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Choosing a Selkirk Rex

By: J. Anne Helgren

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Exquisitely plush with cascades of colorful curls, the Selkirk rex is perfect if you like the permed look. Mother Nature is the Selkirk's hairdresser, however; no hot rollers touch this cat's naturally curly locks. Often described as a cat in sheep's clothing, the Selkirk has won friends and influenced people with her cute curls and loving personality.

As a breed, the Selkirk rex is barely a teenager, a mere 14 years old, but has already rocketed into the cat fancy spotlight at warp speed. To date, the Selkirk has earned championship status with seven of the ten North American cat associations. While still a rare breed - in 2000 the cat placed 29th out of 40 breeds, according to CFA's registration totals - a unique coat and personality have assured this breed a place in the hearts and homes of cat lovers everywhere.

History & Origin

The original Selkirk, Miss DePesto, was the offspring of an ordinary straight-haired calico rescued by a Sheridan, Mont. shelter owner. In July 1987, the calico produced a litter of six that included five normal-coated kittens and one unique little bundle of joy, a curly-haired blue-cream and white female. This kitten was given to Jeri Newman, a Persian breeder in Helena, Mont.

Recognizing the uniqueness of DePesto's plush coat and personality, Newman set out to see if the curly coat could be passed onto offspring. She bred Miss DePesto to a champion black Persian male. On July 4, 1988, a litter of six was born, three of which had the distinctive curly fur. This meant the gene governing the curly hair was dominant -- only one parent need have the gene for the trait to manifest in offspring. It also meant that the inevitable straight-coated kittens produced in the breeding program would not have the rex gene at all, since a dominant gene cannot be carried unexpressed.

The litter also possessed one longhair, which proved that DePesto also possessed the recessive longhair gene, since kittens must inherit one copy of the gene from each parent to have long hair.

One of the kittens, a curly-haired black and white male named Oscar Kowalski, would go on to write his name on the pedigrees of the majority of today's Selkirks. Newman mated Oscar to DePesto, which produced a litter that included colorpoint kittens, confirming that DePesto also possessed the recessive colorpoint pattern gene. DePesto's unique genetic makeup formed the basis for the myriad colors, patterns and hair lengths accepted for the breed today.

Newman named the new breed after the Selkirk Mountains to the North of Montana in Canada, which also happened to be her stepfather's last name. She added "rex" to identify the Selkirk as one of the rex breeds, like the Cornish and the Devon rex.

To develop the Selkirk lines, Oscar and his offspring were bred with Persians, British shorthairs, American shorthairs and exotics. Since the Selkirk is still relatively new, other breeds are still used in Selkirk breeding programs to ensure genetic diversity. Only 3 years after the breed's discovery, the Selkirk was presented to TICA's board of directors, and was accepted in the New Breed and Color class. In February 1992, the CFA accepted the breed for registration, and the Selkirk was advanced to provisional status May 1, 1998. The Selkirk achieved the long-awaited CFA championship status in 2000.

Appearance

The Selkirk's head is round, broad and full-cheeked with round underlying bone structure. Well-padded whisker pads give the muzzle a square appearance. The medium-sized, tapering ears are broad at the base and set well apart on the head. Large, rounded eyes, set well apart, give the cat an alert, inquisitive expression.

The medium to large body is well balanced with a muscular torso and a straight back that rises slightly toward the hindquarters. The tail is medium length and heavy at the base.

Of course, what really sets the breed apart is the coat, which is curly, soft and plush. The Selkirk possesses all three hair types – guard, down and awn – and all are curly, with the curl more pronounced around the neck and tail. Even the whiskers curl, giving the face a whimsical appearance.

The Selkirk comes in both shorthair and longhair varieties, and considerable difference exists between the two. The coat of the shorthaired Selkirk is plush, medium in length, and curls over the entire body. In the longhair, the dense, semi-long coat hangs in loose individual ringlets and has a more dramatic look – you can't miss those curly locks. The curls are particularly prominent around the neck and on the tail. In both hair lengths, the fur is soft and dense.

The Selkirk rex is accepted in all colors and patterns, including colorpoint.

Personality

One first may be attracted to the Selkirk's cute, curly exterior, but these cats also make champion companions. They are curious, tolerant, extremely sociable cats that enjoy spending time with their preferred persons. People-oriented without being clingy, Selkirks have a generous measure of love and loyalty for their human companions. Selkirks fit in well with other family members including children, and usually get along well with other companion animals. Because they are very social, they don't do well in isolation or when left alone for long periods.

Selkirks are fun-loving cats that stay playful and kittenish well into adulthood. They enjoy a good game of fetch and particularly enjoy games in which their guardians take active roles. Laser lights, feather toys, catnip mice and even a wad of paper can keep them entertained for hours.

Grooming

Shorthaired Selkirks have medium-length hair with loose, individual curls. A good once-a-week combing and an occasional bath will keep the shorthair looking sharp. Longhaired Selkirks require more grooming, although not as much as you might expect. Combing twice a week with a good steel comb removes dead hairs and prevents matting. Bathing makes the fur curl up to its best advantage so a monthly bath is recommended.

Expect to pay $250 to $650 for a curly pet quality Selkirk. The price depends largely upon the coat's curl. Straight-haired Selkirks run $100 to $300. Breeder quality Selkirks cost $400 to $800, and show quality will set you back $650 to $850, sometimes more. Prices depend upon the coat quality, but also on body type, color and pattern, bloodline, gender, area and breeder. Cats retired from breeder or show careers are sometimes placed with good homes; such cats are altered before placement and usually run $50 to $200.

Since the gene pool is still small, some breeders are reluctant to part with even their pet quality curly Selkirks. However, this is slowly changing as numbers rise. The average wait for a curly Selkirk is 6 months to a year. Be flexible about color and gender and your wait will be shorter. Straight-coated Selkirks - cats that lack the rex gene but possess the Selkirk body style and personality - can be obtained more easily.

Association Acceptance

  • American Cat Association (ACA)
  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)
  • National Cat Fanciers' Association (NCFA)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    Despite rumors to the contrary, rex breeds are not hypoallergenic. That's because it's not usually cat hair that causes the allergic reaction in humans. Rather, it's an allergenic protein called Fel d1 secreted via saliva and the sebaceous glands. This protein is spread onto the fur during grooming. Selkirks produce just as much of this protein as any other breed. If ordinary cats make you sneeze, so will a Selkirk.

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