HISTORY OF THE TRADITIONAL DEVON REX ©
Copyright: Diana Fineran May 2006
It was in 1959 when the un-named father of the Traditional Devon Rex breed was living in a derelict tin mine near Buckfastleigh in Devon, England. This wild tom, with a wild and wavy coat, consorted with another wild, tortie and white female. The resulting litter was born in a field near a garden owned by Miss Beryl Cox of Devonshire England, who lived not far from the mine. She was a kind lady, who had been crippled as a result of a war injury, so she gave shelter to the mother cat and kittens behind her house. One of the kittens was exceptional. It was a brownish-black male, Miss Cox named Kirlee because he had lots of curls, some even cascaded in ringlets on his tail. He was a mirror image of his father. All his litter mates had straight coats, so he was a real stand out.
Since the Rex gene is recessive and must be present in both parents before its effects can be seen in their kittens, it is assumed that the Tortie and White mother was a straight coated offspring of the wild, unnamed tin mine male. Her litter was considered to be sired by her own sire.
As a cat lover, Beryl Cox delighted in Kirlee’s unique appearance, his warmth and intelligence, his ability to walk a tight rope and the charming way he wagged his tail when ever he was praised for his achievement. Still, she had no inclination to create an entire curly coated breed.
She heard about Brian Sterling-Webb’s cats. The story goes that he had owned a curly haired male named Kallibunker, who is the father of the Classic Cornish Rex breed. Kallibunker was born in Cornwall, the next county east of Devon 10 years before Kirlee’s birth. Sterling-Web was using two of Kallibunker’s sons and his mother in an effort to establish a curly haired breed. It was discovered by out crossing to straight coated cats that the gene responsible for the “rexed” coat mutation was a simple recessive. The first litters were all straight coated kittens. When those kittens were breed back to Kallibunker the results were 50% curly and 50% straight. Ten years after Kallibunkers’ birth an article was published in the British Newspaper, The English Daily Mirror, featuring a photo of a curly cat with one eye closed, appearing to be winking. He was pronounced to be the only curly coated kitten in the country. This kitten was Du-Bu Lambtex, the first curly coated kitten to be born as a result of the defined breeding efforts with Kallibunker. Seeing the article, Miss Cox wrote a letter to the breeders, telling them that Lambtex wasn’t the only curly coated kitten in the country. She said she had Kirlee. Brian Sterling-Webb and Mrs. Agness Watts of Du-Bu Cattery decided some one should go to see this kitten to confirm if he was another genetic curly coated mutation. It was Agness Watts and her daughter, Susan, who went to the neighboring count to see Kirlee. Indeed, they found him to be a lovely curly coated cat. They encouraged Miss Cox to allow Kirlee to be used in the budding breeding program. So it was that Miss Cox sold her beloved Kirlee to Brian Sterling-Webb for 25 English pounds. Kirlee left his home county of Devon, then and took residence with Agnes and Susan Watts at Darby House. There were several breedings between Kirlee and Classic Cornish Rex, both purebred and straight coated hybrids, which produced only normal coated kittens. The conclusion was clear. The Classic Cornish Rex and the Traditional Devon Rex were separate breeds caused by an entirely different gene type. The Classic Cornish Rex were called Gene I Rex and the Traditional Devon Rex became known as Gene II Rex.
From then on Kirlee and his descendants were known as the Devon Rex, and were developed as a separate breed.
Mrs. P. Hughes was a member of the breeders doing the original experiments. She kept one of the straight coated females, a descendant of Kallibunker, from a litter she bred, named Broughton Golden Rain, who was bred back to her sire, Kirlee. The litter produced had two straight coated kittens and on curly, blue cream female. This kitten was the first curly coated kitten to be produced by Kirlee. Broughton Golden Rain was later bred to a Gene I (Classic Cornish Rex) and produced a litter of two straight coated kittens and two curly kittens. She became the first known hybrid to carry both Rex genes.
Kirlee was neutered in 1964 and placed in a loving pet home by Mr. Stirling-Webb. Kirlee lived out a long and happy life, even continued to preside at cat shows until 1970 as the greatly admired original Traditional Devon Rex. Sadly Kirlee passed away in 1970 due to injuries suffered in a street accident.
Of coarse, there are differences in the physical structure of the two breeds, but in addition there is a great difference in their coat textures. The Traditional Devon Rex has all three types of hairs; guard, awn and down. Their guard hair is very sparse, short and curly. Their fur is denser, causing the more open, billowing wave and looser curl of the Traditional Devon Rex. The Classic Cornish Rex lacks guard hairs.
The original breeders of the Traditional Devon Rex managed to expand the limited gene pool in order to pass on Kirlee’s mutated genes to his kittens as simple recessive genes. Out crossing was done to British Shorthairs, American Shorthairs, Burmese, Bombays and Siamese. Eventually the physical appearance was standardized as we see it today. It is often referred to as a pixie like look. Reflecting the breed’s diverse beginnings, every possible color and pattern is accepted.
One of those who took up the banner to breed these wonderful cats in Britain was Alison Ashford, of Annelida Cattery. She recounted the purchase of her first: “I visited Mrs. Sedgefield of Esher one day in 1962 and saw Du-Bu-Debbie, a young tortoiseshell female, with her litter of Rex and plain kittens. One kitten jumped into my arms from the floor, and literally refused to be put down. I tried to turn away, but loud purring and a wagging tail were prelude to another amorous leap. This was Broughm, then six months old. I could not then really afford the price of a Tex kitten, but I could not leave him. So I rashly wrote a cheque on my housekeeping account and phoned home to warn my husband to have a bed ready for the new acquisition. I was given a some what cold reception, when I arrived home, but Broughm’s charm soon convinced the family that it would be worth eating bread and cheese for the next month. “(Ashford and Pond, p. 18)
The Traditional Devon Rex was accepted for competition in Europe (GCCF) in 1967. Gentry’s Amharic Kurly Katie, bred by Mrs. Knight, became the first Traditional Devon Rex Champion in any association.
The Traditional Devon Rex to cross the Atlantic was Annelida Smokey Pearl, who was purchased by Miss Mary Carroll in Canada. Annelida Callidor joined Pearl, but no known breedings occurred between the two.
The first Traditional Devon Rex breeding program in the U.S. began in 1968, when Marion White and her daughter Anita brought two cats with them to the U.S. after a military posting in England. Alison Ashford chose Annelida Aubretia and Wigmel Black Witch for the two Americans. At their new home in Austin, Texas, they produced Anglo-Tex Devon Rex .
Adding to the breed in the U.S. in 1969 Shirley Lambert of Bob-N Shir Cattery imported Hesperian Orchid and Wigmel Telaman to her cattery in Texas. These two were Seal Pointed and were the first pointed Traditional Devon Rex in the U.S. A few more cats were imported by the Whites and the Lamberts. They worked together with a combined number of eight cats. Among those imported were Annellida Sunset Gleam of Anglo-Tex, Redcliffe Pegasus of Bob ‘N Shir, Hadrian Blue Angel of Anglo-Tex, and Toby Touchstone of Van Dol.
In 1974 Becky Curneen, of Far North Cattery, imported two to Washington State. Delores Johnson, of Dee Jon Cattery, imported three to Oregon. Frank and Wendy Chappell, of Yclept Cattery, imported five to British Columbia. Frances Kirkham, of Cal-Van Cattery, imported two to Alberta.
In 1977, Ann Gibney of Scattergold Cattery came back from England with her first named, Annelida Pervinca, and she bought a second in 1980.
In 1978 British breeders Roma and Lajla Lund of Homeacres Cattery, immigrated to the U.S. bringing with them over a dozen of their cats with them.
In 1980, Mary Robinson, of Marya Cattery fell in love with pictures of a New Zealand cat named Annelida Seagull. Subsequently she tracked down their breeder and imported three from New Zealand to Canada.
The danger of inbreeding, frowned upon by TCA, INC. raised it’s inevitable dark side, when genetic problems were manifested. Genetic problems present in the general cat bloodlines were concentrated in the Traditional Devon Rex due to the intense inbreeding. In addition, a neurological condition causing muscle spasticity appeared only in the Devons. A second problem was parental blood incompatibilities causing the death of kittens. Many Traditional Devon Rex were found to carry Type A blood, while others carried Type B blood. An A male bred to a B female caused the mother’s milk to contain antibodies against the kittens’ own blood, resulting the death of the kittens. Blood typing is now done to avoid this horror. If such a bad breeding happens, the kittens are hand fed every two hours until the gut closes internally and they can handle the antibodies on their own. To reverse the damage done, total out crossing was the focus.
The coat of a Traditional Devon Rex is so fascinating. Waves are only part of the whole. Their unique coat appears to be missing the hard, outer coat known as guard hairs. These hairs have been reduced to twisted little stubs that are buried deep in the cat’s undercoat. The remaining coat is fine, finer than a piece of thread. Unlike a Classic Cornish Rex coat, the Traditional Devon’s coat doesn’t wave, but rather whirls in every direction or curls tightly in neat rows of fur. It is also described as soft, suede like and full bodied. The feel of the coat isn’t wooly. Instead it feels close to crushed velvet. They are wonderful to snuggle with because their lack of outer coat makes them feel warmer to the touch than most regular coated cats.
They are very much a wash and wear cat with only an occasional cleaning of their ears, nail clipping, a short shampoo and towel dry, or even a wipe down with a damp cloth is all the grooming needed.
PERSONALITY OF THE TRADITIONAL DEVON REX ©
Copyright: Diana Fineran May 2006
The Traditional Devon Rex is very people oriented. They have been referred to as “poodle” cats because it is said they have much in common with their poodle dog counterparts. They want your complete and undivided attention during most of their waking hours, as they are strongly devoted to their people. They’re not happy just sitting in your lap. You need to be actively caressing them. They aren’t the kind of cat that comes around only at feeding time. As heat seeker, some may be found lounging on computer monitors, near heater vents and on television sets.
They are easy going, highly active, fun loving, playful, mischievous, captivating, and face each new adventure with a true love of life. Wanting to be involved with everything, and always close to their people, little escapes their interest or investigation. As an outgoing breed, they purr incessantly. It is usual for them to run to meet you when you arrive home at the end of the day to tell you all about their day and how much you were missed. At about three weeks of age they begin to be driven to be with people. As hearty eaters, they do tend to beg for table food just because you are there and they desire your attention.
At night they will find a favorite spot to snuggle with you in bed. Some prefer to sleep under the covers, while others would rather caress your head and hair. Perhaps they can be compared to the heated bricks inn keepers use to provide for their guest’s beds.
An added benefit is that they don’t shed fur in blizzard like amounts as some breeds do.
Sociable, intelligent, friendly, inquisitive and possessing an exceptional temperament, the Traditional Devon Rex appeals to a variety of cat lovers. Some say they are addictive just like popcorn. Many owners find it hard to set them down or stop at just one.
HEALTH OF THE TRADITIONAL DEVON REX ©
Copyright: Diana Fineran May 2006
During the development of the Traditional Devon Rex from one curly coated male, Kirlee, many other breeds were used as out crosses. British Shorthairs, American Shorthairs, Burmese, Bombays and Siamese were used to further the breed and insure that Kirlee’s characteristics were passed on to his kittens as a simple recessive gene.
This wide range of bloodlines ensures a healthy gene pool for future cats.
Along the way intense inbreeding was done repeatedly and the dark side of this practice raised its ugly head. Genetic problems common in the general cat population became concentrated in the Traditional Devon Rex. Also a neurological condition causing muscle spasticity appeared only in Devons. Secondly a parental blood incompatibility resulted in the death of kittens. Many were found to carry Type A blood, when other carried Type B blood. When an A male was bred to a B female, the mother’s milk would contain antibodies against the kittens’ own blood, causing the death of kittens. Breeding Devons are now blood typed. If a bad breeding occurs, the kittens are hand fed every two hours until the gut closes internally and they can handle the antibodies on their own. Out crossing to other breeds became the focus to save the breed.
These are just some of the reasons why TCA, INC. does not support or condone intense inbreeding.
The focus now is on out crossing to repair the damage done to the breed.
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