set out to accomplish. Remember, the goal was to produce the Aby-pointed Siamese. At this point in time, Tonga just didn't fit into the plan. He was sold as a pet with a neutering agreement to a medical student named Thomas Brown for $10.00. Tonga did have a short CFA show career and was first exhibited at the Detroit Persian Society's 41st CFA Championship show on February 20-21, 1965. He was included as part of a larger entry. There were 16 cats entered in the "Special Exhibit" category and the show catalog advertised them as "breeds of the future." How correct they were!!

A strange turn of events refocused Mrs. Daly's attention on her "spotted" cat. In the midst of corresponding with Dr. Clyde Keeler of Georgia University she mentioned Tonga to him and he informed her in a return letter that he was definitely interested in working with breeders who would be willing to help produce a similar cat to the extinct Egyptian Spotted Fishing Cat. Enthusiastically, he suggested that Tonga remain a whole male and immediately be bred back to his mother. In one letter to Mrs. Daly an entire breeding strategy was planned in which Tonga would play an important role. It must have been a severe disappointment to Dr. Keeler when Mrs. Daly informed him that Tonga could not be used to propagate his own kind. Despite this setback to the future Ocicat program, the possibility of a "new and unique breed" did rekindle Mrs. Daly's curiosity, and from that point on she began to dedicate more and more of her time to those "spotted kids."

Subsequent matings of Tonga's dam, Dalai She, and his sire, Sunny, produced Dalai Dotson, a tawny, which Mrs. Daly did allow to remain as a whole male. Dotson was CFA registered, mainly due to the efforts of the late CFA judge Jane Martinke. The F2 Aby x Siamese recipe that had produced Tonga was repeated and then another step was taken introducing the American Shorthair for body substance, boning, and the breed's silver gene. Darwin, Aruby, and Jobecua Catteries helped form the first network of Ocicat breeders and their cooperative efforts produced Darwin Vierdalai of Dalai who begot Dalai Golden Phoenix and Dalai Sequin whose descendants include GC Dalai Golden Cavalier of Ociville, CFA's first Ocicat grand champion.

The time was still 1966 and this new Ocicat breed was on the verge of moving into Provisional status with CFA. Late in that same year Mrs. Daly and her family became the sole supporters of her aunt whose health was deteriorating, and out of necessity the Ocicat had to wait. Only 99 Ocicats were registered with CFA between the years 1966 and 1980. During those years (still lacking Provisional status with CFA) interest in this new breed was increasing and its cause and well being was adopted by "newcomers" to the cat fancy as well as some older and established breeders. Early in 1984, Ocicats International was organized as an Ocicat Breed Club. Virginia Daly doubled her efforts on behalf of this new breed. Mrs. Daly, Bill McKee, Ann Hollier, Kaye Chambers, Alana and Jim DeBruhl, and Julie and Tyrone Larson were present at the February CFA Board Meeting in Orlando, Florida in 1986. A loud cheer went up from this group when Provisional status was granted; and an even louder cheer was heard throughout the cat fancy when full Championship status was granted the following year. It was during this period of time that the numbers of Ocicats, Ocicat breeders, and Ocicat show exhibitors increased dramatically. Also in 1986, the CFA Ocicat registry was closed to Siamese and American Shorthair cross-breeding; however, Abyssinian cross-breeding is allowed until the year 2005.

Since Championship status was granted, both the number of CFA Ocicat breeders and the number of Ocicats registered and shown have steadily increased. From 1987 to the present date, this breed has moved from the 25th most popular breed shown to occupy a slot as high as 11th most popular breed. To date, a total of 7,395 Ocicats have been registered with CFA and most recently, individual registrations increased from 827 in 1994 to 868 in 1995, indicating that the upward trend is continuing. From CFA's birth statistical records the average litter size is 3.6485 kittens per litter, with an average male to female ratio of 1.9100 to 1.7385. Based also on CFA statistics, the numbers of Ocicats registered by color since 1958 are as follows: chocolate spotted - 2,011; tawny spotted - 1,424; cinnamon spotted - 777; other 774; silver spotted - 753; chocolate silver spotted - 494; the 200 prefix denoting pre-color designations - 359; blue spotted - 196; cinnamon silver spotted - 176; lavender spotted - 161; fawn spotted - 92; blue silver spotted - 68; lavender silver spotted - 64; fawn silver spotted - 46. For show purposes the 12 recognized colors of Ocicats compete in only five color classes and the breed retains an AOV designation as well. The tawny, chocolate, and cinnamon each have a separate color class. All silvers are grouped together and compete in a single color class, and all dilutes compete in a single color class. Following is a complete list of all approved and recognized Ocicat colors and their respective color classes: (Even numbers denote male Ocicats and odd numbers denote female Ocicats) * Color Class 208 and 209 - Tawny Spotted * Color Class 210 and 211 - Cinnamon Spotted * Color Class 216 and 217 - Chocolate Spotted * Color Class 212 and 213 - Ebony Silver Spotted * Color Class 220 and 221 - Cinnamon Silver Spotted * Color Class 226 and 227 - Chocolate Silver Spotted * Color Class 232 and 233 - Dilute Silver Spotted (Blue Silver, Fawn Silver, Lavender Silver) * Color Class 240 and 241 - All Dilute Colors ((Blue, Fawn, Lavender)) * Color Class 248 and 249 - AOV Colors [Note: Above Color Class numbers updated to reflect changes for May 2002 show season] The ocicat's genetics have been influenced by the three breeds used in its creation. The spot colors were derived from the Siamese and the Abyssinian. Genetically speaking, the B gene in the tawny Ocicat also represents the seal in the Siamese and the ruddy in the Abyssinian. The b gene in the chocolate Ocicat was inherited through the Siamese gene pool and the bl cinnamon gene from the red Abyssinian. The d gene, better known as the dilution gene, comes into focus as the blue Ocicat is the gene diluted version of black (tawny), lavender the diluted version of chocolate, and fawn the diluted version of cinnamon. Past cross-breeding to the American Shorthair added the silver inhibitor gene to the Ocicat gene pool. The action of this particular gene is to remove color from the hair shaft and since this is a dominant gene, only one such gene is needed for it to be expressed in the offspring. A silver Ocicat is a tabby with the background color removed by the inhibitor gene and a smoke is a solid with the background color removed.

Barred even from registration with CFA is the pointed Ocicat, better recognized in older pedigrees as the ivory Ocicat. This amese-type patterned gene is recessive and can be passed down many generations without being expressed, but can always be identified because the cat will have blue eyes. The agouti gene, A, is responsible for the ticked effect in the Ocicat and a gene known as the wide-banding gene widens the lighter bands of color on the hair shafts, giving a visually "brighter" color appearance. The expression of this particular gene has led to some Ocicats being misregistered as to their correct color. In order to maintain an accurate registry it remains the goal of all responsible Ocicat breeders to register their cats in the correct color class.

In the event a question should arise regarding the color of a particular Ocicat, the breed council with the approval of the CFA Board recently added to the breed standard that the "tail tip" would be used to identify correct color. It was assumed by the breed council that if, after all other parts of the cat in question had been viewed, a "tie-breaker" was needed to determine once and for all an Ocicat's correct color, the addition of the tail tip portion would provide a definitive answer. This addition should prove especially useful to new Ocicat breeders.

Many people are drawn to this breed simply because of its appearance. The Ocicat is, first and foremost, a spotted, wild-looking cat of medium to large size with well-developed musculature and the suggestion of a stalking animal capable of great speed. Ocicats of both sexes feel heavier than they appear due to boning and dense muscles. Having noticed the athletic prowess and obvious strong build of an Ocicat, many people who meet them for the first time are quite surprised at their agreeable and amenable temperament. This breed loves human interaction so much they will follow along from room to room watching their people during even the dullest of activities. In general, they get along well in groups and with individuals of other breeds as long as their personalities and energies do not conflict. In a single word, they are more "rambunctious" than most longhaired breeds but less kinetic than their Oriental cousins. The Ocicat's temperament, coupled with its environmental adaptability, create for both the one-cat owner and the multi-feline household a truly enjoyable and loving companion. The intelligence of this breed is also quite impressive. Many Ocicats are capable of opening doors; others, in a "dog-like" manner, will fetch; and some are very capable of learning tricks and are more than willing to perform them to an appreciative audience.

Possessing the benefits of such a broad genetic base involving three very distinct breeds, the Ocicat has been successful in avoiding most genetic anomalies or problems associated with inbreeding. Litter size has remained relatively constant over the last decade and Ocicat queens are generally easy to breed and experience few problems during birthing. Ocicat kittens are, in general, very playful but can be quite possessive of their cat toys. It is important that kittens be handled early in life, especially the show prospects in a given litter. As their show career progresses, early conditioning to other humans and to different sounds and smells at least gives them a headstart on developing the pleasing and friendly personality that is imperative in a strong, mature Ocicat.

Even the mature adult Ocicat requires no special diet or excessive grooming. Any well-balanced commercial cat food should provide and meet all the Ocicat nutritional requirements. In preparation for an upcoming show, most breeders recommend bathing an Ocicat on the Wednesday or Thursday prior to the show weekend. A bronze-tone shampoo is suggested for the tawny, chocolate, and cinnamon. A pearl-tone shampoo is suggested for the lavender, blue, and fawn. A whitening shampoo is suggested for the silver Ocicats. Many exhibitors highly praise a chamois cloth for its ability to shine the Ocicat coat, and it can be used as often as needed in the showhall.

The Ocicat's success in the show ring has really been quite phenomenal! Having been granted Championship status just a decade ago, this breed has produced five (5) national winners in the Championship class, a total of seventeen (17) DM's, numerous regional winners, and hundreds of champions, grand champions, premiers, and grand premiers. As a special tribute to the Ocicats who have earned the coveted CFA Distinguished Merit Award and to their dedicated breeders and owners, we salute the following, listed by confirmation date Since Championship status was granted, both the number of CFA Ocicat breeders and the number of Ocicats registered and shown have steadily increased. From 1987 to the present date, this breed has moved from the 25th most popular breed shown to occupy a slot as high as 11th most popular breed. To date, a total of 7,395 Ocicats have been registered with CFA and most recently, individual registrations increased from 827 in 1994 to 868 in 1995, indicating that the upward trend is continuing. From CFA's birth statistical records the average litter size is 3.6485 kittens per litter, with an average male to female ratio of 1.9100 to 1.7385. Based also on CFA statistics, the numbers of Ocicats registered by color since 1958 are as follows: chocolate spotted - 2,011; tawny spotted - 1,424; cinnamon spotted - 777; other 774; silver spotted - 753; chocolate silver spotted - 494; the 200 prefix denoting pre-color designations - 359; blue spotted - 196; cinnamon silver spotted - 176; lavender spotted - 161; fawn spotted - 92; blue silver spotted - 68; lavender silver spotted - 64; fawn silver spotted - 46. For show purposes the 12 recognized colors of Ocicats compete in only five color classes and the breed retains an AOV designation as well. The tawny, chocolate, and cinnamon each have a separate color class. All silvers are grouped together and compete in a single color class, and all dilutes compete in a single color class.

The ocicat's genetics have been influenced by the three breeds used in its creation. The spot colors were derived from the Siamese and the Abyssinian. Genetically speaking, the B gene in the tawny Ocicat also represents the seal in the Siamese and the ruddy in the Abyssinian. The b gene in the chocolate Ocicat was inherited through the Siamese gene pool and the bl cinnamon gene from the red Abyssinian. The d gene, better known as the dilution gene, comes into focus as the blue Ocicat is the gene diluted version of black (tawny), lavender the diluted version of chocolate, and fawn the diluted version of cinnamon. Past cross-breeding to the American Shorthair added the silver inhibitor gene to the Ocicat gene pool. The action of this particular gene is to remove color from the hair shaft and since this is a dominant gene, only one such gene is needed for it to be expressed in the offspring. A silver Ocicat is a tabby with the background color removed by the inhibitor gene and a smoke is a solid with the background color removed. Barred even from registration with CFA is the pointed Ocicat, better recognized in older pedigrees as the ivory Ocicat. This Siamese-type patterned gene is recessive and can be passed down many generations without being expressed, but can always be identified because the cat will have blue eyes. The agouti gene, A, is responsible for the ticked effect in the Ocicat and a gene known as the wide-banding gene widens the lighter bands of color on the hair shafts, giving a visually "brighter" color appearance. The expression of this particular gene has led to some Ocicats being misregistered as to their correct color. In order to maintain an accurate registry it remains the goal of all responsible Ocicat breeders to register their cats in the correct color class.

This breed loves human interaction so much they will follow along from room to room watching their people during even the dullest of activities. In general, they get along well in groups and with individuals of other breeds as long as their personalities and energies do not conflict. In a single word, they are more "rambunctious" than most longhaired breeds but less kinetic than their Oriental cousins. The Ocicat's temperament, coupled with its environmental adaptability, create for both the one-cat owner and the multi-feline household a truly enjoyable and loving companion. The intelligence of this breed is also quite impressive. Many Ocicats are capable of opening doors; others, in a "dog-like" manner, will fetch; and some are very capable of learning tricks and are more than willing to perform them to an appreciative audience.

What an interesting and sometimes adventuresome journey the Ocicat has traveled since that frosty morning in the early 1960's when Tonga was born. Ocicats now occupy homes in 39 states in the U.S. and have crossed international boundaries to new homes in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, England, Holland, Sweden, Italy, Africa, South America, Finland, Thailand, and other countries abroad. Fernand Mery was right when he said, " ...that humankind might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger." To Ocicat breeders and owners that pleasure is a definite and enjoyable reality!

For more information on the Ocicat breed please feel free to contact either of the two active CFA Ocicat breed clubs that publish breed newsletters..