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Choosing an American Curl

By: J. Anne Helgren

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Like the Scottish fold, the American curl is characterized by its unique aural arrangement. In the curl's case, however, the ears curl backward in a smooth arc rather than fold down. Caused by a spontaneous mutation in the domestic cat gene pool, the curl's unique ears are another of Mother Nature's inventions. But the curled ears are not the only characteristic that makes the curl cat exceptional. Fanciers also rave about its personality. They describe the curl as people-oriented but not clingy, playful but not hyper, and talkative but not annoyingly gabby. Although numbers are still low and the breed is still being developed, the curl is gaining popularity. The ear-resistible look, easy-care coat, and affectionate temperament earn the curl new fans each year.

History and Origin

In 1981, two stray cats with unusual curled ears arrived on the doorstep of Grace and Joe Ruga in Lakewood, California. One suffered an unfortunate accident soon after arriving, but the other, a longhaired black female, became a permanent resident of the Rugas. They named her Shulamith, a variation of a Hebrew term meaning "black but comely." In December 1981, Shulamith gave birth to a litter, and two of the four kittens had curled ears. The Rugas and fellow cat fancier Nancy Kiester did some research and discovered that curls were unknown in the cat fancy. Additional genetic research revealed that the curled ears are governed by a dominant gene.

The breed was first exhibited on October 1983 at the Cat Fanciers' Association show in Palm Springs, California, and the curl rapidly purred its way into the hearts of cat fanciers. Only four years later, in 1987, the International Cat Association granted championship status to the American curl longhair, amazingly fast for a new breed. Usually, the road to acceptance is a long one, but the curl was so unique that it gained quick approval. In 1991, the CFA granted provisional status for both the long and the shorthaired curl and in 1993 awarded championship. Today, all mainstream North American cat associations accept Shulamith's progeny for championship, quite an accomplishment for a cat that, but for a twist of fate, could have been just another stray.

Appearance

Curls are well balanced, moderately muscled cats with slender, semi-foreign bodies. Females usually weigh 5 to 8 pounds, while males tip the scales at 7 to 10 pounds. The head is a modified wedge-shape without flat planes, the nose is straight and moderate in length, and the eyes are large and walnut-shaped. The long, taping tail is wide at the base and flexible. Slow to maure, the American curl reaches full size and weight at 2-3 years of age.

Of course, the unique ears really set the breed apart. The ears are moderately large, wide at the base, and open with rounded, flexible tips. Each ear curves back in a smooth arc. The degree of the curl can vary from the pet quality 90 degrees (called first degree curl), to the show quality 180 degrees (called third degree curl). The ears should not curl back to touch the back of the ear or head, however, or be severely mismatched, thick, calcified, or lacking firm cartilage in the base of the ear.

The American curl is accepted in both long and short hair in most associations. The longhaired curl's fur is semi-long, fine, and silky, and lacks the cottony undercoat that contributes to matting. The tail possesses a full plume. The shorthaired curl has soft, short fur with minimal undercoat. All colors and patterns are accepted, including solid, tabby, calico, tortoiseshell, shaded, smoke, chinchilla, bicolor, and the colorpoint (Siamese) pattern.

Since the breed still has a fairly small gene pool, outcrossing to non-pedigreed domestic longhairs and shorthairs will continue until January 1, 2010 to insure sufficient genetic diversity.

Personality

The whimsical ears are not the only trait that makes curls attractive pets. They are people-oriented, devoted cats without a trace of the stereotypical aloofness. Affectionate and loyal, curls love nothing more than spending time with their preferred persons. With typical cat curiosity, they are right there to welcome you home and figure out where you've been. They delight in perching on shoulders (and everything else in sight), and love to deliver forehead kisses and gentle pats of affection. Known for their affinity with children, curls make good family pets and usually get along well with other companion animals, too. They do require a good deal of attention, however, so are not good choices for those who work all day and have an active social life at night.

While not as active as some breeds, American curls are nevertheless energetic and lively. Curls quickly learn to fetch (some fanciers say their curls taught them), and never lose their love of play, even in their older years. When not chasing catnip mice around the house, curls enjoy curling into your lap for extended pampering and purring.

When purchasing a pet quality curl, you may be offered a kitten with straight ears. Straight-eared curls are still purebreds, but they don't possess the dominant gene that causes the ears to curl. They do, however, have the same body style, coat type, and personality as their curled cousins.

Grooming

Grooming the shorthaired curl is a snap; a once-weekly brushing is plenty. Even the longhaired curl, with its semi-long hair and minimal undercoat, needs little grooming. Figure combing your longhaired curl twice a week with a good steel comb to remove loose hairs and prevent matting.

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)
  • Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    At birth, the curl's ears look like any other kitten's. Between 1 and 7 days, however, the ears get firmer and start to plump up and curve backwards -- if they're going to curl at all. Since the degree of curl can change dramatically over a short period, wait until the kitten at least 18 weeks old to buy a show-quality kitten. By then, the ears will have acquired the form they will possess throughout the cat's life.

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