In Thailand, long ago, mutations developed in the common cat. These mutations involved both coat color and personality. Records from Thailand indicate that these mutations have existed in the Thailand for at least 700 years. In the Victorian age, when trade with Thailand opened up the West, these Thai Mutation cats made their way to Europe and North America. The most common descendants of these Victorian imports, found in the west, are the Korat, Burmese, and the Siamese.
The Thai Mutation(TM) cats, are more than than unusual looking cats. They are cats with unusual behavior. When people think cat, they think aloof and distant. Dogs aggressively seek out human companionship and love, cats lurk in the shadows. The Thai cats, on the other hand, not only demand human attention, they will go to any lengths to get it. They are, bare none, the most people dependent cats in the world. They demand love from their humans and offer even more back.
In the 1870‘s, when cats from Thailand, started making their way into Europe, European’s were flabbergasted. Firstly, they arrived in colors and patterns never seen before. But, more importantly, they rolled in featuring big, pushy, demanding personalities, a trait not to be found in the reserved European cat.
In the introduction to Phyllis Wades “The Siamese Cat”, (1934 ), we discover that this unique personality was well noted by the first westerners to have them. In the first words of this book, we hear about Pauline, a Thai cat, and her vacation with her family in Capri. (Pauline was a London resident, most of the year.)
“Pauline was a most determined cat. She hated to be left alone, and she would have accompanied us all the way into town of Capri if we had not always sent her back where the steps climbed up from the cliff path onto the urbanity of Via Tragara. On one occasion, however, she was too smart for us. We were going to tea with a friend who had a villino, about a mile along the Tragara, and more than a mile and a half from our own house. The sitting room of Mrs. X opened directly on a small terrace, but as it was a gusty day in spring when the dust from the terrazza would have been whirled into the room the door was shut. It was the usual Capri tea party in April, with two or three visiting old maids as the guests of honour. Our hostess kept a couple of tiresome small Belgian griffon dogs, and these were at their usual trick of cadging bits of bread and butter from those who were strangers to their greed, when there was a loud tap on the door. Come in, said Mrs. X. There was another loud tap. It must be Mrs.Y, one of the visiting old maids suggested. I expect she found it too windy for painting.
Mrs. X went across to open the door and let in the new visitor. In stalked, tail erect, our cat Pauline. There was a howl of pain from one of the griffons, a howl form the other, as both of them rushed, yelping out into the garden, unpursued by Pauline, who had merely boxed their noses to establish a moral superiority. She then looked round the room, noticed that one of the old ladies was about to put a piece of bread and butter into her mouth, lept lightly on her knee, struck it out of her hand with a paw, jumped down again, and proceeded to eat the piece of bread and butter on the best rug. Yes, she was a determined cat, Pauline.” Wade, Phyllis, The Siamese Cat, P.11-12 (1934)
Wade passes on another note from a Victorian owner of yet another typical Thai cat, “This beloved cat lived a most adventurous life with us in India for many years and went everywhere with us. I have carried him on my horse, he has ridden on a camel, camped out, lived on a houseboat in Kashmir, motored and trained thousands of miles...after the war I had to leave him with a friend in India. Returning after two years he knew me at once. We brought him home and he only died this February, being fifteen years old.” Wade, Phyllis, The Siamese Cat, P. 12 (1934)
The Thai cat personality was so different from the European cat personality that early European importers of Thai cats believed they descended from a different wild cat. Many breeders were convinced they were a separate species from the European cat!
Lee Cunningham, a veteran of 45 years of Burmese breeding, and owner of Madame Butterfly cattery, told me how she got sucked into the Burmese breed. In 1965, the inventor and business woman bought a mustang convertible. In 1966, she bought Cho-Cho-San, a sable Burmese kitten. In short order, she was driving around Lake Tahoe, top down, with a chocolate brown cat wrapped around her neck. It must have been quite a sight for her fellow motorists!
Ms.Cunningham is quick to add that Cho-Cho-San always wore a collar and a lead, but, they never came in handy. Cho-Cho-San was where she wanted to be, with Lee, in the mustang, taking in the sights. According to Lee, the Burmese personality got her involved with the breed and has kept her involved. She says, if a “Burmese does not fetch, it is not a Burmese”. A Burmese. Cho-Cho-San was Lee’s first Burmese but it would not be her last. 46 years later, Lee is tending to a litter of four Burmese babies.... and has just had another litter born.
Lee’s story reminds me of my first run in with the breed. I had been talking about getting a cat when I got a call from my friend Sergio. It seemed he had a feline friend for me. He had purchased a blue Burmese boy from Barbara Kish, of Laki Cattery, and when he got it home, realized the little boy was not for him.
To use Sergio’s words, the kitten was “clingy, unhealthfully co-dependent, perpetually attention seeking, and if not a stalker already, on the way to becoming a stalker”. Little boy blue followed him everywhere, even into the bathroom. Sergio had no privacy. “I was looking for a cat, not a dog, and this is a dog trapped in a cats body. ”
Intrigued, I drove from DC to Baltimore to meet the Blue Stalker. I walked into Sergio’s row house and took a seat. Within one minute, the stalker barreled down the steps and made a direct run for my lap. He took a seat and never got up. Sergio quipped, “see, even guests are not safe from his incessant demand for attention”. I said, “I’ll take him”. I asked Sergio if he had a carrier for me to get the stalker back to DC. His response? “You don’t need one, he likes car rides”.
Like Lee, forty years earlier, I found myself driving down the road, in this case, past the Capital and the White House, with a cat wrapped around my neck. The Blue Stalker was loose as a goose, just taking in the view. I had never met a cat that liked the car. The name the“stalker” gave way Bruce Lee, who liked car rides when he was a baby and he liked them until the bitter end. That was not the only peculiarity about Bruce. He came to his name, had a fondness for badly behaved children, hugged me as I slept, and because I liked to sit in the hot tub, Bruce liked to sit in the hot tub. Once while traveling once, the flight was delayed. Bruce sat on a hard airport seat for three hours, just happy to watch the people walk by. Bruce was the perfect companion...he liked me and liked doing whatever I was doing. Little did I know that my Blue stalker came from a very famous cattery, Laki, operated by the foremost Burmese breeder in America. Barbara Kish! Barbara has been bringing World Class Burmese into the world for more than 30 years. My Bruce was one of many!
Are Thai cats really that different than European cats? Let’s look at two blue cats, one from Europe, the Russian Blue, and one from Thailand, the Korat.
The Russian blue is most famous for making itself scarce the minute visitors arrive to the house and staying behind a couch till company leaves. The International Cat Association, Inc,(TICA) in their breed profile, politely says this of the breed, “The Russian Blue surveys a situation before diving in and so rarely gets itself into a difficult situation-it observes people to determine if they are worthy of its companionship. Sometimes people see this behavior as shy or aloof when it is really a reserve with strangers until it has fully assessed them.”
The Cat Fanciers Association, Inc. in their breed profile says this about the European Cyan breed, “The Russian Blue is a gentle cat with a somewhat shy nature around strangers...Pull out the vacuum cleaner, and the Russian will find a safer and quieter location. Even more telling, TICA says this about them, “They are a great choice for the modern family because they are content with their own company while you are out and about..” In short, they hide if someone comes to your house and, they don’t really care when or if you come home. This is a European cat.
Let us move onto the blue cat of Thailand, the Korat. This is a cat that is most assuredly not be content with its own company, when you are out and about. TICA says this about the breed, “Korats need your companionship and do not like to be left alone for long periods or ignored when you are home. If they are ignored, they are likely to become withdrawn.” Korats, live for human companionship and for human companionship alone. And, the ultimate acid test of a cats disposition, do they like children? TICA says, “Korats are active cats that love to play but they are very gentle when playing with children.” I have seen a Korat chasing a vacuum cleaner, much to the surprise and amusement of the cleaning woman pushing the cleaning device!
The Siamese, by far the most popular of the Thai Mutation Cats, is cut from the same cloth. Louise Van der Meid, an early breeder and expert, said this, “All loneliness is banished when a Siamese joins you. He’ll follow you around, sit when you sit, and demand your attention. He likes to be talked to, and will happily conduct a conversation with you, purring contentedly or commenting in his distinctive guttural voice.
The Siamese love to talk and carry on conversations, and his mew is different from other cats. Many people enjoy the company of such a talkative animal....This you can be certain of-there will little time for boredom once the Siamese cat has joined your family. He is devoted and affectionate. He is also curious and full of mischief. The Siamese can be trained not to sneak food from the table-an annoying trick most cats delight in.
Some Siamese cat owners say their pets act more like dogs than cats. Many Siamese enjoy traveling in automobiles, and they can be trained to take walks on leash. They can even learn to chase a ball, sit up, and say prayers.
A friend tells the story of returning home from a trip too exhausted to pay much attention to his Siamese. The possessive cat felt so neglected that he jumped into the bathtub where his owner was soaking, in an attempt to get some petting. He did get a good rubdown, and even though his master didn’t get a chance to relax and peacefully soak himself, he has never stopped laughing at his cat’s devoted attention.”
Louise Brown, Van der Meid, Siamese Cats, Sterling Publishing, 1960. P. 8-9.
Once I had had the Thai cat experience, I was ruined. And, this is a story you will hear over and over again from owners of Korat, Burmese, Tonkinese and Siamese cats. The reason is simple. The cats that came from the Thailand, and their descendants, provide the best pet services.
The cats that come from Thailand are just different than those that hail from Europe and they have been since they first made the voyage from Thailand to the West. Cats that ride in mustangs, sit in hot tubs, talk, track down their owners at tea parties in Capri, and board camels are unusual cats.
Phyllis Wilson, of Incapaisely Cattery, made a very telling statement about the Thai Cat personality. “The look of the breeds have changed over the years, but no matter how they may have changed physically, the personality has stayed the same. The personality seems like it is something you can’t breed out of them.”
Science has revealed that they are indeed, not like European cats, and you can’t breed it out of them.
Genetic research has revealed that Thai cats are indeed quite different than European cats. Cristy Bird, world reknown Thai cat Expert, had this to say on the subject.
“ Asian cats stand out from the rest. Both the ordinary moggies and the breeds from Asia have a genetic profile quite distinct from European or Mediterranean cats. Asian cats are clearly the same species as other domestic cats, but they are unique......Analysis of the DNA samples from rescued cats in Thailand revealed they were by far the most unusual population of cats in the world. They were more different even, than the cats samples from other parts of Asia.“
Cristy Bird, Dr.P.H. Thailands Race of Cats, United Burmese Cat Fanciers Newsletter, Volume V issue 1, Autumn 2012. P.28-29, Science has confirmed what every owner of a Thai cat knows. Thai cats are not like European cats. They don’t act like other cats because they are not built like other cats, from the DNA and on up!
The cats that came out of Thailand, came out with coat colors and personalities never before seen by Europeans. Science has revealed there may be a link between the Thai cats unusual coat colors and their unique personalities. Let’s start with the coat colors.
Dr. Christy Bird states that the descendants of Thai cats (the Korat, the Burmese, and the Siamese), and their distinctive colors, probably developed as evolutionary mutations that made survival in tropical Thailand a little easier.
But, mutations, especially color mutations, usually ear mark an animal for predation, color tag him as dinner for a hungry local. White is not a good color when you need to hide in the bushes from a predator. Dr.Bird posits that these mutations probably occurred in Thailand because of the weather, but survived because of the people of Thailand. The Thai people liked the cats with unusual colors, gave them shelter, and protected them from the usual forces of nature. Namely, being eaten because their coat color made them stand out in the bushes!
“In Thailand, however, unusual cats were cherished and preserved. In many cases, people probably kept the cats as pets in preference to the more common looking cats. By helping unusual cats survive, the Thai people unwittingly became one of the forces of natural selection. Along with the hot tropical environment, they helped create a race of cats on the Malay Peninsula that is extraordinary.” P.29 Cristy Bird, Dr.P.H. Thailands Race of Cats, United Burmese Cat Fanciers Newsletter, Volume V issue 1, Autumn 2012.
That explains why cats with these color mutations made it for 700 years, but what about the personality? Well, in a bit of odd related science, we find that coat color mutation, and friendly personality, have been linked.
The story starts in 1948 when Dimitry K Belyaev took over as head of the Department of Fur animal Breeding at the Central Research Laboratory of Fur Breeding in Moscow. Belyaev began a breeding project which involved selectively breeding red foxes for tameness and friendliness. He set up elaborate systems to assess tameness and, for 40 years selected and bred foxes that displayed the greatest friendliness. Friendly foxes were bred to friendly foxes, and after 40 generations, a fox as friendly as a dog was created. My brilliant animal-human relationship expert friend, Meg Olmert, calls them “FOGS”.
The Belyeav was selectively breeding for friendliness, but,there was a surprising result. As the generations of foxes became increasingly friendly, color mutations began to appear in litters. The original mean red fox morphed into friendly spotted foxes, white foxes, mixed colored foxes, and yellow foxes.
Belyaev concluded that friendliness and coat color mutations were linked mutations. One came with the other. The more tame the foxes got, the more coat color mutations appeared in their litters. Other researchers have confirmed, “friendliness” and “coat color mutation” are linked mutations.
Goldman, Jason. Man’s New Best Friend? A forgotten Russian experiment in fox domestication. Scientific American, September, 2010; Lyudmilla Trut, Early Canid domestication, The Farm-Fox. American Scientist, March-April 1999, Volume 87, number 2, P.160. ; Ann Ny Academy of Science, 2003, Jun; 994:331-8.
Based on the available science, I have a theory regarding the super friendly Thai Cat. It goes like this.
Due to the climate of Thailand, evolutionary color mutations developed in the wild cat population. Thai people gave shelter to the cats with unusual coat colors because they were pretty. Logic dictates they gave shelter to friendliest cats with color mutations, and booted out the mean ones. A person is more likely to feed a loving cat than a hissing cat biting cat! A fed cat is more likely to produce kittens that survive.
Thus by providing food and shelter to the Thai Mutations, the Thai people inadvertently selectively bred cats for both unusual coat colors and friendliness. By sustaining these mutations for centuries, they accidentally created a group of super friendly cats with really wild coat colors. They created COGS.
This is just a theory as to how the Thai cats become so human friendly. But, the fact remains, however it came to pass, Thai cats are the most human friendly cats to be found.
The cats from Thailand, the Korat, the Burmese, and the Siamese, are certainly interesting to look at. They are beautiful. But, there are a lot of pretty cats out there. The Russian Blue, if you crawl on the ground and spy him hiding behind the couch, is a lovely cat. What makes the Thai cats different is their unique attachment to people. And, they are just born that way. Its in their DNA.
In marketing, marketeers speak of USP, or unique selling point. The unique selling point of the Thai cats is their personalities. It is the fact that he or she will walk to your car, and enjoy going on the errand. It is the fact they greet guests because, as far as they are concerned, all attention is good attention. It is the fact they love your company and will do anything to be with you.
A cat that rides with you, comes to his name, fetches, and sleeps with you, is a unique cat. Pauline, busting her way into a tea party in Capri, 100 years ago, was a unique cat. My Bruce Lee, sitting in the hot tub, neck deep in hot water, just to be near me, was a unique cat.
Cats are pets. The word pet comes from the verb “to Pet”. We keep them so we can pet them. What makes the Thai cats extra-ordinary is their COG like personalities, their deep desire to be petted.
If you are looking for a devoted companion, who is likely to stalk you to the end of the earth, you will find it in a Thai cat.