By Jim DeBruhl
"Oh look, spots! Is it tame? What kind of cat is this? It must be something special.'' These are comments frequently heard by Ocicat enthusiasts. And indeed they are special. This magnificent spotted cat never fails to steal the show, not to mention the hearts of those fortunate enough to live with them. Wild cats whether large or small have captured the imagination of humans since the beginning of time. The Ocicat, while wild in appearance, is a loveable companion that manages to evoke the excitement of a wild jungle cat while striking the right balance of playfulness, independence and devotion to its human. What first attracts you to this breed is its striking spots and feral appearance. What holds your fascination is the outgoing and loving nature of this breed.
No "wild blood" or mating to a feral cat referred to colloquially as "wild cats" was ever introduced to the all-domestic breed known as the Ocicat. This breed is "wild" in appearance only and has been bred to mimic its cousins appearing in nature. A very brief description of an Oci would be a well spotted, short haired, feral looking domestic feline with a pleasing personality and temperament.
A healthy Ocicat regardless of its gender will feel heavy for its size due to its musculature and the fact that this breed is supposed to be a medium-to-large cat of considerable strength. This heavy feel is partially the result of their athletic prowess and overall muscle tone. People who meet the Ocicat for the first time are surprised at how dense they feel for their size.
A good Ocicat coat pattern should be one that consists of large, separate, thumbprint-shaped spots on the sides of the torso suggestive of the classic tabby pattern where a spot is circled by other spots appearing somewhat similar to a bull's-eye. Other large spots should be scattered across the shoulders, on the hindquarters, down the legs at least to the knee, and the belly should always be well spotted. Except for the tip of the tail, every hair in the coat of an Ocicat has bands of color and a spot is formed where the tipped or "agouti" hairs fall together. It is the striking contrast between these spots and the background color that adds tremendously to the overall attractiveness and appeal of the Ocicat to cat fanciers in general.
Imagine all these spots with dynamic contrast produced in 12 colors. The primary colors are tawny, chocolate and cinnamon while the diluted corresponding colors are blue, lavender and fawn. As if that were not enough variety, there is also a silver version of each primary and diluted color. Ebony silver (tawny), chocolate silver, cinnamon silver, blue silver, lavender silver and fawn silver.
While the Ocicat looks wild, its temperament is anything but ferocious. It is a lot like a dog in that it is absolutely devoted to its people. The Ocicat is not a demanding, clinging-vine type, but is confident as well as dedicated to its owners.
Most Ocicats are also quite extroverted around strangers, not at all bashful about checking out the possibilities for a few playmates or a lap to curl up on when visitors come to call.
Ocicats are quite bright and easily trained. Many will fetch, walk on a leash, respond to voice commands and readily adapt to household rules. Because of their adaptability, they are a joy to work with and easily get used to traveling. Their sociable nature may make them less suited than some other breeds to being left alone for long periods of time, but it does make them a good choice for a household already blessed with other cats or dogs.
Ocicat kittens are generally very playful but can be rather possessive of their cat toys. Litter size has remained constant at approximately three kittens per litter with slightly more males than females. Ocicat females are generally easy to breed and experience few problems when delivering kittens. It is the opinion of many breeders that kittens should be handled at a very young age so that conditioning to human contact is accepted early in life. Kittens need to experience the sight, smell, and feel of human contact early in their life to develop a pleasing and friendly personality as full-grown and mature Ocicats.
This breed loves human interaction so much they will follow you from room to room watching as you perform even the dullest activities. Many will fetch similar to our canine friends, others are agreeable to being leash-trained, and most will respond to a rather wide range of verbal commands.
They possess an athletic constitution and a playful inclination and although not continually underfoot or annoying, they are active and curious. However, on occasion they will demand attention. Their playfulness and curiosity often result in humorous and comical antics. In general, the Ocicat adapts well to life in groups or with individuals of other breeds as long as their personalities and energies do not conflict. They are more rambunctious than most longhaired breeds but jump about less than their Oriental cousins. The Ocicat requires no special diet so any nutritionally complete commercial cat food would be acceptable.
Ocicats do not require excessive grooming. A show quality Ocicat is bathed on Wednesday or Thursday in preparation for an upcoming weekend cat show. A bronze tone shampoo is recommended if your cat has a tawny, cinnamon, or chocolate coat color; pearl tone shampoo is recommended for the lavender, blue, and fawn; whitening shampoo is suggested for the silvers. Many exhibitors highly praise a chamois cloth for its ability to shine the Ocicat coat and it can be used as often as needed in the show hall and at home.
Because of the arrangement of its specific muscle groups, plus its overall musculature, judges or anyone else handling an Ocicat need to keep the rear feet of the cat on the table or floor at all times. A fully-grown Ocicat is simply uncomfortable being placed in what is referred to as the "Persian Stretch" and usually will not tolerate this form of handling. Generally, the show quality Ocicat has a good time while on the judging table and if treated with respect will help the judge who is attempting to present each cat to its full potential.
The first Ocicat (the breed had not yet been named) occurred by accident. The year was 1964 and on a cold and blustery morning in Berkley, Michigan Ms. Virginia Daly, and her daughter Virginia, watched with great excitement over their soon-to-be-momma cat with the odd sounding name of Dalai She. This ruddy Aby-coated hybrid female was about to deliver the offspring of Champion Whitehead Elegante Sun, called "Sunny." He was a large, well-muscled, dark colored, chocolate point Siamese. Together, Sunny and She produced a litter of kittens, one of which was not the Aby-pointed Siamese Ms. Daly was attempting to achieve.
This "ugly duckling" was a golden spotted male kitten. On first site Virginia, the daughter, remarked, "He looks like a baby Ocelot," and in the next breath asked, "Can we call him an Ocicat?" Very shortly after his birth the kitten was named, "Tonga." Little did he know that he had a place in feline history. From his birth, this little hybrid spotted fellow would be the first of his kind and carry the banner of a new and unique breed of domestic cat. The only complication was that this "new breed" was not the goal Ms. Daly had in mind. Therefore, Tonga was neutered and sold as a pet.
When the Detroit newspaper publicized the lovely spotted cat and when noted geneticist, Dr. Clyde Keeler, expressed his desire to see a domestic cat which would mimic some of the vanishing wild species, the breeding was repeated to produce more Ocicats. In an effort to develop other Ocicat lines, breeders followed Mrs. Daly's recipe and added an ingredient of their own by introducing the American Shorthair, thus ensuring a broad genetic base. The addition of this third breed into the Ocicat gene pool gave the new offspring more substance to the body and contributed the beautiful silver gene.
Tonga's story did not end here. He was the first public relations ambassador for the Ocicat Breed. Tonga, as the first Ocicat along with 16 other cats labeled as "Special Exhibits" were shown February 20-21, 1965 at a CFA show in Detroit and the catalog presented them as "Breeds of the Future." How right they were.
Feline enthusiasts have always been awed by the spotted cats of the wild: ocelots, margays, leopards and others. Never before was there such an effort to breed an entirely domestic cat, which can offer the spotted beauty of the wild cats, while maintaining the lovely, predictable disposition of the domestic cat.
The Ocicat was recognized for CFA registration in 1966, but it took another twenty years to develop the breed and gain the support for Provisional Status, which was granted in 1986. The advancement to Championship Status followed quickly thereafter in May 1987. The Ocicat Registry was closed to Siamese and American Shorthair outcrosses in 1986 but the Abyssinian Breed remains an allowable outcross until the year 2015.
The Ocicat's agreeable temperament coupled with its environmental adaptability creates for both the owner of one cat or many cats a truly enjoyable and loving companion. The Ocicat is an undeniably wild looking cat whose friendly outgoing nature belies its feral appearance.
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This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.