The California Spangled Cat caused a controversy when it was launched on a mail-order catalogue cover, but for a while it became a registered breed known for its superb pet qualities as well as its stunning appearance. They were originally bred in the 1980s and were only ever a rare breed. Only 58 were ever registered and the worldwide population appears to have peaked at less than 200. TICA ceased to recognise this breed in 2000 due to lack of progress. There may have been others that were kept as unregistered pets.

They were also expensive, priced between US$800 and $2,500. At one point, the second most expensive cat ever sold was a $24,000 California Spangled. The popularity of two other spotted cats breeds, the Ocicat (derived from Abyssinian x Siamese crosses) and the Bengal (derived from Asian Leopard Cat x domestic cat crosses) overshadowed the development of the California Spangled.

Despite its controversial introduction, it was a legitimate breed that was accepted for registration in The International Cat Association in 1986 and in the American Cat Association in 1991. In both registries, the cats were shown in the New Breed or Colour category. Once the California Spangled reached the registry’s threshold number of registrations, breeders could petition for championship status, making it eligible to compete against other registered breeds.

The breed was considered extinct in by 2000 and its creator died in 2007. The cat fancy now has many spotted, wild-looking cats - Bengal, Serengeti, Savannah, Ocicat, Cheetoh, Spotted Mist, Egyptian Mau. When I did the initial research for this page I found breeders websites and a listing on the TICA website, but a California Spangled Cat breed standard is no longer listed by TICA or ACA.

The Inspiration

Breed creator Paul Arnold Casey, Jr. was a Hollywood scriptwriter, playwright, psychic/mystic and author and after his return from Tanzania, where he had been working with Louis Leakey in the 1970s, his novel, "Open The Coffin" chronicled his journey in Africa and the subsequent breeding that led to the California Spangle. He died 23rd April, 2007 in Los Angeles, aged 60.

Inspired by the poaching death of one of the last breeding leopards in the Olduvai region, the anthropologist Louis Leakey motivated Casey to breed a domestic cat resembling a small leopard or ocelot in order to emphasize how important it was to preserve the leopard and highlight the plight of the small wildcats also being killed for their fur or kept as exotic pets (ocelots, margays etc) in unsuitable conditions.

He decided to breed a cat that resembled a leopard, thus giving the impression of a "House-Leopard". Part of his rationale was that people would not want to wear fur that resembled a family pet. A high price reflected the high status of the California Spangled, hopefully appealing to the same of people who were willing to buy expensive furs as status symbols and fashion statements: “If people have their own spotted cats, they may not want to wear coats that look like their beloved pets.”

The Controversy

The controversy is remembered even after the breed itself is gone. The cat was advertised in the famous Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue in 1986 as “his and her” gifts. Articles about the catalogue appeared in other publications and the cats turned up on news programmes and talk shows. This generated a great deal of interest and a long waiting list for kittens – so much so that the breed creator, Paul Casey, was unprepared for the instant fame and sudden demand - around 350 orders and enquiries.

His novel advertising strategy managed to anger just about everyone, from the radical animal-rights people, who opposed the deliberate breeding of domestic cats, to the cat fanciers, who felt that the three spotted breeds already recognised were enough (by 2016 there are many more spotted breeds). Others believed it reduced the cat to a commodity or “thing” rather than a living creature. Even the Neiman-Marcus folks were upset - they weren’t pleased that Casey was speaking out against wearing furs, something they offered for sale. However some considered it a brilliant strategy to reach a target audience.

Being a reputable company, before they even mailed the catalogues Neiman-Marcus took steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the cats sold through its catalogue. They priced the cats at $1,400 to discourage consumers who might have wanted the cats for their novelty value.

When an order was placed, all potential owners went through a careful screening process involving applications and interviews. These were the same practices that were followed by responsible breeders who advertised cats in more conventional publications. Paul Casey, or one of his representatives, hand-delivered the kittens to the successful applicants. No kittens were dispatched through the postal system as some people believed. Casey also kept in touch with all owners through the California Spangled Cat Association newsletter.

Here’s what some of the papers reported:

“DALLAS (AP) — The Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog this year offers feline firsts for discriminating couples. For $1,400 apiece, the specially bred spotted kittens are billed as a “leopard for your living room.” Neiman’s guideline to seasonal shopping chic in Texas recommends buying a pair. They’re featured as the company’s His-Her gifts. The spotted cats, developed by Paul Casey of Los Angeles, come in a variety of colors. Neiman’s officials concede the California Spangled cat is not a recognized breed, but say that’s in keeping with the Neiman tradition of offering exotic His-Hers gifts each year. […] Ms. Morgan [Pat Morgan, Neiman’s vice president of mail order merchandising] said the cats are not a registered breed, but do come with official papers denoting them as Spangled cats.” - The Kerrville Times, 24th September, 1986

“DALLAS (AP) — Managers of some of the area’s most, exclusive stores say sales of pricey Yuletide gifts, from Russian lacquer boxes to specially bred cats, are as fast-paced as ever this Christmas despite the oil slump. At Neiman-Marcus, long a symbol of Texas wealth, spokeswoman Jan Roberts said. “We are very pleased with Christmas business." Neiman’s made headlines earlier this year with its “California Spangled Cat," a domestic feline bred to look wild and leopard-like. The spotted cats were priced at $1,400 each in the store’s glitzy catalog. “All the cats available for Christmas delivery have already been sold," Ms. Roberts said. ‘We had somewhere over 40, but they have been gone since November. We have a waiting list. But it is into the summer for delivery.’" - The Index Journal, 23rd December 1986

“Humane Society Protests Store’s Designer Kittens.
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) — A humane society has called for a boycott of Neiman-Marcus over the luxury store’s latest catalog offering - “designer kittens” bred with the markings of jungle cats. “Living things are not appropriate catalog items to be bred for a luxury market and sold as high-priced toys,” the Marin Humane Society said in a letter to its 5,500 members.

A spokeswoman for the group, Judy Carroll, said crossbreeding can produce cats with strange dispositions, and warned that those who can afford the $1,400 price for the kittens might be surprised by their behavior. “How do you know how these animals are going to react?” she asked.

The Neiman-Marcus catalog claims its “California Spangled Cat” is gentle, “a purring, affectionate pet with the look of the wild.” The store has had 60 orders across the country for the cats, said Neiman-Marcus spokeswoman Linda Stewart. “It’s mainly for people who want the rare, the unusual gift that no one else has. Right now cats are very popular. Like teddy bears were a few years ago.”

The humane society’s executive director, Diane Allevato, said the sales campaign “infringes on the dignity of the animals.” The cats, offered as “his and hers” gifts, are the creation of a genetic wizard named Paul Casey. He mixed several breeds of domestic cats over 15 years to produce a dazzling array of red, gold, silver, bronze and charcoal-colored kittens.

“All the genetic magic that produces the lush spotted coats oi the world’s big cats has been duplicated for the small, perfect bodies of these leopards for your living room,” the catalog promises.

Neiman-Marcus received five letters of protest after mailing out 2.2 million Christmas catalogs containing descriptions of the kittens, said spokeswoman Carolyn Cobb.

The store is screening would-be buyers by telephone to make sure they are fit to own the cats, she said. “I don’t think anyone who buying one of these cats is just going to let it wander.” - The Kerrville Times, 30th October, 1986

“Neiman's offers good mews for Christmas.
DALLAS (UPI) Neiman’s and Casey concede the cat is not recognized as a separate breed by U.S. cat clubs, but a spokeswoman for the store says its absence of registration is a token of its exclusivity that makes it more desirable. “We’d have no interest if it were a sanctioned breed,” Carolyn Cobb said. [. . .] – Ukiah Daily Journal, 30th September 1986

The Breeding Programme

After returning to the USA in the 1970s, Casey drew up an 11-generation blueprint for his new breed. Although they looked wild, Casey stated that his Spangled Cats had no wild blood in their ancestry and were completely domestic. He developed the first Spangles using eight different breeds, each selected for certain characteristics. He began with a female traditional-style Siamese and a spotted silver Angora. This produced a silver male with block-shaped spots. The Angora genes produced softer fur; the Siamese being noted for their coarser fur. Casey aimed for soft, close-lying fur to show off the dynamic spots to best effect. He then added British Shorthair, American Shorthair, spotted brown tabby Manx, and Abyssinian to create his “core” bloodline.

The Abyssinian and the Siamese are also the parent breeds of the spotted Ocicat, but the programme began with the Siamese and only much later was the Abyssinian added. Several non-pedigree cats contributed certain physical features or personality traits needed for the final breed.

In the final generations, he used street cats from Malaya and Cairo, Egypt that possessed the feral, primitive look he wanted. The Egyptian street cat had a domed forehead, heavy musculature, wide-set eyes, wide-set ears, and well-defined whisker pads. The Malayan cat added musculature and a short, soft, velvety coat to counteract the Siamese coat’s coarser texture. In 1985, he felt he had achieved the desired look and was ready to introduce these cats to the world.

After the death of Casey, suspicions were voiced that undeclared wild cat blood had entered the mix. Casey was known to have acquired a Jungle Cat and he had also purchased two whole litters of Asian Leopard Cat/trad-style Siamese crosses from their breeder in Hollywood. Were these his traditional-style Siamese foundation cats? If so, The California Spangled breeding programme had Asian Leopard Cat blood right from the beginning. Several Bengal breeders believe that the California Spangled is a relative of the Bengal.

Casey spent 10 years perfecting the breed. He kept meticulous computer records on each breeding and found good homes for all kittens.

Feline genetic experts praised his breeding program because of his carefully planned, well-documented approach. Within 10 years the breed was closed to outcrosses, meaning no new blood would be added. According to Casey, he had been approached by breeders of other spotted domestic cat who wanted to add the California Spangle into their breeding programme. Casey did not permit his cats to be used as outcrosses in order to preserve the distinct look of the California Spangle.

Appearance and Temperament

The California Spangled Cat is a medium-large, muscular cat with powerful legs and a head with medium or small rounded ears, prominent whisker pads and open, almond-shaped eyes. Spots should be well defined and may be rounded, square, oval or triangular but not crescent or eyelet shaped. Sharp contrast between the spots and the background colour is desirable. Barring may appear on the legs, chest and head, but the body must be obviously spotted. The coat colours were bronze, gold, blue, brown, charcoal, red, black, silver, or snow. A “rare, highly recessive black spotted Spangle” (melanistic) was also produced, as well as several “Irish Setter Red” kittens with black spots.

Pet-quality Spangled Cat might have ears a bit too large, poor contrast between spots and background colour, white markings at the throat or groin, or green eyes instead of brown. They were slow to mature, reaching full adulthood at 2 years old. Some of the kitten-hood faults might disappear as it “grew into its ears” or moulted its kitten coat.

They moved like powerful, graceful athletes, giving the desired impression of being a miniature leopard. It had a long, lean, somewhat muscular body and a low slung walk.

At that time, the Bengal was only bred in “Leopard” colour (snows and minks would appear later) while Spangled fanciers already accepted nine coat colours, ranging from gold to blue. Several unique colours and patterns emerged, including Snow Leopard (from Siamese ancestry) and King Spangled (marbled). Bengal breeders preferred green eyes while Spangled breeders wanted brown eye tones.

Because it contrasted with other spotted of that time, the California Spangle appeared to fit comfortably into the cat fancy. The Egyptian Mau and the Ocicat both had different conformation and different spotting patterns compared to the Spangle. Although some people confused the Spangle with the Bengal, then in its infancy, the breeds had different facial details and different conformation.

The California Spangled Cat made a good pet. Its lack of wild blood (purchase of ALC/Siamese litters notwithstanding) meant a lack of temperament problems. According to its breed standard, the Spangled Cat was “known for its affectionate and social nature, along with its athletic abilities and keen intelligence. It is energetic without being aggressive.” They loved human contact and generally enjoyed the companionship of other cats and were sociable with dogs. They were also toy-oriented and had sharp hunting skills, enjoying interactive games with their owners.

Owners reported that rather than stretching out on the floor, their Spangles liked to rest in dens until something caught their interest. Some owners reported their Spangles liked high perches and vantage points from which to view activities.

Some of its character traits reinforce the suspicion of Bengal blood introduced from cats petted out as ordinay domestic cats by that early Bengal breeder.

On the Show-Bench

As demand rose, so did the price of show-quality kittens, with some being sold for $2,500. Only a few were ever exhibited. Most of the Neiman-Marcus buyers did not exhibit their cats. The early controversy over marketing meant most show exhibitors were initially reluctant to accept the breed. To encourage showing, breeders frequently favoured kitten waiting list applicants who planned to show and breed the cats.

When these cats competed, they did well. Phil Agler’s Sheba, a golden female, won TICA’s Best of the Best award at the 1987 International Cat Show in Los Angeles. In Europe, Toyon, a bronze female is exhibited by Vanna Tatti in Switzerland. By 1992, several California Spangles were on the show circuit in the USA. However long it survived as a breed, it could at least boast of two International Grand Champions in Europe. In 1994 a Grand Champion California Spangled named Lassik won Best of Show at the summer competition in Paris.

Despite disadvantages in the show ring caused by many judges’ lack of familiarity with the breed, most Spangle breeders proceeded with plans to develop and improve the breed. They were unable to keep up with the demand for kittens, but put the health, quality and integrity of the breed first.

Close communication between California Spangled Cat breeders, meant that no fake or back-yard bred Spangled Cats appeared in the cat world. However the Spangle’s popularity waned as the Bengal, with its wildcat blood, became famous, controversial (for its wildcat ancestry) and more easily available (as breeders founded new lines using new Asian Leopard cat studs).

“1,000 Cats Invade NYC Sports Arena - NEW YORK (UPl) - Madison Square Garden [. . .] More than 1,000 cats and their proud owners will stalk the grounds vying for honors at the vaunted International Cat Show that begins today and is expected to draw 35,000 cat lovers over three days. [. . .] there will be new breeds, such as a gray spotted feline called a California Spangled who was part of a preview Thursday of exotic and not so exotic breeds from as far away as Europe and western Canada.” Tyrone Daily Herald, 23rd January, 1987

Saving Wild Spotted Cats

True to its aims of highlight the plight of wild spotted cats, The California Spangled Cat Association (CSCA) also became involved in conservation issues. Breeder Tony Leonards, on business in Belize in 1988, discovered a poaching operation. A ranch posing as a wildlife sanctuary was involved in the illegal hunting of jaguars, ocelots and margays. The rancher charged $10,000 for hunters — mostly Americans — to shoot drugged cats. Due to the funds and efforts of the CSCA, the rancher stood trial and closed his “sanctuary.”


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