THE SIBERIAN CAT - the history of love and public recognition.
The Siberian Cat is one of the most mysterious beings created by human and Nature. Having written this phrase I imagine the reader perplexedly shrugging his shoulders, thinking: what can be mysterious about a Siberian Cat? It would be quite strange even to call it a pedigreed one. Other breeds attract people by their exotic names and unusual appearance - Sphynx, Somali, Cornish Rex... We hear the music of distant wanderings in these names. The proud owners standing behind the cage at the show never hear the words of the kind that each of us, owners of the Siberian Cats, has at least once heard: "Look, this pretty cat looks exactly like our Murka!" Or even: "We have seen such a cat in our yard". But nevertheless... I doubt that any other breed has gone a way from complete obscurity to international public recognition in such a short period of time. I also doubt that any other breed has ever stirred up so many disputes in its native country. Both the origin and many characteristics of the Siberian Cat are treated by felinologists ambiguously.
A large number of works has been written about the Siberian Cat, especially in the recent 2 years. I would neither like to recur to them, nor to pour oil on the dying flames of the dispute. So I will try to speak in more detail about the facts that are not known to the reader or that have been interpreted in a way different from the one we are used to here, in Saint-Petersburg. A little about the origin of the breed. The work that has been done to create its modern appearance. Some breeding problems. International recognition. I would also like to mention only those cattery names, which had not been repeated in many publications. And of course the legendary hypoallergenic qualities of the Siberians.
A glimpse at history
Beautiful stories are told about the origin of different cat breeds. The Sacred Birman, probably created in France by means of crossbreeding, had received a charming name and a legend about the cats of Eastern temples bound up with it. The Norwegian Forest Cats, originated from aboriginal Scandinavian semi-longhair cats, according to the legend were the charioteers of the goddess Freya. The Maine Coon, a similar semi-longhair cat from the shores of North America, is said to be an offspring of a wild cat and a raccoon. There are also some legends about the Siberian Cats. For example, the one that says they had originated from wild forest cats in the snowy dense forests of taiga and in the Middle Ages guarded the monasteries in Siberia. And it is no wonder - if the history of the Maine Coon can be traced since the 80's of the 19th century and that of the Norwegian Cat - since the 30's of the 20th century, then the written history of the Siberian Cat appears much later. But the name "Siberian Cat" has a really long history in spoken language.
Let us digress for a while from today's appearance of the Siberian Cat, very well known to cat judges and many other cat fanciers. Let us go back to our childhood and try to remember. If we had been asked what a Siberian Cat was and what it had been like, most of us would not have said anything but "fluffy". Someone may have added "large". By method of exclusion we can add "not white" – as all white fluffy cats had been called Angora. But it is for sure that nobody would have characterized this cat as "the one that lives in Siberia".
Dog breeds were quite well known. Cat breeds - rather vague. All cats of the Siamese colour were called Siamese. They also spoke of the so-called jungle-cat - if the animal was too wild-tempered. Other "names" of breeds and other ideas about their appearance occurred in some areas. In one village, a home of my friends, all grey short-haired cats with stripes were called rat-catchers and even were selected according to their hunting skills, ostensibly connected with their colour. O.S. Mironova mentions the name "Bukhara", used in some Siberian regions for these fluffy cats. Popular conceptions of the Siberian Cat are based on the idea of an animal able to withstand the severe Siberian climate, rather than on its actual origin. "Siberian frosts" is another word collocation which has lost its direct connection with the territory.
The mystery of the origin of the Siberian Cat is mainly connected with the fact that speaking of its history we confuse three different notions: the modern Siberian Cat (a breed with its standard and unique appearance), the popular notion "Siberian Cat" (tracing its roots back in remote ages and being a linguistic rather than feline phenomenon) and the aboriginal semi-longhair cat living on the territory of Russia since the ancient times.
Speaking of the latter, the ways these cats got into Russia and moved further to the North and the East are historical trade roads, such as the one from the Varangian to Greek and the Great Silk road. It is quite possible that the Angora, the Siberian and the Persian had the same ancestors, newcomers from Asia Minor. It is also possible that sometimes they would cross with the wild steppe and forest cats. But it is a mere supposition. Documentary records about cats in Russia are poor; they do not describe these animals. They mention colours of cats, grey cats, but unfortunately not fluffy ones. And later on, when naturalists travel round this country, they pay attention only to the colours. Brehm writes about "a breed of red cats" he noticed in Tobolsk, and Pallas gives a full description and a coloured print of a rather sturdy colourpoint cat, one of the three animals of this kind from the litter of a black queen and an unknown sire he saw in the province of Penza. These records are not more than proofs of the existence of cats on the territory of Russia and presence of certain colour genes in their gene pool, but not milestones in the history of the Siberian Cat.
Creation and development of the breed
So what is the history of the Siberian Cat as a breed, not just as a semi-longhair cat that lived in Russia? Its beginning dates back to the 80’s of the 20th century. It can not be expounded without remembering the first years of the Russian cat fancy.
The Soviet and the Russian cat fancy originated in such large cities as Riga, Moscow and Leningrad. Riga bears no relation to Russia; I mention it here only because this city was the first in the USSR to create a club and to hold a cat show. After that a show was held in Moscow, then in Leningrad. It is quite natural that crowds of cat fanciers with their pets poured into the first clubs. Cat books with colourful pictures had appeared long before and each cat owner examined his pet to find the features resembling these pictures and romantic descriptions. I still remember how desperately I wanted my first cat to be called Norwegian, because I had read in a quite serious book that only these cats climb down the trees like squirrels, head first. My kitty really did so climbing down a pine at our country house! But when I brought my green-eyed torbie, grown up from a dirty dag found in the back-yard of the tire factory, to the club, they said it was a Siberian Cat. (They would also find "Maine Coons", "Norwegians" and "Balinese" cats in those yards and near rubbish cans... However, most of these cats had never managed to overcome the hurdle of the Novice class. Some remained household pets, some were accepted as Siberian Cats by the judges).
At that time the idea to create a Russian breed was up in the air. And of course it should have been called "Siberian Cat", due to the long history of this word collocation. But the appearance of this cat had not been obvious yet. It must have been semi-longhair, but what else? Type, size, shape of the head, muzzle contours, placement of ears - a wide variety of these features was represented in the urban and the suburban population of semi-longhair cats (let us call them "conventionally aboriginal") studied by felinologists. They had to make choice on the basis of the predominant type in the population, taking into account already recognized breeds of semi-longhair cats, mainly the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat. Everybody wanted to refrain from the repetition of the existing things.
The first standards of the new breed were created in the late 80’s by the felinologists of the "Kotofei" club (O. S. Mironova, I. J. Katser, etc.). At the same time the Siberian cats were registered and bred by other Russian felinologists. In Moscow this work was being done by T. S. Emelyanova, L. K. Ovchinnikova, T. D. Sapozhnikova. But it was "Kotofei" that wrote the standard. The legendary Siberian stud Roman, born in 1987 (owner A. Ivanova, "Kotofei"), was taken as a model. He was one of the foundation cats for the breed.
Since the very beginning the following features have been emphasized: powerful type, solid bone structure, round paws, full rounded muzzle, ears set wide apart and oval eyes. The shape of the head was specified as rounded. The size was slightly exaggerated by the standard. If the text of the 1989 standard resembles a romantic description, then the standard of 1990, keeping almost the same body parts also includes the colours (agouti, agouti with white, non-agouti, non-agouti with white and colourpointed in the same groups) and the faults. The SFF, which at that time was called the Soviet Felinology Federation, accepted this standard. In 1991 the first international standard was worked out on its basis. The WCF, being a young international federation at that moment, was the first to admit the Siberian Cat, including the Siberian colourpoint. Another famous foundation male, Mars, a blue tabby point with white, born in 1988, belonged to "Kotofei" too.
Mars and his son Nestor, blue with white, can be found on hundreds of pedigrees. Nestor is a founder of the bloodline of the "Gel" cattery. His blood was also used in the "Marcell" cattery in combination with Roman's line (which later turned into the lines of Vergiliy and Lucreciy). "Kotofei" has also brought up other foundation cats later used in new clubs.
I have the yellowed catalogues (mainly in the course of time, but some - with the help of cats) of the first cat shows in front of me. Let us try to find Siberian cats there. Before 1991 the owners entered them into various breeds and groups.
1989, Moscow. May 8-9. The first All-Union cat show. 190 animals in the catalogue, good few are Persian. The section "Longhair and semi-longhair cats of unknown breeds" includes 12 Siberian Cats. All of them have no registered parents. However the section "Household cats" is more extensive. We see here Mars for the first time, on the supplementary list. He enters the Novice class as a Siberian Cat at his next show and becomes a stud.
1989. Riga, September 23-24. 164 cats in the catalogue and again almost half of them are Persian. The section "Officially non-recognized breeds" includes the Siberian and the Neva Masquerade. Number 146 in the Novice class is the famous Roman. In the Open class we see the former novice seal point Ricky, who later gave birth to many offspring together with Selina. And Selina appears in the Novice class as...Balinese! She is transferred to the Siberian breed at this show. Many pets go through this way if they start in the Novice class.
1989. Moscow, September 7-8. 244 cats in the catalogue. The Siberians are included as a breed group, there are 26 of them. Cats from Leningrad are simply not included into the catalogue at this show. But then we can trace the destiny of the "Balinese" male Boyz, born in 1988, who had been found with his elderly mother and sister of the same colour in Samara by Irina Gorinova. Boyz, who had also been transferred to the Siberian breed, was successfully shown later, and is safe and sound until now.
On the 16th of September 1989 a group of breeders from Leningrad and Moscow applied for the registration of the Siberian Cat to the SFF, established in April of the same year. The breed is registered on August 6, 1990 (Certificate №1). At the same time the colourpoint Siberian Cat is registered as a unique colour variety of the Siberian with a second name "Neva Masquerade" (Certificate №2). Now the show catalogues of the clubs cooperating with SFF should include the Siberian Cats in the semi-longhair section with a separate group of colours "Siberian Colourpoint (Neva Masquerade)".
The show of the "Kotofei" club, January 5-6, 1991. 342 cats in the catalogue. 119 Siberians, including 29 colourpoints. The Novice class includes 50 Siberians, with 13 colourpoints. The eldest cat is nearly 10 years old, but she is shown in the Novice class. There are lots of animals of the first generation with birth certificates (no pedigree certificates yet: to get a pedigree certificate instead of the birth certificate, first generation progeny should have been evaluated by judges). Offspring of Roman, Mars and dozens of other former novices.
Despite the ample quantity of pedigree material, the stock of the early 90s had much to be desired. The litters "fell to pieces". Only devotees dealt with the Siberians... Many clubs and even judges sneered speaking about them. But at the same time the interest to the Siberians abroad grew in leaps and bounds. If the animals which had earlier been exported to East Germany and Czechoslovakia were those "popular" Siberian cats without any standards or documents (by the way, they are the founders of some European lines of insufficient type), then the export of the early 90’s consisted of the first and the second generations of the Siberians, the results of breeding. The offspring of Roman were exported to the USA by Elizabeth Terrell of the "Starpoint" cattery. The "Starpoint" lines are still highly valued in that country. A considerable quantity of cats of different colours was exported to Germany by Hans and Betty Schultz (the "Newskij's" cattery), who played a great part in the popularization of the breed in Europe. Magadan, a male bred in this cattery, could compete at shows even nowadays. But still, the first wave of the exported Siberians was on the whole of poor quality. It resulted in the situation, when each breeder or cattery owner tried to create his own standard for his stock. At that time some foreign judges thought that the Siberian Cat is not more than a poor type Maine Coon. Or even a cross of the Norwegian and the Maine Coon. All these breeds have a similar coat structure with slight differences; they all are quite large and sturdy. It was not a simple task to find distinctions in their size, length of the legs and of the tail, and shape of the head stated in the first standards. Although the draft standard of the WCF in 1990 was based on the one by "Kotofei", in 1991 the first official standard underwent some changes: high cheekbones were mysteriously added to the rounded shape of the head and the tail was to be long to very long - it indeed resembled a poor Maine Coon. Especially taking into account the fact that it was very difficult to find ideal representatives of both breeds in Europe.
The distinctive features of the Siberian Cat had to be emphasized in the standard to win the public recognition. These characteristics had to be found and fixed in the breed to create a unique appearance. The stress was made on the head shape. Broad low cheekbones connected by a gentle line to a rounded muzzle could not be confused with a head of the Maine Coon or the Norwegian Forest Cat. For the first time these features were described in the Leningrad/Saint-Petersburg stock and included into standard by PFS (I. A. Okulov, E. J. Dmitrieva) in 1991. A large group of females had been selected (for example Frazy, Roman's granddaughter, Gladys, daughter of Mars, Pyshka born in 1988, who later became one of the first Siberian cats – World Champions) and two males, the closest to the demands of the new standard (one of them is Georgiy, born in 1987, used to found the "Knyaz Gvidon" cattery).
However these males did not show prepotency. But the idea was followed by luck: a new foundling appeared in the club, a cat "in a poke". An old lady has brought her pet in a bag! It was the male Max, born in 1989, a large powerful cat of seal tabby point colour with almost ideal contours of the head and nearly perfect coat, just a little too short. He was the one who proved to be prepotent. So prepotent, that up to the present moment his female offspring in the third and fourth generation give birth to his little copies of all recognized colours.
His line, began by the "Nightingale" cattery, is continued by the catteries "Dikaya Krassa" and "Dom Filina". We can already speak about the success of his sons' (W.Ch. Arsenij Nevski and Gr. I. Ch. Filimon) lines. This head shape was soon included into the WCF standard.
In 1994 at the IFSJ seminar the same cheekbone and muzzle contours were used in the composition of a more detailed standard than the PFS one. The shape of the head was specified as "trapeze". This standard was published in the collection of standards of aboriginal breeds, at present it is valid in the SFF and has no significant distinctions from the today's WCF standard. We find "short broad trapeze" in the SFF standard, "short and broad head" in the WCF standard, the cheekbone and muzzle contours have the same description. The length of the tail is set according to the heavy type of the animal: "medium" in the SFF standard, "to the shoulder-blade" in the WCF standard.
The further breeding of the Siberian Cat in Russia is described in detail in many publications. The creation of the Union of Siberian Cats' Fanciers in Moscow (T. E. Pavlova) has contributed to the popularization of this breed in many respects. This union successfully holds monobreed shows and keeps a record of those Siberians who became World Champions.
It is not that easy to get cats of a good modern type. If the work on the type is based on line breeding, the cats within one cattery will soon be of the same type with not only merits, but also faults fixed. The exchange of the breeding material between Russian catteries is still insufficient. And if it takes place, then mainly for the purpose of adding a new colour or "diluting" the inbreeding. Each cattery is satisfied with its type, which is justified in many respects. Fortunately the poor type elongated Siberians are gradually becoming things of the past. Many catteries achieve great success in body conformation. Large, heavy animals with powerful legs and big round paws can be seen much more often now. Besides that such attractive colours as golden and silver were obtained and fixed.
The most problematic moments are the coat quality and the shape of the head. As to the latter, if we put aside long narrow heads, pointed or narrow muzzles which do not comply with the standard at all, then the most difficult task is to achieve the right shape owing not to soft tissues, but to bone structure. The standard on purpose accentuates the fact that the roundness of the facial part depends on cheekbone arches and on the full muzzle, but not on full cheeks. This moment is essential to exclude the undesirable type, close to the semi-Persian.
The cheekbone arch of the ideal Siberian Cat extends to the outer ear base, and the one of a cat of the undesirable type - to the mid-ear. The distance between the canine teeth of the Siberian Cat is large; the lower jaw arch between the fangs is nearly straight. The animal of the undesirable type has a sharper arch and the distance between the canines is short. Optically such a head seems rounded due to the full cheeks and the developed soft tissues of the muzzle. The bone structure of the ideal Siberian is easily palpated; even the cheekbones of a cat in full coat are well seen. If we add the difference in the skull height (an ideal Siberian Cat has a lower skull), the shape of the forehead (an ideal Siberian Cat has a smooth dip from the flat skull to the straight broad dorsum of nose, accented by the direction of the hair growth), the coat texture (the cats of the undesirable type have an overdeveloped undercoat and on the contrary, their top coat is too fine) and the shape of the eyes (the upper lid of the Siberian Cat must create an oval shape of the eye), and often lower placement of the ears, then it is easy to withhold the certificate. Of course not all of these features are present at the same time. That is why cheekbones are worth paying attention to.
The main features of the desired and the undesired type of the Siberian Cat
The inclination to get more decorative cats is often characterized by a longer coat, sometimes together with the changes in its texture. Unfortunately too soft coat is frequently met, not only in dilute colours and some lines of colourpoints, but also in black silver and what is even stranger - sometimes in plain black tabby. The position of the judge is of great importance here, namely the preference of the appropriate texture with firm oily top coat to the length and especially to the colour and pattern. Taking into account the fact that both colour and pattern can be given not more than 5 points, the cat with indistinct pattern or dim colour without any faults in the type, shape of the head and coat texture, can virtually win the desirable 98 points. Faults in the coat texture (up to 20 points) are to be more strictly penalized, especially if it is an overdeveloped undercoat or absence of the typical waterproof top coat. It would lead to more strict selection according to the coat texture in the catteries.
The same inclination to decorativeness sometimes results in the eyes too wide open, nearly round. It is better to keep to the golden mean here. The eyes of the Siberian Cat should be set wide apart, they should be rather large, but not round. Deep and close set eyes are just as inappropriate for a Siberian as round, wide open ones.
In America they had changed the standard in their own way, however, understanding that there should be as many distinctions from similar breeds as possible to win the recognition. It was expressed in the preference of rounded shapes in all the sections of the standard. Head, eyes, belly of an American Siberian should be nearly round, and special attention is paid to the low ear set. On the contrary, the standard does not specify the cheekbones. The best catteries, truth to say, still come to ‘our’ type of the modern Siberian. Such catteries as "Emerald Forest" and "Cooncreole" have been known for a long time; recently great results have been achieved in young catteries "McFurr" and "Sonoma".
TGCh Kotik Dikaya Krassa of Sonoma
Unfortunately, there are catteries where cats look too much like Persian as they keep to the idea of roundness too closely. Siberian cats have a full champion status in the TICA, and in the CFA they are moving towards it.
In Europe the stock had been very diverse for a long time. Poor type with long legs and tail, elongated muzzle and high cheekbones was quite widespread. They even came to oval paws and absence of undercoat, stating the latter in their "new" standard. But in the recent years the appearance of the Siberian Cat in European countries has become good enough. Reasonable import in combination with well thought-out breeding bears its fruit. In Italy the "Della Niva" cattery works with Fjodor, an almost perfect black classic with white stud, obtained as a result of combination of lines imported from Russia (PFS) and Germany ("Newskij’s" cattery). Fjodor’s daughter Katiuscia is used by the "MoskvaSibCat" cattery together with the Hungarian lines ("Maronov" cattery). Katiuscia and her son Borodin were successfully shown at the International show in Petersburg, having been nominated for the BIS.
In Germany the "Iz Ermitage" cattery works perfectly using cats imported from Moscow ("Severnoye Sijanie") and Petersburg ("Nightingale" and "Dikaya Krassa") as a foundation.
The animals of this cattery laid the foundation of breeding in France. The Finnish cattery "FabulaFelis" successfully uses the lines of Russian catteries "Marcell" and "Chingi-tura". And again an interesting trend - despite the distinctions in standards (in the FIFe standard they still have a long tail and high cheekbones) the best cats of this cattery have our modern appearance. There are very few European countries left where nothing is known about the Siberian Cat. The Siberians have recently come to Great Britain, though this island had been closed for them for some time. The first and the second generations of good Siberians have already been born there.
(the "Catreba" cattery).
And on September 8th, 2004, we got to know the good news: presentation of the Siberian breed at the meeting of the GCCF Executive Committee got crowned with recognition! The GCCF standard is more detailed than the WCF one, but at the same time it is the analogue of our standard in terms of type and recognized colours. And the Siberian Cat can be found in any part of the world, except for Antarctica. There are catteries in Japan, South Africa, South Korea... The Siberian Cat has won the world in a split second and is going to hold its positions.