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Choosing a California Spangled Cat

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The California spangled cat is a spotted feline with the look of the wild and the heart of a domestic. Specifically bred to resemble spotted wildcats such as the ocelot and leopard, the spangled cat was created to make a statement about the plight of the world's dwindling wildcats. Ironically, the spangled cat is one of the most rare of cat breeds. Nevertheless, the spangled has a small but dedicated following with people who love the breed's active personality and exotic looks.

History and Origin

A conversation with the late anthropologist Louis Leakey inspired Paul Casey, animal advocate and writer, to undertake the creation of the spangled cat. When working on a writing project in Africa in 1971, Casey visited the famous Olduvai Gorge where years before Louis and Mary Leakey had discovered fossils of a new hominid species. While there, Casey was shocked to hear that one of the last breeding leopards in that territory had just been killed by poachers. In their later conversation in California, Casey and Dr. Leakey explored the idea that if people had a domestic cat that looked like a mini-leopard, they would have a concrete reason to relate to the conservation problem. In other words, people wouldn't want to wear fur coats that looked a lot like their beloved house pets.

The idea stuck with Casey and in the mid-1970s he drew up an 11-generation blueprint for his lap-sized leopard, using traditional Siamese, Angoras, British shorthairs, American shorthair, Manx, and Abyssinians. These breeds gave Casey the core bloodline and each was introduced in a precise order to provide a specific characteristic to the breed. No wildcats were used in the breeding program. After he developed the core line, Casey added a spotted street cat from Egypt that possessed the feral, primitive look he wanted: a domed forehead, heavy musculature, wide-set eyes and ears, and well-defined whisker pads. And, of course, spots. This Egyptian cat, Casey claims, is a descendant of the original spotted cat worshiped in ancient Egypt. He also found that the Egyptian cat had a wonderful, social temperament, a bonus for the breed. Lastly, Casey added a shorthaired, spotted Malayan domestic cat that added musculature and a short, soft, velvety coat.

By 1985 Casey had the look he wanted for the spangled cat. He gathered a small group of breeders to help promote and propagate the breed, and formed the California Spangled Cat Association (now called CSCA International), not only to further the spangled cat but to promote protection of wildcats as well.

To gain national attention for the spangled cat, Casey introduced the cat-loving public to his creation through an advertising campaign in the 1986 Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. The cats were featured in a two-page spread as "his and hers" gifts priced at $1400 each. The promotion was controversial, particularly so since the same catalog featured fox, beaver, mink, coyote and ermine fur coats. This advertising strategy managed to anger just about everyone, from the animal-rights people, who were against deliberate breeding of domestic cats, to the cat fanciers, who felt that the three spotted breeds already accepted were plenty. Even the Neiman-Marcus folks were mad; they weren't pleased that Casey was speaking out against wearing furs.

However, it's rightly said that there's no such thing as bad publicity, because the advertising and the controversy brought the spangled cat exposure it otherwise never would have had. Neiman-Marcus received hundreds of inquiries about the cats, and took many more orders than Casey could fill. The demand for the cats depleted his stock, which slowed the breed's development.

Today, numbers are still small and acceptance in most of the cat associations has eluded the California spangled cat. However, a small, devoted group of breeders and fanciers are working with the breed and continuing their conservation efforts. Members of the California Spangled Cat Association think of these cats as little ambassadors for their wild cousins.

Appearance

The California spangled cat truly resembles a little leopard with the dynamic spots, low-slung hunter-like gait, and long, lean, muscular body. The forelegs are carried at a nearly 90-degree angle at the elbow, allowing the body to ride low, heightening the wildcat effect. Overall, the spangled creates the illusion of a much larger cat.

The face is expressive with wide, well-contoured, sculpted cheekbones, well-developed whisker pads, and a strong chin and jaw. The muzzle is broad, medium length and well-developed. Medium-sized, rounded ears set high on the head and well back from the face add to the wild look. The almond-shaped eyes are set well apart and slope gently.

However, the spots set the breed apart. The short coat shows off the pattern nicely. Blocked or rounded spots are preferred. Round, square, oval or triangular shapes are permissible, while crescent, eyelet, or fish scale markings are considered faults. Tabby-like barring may be present on the head, chest, and legs, but the body is unmistakably spotted. The spots may be grouped into rosette patterns.

Because of the diversity of colors used in the breed's creation, the spangled cat comes in a wide palette of spotted colors: silver, bronze, gold, red, blue, brown, black and charcoal. The spots themselves are dark, well-defined, and sharply contrasted to the background color.

Two other varieties exist as well – the snow leopard and the king spangled. The snow leopard resembles the central Asian great cat by that name. A light background, vivid spots, and blue eyes give this variety a particularly dramatic look. Born white, the snow leopard develops markings as she matures. The king spangled resembles the endangered king cheetah. At birth, the king spangled is completely black except for the face, legs and underbelly. In adulthood, strap-like segments and rows of diamond-shaped markings join at the cat's sides. The face shows pale tear-stain markings which extend from the inner corner of the eye down to the outer edge of the mouth.

Personality

Despite the wild look, California spangled cats are affectionate, curious, social, and devoted to their humans. Known for their well-honed intelligence, spangled cats generally find ways to wrap their humans around their spotted paws, and make you love them for it. You'll find them perching at eye-level to keep eye contact with you and to get a good view of the action. They are also noted for their energy and athletic abilities, and will keep you amused with their acrobatics. They have strong hunting instincts and are quick to pounce on unsuspecting toes or catnip mice -- or the real thing, if so allowed. Toys with feathers are always a hit. Spangled cats particularly enjoy games in which you take an active role.

Grooming

California spangled cats need little grooming. Their short, sleek coats need minimal maintenance. Use a rubber brush once a week or so to remove loose hair, particularly during the fall and spring shedding seasons.

Cost

Getting a spangled cat is difficult since numbers are limited, prices high, and waiting lists long. Spangled cats begin at about $800 and go up to $2500, sometimes more. Too, preference may be given to people who will be active in breeding their cats, since numbers are vital to the advancement of this breed.

Association Acceptance

The California spangled cat is accepted for registration by:

  • The International Cat Association (TICA)

    Special Notes

    For a breed to be considered for acceptance, most associations require a specific number of cats registered with the association, and a certain number of breeders actively working with the breed. The associations also require that the cats be shown frequently in their shows. All of this requires a great deal of effort, time and money.

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