CATS AND CAT CARE - 1940s: GENERAL NOTES

This article is part of a series looking about cats and cat care in Britain from the late 1800s through to the 1970s..

INTRODUCTION

Much has been written about cats over the years and it is interesting to consider past views in the light of modern developments. For instance, in "Origin of Species" (1859), Charles Darwin wrote "...cats from their nocturnal habits, cannot be so easily matched [bred] and although so much valued by women and children, we rarely see a distinct breed long kept up." By the 1940s, things were very different - there were a number of distinct breeds and the science of genetics was soon to play a part in the scientific breeding of cats.

MAJOR SOURCES:

Cox-Ife, Grace; "Questions Answered About Cats" (1947)
France, Sydney W; "Siamese Cats" (1949)
Soderbergh, P M; "Your Cat" (1951) (using 3rd edition; 1959)

Other sources are as credited in the text with additional personal information and commentary.

THE END OF THE 1930s

Evelyn Buckworth-Herne-Soame, in her book "Cats: Long-Haired and Short, Their Breeding, Rearing and Showing" (1933), wrote of breeding for colour: "In breeding pedigree cats of different colours, the first thing to remember is to mate colour to colour - cream to cream, black to black, and so on. ... Anyone owning a tortoiseshell female or queen, as we call them in the fancy, will find her a positive bundle of charms, for she produces kittens of several colours - reds, creams, blacks, and tortoise-shells - in fact, the colours contained in her own brightly patched coat. But again, her kittens must mate with studs of their own particular colour."

Of the Tortoiseshell and White Persian, she says "This is a most picturesque and fascinating variety. It is a great pity there are not more of them. Fanciers are hampered in having none, or very few, males of the species or I am certain the breed would go ahead very quickly." Black and Whites, or Magpies were described as "So scarce that shows never give a class for them, thus making things difficult for anyone trying to work the breed up. At present, black and whites have to be entered in the 'Any Other Colour' Class." while "A Smoke is one of the most handsome cats living; he is also very strong and very affectionate. His light silver undercoat is all tipped with black, while his frill, flanks and ear tufts show up pale and silvery against his body coat. His face , head and paws must be jet black. Add to these points his grand copper eyes, and no more charming variety of longhair cat can be found. One of the chief failings in this charming variety is tabby marking on the face."

Buckworth-Herne-Soame quotes H C Brooke's earlier works on the Abyssinian cat; Brooke was a leading breeder and experienced judge who contributed to Frances Simpson's 1903 "Book of the Cat" as well as writing his own pamphlet on Abyssinian cats. His views are detailed in the retrospective article covering the 19th Century to the turn of the 20th Century. The Abyssinian had gained in popularity although the silver Abyssinian (called the Chinchilla Abyssinian by Weir) was still causing controversy.

Capt W H Powell, cat fancier and experienced judge, wrote of the Abyssinian in 1938: "There is no other breed of cat against which nothing can be laid in the way of disparagement. The coat of the Persian requires constant attention and the shortness of his nose renders him liable to sniffles. The Siamese is immune from the coat trouble, but even its most ardent admirers must sometimes wish her vocal powers were less well developed. The quiet, unassuming Abyssinian combines all the good points and none of the failings of his more widely advertised relations." However of the "Silver Abyssinian" (which was controversial right from the 1880s) he wrote "I hope it will never again be allowed in the show pen."

A Mrs H W Basnett's contribution to "Fur, Feather, Rabbits and Rabbit Keeping" (1938) read "The typical Abyssinian has a long, lithe body, showing well-developed muscular strength, and the beauty of the long, fine head is accentuated by luminous, almond-shaped eyes. The whole head is set off by large ears, broad at the base, which, while matching the feet and legs in colour, are tipped with a darker shade. The coat is short and close-lying, of a rich, tawny brown colour, and instead of being striped or barred, each hair is 'ticked' with black or brown, i.e., two or three bands of colour on each hair being preferable to a single ticking'. The feet and legs must be clean colour, free of barring and toning with the body colour, whilst the under parts of the body should preferably be an orange-brown to harmonise with the main colour."

ABOUT CATS - A 1940s VIEW

In 1947, Cox-Ife wrote somewhat poetically of the history and domestication of cats.

"We may get a hint here and there in the fact that all embryo kittens are tabby marked, indicating a common ancestor that inhabited grass jungles; in the expanding pupil of the eye, so well adapted for night foraging through darkened undergrowth; in the snake-like hiss with which even newly-born blind kittens will greet the approach of an unfamiliar creature - protective mimicry harking back to a far-distant past shared with the dreaded snakes. This power of imitating the snake embraced not only those reactions to threatened danger - the hiss and the arched back - but was also utilised during that moment when the cat was least able to be aware of the approach of an enemy, the moment when, having stalked its prey; all its faculties were concentrated on preparation for the spring. At such a moment the cat would have no attention to spare for anything except ensuring that its leap would be correctly timed and aimed. The observer of a stalking cat must often have wondered why, at such time when absolute stillness might be expected, the cat’s tail is switched rapidly from side to side in exact imitation of a snake about to strike.

I have never come across a satisfactory explanation of this habit, but it seems to me not unreasonable to suppose that having, so to speak, adopted the snake as its mascot, the cat, as might be expected in a creature whose intelligence ranks next to that of man and monkey, made a thorough job of things, and adopted this method of warning off any enemy who might be inclined to take advantage of its momentary preoccupation, by using its tail (the one member not required for the business in hand) to create the illusion of the most feared of jungle dwellers - the striking snake."

She adds, "In the last twenty years the finest exhibition cats in Europe, and many or the best specimens in America, have been English bred. At the present time, in spite of losses through war and the lack of shows, the interest in cats is greater than ever before in this country."

On choosing a suitable pedigree cat as a pet, Cox-Ife states "Light-coloured cats are more trouble to keep clean in a town," and advised that Siamese and Manx are more demanding of attention, while the Persian is more placid. The British Shorthair is described as trim and neat to which she adds, "Good British cats are scarce and if you want a hobby that is not too easy you might like to try and improve the existing stock".

When asked what pedigree breed makes the best mouser, Cox-Ife replies that mousing is not confined to any particular breed and that some cats catch mice; others don’t. However she notes that Siamese are keen hunters. Interestingly, she also links coat colours to mousing abilities, with reds, tortoiseshells, and short-haired blues being better at mousing than other colours!

AFTER WWII - SAVING BREEDS & THE CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS OF CAT FANCIERS

GIVE US YOUR SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO REVIVE THE LESS POPULAR BREEDS [after WW2] Fur and Feather, 11th April, 1947
By Cyril Yeates
Mr. Basnett’s article in a recent FUR AND FEATHER deals with a matter of the greatest importance and will, I hope, have good results. I agree with him that the Governing Council should take steps to try to revive the "distress" breeds and I will raise the matter at the April meeting and, if necessary, call a special meeting to arrange in what way help can best be given. The whole matter of reviving, the-almost extinct breeds bristles with difficulties. In the good old days there were in the Fancy a number of wealthy cat breeders who lived in big houses with big grounds and big staffs and breeding on a. big scale was for them comparatively easy. There are very few of those left and many present-day fanciers live in flats. Even in the good old days the number of wealthy families was in the minority and the men or women who owned one or two cats were the backbone of the Fancy. It is, I think, to these small fanciers that we must look to revive the less popular breeds and whom we must strive to help.

As things are at present there is little to encourage anyone to breed, for example, Orange-eyed Whites, Smokes or Silver Tabby Longhairs or any British Shorthairs. Although I believe there is a market for almost any kitten to-day, it is nevertheless much easier to sell Blue Longhairs and Siamese at a better price than any others. What inducement is there for anyone to exhibit cats of the less popular breeds? If anyone enters a cat it generally means that he receives a courteous letter from the show secretary saying that as there are so few entries - or that his is the only entry in the class - the committee regrets that the class will have to be cancelled or amalgamated unless the exhibitor is willing to guarantee it. If it is a class for male and female and the exhibitor wants it separated he will, as a rule, be asked to guarantee both classes, unless he can find someone to guarantee the female class if it is the male you are interested in. This is one obstacle that must be surmounted somehow.

The G.C.C.F. guarantees some classes at all championship shows. I think it should guarantee more, even if it has to cut down expenditure in other directions. One obvious economy would be for the Council to give a championship certificate in place of the silver medals now awarded. Mr. Basnett speaks of premiums and there are possibilities in that direction. It might be a good idea to have premium classes at every show confined to the breeds it is desired to encourage. For these classes there would be no entry fee and no prizes, but points could be allotted to the first three and at the end of the season the G.C.C.F. could award premiums to the breeders scoring the most points.

This is only a suggestion; I have not had time to think out details, but it seems to me that there are possibilities along those lines. Such a scheme will cost money, which will have to be found. The G.C.C.F. has not boundless wealth and could not bear the full burden. Mr. Basnett suggests "a special fund which could be contributed to by anyone interested." Why not? Everything should be done to encourage fanciers to exhibit their cats. I think the ban on sending cats to shows by rail if unaccompanied by their owners should now be removed. This was a war-time regulation put in force at a time when transport was very uncertain. It has now improved greatly and should soon be back to normal. With the present rule in force many small fanciers are debarred from showing, either because they are unable to leave home or cannot afford train and hotel expenses on the top of entry fees.

If reasonable precautions are taken cats sent by rail come to no- harm. More often than not queens have to travel unaccompanied when visiting the stud, so why not to a show? Cats should always be sent off early enough for the railway to deliver them the same day, but it is better still if arrangements can be made for someone to meet them at the station and take them to the hall. Show managers are not anxious to go back to the old system as having no rail cats to deal with saves them a lot of trouble, but I think they should be prepared to put the good of the Fancy before all personal consideration. In the meantime no more cats or kittens must be sent out of the country until our stocks are bigger. This should be as Mr. Basnett says "a code of honour for post-war breeders."

MARKETS HAVE TO BE MAINTAINED Fur and Feather, 11th April, 1947
I was sorry to read articles in FUR AND FEATHER by Mr. Yeates and Jay Mr. Basnett which decry the export of cats and kittens from this country and seek to make it a point of honour for breeders not to do so in future. Surely they realize that markets have to be maintained and that if we refuse the overseas buyers now they can hardly be expected to mark time until we are ready for them. Cats are prolific breeders, or should be, and well able to supply the demand at home and abroad. In the past six months I have sent three kittens, two Creams and one Blue Cream by Ch Waddington Warden, to Madam Ravel of Paris, and next week a young Cream queen by Warden and mated to him is sailing on the Queen Elizabeth to join Miss Hydon's cattery. I also have kittens booked from Holland and Denmark but there still will be kittens of the same breeding available for sale at home. None of us would be so stupid to export irreplaceable stock. Be assured a demand will create a supply. Let Mr. Yeates and others of the G.C. work to popularise the lesser known breeds and I am sure cats and kittens of these varieties will be forthcoming to meet the demand. Let us not begrudge the Blue and Siamese breeders the outstanding position they hold in the Cat Fancy to-day, but go all out to emulate them. – M. Sheppard

PRACTICAL CAT BREEDING IN THE 1940s

Both Cox-Ife and France write about the practicalities of breeding. Descriptions of calling, pregnancy, giving birth and of housing are familiar even today, but one notable difference is the sending of the queen (female) to the stud (male) by rail, and often unaccompanied. The thought of unaccompanied queens travelling to the stud is an odd one in the age of cars and planes. Back in the early days of cat shows, cats were often sent to shows in much the same way and there are reports of the cats being returned to the wrong owners.

In the late 1940s, females in heat were often sent unaccompanied by rail to the stud's owner. Cox-Ife advises that it is best for the owner to take the female, but that many cats do travel unaccompanied quite safely if properly packed and labelled. She provides diagrams and instructions for a suitable travelling box if a suitably sized basket is not available. If a hamper is used, the owner is advised to fold some strong brown paper round the sides and tie in place with string and to ensure that the fastening of the box or hamper is made secure with string so that it cannot come open accidentally on the journey.

The box, hamper or basket had to be clearly labelled; with two labels; one on top and the other in some fairly prominent position. The stud owner’s name and address must be printed clearly on both labels, and her telephone number, if known, as well. Quite obviously the label must state the name of the destination railway station. The owner's name and address should be added in smaller letters prefaced by the word "From." (in case the cat must be returned or is not collected). Very importantly, the owner must firmly paste a large LIVESTOCK label on the lid of the hamper or box.

If all the arrangements have been made with the stud owner well before the female comes into season, it is only necessary to send the stud owner a wire (telegram) or make a telephone call as soon as the female comes into season, stating time, date and station of arrival. The stud owner uses the same method to notify the owner when the cat is returned, usually after two or three days and the cost of the return journey is added to the stud fee.

France also writes about sending cats by rail and mostly reiterates Cox-Ife regarding the type of box and the arrangements for collection and return. However, he evidently had less faith in rail travels since he complains that "the use of boxes for sending Siamese on journeys is surely to be deprecated. The Railway people are absolutely excellent with livestock, but only when the livestock is plainly marked as such, and is carried in the conventional container for the type of livestock, will it travel safely with absolutely no delay."

Part of his concerns may have been the potential uncertainty over whether the female had been mated to the correct stud since he wrote that many litters of Siamese kittens were destroyed by naive Siamese owners who didn't realise that Siamese kittens are born white and develop their points as they grow. The owners not only unwittingly destroyed purebred kittens, they also accused stud owners of fraudulently mating the Siamese female to white mongrel cats and demanded their stud fees back.

Cox-Ife, a breeder for many years, believed that a stud cat should have a permanent companion to share his quarters. She wrote that all of her stud cats had their own wives and that they were much happier with this companionship. When the kittens were a few weeks old the whole family lived together. She found that most males were "devoted fathers and take great pride in their kittens. It is unkind to deprive a male cat of this natural happiness. A few exceptional males might be found unsuited to family life, but you would soon discover if such was the case." When visiting queens arrive to be mated, the stud cat is moved to a separate house to receive his visitor and before being put back with his own family he should be disinfected. 

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