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Choosing an American Wirehair

By: J. Anne Helgren

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At first sight, these scruffy-looking, bright-eyed kitties might look like American shorthairs whose coats have been shamefully neglected. Look again. The American wirehair is supposed to look like that – frizzy, kinky, wild hair standing up in springy ringlets or coarse clumps. Look closely and you'll see that each hair looks like it's been crimped with a miniature curling iron. It's the distinctive coat that sets this rare breed apart.

History and Origin

Like the American curl and many other new breeds, the wirehair began as a spontaneous mutation in the domestic cat population. The first American wirehairs were born in 1966 to ordinary barn cat parents on small farm in Verona, N.Y. The parents, Fluffy and Bootsie, were ordinary domestic cats with no special traits, but somewhere along the bloodline Mother Nature worked her magic and all five of their kittens in that special litter had peculiar wiry fur. Unfortunately, all but one were killed by a weasel, and subsequent matings between Fluffy and Bootsie produced no more wirehairs.

Joan O'Shea of nearby Vernon, N.Y. acquired the one remaining kitten – a red and white bicolor male. An experienced breeder of rex cats, O'Shea recognized that the frizzy ball of wiry fur might represent a new breed. Council Rock Farm Adam of Hi-Fi, as the kitten was named, was later mated with a calico named Tip-Toe, who promptly produced two red and white wirehairs and two straight-coated kittens. O'Shea bought the two wirehairs and named them Aby and Amy. All of today's wirehairs are descendants of the appropriately named Adam, the first of his kind, even though he died when he was only about 4 years old.

Subsequent matings of Adam to unrelated females confirmed that the gene governing the unique hair was dominant. In theory, approximately fifty percent of kittens in any given litter will be wirehairs if one parent has one copy of the dominant wirehair gene.

Breeders Bill and Madeline Beck joined O'Shea and were instrumental in getting the breed recognized. In 1967 the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) accepted the American wirehairs for registration and in 1978 granted championship status.

O'Shea stopped working with the breed around 1970, and the Becks stopped soon after. Since then, a small handful of breeders and exhibitors have kept the breed going. Now in its 35th year, the breed is still one of the cat fancy's best kept secrets. With only 58 new registrations in 2000, down from 68 in 1999 and 60 in 1998, the American wirehair is one of the rarest recognized breeds, according to CFA's breed registration totals. It ranks 38th out of the 40 breeds CFA recognizes.

Appearance

Since American shorthairs were, and still are, used in wirehair breeding programs, the body type has been influenced by the ASH. Medium to large in size, wirehairs are strong and well-muscled with strong legs and firm full paws. The head is round with prominent cheekbones and a well-developed muzzle and chin. The ears are medium size and slightly rounded, and the eyes are large, round, and set well apart. The medium length tail tapers to a rounded tip.

Of course, it's the coat that really sets this breed apart. Each hair is crimped, hooked or bent, including the whiskers and the hair within the ears, giving this breed a unique coat that's short, springy, resilient, coarse, and very dense. While not considered one of the rex breeds, the American wirehair possesses a mutation that's similar in some respects. All three types of hairs (down, awn and guard), are affected. Since the breed is still being developed, significant variation in fur texture and length can exist from cat to cat.

All colors and patterns are accepted with the exception of those showing evidence of hybridization resulting in the colors chocolate, lavender, the colorpoint pattern or those combinations with white.

Personality

As with any breed, temperament depends upon upbringing and bloodline, and the American shorthair crosses has had an effect on the wirehair personality, too. However, in general, fanciers say that a sweet, loving personality comes with the kinky coat. Wirehairs are playful without being hyper, and affectionate without being clingy. They want to be involved in every aspect of your life, and will follow you from room to room to make sure your activities meet with their approval. Wirehairs generally dislike being held and cuddled, though, preferring to be a "four on the floor" cat.

Wirehairs are also known for their playful natures and clown-like antics. They love to be the center of attention and amuse their humans with daring attacks upon catnip mice and daring leaps to the tops of cat trees.

Fanciers say that wirehairs seem particularly in tune with their humans' feelings and offer comfort and companionship when their favorite humans are feeling blue. That's when they turn on the purrs and crawl into your lap to offer feline support.

Grooming

If you hate slaving over a hot cat comb, the American wirehair is for you – it's one of the few breeds that does not benefit from grooming. The wiry hair is fragile and easy to damage with brushing or combing, particularly if wire slicker type brushes are used. During the spring and fall shedding seasons, some grooming may be needed to remove dead hairs.

Association Acceptance

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

    Special Notes

    Breeders working with wirehairs are rarer than the cats themselves. To locate a breeder, call one of the cat associations. After locating a breeder, you'll likely have to get on a waiting list.

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