September 19, 2021

Toronto invents: the Sphynx cat


culture

This friendly and hairless breed of cat has its origins in a Roncesvalles kitten.

We’re looking at concepts and products that, for better or for worse, were developed in Toronto.

On the one hand, they have been called “the ugliest cats in the world” because of their angular, elongated and almost hairless bodies. On the other hand, they are known for their friendliness and suitability with cat lovers with allergies to hair. Either way, the sphynx cat is an animal that Toronto has played a major role in developing.

It started on January 31, 1966. As local headlines focused on a winter storm that hampered traffic in the Toronto suburbs and killed 30 people in the United States, a momentous event occurred on Roncesvalles Avenue: a black and white cat named Elizabeth gave birth to a hairless male kitten. Named “Plum” for its wrinkled appearance, rumors of the strange cat spread. University of Toronto science student Riyad Bawa eventually acquired the kitten and its mother.

Bawa and her mother Yania, a breeder of Siamese cats, realized they could turn Plum’s mutation – the result of a recessive gene – into a new breed. Joined by other breeders Keese and Rita Tenhove, they mated Prune with her mother, then crossed the resulting hairless kittens with American shorthair females. Before the appearance of the nickname “Sphynx”, the first cats had breed names like “Moonstone” and “Canadian Hairless”.

Attempts to register the Sphinx with the Cat Fanciers Association met with opposition in the 1970s over fears of the long-term stability of the breeding stock. At that time, the flow of hairless kittens was still quite uneven, due to lost litters or males with little interest in mating. While the last traceable direct descendants of Prune and the other Bawa / Tenhove cats appear to have died out during the 1980s, the breed survived thanks to the discovery of other hairless cats in Minnesota and crosses with others. races. By the 1990s, Sphynx cats were starting to become more common. Around the same time, they got a publicity boost when a hairless cat (sadly named Ted Nude-Gent) played Dr. Evil’s pet. Mr. Bigglesworth in the Austin Powers series of films. The Cat Fanciers Association accepted the breed for championship level competition in 2002.

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In 2000, there were approximately 10,000 Sphynx cats in the world. They weren’t cheap: prices ranged from $ 700 for pets to $ 2,500 for show-grade animals. The wait for owning one can be up to two years. Although Sphynx cats are high maintenance pets, in part due to their vulnerability to cold weather, breeders and owners have vouched for their friendliness. “You haven’t lived until you’ve had a whole bunch on the bed with you and they decide to groom you,” breeder Rob Horne told the Star in 2000. He also found that Sphynxes were not afraid to bathe. His cats followed him into the shower.

“As anyone who has encountered this live cat will testify,” noted British zoologist Desmond Morris in his Guide to Cat Breeds, “his sensitivity and loving nature more than makes up for his bizarre appearance. He is exceptionally sociable and affectionate.

Additional material from Cat breeds of the world by Desmond Morris (Toronto: Viking, 1999), the May 25, 1999 edition of National post, and the August 27, 2000 edition of Toronto Star. Hats off to Marc Lostracco for inspiring this story.

Photos by Holly Nellis.

Filed under Austin Powers, animals, cats, culture, inventions, Roncesvalles, sphynx cats, toronto invents


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