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Choosing a Birman

By: J. Anne Helgren

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Also called the Sacred Cat of Burma, the Birman has been around for centuries. Its true origin is shrouded in mystery; few breeds have the aura of enchantment that this breed enjoys. The Birman's beautiful colorpoint pattern, long, silky fur, brilliant blue eyes, and pure white gloves make the breed a lovely addition to the cat fancy. The sweet, devoted personality makes the Birman a terrific companion as well. The breed is often favored by those who love the pointed pattern of the Himalayan but don't care for the flattened facial type and grooming needs.

History and Origin

The breed has been around for centuries. According to the story, pure white amber-eyed cats resided in the Buddhist temples of Burma (now Myanmar) and were revered as the feline carriers of the souls of priests who had departed the mortal plain. The Goddess of transmutation, Tsim-Kyan-Kse, was worshiped in these temples, represented by a golden statue with glowing sapphire eyes. Each evening Mun-Ha, High Lama of the temple of Lao-Tsun, prayed in front of the statue of Tsim-Kyan-Kse with one of the sacred temple cats, Sinh, as his faithful companion.

One day, marauders raided the temple and struck down Mun-Ha. As Mun-Ha lay dying in front of the statue, Sinh climbed onto his chest and purred to comfort and prepare him for his soul's journey. When Mun-Ha died, his soul flowed into Sinh, and a miraculous transformation took place. Sinh's amber eyes changed to the sapphire blue of the statue's. Her white coat turned a golden hue like the statue's gold. Her face, ears, tail and legs darkened to the color of the earth on which Mun-Ha lay. Where Sinh's paws touched the priest, however, there remained a dazzling white, a symbol of Mun-Ha's pure spirit. The next morning, all the temple cats had undergone the same transformation. For the next seven days Sinh refused all food and finally died, carrying Mun-Ha's spirit into paradise.

The more mundane story of the breed's origins claims the Birman developed in France. In 1919, a pair of Birman cats arrived in France from the temple of Lao-Tsun. The male cat, Maldapour, died on the way, but the female, Sita, arrived pregnant with Maldapour's offspring and became the European foundation of the Birman breed.

In 1959, the first Birman pair arrived in the United States, and in 1967, the breed was officially recognized in America. Since then, the Birman has flourished in the United States and is the third most popular longhair, according to the CFA's registration totals.

Appearance

The Birman's body strikes a happy medium between the slender Siamese and the portly Persian. Strong jaws, firm chin, medium length Roman nose and medium-sized wide set ears characterize the head. Widely spaced almost round blue eyes give the face a sweet expression.

A perfect Birman has matching white gloves on the front and back paws. White "laces" extend up the back of the rear legs. Ideally, the laces and the gloves on both front and back paws should match, but achieving this look is hard. The gene governing the gloves is very difficult to control.

The soft, silky coat is medium to long, but lacks the fine, downy undercoat that causes fur to mat easily. A lush ruff frames the face, and the tail fur is long and luxuriously soft to the touch.

The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) accepts the Birman in seal, blue, chocolate, and lilac in the pointed pattern, in which color is concentrated in the facemask, ears, legs, and tail, while the body remains lighter in color. However, other associations also accept cinnamon, fawn, red and cream point, and the patterns tortie and lynx point. Fanciers are working to get CFA acceptance for the new colors.

Personality

Birmans are easy-going, devoted, well-mannered cats with tolerant and gentle personalities, perfect for people with families or companion animals. They are playful and people-oriented and enjoy curling up in an available lap. Although they aren't as vocal as the Siamese, they do enjoy communicating their thoughts in melodious, soothing meows. Their soft, unobtrusive voices are easier on the ears than the Siamese's rasp.

Because of their gentle, loving temperaments, Birmans are easy to handle, care for and show. Don't think that they are pushover pussycats, however. As former temple cats, Birmans are accustomed to being adored; their aura of dignity seems to invite reverence from their preferred people. With a meaningful meow, a tilt of those dark ears, and a direct blue-eyed stare, they clearly communicate their wishes to their human "owners." But given a bit of well-deserved worship, the Birman returns a wealth of love and devotion.

Grooming

For a longhaired breed, the Birman is relatively easy to groom. Daily grooming is usually not needed, so the Birman is a good choice for folks who love longhaired cats but have limited grooming time. Combing with a good steel cat comb three to four times a week is usually enough.

Association Acceptance

  • American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE)
  • American Cat Association (ACA)
  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Federation (CFF)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    The Birman is a breeder's nightmare; it's very hard to achieve the traits required in a show quality Birman. Therefore, show quality cats are usually kept or placed with seasoned fanciers. Pet Birmans are also in demand, so most breeders maintain waiting lists. The wait ranges from a month or two to a year or more. If you are flexible about color and gender, the wait may be shorter. Although the Birman is generally a healthy breed, be sure to buy from a breeder who offers registration papers and a written health guarantee.
            

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