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Geyer's article on Procurl Harem "When Cats Reigned Like
Kings: On the Trail of Sacred Cats"
Featuring Procurl Harem
Excerpt with permission 2012
THE AMERICAN CURLS
When you try to encompass the extravagant spirit of this unique cat, think of the costumes at the Ziegfield Follies in New York in the high days of Broadway! Think of Catherine the Great’s dress balls at the glorious Catherine Palace outside of St. Petersburg in the eighteenth century! Or remember for just a moment the most dressed-to-kill movie starlet at the Academy Awards in Hollywood during the romantic age of the stars!
Then you’ll have an idea of the irrepressible spirit, the vivid style, and the sheer outrageousness of this thoroughly and uniquely American breed. With its fantastic ears that curl back and give it the look of a cat that is always intently listening to you, its full and plush plumed tail, and its beautiful and expressive movie cat’s face, the American Curl is not something you are going to find at a Quaker meeting in New England, at the Mies van der Rohe building in Chicago, or in a Finnish sauna in Helsinki.
This is a true cat of excess: more is more.
This unusual and very American breed, one of only a handful formed accidentally or deliberately in America in the twentieth century, was born one June day in 1981 when a stray long-haired black cat and her sister strolled into the family home of Joe and Grace Ruga in Lakewood, California, and soon became “the cats who came to dinner.” Grace Ruga noted immediately, of course, the kittens had “ears that curled back from their heads in a funny way” and that their coats were fine and silky. Although the sister disappeared only weeks later, the little black female was named Shulamith and was to become, beside the family’s beloved pet, the Biblical “Eve” of the American Curl to which all bona fide pedigrees trace their origin.
When the family referred the genetic difference to the famous feline geneticist Roy Robinson of London, they discovered that the ear curling was “autosomal dominant,” which means that any cat with even one copy of the gene will show the trait, caused by more cartilage along the inner lining of the ear than is present in most cats. (Thus, like the Curl’s alternative version, or even feline nemesis, the front-folding ear of the Scottish Fold, the ear formation is a genetic mutation.)
Realizing that they could be on the brink of an entirely new breed, the Rugas, and soon others, felling love with this very different, stunning, but not-at-all Spartan-looking cat. In fact, within a mere six years of Shulamith’s stroll, her descendants were competing in championship classes in the International Cat Association. This marked an unprecedented feat for a new breed. A quick rise to fame and an overnight star, indeed! And the names matched the theatrical promise: Curl Hand Luke or Apocurlypse Meow, or Lauren Bacurll.
Typical of the charm exercised by this cat is the story told by Caroline Scott, a major Curl breeder, who operates the Procurl Harem American Curls in New York City. It was 1986 and she was grieving the loss of her black-and-white domestic cat of nine years, Petal. Thinking a cat show in New York would cheer her up, she went to one but instead started to cry any time she saw a black-and-white cat. Then one of those “cat moments” occurred.
“Suddenly I had an eerie feeling that eyes were on me,” she wrote afterward. “When I turned around, there was this handsome black-and-white cat rows and rows away staring at me. I walked over and his owner let me hold him. Immediately as if by magic, the grief lifted and I felt as if he was transferring the sadness out of me and into him. I know it sounds weird, but he mended my broken heart and I’ve since named Curls the ‘spiritual healers of felines.’” A little later, she and her longtime partner, Michael Tucker, were actually able to get the cat, which was named Carbon Copy. He became the foundation male for their cattery and they now have an entire family, with many grand champions, blessed by him.
Sounds “weird”? Well, not really. Many cat lovers have had similar experiences, when they suddenly saw a cat who obviously looked at them as their special “human” and an understanding passed between them.
And the ears? Actually, when Curls are born, they have normal ears, but within three to five days they start to curl back into what breeders call a “rose bud position.” As with the Scottish Fold, the Curls exist as a breed only because of their ears, which began as a mutation and ended up as a mark of beauty. The ears of the Curl can be most likened to those of the lynx, with the ears fanning outward with graceful long tufts of hair, giving them the sophisticated look of an exotically coiffed New York model. The Cat Fanciers’ Association has as its ideal for the breed that the ears should curl in a minimum arc of 90 degrees, not to exceed 180 degrees.
But these cats are, as Caroline Scott puns it, far “more than meets the ear.” They are snuggly, loving, personable; they give off trill-like cooing sounds; and like water, she insists they have an “inner light” and are the “Peter Pans of the feline world.”
One thing, for sure: you are never going to mistake them for any other cat.
About Georgie Anne Geyer
Georgie Anne Geyer is a veteran foreign correspondent and a syndicated columnist on international affairs. She is renowned for her in-depth interviews with world leaders, including Anwar Sadat, Saddam Hussein, numerous American presidents, and the elusive Fidel Castro, the subject of her controversial book Guerrilla Prince. Her ten published titles also include her won fascinating autobiography, Buying in Night Flight.
When Cats Reigned Like
Kings: On the Trail of Sacred Cats by Georgie Anne Geyer