By Betty White
To know anything at all about pedigreed cats is to know the Siamese. The captivation of the western world by "The Royal Cats of Siam" has been crucial to the history of the Cat Fancy from its very beginnings, as well as to its subsequent development through the years. It was largely the discovery of this one breed by the English well over a hundred years ago that provided the impetus for the world of cats we know today. A striking, contrasting color pattern on an elegant frame, all made dramatic by dark blue eyes is the stuff of dreams. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Siamese has the undisputed claim to the title of most beloved feline breed.
It has been the inspiration, if not the primary genetic source, for many other breeds and has served to maintain and stabilize breeds threatened with extinction. The Siamese is, in short, a feline treasure. Therefore, to embrace the full meaning of Siamese does nothing if it does not illuminate the very human desire of cat lovers everywhere to set this ancient breed apart. It is a universal love affair with "The Royal Cat of Siam" that has been both its glory and its nemesis.
Mainstream Siamese breeders of today are the direct descendants of the Siamese breeding tradition, which began generations ago, and their cats echo the graceful elegance suggested in the earliest breed standards. Simply put, a Siamese is a living, breathing work of art that shuns a display shelf in favor of a lap. Long head, long body, long tail, long neck, long legs; everything about a Siamese is long with the exception of its short coat, a state of affairs which accentuates the body lines and underscores the porcelain-like quality of its visual image. A tubular body, large ears, and fine bones contribute to this exquisite refinement of type. The long, wedge-shaped head graced by large ears that complete that triangle, straight profile, and lovely almond-shaped eyes contribute to a unique expression of feline beauty. When color contrast is excellent and correct, body color even and clear, and the eyes are a gorgeous deep blue, the resulting Siamese belongs in that "takes your breath away" category of all riveting great art. There are four lovely Siamese colors in CFA - sealpoint, chocolatepoint, bluepoint and lilacpoint.
A word about the eyes and tails. It is well known that cats of all breeds from areas throughout Asia have traditionally exhibited crossed eyes and kinked tails. Nonetheless, most fanciers of the Siamese always considered both these conditions grievous faults. In Cats and All About Them published in 1902, Frances Simpson categorically states that on the question of kinked tails, "His Majesty the King of Siam is quoted as saying they ought not to be." Crossed eyes, variously discussed in this manner or as a "squint," have likewise been forbidden on the show bench. Breeders have selected against these faults for many generations and rarely produce kittens with either defect. That both crossed eyes and kinked tails still occasionally occur is due to their recessive genetic nature.
An indication of successful, lengthy domestication of any animal can be found in a high level of communication with and affection for human beings. Given the innate independence of the feline species and its territorial nature, any cat that exhibits a marked ability to communicate and that wants to associate with people is testifying to a long period of domestication. No breed surpasses the Siamese in its ability to communicate and in its love for human beings. Whether it is by vocalizing or by body language, the Siamese is determined to communicate. The degree to which they are talkative depends a good deal on the amount of conversation that is directed their way. In addition, they tend to be vocal in direct proportion to the desired end, always demanding the last word.
Siamese do not tolerate isolation (or being ignored) well; they want to be a part of their owners' lives, as they hold firmly to the belief that they are man's best friend. They are in one's lap, on one's newspaper, in one's bed, and completely in one's heart. Nor should this statement suggest that they are simply pleased to take these various positions; Siamese insist upon it. Those who live with this breed will laughingly remark about the letters sent to friends and family "with teeth marks." One suspects that it has something to do with attention being given to the letter being written instead of attention focused on the cat on one's lap. The same reasoning explains why the Siamese is determined to sit ON the newspaper (or in front of it staring at your face) as opposed to quietly allowing it to be read. There is no better companion cat than "The Royal Cat of Siam," a feline thoroughly acquainted with the term, "togetherness."
There is also the fact that Siamese are heat-seekers. They are elegant, sleek creatures with short, fine coats. It is no stretch of the truth to say that with regards to temperature they have a narrow comfort range. To this breed, more is better. (Not only do they love you for your sterling qualities, they also love you because you are warm.) A Siamese can find the warmest spot in your house, and do not be surprised if that place in the summertime is a spot of sunshine on the rug, the pilot light of your water heater, or the refrigerator vent.
Our canine friends are well known for playing fetch, a game that most of them do outdoors. A Siamese loves to play the game just as much, and his owner does not need to wait for good weather. Not only that, the balled-up paper cup, the ideal missile to throw, will be returned to a lap, not dropped at one's feet. It is with very good reason that the Siamese regards himself as man's best friend.
A Siamese show cat expects to be stretched aloft. Owners do it; the judges do it. This handling method accentuates the cat's length, demonstrates its elegance, and gives the Siamese a chance to stretch its neck to add to the effect. The cat also can be encouraged to pose unaided and stretch that neck, although this will be a test of individual personality and patience.
Care and Maintenance
While rubber brushes, if used sparingly, are fine aids in removing excess hair, grooming by hand is by far the best way to maintain a Siamese coat. Wet hands are used to stroke the coat until they dry, gently removing dead hair in the process. A Siamese that lives in the house with his owner will seldom need a bath, as daily hand grooming will suffice. If a bath is called for, however, it should be given using a gentle no-tears baby shampoo followed by a conditioner. The best time to bathe a Siamese prior to a show is two or three days beforehand to allow the natural oils to return to the coat. Nothing really conditions the Siamese coat better than an excellent diet, although there is much to be said for a bit of cottage cheese added to that diet to produce an added gloss. The inside of the ears should be trimmed for show grooming, but this is best done sparingly and with special ear/nose blunted scissors. The ears should be free of excess hair but should not present a bald appearance indicative of shaving, nor should the trimming continue much beyond the ear.
It is interesting that the earliest publications in England consistently refer to the breed as both "The Royal Cat of Siam" and "Siamese." This has to do with the claim of protection and breeding under royal supervision in Siam by those who chronicled the earliest imports into the West. Was the Siamese a true blueblood, a companion of kings? Possibly, and it certainly makes a wonderful story. That the breed was prized in its native land is thoroughly documented, however.
The translation into English in 1998 of the historic Thai Cat Poems or Tamra Maew (published in The Legend of Siamese Cats by Martin R. Clutterbuck) clearly describes a white cat with black ears, face, paws and tail known as Maew Kaew, or Wichien-maas. These poems are between 100 and 200 years old, but reflect a literary culture much older. The book itself contains many illustrations from very old manuscripts.
Imported into England in the late 19th century and appearing in catalogues of the Crystal Palace Show as early as 1881, the Siamese was recognized in sealpoint. A description by Harrison Weir in Our Cats and All About Them (1889) of the ideal show specimen bears repeating:
"The head should be long from ears to eyes, and not over broad, and then rather sharply taper off towards the muzzle, the forehead flat, and receding, the eyes somewhat aslant downwards towards the nose, and the eyes of a pearly, yet bright blue colour, the ears usual size and black with little or no hair on the inside, with black muzzle, and round the eyes black. The form should be slight, graceful and delicately made, body long, tail rather short and thin, and the legs somewhat short, slender, and the feet oval, not so round as the ordinary English cat. The body should be one bright, uniform, even colour, not clouded, either rich fawn, dun or ash. The legs, feet and tail black. The back slightly darker is allowable, if of a rich colour, and the colour softened, not clouded".
Clearly, this was an exotic creature, in 1889 as well as today.
Having conquered the hearts of the mighty British Empire at a time when few four-legged creatures could boast such a thing, the Siamese cat crossed the Atlantic in numbers large enough to suggest that vast area was but a pond. Siamese are found in the Beresford Cat Club Stud Books in 1900, and the first Siamese to be awarded Best Cat in Show was in 1907. With characteristic charm, the breed vanquished this continent as thoroughly and decisively as it had captured the hearts of Merry Old England. Classes became large; color classes expanded to four: sealpoint, bluepoint, chocolatepoint, and lilacpoint. CFA recognized the bluepoint in 1934, the chocolatepoint in 1952, and the lilacpoint in 1955, five years before the English did so. In the year 2003, the four Siamese colors had been together on the CFA show bench for 48 years.
But it was in the years directly preceding and following the Second World War that the popularity of the Siamese soared, along with the burgeoning of the American Cat Fancy. Siamese and Persians dominated the show scene, with classes of well over a hundred Siamese being commonplace. Having fallen hopelessly in love with the Siamese color pattern, the consequence of a temperature-controlling enzyme that restricts color to the coolest parts of the body, the American public clamored for this glamorous pet. Overall quality suffered in the rush to supply this demand, resulting in a misconception of the breed that still lingers today.
The Siamese cat is so much more than a color pattern; one shared with the Himalayan rabbit, for instance. The exotic structure of the Siamese was overlooked in the fascination with its paint job. Anyone who remembers those frenetic times may also recall the many poor examples of the breed on the show bench, a state of affairs familiar to fanciers of other animal breeds, which refers to being "loved to death."
Cats with heavy boning, round heads and washed-out blue eyes began to appear in increasing numbers, a sure sign of mixed ancestry and indiscriminate breeding. It has been with a sigh of relief that those who treasure the Siamese nowadays have welcomed its present position as a revered, popular breed among other favorite breeds of cats. Accordingly, Siamese to be found in cat shows at present are much more representative of the breed and consistent in type, because they are exhibited by breeders dedicated to preserving the finest attributes of this ancient cat.
Having set an unequalled example of beauty and temperament to the world, it is hardly surprising that the Siamese gene pool has been used many times over the years to create other visions of beautiful cats. Its most apparent direct descendants are the Balinese, Colorpoint, Javanese and Oriental. Other obvious creations are the Himalayan Persian and Tonkinese. Added to these breeds are the contributions of the Siamese in the development and maintenance of the Burmese, Havana Brown, and Ocicat. The Siamese is not only a mainstay of the pedigreed cat world for its own distinct, intrinsic beauty, it is an unsurpassed genetic wellspring to which many breeds owe their existence and, in some cases, continued well-being.
The refrain that goes, "We are Siamese if you please; we are Siamese if you don't please," captures the essence of all cats. What it conveys particularly about Siamese is recognition that this breed is an accepted part of human existence. If one thinks about a singing, talking, bent-on-communicating feline, this breed must come to mind. Slanty eyes and slinky bodies painted with points are portrayed in caricatures and in pop art with nary a thought of identification. Loved for many, many years for its endearing ways and heart-stopping beauty, the Siamese is, quite simply a Siamese.
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This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.