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 of Selkirk Rex Cats
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 of a Selkirk Rex
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.