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Curl Origin and Personality Traits

Shulamith in 1981, the original American Curl
to which all bonafied Curls trace their pedigree.


by Caroline Scott

CFA American Curl
Breed Council Secretary

January 2008

Boasting head adornments that could have easily been fashioned by a legendary hat designer, along with their opulently plumed tails reminiscent of a luxurious ostrich-feather boa, the American Curl has audiences in awe world-wide. Distinguished by truly unique ears that curl back in a graceful arc offering an alert, happily-surprised expression, makes people break out into a big smile when viewing their first Curl. Designed exclusively by Mother Nature, the ears can be likened to those of a Lynx with long tufts fanning outward accentuating the swept-back look, while complementing the Curl's overall sophistication, stylish elegance, and dynamic presence.


When Curls are born, their ears are straight. In 3 to 5 days they start to curl back staying in a tight "rosebud" position, unfurling gradually until permanently "set" at around 16 weeks. This is the time breeders determine the kitten's ear quality as either pet or show in addition to the kitten's overall confirmation. The degree of curl can vary greatly, ranging from almost straight (pet quality) to a show quality ear with an arc of 90-180 degrees resembling a graceful shell-like curvature. (Figure 1.1) In keeping with the all-over balanced look of the cat, ear size should be in proportion to the head. As a note of interest, a kitten's ears at 4 months can be larger in proportion to the head since the head grows into the ears by adulthood.
Thedesired arc of the curl when viewed from the rear (Figure 1.2) depicts the imaginary lines that follow the curve of the ear through the tips so that they intersect at the base of the skull. Ear furnishings fanning outward accentuate and further enhance the Curl's alluring beauty. Unlike other feline ears which are soft and supple, a Curl's cartilage is firm, similar to the the human. They should be firm from the ear's base to at least 2/3 of the height, with the tips being flexible and rounded. The desired ear size calls for moderately large with a wide and open base. (Figure 1.3) From the start, the ideal American Curl has been described as a well-balanced cat indicating that the ideal ear height is one that is in balance and proportion to the overall size of the head and body, as well as maintaining a graceful, smooth arc. With all these possible variables factored in, it's not hard to see why very few ears can achieve all these criteria. With the score used to evaluate all breeds based on 100 possible points distributed over the various features of the cat, the Curl has a full 30 points allotted to the ears alone. Interestingly, it is virtually impossible to predict what ear degree curl kittens will have based on the parent's degree of curl, as a sire or dam does not have to have a show ears to produce them, and two show-eared parents can easily produce ears that are far less curled than the desired 90 degrees. This always keeps it interesting to say the least with Mother Nature at the helm.

Although the distinctive feature of the American Curl is their uniquely curled ears, body type and a silky, flat-lying coat are equally important. (Figure 1.4) The ideal torso being an agile, athletic, medium-sized rectangle supporting a medium-boned cat weighing no more than 10 pounds. Also unique to the Curl are their expressive walnut-shaped eyes. (Figure 1.5) As with other breeds, small regional style variances exist in today's American Curls. Specifically, although the gap is narrowing year by year, variations in ear type are most common. These differences occur partly due to the use of non-pedigreed foundation stock in the Curl breeding programs, and partly due to the geographical distance between breeders. For example, North Atlantic regional domestic stock may have a slightly denser and longer coat due to colder weather conditions than West coast domestic stock. What was once considered a huge difference in the interpretation as to what the ideal Curl should look like, is slowly melding together, and where there were differences in body and ear type several years ago, is growing into a more consistent look. East coast breeders and West coast breeders are presently sharing their lines, and talking more about how they can preserve the Curl's integrity by upgrading their own existing lines, and by continuing to breed to the standard. The new millennium has opened the communication doors even more via computers. Breeders old and new have ample opportunity to jump on the domestic-outcross bandwagon until May 2010, when breeding Curl to Curl will be the only viable reproduction option allowed in CFA.


Wake-up call! The alarm rings and emerging out from under the covers eager to start the day, is your Curl buddy. Eyelid pats, nose kisses, and hair licking prompt a gentle awakening. Then your eyes focus on that exuberant little Curl face, and another day begins with a smile.

The Curl personality as well as their ears is truly unique. If not sleeping up high somewhere in a large salad bowl, or figuring out with great determination just how to get into the shower with you, or assuming their spot right in front of a favorite TV show, they are patting at your glasses while you try to read the paper. Needless to say, Curls are very people-oriented, faithful, affectionate soul-mates adjusting remarkably fast to other pets, children, and new situations.
People say they are very dog-like in their attentiveness to their owners, following them around so not to miss anything. One story relating the Curl's inherent spirituality is that a new Curl owner who enjoyed taking her male Curl for leash-walks on Sundays over to the nearby dog run because "all the dogs love him he just soaks up all the attention", was approached by a mature gentleman who introduced himself as a painter. He told her of his avid fascination and admiration of her Curl's inner light, and asked if he could have the pleasure of trying to capture this essence on canvas. At the first sitting when the carrier door opened, the fearless subject leapt out and bounded about all over the studio showing off as if he knew how enamored the artist was of him. Weeks later the owner was presented with a beautiful masterpiece perfectly portraying the innate Curl spirit. It is this trait that people most associate when describing the Curl personality.

Although fearless and courageous lap cats, when introduced into a new home, Curl's seem to have an inherent respect for the current pet occupants giving them plenty of room to adjust to the new kid on the block. They are never aggressive and always polite. Being astute they're easily engrossed in assisting their owners in whatever project is at hand like helping to fix dinner rather than watching. They can be taught to beg, fetch, sit, and are easy to leash train for those occasional excursions. Favorite toys are Q-Tips, Kitty Caviar (shredded dried Bonita fish) and anything that makes a crinkling sound. Not overly talkative, the Curl's curiosity and intelligence is expressed through little trill-like cooing sounds when they want to comment or would like an opinion on something that's momentarily confounding to them. Because they retain their kitten-like personality well throughout adulthood, they are referred to as the Peter Pan of felines. So it isn't surprising to see a twelve-year old Curl frolicking and jumping effortlessly for a favorite toy along with the twelve-week olds.

Not finicky eaters, Curls thrive on high quality wet and dry pet foods preferring lamb, chicken, or turkey over beef or seafood. They love a special treat, of course, and expect one for their clownish antics. Usually some nice small pieces of cheddar cheese, or tuna is always a sure bet and a great bonding tool as well if being introduced in a new home.


Since the lustrous silky Curl coat has very little if any undercoat, shedding is minimal and grooming simple. Just a few strokes once a week with a natural-bristle brush or metal grooming comb is ample. Naturally more frequent brushing adds to the quality bonding play time with prompting head butts assuring you that more is never enough hands-on attention. Curls don't require baths but as mentioned previously, most of them do enjoy water sports. So if this is the case, using a tearless baby shampoo or the family favorite is adequate. After a quick lather and thorough rinse, squeeze out excess water with a towel, then put Curlie into a carrier holding a blow dryer about a foot from the carrier door on medium heat until mostly dry. Then using a medium metal grooming comb, gently work through the tail and body coat. Now air drying is all that is needed since the coat is designed to lie flat. Show baths, on the other hand, require a thorough 5-step procedure the night before a show.

Some Curls may have a darker ear wax that requires a simple home maintenance cleaning. This can be done by first dipping a Q-Tip into a non-oily ear cleaning solution (available from your vet), then starting at the canal opening, gently work in an upward direction away from the opening up the ear furrows. Each ear generally gets about 2 swabs. Avoid pulling on the cartilage as this may cause the ear to uncurl over time or even break. Also, no liquids should be put directly into the ears, please, as some canals can be narrow and Curlie would be uncomfortable trying to shake it out. Calling the breeder first is recommended if liquids are suggested by your vet. Since Curls are so trusting and will let you position them anyway you want, nail-clipping is a breeze.


Since Curls love your attention, they will most likely enjoy riding on your shoulders or being lifted high so they can grab for hanging toys suspended from such places as ceiling fan chains or door sills. For the show ring they should be carried stretched out to show off their graceful rectangular body, but at home just plain love-bug cradling is perfect. Highly recommended is a tall 6-8 foot sisal or rope covered cat tree with safe scooped platforms for surveying everything you are doing and occasional snoozing with one eye open. Curls are especially good travelers whether by car or plane. They just sit patiently in their carriers looking out at the sights until they arrive at their destinations ready to stretch, make new friends, and see where you've taken them now.


Curls certainly know the words "No", "Down", and "Come". They know their names, learn quickly, and they even come to a whistle responding immediately and with exuberance. In the mornings, they love to be held stroked and snuggled. Some owners even take Curlie to work where they make their rounds greeting each employee. Frequently they will jump in someone's lap and just lay there while everyone tries to work. Curls follow you around the house, not getting in the way, just wanting to be in the same room. They have "hug me" written all over their face. When they play, they play with all their heart and sole vigorously incorporating leaps, bounds and stunning acrobatics. Many say their antics are much better than any TV show.


On a typical hot June day in 1981, a stray longhaired black female cat with funny ears mooched a meal from a family in Lakewood, California, and moved in. The Rugas never suspected that from that simple encounter, and the birth of some kittens 6 month later, would grow a worldwide debate about the genetics behind those unusual curled ears. When selective breeding began in 1983, fanciers bred the American Curl with an eye towards developing a show breed. In analyzing data on 81 litters (383 kittens), renowned feline geneticist Roy Robinson of London, England, confirmed that the ear-curling gene is autosomal dominant, which means that any cat with even one copy of the gene will show the trait. Breeders wondered whether other genes would modify the expression of the curl gene and thus the appearance of the curl itself, or even bring with it unwanted abnormalities. In the December 1989 Journal of Heredity, Robinson reported finding no defects in any of the crosses he analyzed. Apparently the curl gene codes for a slight overpopulation of cartilage along the inner lining of the ear. This was truly an anticipated sigh of relief to the growing number of Curl enthusiasts as this information provided the pathway for a new and healthy breed--and one with an outstanding temperament. To pass the probationary muster that CFA required of moving toward that first step to Championship status, the curly candidates "walked across the conference table, sat in each of the directors' laps, kissed them, and that was it."

The American Curl was first accepted for CFA registration in 1986, achieving Provisional status in 1991, and quickly advanced to Championship in 1993. "Shulamith", as she was named, was that stray black cat and is the original American Curl to which all bonafied pedigrees trace their origin. Since the Curl originated as a domestic cat, and to preserve it's unique identity, the standard was formulated around Shulamith's physical characteristics while paying special attention to preserve that especially-affectionate, happy-go-lucky disposition as well.

This description varied the Curl just enough to distinguish it from all other breeds, but most significantly, it dictated that the only allowable outcross for the Curl would be non-pedigreed domestic cats that closely matched the Curl standard. This vast domestic gene pool diversity ensures optimum health, vigor, and longevity with virtually no genetic defects associated with it. The first Curl to Curl breeding occurred in January 1984 with the resulting kittens born in March. A black and white male kitten from this litter became the first known homozygous American Curl, meaning that all of his offspring would have curled ears, regardless of his pairing with curled or straight-eared females. Due to their diverse domestic ancestry, Curls are available in both coat lengths, and can be any color or coat pattern, including the rare colorpoint, which were initially noted in Shu's first litter. Both coat lengths are presented in the Longhair Division, and in 1999 since more shorthairs started entering the show rings, they also started turning up in the longhair finals since they are judged together.


Indeed, the discovery of a novel cat is an event of great importance to feline fans and fanatics, and especially true when it is inherently born to be as people-loving, people-involved buddies forever as the American Curl. They radiate well-being and good things to all fortunate enough to hold one. People just want to squeeze them and never put them down. As the founder of this amazingly spiritual breed says, "They are not just 'decorator' cats. You might say that they are 'designer' cats, perhaps even signed masterpieces of a humor-loving Creator."


Click here to read 2006 CFA ALMANAC American Curl Article
featuring the International Curl Breed Scene

Reproduced with permission from The Cat Fanciers' Almanac. Copyright December 2004/January 2005 The Cat Fanciers' Association, with the exception of the photographic images which are Copyright by the individual photographers.


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