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Getting to Know the Devon Rex

By Gerri Logan and Ann Gibney
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

The Devon Rex redefines the cat in both appearance and behavior. It is its distinctive head, which catches and holds the eye. With an elfin face featuring large, intensely expressive eyes, and an upturned nose with chipmunk cheeks, the Devon nicely fits the definition of cute. Add huge bat-wing ears that suggest a creature capable of flight and one suddenly sees E.T., The Extraterrestrial, pedaling a bicycle across the night sky silhouetted against a full moon or playfully tucked between teddy bears and dolls in a child's closet. A short coat of curls, swirls and waves complete the physical redefinition.

The almost unchanging Devon remains strikingly close in appearance to Kirlee, the mutation upon which the breed was established. While outcrossing to other breeds continues, it is to the type of the founding cat that the Devon always returns.

The rexed coat is the original reason for the perpetuation of the Devon Rex as a breed and is produced by a unique mutation. Guard hairs are present but in very weakened form and reduced numbers. They vary in diameter throughout their length, making them "lumpy" and giving the coat a fuller feeling and a more open and uneven wave completely unlike the Marcel wave of the Cornish Rex coat, which is lacking guard hairs entirely. Eyebrows and whiskers are also curly but Devons having only bent stubs for whiskers are not uncommon.

Like baby birds, Devon Rex molt out their birth coats in favor of more substantial coats at about eight weeks of age. The speed with which new coats grow varies widely, from a few days to a year or more. The typical kitten in molt is covered in a fine down that has the soft, slightly resistant feel of suede. This suede-like down frequently remains the only covering on the stomach area even in heavily coated adults. It is the lack of insulating coat that permits the higher body temperature common to all felines to be felt more readily in Devons. Selective breeding is gradually producing Devons that effect coat exchanges in such a seamless manner that kittens appear not to molt at all.

The Devon body has a heft and muscularity that surprise when you first lift and feel the cat. The chest is unexpectedly broad, given the slender neck that arises from it, and the front legs, though not bowed, come off the chest like a bulldog stance. The Devon is a small-to-medium sized cat with long legs adding a rakish appearance.

Devons permit many who suffer with cat-related allergies to experience the joy of a cat in their lives, possibly because of their low shedding. Other factors may contribute to this phenomenon, but are not yet understood. Many people attest to living with Devons without triggering their allergies.

Their Personality

Devon Rex

The Devon Rex is as friendly and comical as its charming appearance suggests. Devons attempt to be all things to all people who love them: companion, court jester, soul mate. They are consummate people-pleasers that respond eagerly to their names, follow their people about the house and sleep snuggled next to them in bed.

They delight in shared body warmth; curling themselves into your lap or draping across your shoulder without invitation. They enjoy basking in rays of warm sunlight and follow them from door to window as the day moves closer to one of its highlights, dinnertime.

Devons have a robust appetite, and eating is a passion for most of them; asparagus, cantaloupe and chicken being just a few favored treats. They rarely overeat and generally maintain good weight throughout their lives when fed a well-balanced diet designed specifically for cats.

Devon conversation is blissfully soft-voiced with chirps, peeps, and trills. Visitors are greeted at the front door by the Devon-of-the-house with much friendly chatter, purring and happy dog-like tail wagging. Friendly, curious, and ever seeking approval, these cats have a need for people that has resulted in their plunging into bathtubs or joining someone in the shower. Banishing a Devon from a room accomplishes little besides eliciting a plaintive mewing from beyond the closed door. Aloofness is quite unknown in the Devon Rex.

A Devon makes a good playmate for a gentle, cat-savvy child. A bonneted Devon being pushed in a doll carriage is a common sight when little girls are around and is only one of countless games to be arranged between child and cat. They are themselves perpetual children, remaining playful into their senior years. Many live long lives with some attaining twenty years or more. They readily accept most dogs as roommates or as pillows. Do not expect a Devon to be a mouser as he is far more likely to make friends with one rather than do harm.

Care of Your Devon Rex

Most Devons require little to no bathing but people with allergies may wish to give weekly baths. A good moisturizing shampoo and conditioner will not over-dry the coat. The primary grooming tool, a dampened washcloth, is used to wipe down the coat daily to remove surface dirt and to stimulate a deeper wave.

They enjoy being carried and many are comfortable perching on a shoulder, much like a parrot. Most travel easily and accept new surroundings with confidence.

Training to stay off counters may be achieved with a spray bottle. Repetition may be necessary despite the fact that they are quite clever, because they often display a deep and abiding stubbornness.

Many Devons can be trained to walk on a lead, retrieve, and even bring the proverbial pipe and slippers, except that it's usually just one slipper, and not always yours. Nevertheless, they are intelligent, eager to please and willing to learn. Praise and hugs are essential for success.

In the show ring, you may note experienced judges permit Devons to stand on the table without visible restraint. Devons, unlikely to bolt from the table, rebel at physical attempts to restrain them. They intensely dislike hands placed under their bellies as a means of control and will persistently attempt to step away from this type of handling. Home practice sessions before the first show will familiarize them with standing, playing and remaining on a small judging table.

You may see a judge pulling back a male cat's jowls or pressing a fingertip into the nose area between the cat's eyes. This is done to reveal the boning and ear shape being hidden by the jowls, and to assure the nose stop is not just an illusion. Playing games at home that involve facial manipulation will prepare and condition the cat to accept this activity in the show ring with good grace.

Breed History

As for the history of the breed, it began in 1959, in a deserted tin mine near Buckfastleigh, in Devon, England, where a feral tomcat had sought shelter. Local people noted on this cat ringlets of curly fur all over his body. This feral cat is credited with siring the kitten upon which the breed was founded, by way of a normal coated, tortie-and-white female stray. It is further surmised she was also his daughter because the gene necessary to reproduce his curly coat was later shown to be a simple recessive gene, which requires both parents to carry the gene or display it in the form of a curly (rex) coat.

The stray female produced a litter of kittens, of which only one, a male, had the same curly coat as that tin-mine-tom. In a stroke of good fortune, the litter was born and raised in the garden of Beryl Cox who took a liking to the curly kitten's looks, amusing antics and loving nature. She took him into her home, naming him Kirlee.

He was a charming character, agilely walking a tightrope, fetching toys, and wagging his tail to express happiness just like a dog. He also proved irresistible to English breeders working with a curly mutation that had occurred ten years earlier in the neighboring county of Cornwall. Miss Cox thought he would contribute to this new breed, so she agreed, in 1960, to sell Kirlee because it appeared that he was of that same mutation. This later proved not the case at all. Kirlee was mated to a variety of females displaying or carrying the previously mutated rex gene. Although many kittens were the result, not one had a curly coat. The bad news was that Kirlee could not help, as he was not one of them. The good news was that another entirely new kind of rex gene had been discovered. It was dubbed Gene II, with the original known as Gene I. No further crossing of the two strains was attempted and their development proceeded as two independent breeds. However, this did not extend to the removal of those cats already carrying the opposite rex gene from either breed; a short cut that unfortunately caused double rex to occur. Such anomalies still arise today, although very rarely, in both the Devon and Cornish breeds.

Kirlee was bred with several breeds and curious breed mixtures with some resulting females being bred back to him. He sired only ten-recorded gene II litters before being neutered, after which he lived in a pet home until his accidental death in 1970.

Kirlee's progeny was bred to Siamese, British Burmese, Persians and British Shorthair in the process of perpetuating the Gene II Rex mutation. The gene pool was further expanded when descendants were later outcrossed to the Abyssinian, Korat, Russian Blue and Oriental Shorthair. Today's Devon Rex carries and displays a gamut of colors and patterns transferred to them in the breed's infancy.

The British breeders applied for recognition by the cat registry in the United Kingdom, which was granted in 1967, with the condition that Gene I be called Cornish Rex and Gene II be called Devon Rex. The Devon Rex was accepted for registration by CFA many years later in 1979 and was granted championship status at CFA shows beginning with the May 1983 show season.

The original standard of perfection was based upon Kirlee. Today, more than 40 years later, the standards of perfection in cat associations the world over, with little exception, remains faithful to this original standard. This has guaranteed the continued appearance and structure of Kirlee, the breed's progenitor.

The Devon Rex has enjoyed an ever-increasing population growth and show presence as more and more people discover the joy of life with these unusual cats. With a steady increase in registrations over the decades, the Devon Rex is indeed laying claim to the hearts of cat lovers everywhere.

Although the Devon Rex remains a relatively rare breed, it has proven itself a stylish, humorous and worthy competitor in CFA show halls, as well as a loving, loyal companion bringing joy and laughter into the homes and hearts of the people who love them.

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