Somalis - The First Decade and Beyond
by Debbie & Larry Ritter
From 1990-91 CFA Yearbook
Where did the Somali first originate and how are they different from the ever popular Abyssinian? The original Somalis were born to "registered" Abyssinian parents. It may be said that the Somali is simply a longhaired Abyssinian; but as mentioned earlier, there are some non-trivial differences between the two breeds.
Prior to a discussion of the origins of the Somalis, it is necessary to discuss some basic genetics concerning the longhair and shorthair genes and also the manner in which CFA allows the registration of both "long" and "short" haired Somalis.
The most important fact to consider is that the shorthair gene is dominant, and the longhair gene is recessive. This is always true in any breed. What this means is, if a cat is carrying the shorthair gene, it will be a shorthaired cat. However, a shorthaired cat may carry the longhair gene without showing any evidence of it.
As a consequence of the above, it is genetically possible for two shorthaired cats, who are both carrying the longhair gene, to produce a longhaired cat. However, no two longhaired cats, bred together, could possibly produce shorthair offspring.
The chart below shows the genetic results of the cross breeding of parents carrying combinations of the Shorthair and Longhair genes.
SS: Shorthair, not carrying the Longhair gene
SL: Shorthair, carrying the Longhair gene
LL: Longhair, not carrying the Shorthair gene
Since the acceptance of the Somali as a breed, CFA rules have allowed Somalis to be bred to Abyssinians. The purpose for this has been to increase the gene pool of the Somalis. The resulting kittens of any Somali to Aby breeding must all be registered as Somalis, regardless of the length of the coat. This is in spite of the fact that most resulting shorthaired kittens are visibly indistinguishable from their shorthaired Aby counterparts.
CFA only allows "shorthaired" kittens from an Aby to Somali breeding to be registered as Somalis. However, such kittens, may only be shown as AOV Somalis, and NOT as Abyssinians. It should be noted that this is primarily so because of the concerns of the Aby breeders to keep the occurrence of the longhair gene in the Abys to a minimum. The origins of the Somali, discussed further on in this article, shed some interesting light on such reasoning.
Since the Abyssinian is a shorthaired breed, how did it acquire the recessive longhaired gene? This is a question that has sparked debate for many years between Aby and Somali breeders. The answer to this question, if indeed it can ever be adequately answered, lies in a review of Somali and Abyssinian history dating back to the 1800's.
In 1967 an Abyssinian breeder, Evelyn Mague, was volunteering at an animal shelter near her home in New Jersey. One day a male cat was brought into the shelter and Evelyn realized that this was a longhaired Abyssinian. She had heard rumors of the existence of longhaired kittens in Aby litters, but had never seen one until this point in time. She named the cat "George" and saw to it that he was placed into a good home and subsequently neutered.
Intrigued, Mrs. Mague was fascinated by this longhaired beauty and decided to investigate George's background. George was born the only long coated kitten in a litter of normal coated Aby kittens from Li-Mi-R Cattery.
Amazingly enough, Mrs. Mague actually owned both of George's parents! The sire was Lynn-Lee's Lord Dublin, an Aby she had bred, and the dam was Lo-Mi-R's Trill-By, an Aby she had just recently purchased. These two Abys would later go on to produce a total of five Somalis.
In further pursuit and investigation of the elusive longhaired gene, Mrs. Mague discovered that longhaired kittens have been appearing in Aby litters born in the U.S. since the 1950's. In confidence, several Aby breeders told her that they had had longhaired kittens in their litters. Usually these kittens were placed as pets and the parents altered to keep the unwanted longhair gene out of the Abyssinian bloodlines.
Mrs. Mague felt that these unwanted longhaired beauties ought to be recognized and legitimized and into that effort threw herself wholeheartedly. She named the breed "Somali" as a tribute to the possible African origins of the Abyssinian Cat.
At the same time in Canada, a CCA judge, Ken McGill, had discovered the existence of the longhair gene in Canadian Aby lines and actively began breeding Somalis. He purchased a male Somali kitten, May-Ling Tusieta, thus founding one of the oldest Somali lines.
Meanwhile in the United States, Somalis were fast acquiring devotees. In 1972 the Somali Cat Club of American was founded and Evelyn Mague was elected as president. Members began working for recognition in all associations including CFA. Allegations from Aby breeders that the Somali had been deliberately crossed with other longhaired breeds (i.e. the Persian) provided impetus for serious genetic research into the Aby lines which produced Somalis.
In 1976 Walter Del Pelligrino undertook a major analysis of all Somali pedigrees. His results were published by the Somali Cat Club of American and was entitled "Genesis". Mr. Del Pellegrino discovered that all Somalis registered to date could trace their lineage back to May-Ling Tusietta and/or to four Abys at stud in the 1960's.
Furthermore, all of these early cats go back to one Abyssinian imported from Great Britain to the United States in 1952. This cat is Raby Chuffa of Selene, bred by lady Barnard and purchased by Mrs. Schuler-Taft.
Looking at Raby Chuffa's pedigree we undercover one of the ways in which the longhair gene could have entered the Aby gene pool. It should be kept in mind that World War II was not a kind time to cat breeders of any breed in Great Britain or Europe. It is estimated that by the end of the war that perhaps only 12 Abyssinians existed in England.
Due to the ravages of war, in order to reestablish the breed it was common to foundation register cats meeting the Abyssinian phenotype. Consequently, these foundation registrations allowed ample opportunity for a longhaired gene to enter the Aby gene pool.
In conducting further research on the origins of the Somalis, Patricia Nell Warren published an article in Cat World in September of 1977. Shortly after the publication of that article, Pat received a letter from Mrs. Janet C. Robertson, who owned the Roverdale Cattery in Great Britain, and at the time of this correspondence resided in California.