Imagine your surprise at discovering that one of the kittens in a litter is completely different from all the others - having a short, curly coat rather than the normal straight coat of its three littermates. Fortunately, the owner of the litter, Nina Ennismore, also bred Astrex rabbits and easily recognized the unusual coat for what it was - a "rex" coat.
Such was the beginnings of the Rex breed in England in 1950. The unusual kitten, a cream tabby male, was eventually named Kallibunker. Ultimately, years down the road, the breed was recognized as having several distinct genes, resulting in the Rex breed splitting into the Devon Rex, and the Cornish Rex (the name chosen not only because of the rex gene that is responsible for the coat, but because Mrs. Ennismore lived in the Duchy of Cornwall in England).
Fortunately, she was able to have contact with Mr. Brian Stirling-Webb, a well-known cat breeder in England, and Mr. A.C. Jude, a well-respected geneticist, who expressed an interest in this rex-coated cat. Together, with their advice and help, Mrs. Ennismore established a breeding program to try and determine the gene responsible for the coat.
Hence, Kallibunker was bred to a British domestic, resulting in a normal coated tortoiseshell kitten named Butterfly, who in turn was bred back to Kallibunker, resulting in a rex-coated kitten named Molly Brim. Breeding Kallibunker back to his straight-coated mother, resulted in a rex-coated male named Poldhu. You can see the start of a breeding program, and preservation of the rex gene, when Molly Brim was bred to Poldhu, producing the rex-coated La Morna Cove:
Kallibunker, cream tabby, rex-coated Poldhu, GCCF 78065, blue tabby-white, rex-coated | Serena, tortie-white, straight-coated domestic La Morna Cove, Aug-15-1954, blue, rex-coated | Kallibunker, cream tabby, rex-coated Molly Brim, blue, rex-coated Butterfly, tortoiseshell, straight-coated domestic
La Morna Cove, likely named after a small cove in far-west Cornwall, was bred back to her father, Poldhu, and promptly shipped to the United States. Owned by Dr. & Mrs. R.L. Blanchert of San Diego, CA, she produced her one and only litter born on April 11, 1957. From that litter of rex-coated kittens, a blue-white male named Marmaduke of Daz-Zling (CFA 990-0001-PR1) was sent to Walter & Helen Weiss in Texas, and the blue-white female, Diamond Lil of Fan-T-Cee (CFA 991-0012-PR1), stayed on the west coast with Peggy Galvin of California.
It is thanks to the breeding programs of Helen Weiss and Peggy Galvin that the Rex was given a chance of survival in the United States. Peggy was a breeder of Siamese and used those cats to breed to Diamond Lil, with the offspring being registered as "Hybrid Rex" by CFA. Helen also used Siamese to outcross to Marmaduke, again producing "Hybrid Rex" kittens. A lot of inbreeding was required, i.e. brother to sister matings that can result in nonviable kittens, to keep the unique coat feature alive and thriving. As Nancy Dodds, CFA's current Cornish Rex Breed Council Secretary, says, "Reading through Helen Weiss' notes about each breeding, there was much determination to keep this breed alive, and it was not without setbacks and sorrow."
It is thanks to these two determined ladies, and other breeders they worked with (Mr. & Mrs. Paul Quilty - Kentwood; Dr. Frances Cottington - Som-Chai; Tommie & Hal Meadow -USAF, Jeanne Jeffrey - Rio Vista; and Bob & Dell Smith - Rodell) that the Rex coat exists as one of the most unique features found in cat breeds.
Registers associated with this article include The Incorporated Cat Fanciers Association of Great Britain (TICFAGB), National Cat Club (NCC), The Cat Club (CCR), Beresford Cat Club (BCC), Feline Federation Francaise (FFF), Siamese Cat Registry (SCR), US Register & Studbook for Cats (USR)including Supplement(USRS), The Studbook of the American Cat Association (ACA), and the Studbook & Register of the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
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