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Choosing an American Bobtail

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The American bobtail may be short of tail, but she's long on personality and charm. With her untamed appearance, tractable temperament, and cute bobbed tail, fanciers say this breed is the cat's meow. Currently rare, the American bobtail is nevertheless gaining fans as word spreads about the bob. And if you fancy a made-in-America breed, the bobtail is as American as the Fourth of July.

History and Origin

The breed was first discovered in the 1960s when Yodie, a stubby-tailed stray, was found in Arizona by vacationers John and Brenda Sanders. Yodie's parentage is unknown, but rumor had it that he was part bobcat because of his feral look and abbreviated tail. The rumor is most likely untrue. While domestic cats have been known to mate with other cat species (cats in love just aren't very choosy about prospective mates), the first and second generation males of such matches are usually sterile.

And sterile Yodie definitely was not, as he proved upon arrival at the Sanders' home in Iowa. He promptly mated with Mishi, a sealpoint Siamese female, and some of the resulting kittens had bobbed tails like their father. This indicated that the gene governing the bobbed tail was dominant, since only one copy of the gene is necessary for the trait to be expressed in offspring. Later on, Yodie and his offspring were mated with ragdolls, Birmans and Himalayans, as well as Siamese, random-bred domestics, and possibly Manx. The name American bobtail was chosen to represent the new breed.

However, the original lines from Yodie and his descendants became inbred and unhealthy, and in the mid-1980s a group of breeders took on the task of refurbishing the breed. Most of the old bloodlines were phased out and new bloodlines were introduced, taking the breed in a new direction. The original standard called for a short-tailed pointed-pattern longhair with white mittens and a white blaze on the face. Breeders had great difficulty perfecting this very complicated genetic recipe, and too much inbreeding resulted.

Instead, the new breeders began to work toward cats that looked more like the original stubby-tailed Yodie, who was a large, feral-looking tabby with a shaggy coat. Their goal was to breed cats that resembled the bobcat but possessed a thoroughly domestic temperament. Breeders chose short-tailed random-bred domestics that fit the desired look. No Manx, Japanese bobtails, or any other pedigreed breed was used in these later breeding programs. No bobcats, either.

Today, numbers are still small. According to the Cat Fanciers' Association breed registration totals, 215 American bobtails were registered in 2000 (the first year they were accepted for CFA registration). Breeding bobtails to random-bred domestic longhairs and shorthairs is still allowed to keep the gene pool diverse and healthy. Despite continued unconfirmed rumors about bobcat/domestic cat trysts, this breed is considered a naturally occurring American breed, a product of spontaneous mutation rather than hybridization.

Appearance

The bobtail is a medium to large muscular and athletic cat with a moderately long and substantial body. Hind legs are slightly longer than the front legs, and the feet are large and round and have toe tufts. The cat's head has a feral, wildcat appearance due to the distinctive fleshy brow, broad modified wedge shape, and the deep-set almond-shaped eyes. Wide at the base, the ears are alert and decorated with ear furnishings and tufts.

The bobtail's most noted feature – the abbreviated tail – must be long enough to be clearly visible above the back when alert, but must not extend past the hock of the leg. The tail is strong and substantial, and may be straight, slightly curved, slightly kinked, or may have bumps along its length. Straight tails are preferred; kinks must not impair the natural movement of the tail. The tail is broad at the base and must be flexible and expressive. Straight tails exhibit a fat pad at the end. The existence of American bobtails with tails of varying lengths, and some with no tails at all, indicates the possible presence of a Manx-like gene.

Originally recognized only as a longhair, the breed is now recognized in both long and short hair lengths. Shorthairs have medium length, semi-dense double coats with a resilient and non-matting texture. Longhairs have slightly shaggy medium-long hair, with slightly longer hair on the neck ruff, britches, belly and tail. Non-matting and resilient, the hair is dense and possesses an undercoat.

All colors and patterns are accepted. While brown tabbies are the most popular and numerous in both hair lengths, lynx points in seal, chocolate and blue are also favorites.

Personality

The breed is still being developed, and that means variations in temperament and activity level will occur. Still, owners say that in general American bobtails are playful and energetic, and possess an uncanny talent for Houdini-type escapes from closed rooms, evidence of their high intelligence. On the cat activity scale (with the Abyssinian an animated ten and the Persian a serene one), the bobtail rates an eight – frisky and fun-loving but not climbing-the-walls overactive. Bobtails are not shy about making their feelings known and are not above demanding human attention by meowing or commandeering available laps. However, they aren't as talkative as a Siamese.

Grooming

Shorthaired bobtails do need some grooming because of their medium-length fur and semi-dense undercoat. A thorough combing with a good steel comb once a week will remove dead hairs and keep your bob looking her best.

Longhaired bobtails require more grooming – a thorough combing with a steel comb twice or three times a week prevents mats and keeps the fur looking its best. Begin grooming your bobtail young and she will learn to accept and even enjoy the grooming sessions. During the shedding seasons – spring when they shed their heavier winter coats and fall when they shed their lighter summer coats – additional grooming may be necessary.

If oil buildup is a problem, a once a month bath is recommended for both hair lengths.

Association Acceptance

The American bobtail is accepted in both long and shorthair by the following North American cat associations:

  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA) (New Breed and Color class)
  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) (Provisional class)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA) (New Breed and Color class)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO) (New Breed and Color class)

    Special Notes

    Since American bobtails are rare, you will likely have to get on a waiting list, even for pet quality kittens. Unless you're lucky enough to live within driving distance of a bobtail breeder, you may either have to take a lengthy trip or buy your kitten sight unseen. If you can't see the kitten beforehand, screen the seller carefully and insist on a written contract. Ask for photos of the parents and all the kittens in the litter, not just the one you're offered, and check references. Call the breeder's registering association to make sure he or she is in good standing.

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