SOMALIS – beguiling, smiling beauties – the connoisseur’s cat! Why would someone choose a Somali? Perhaps they want to own a particularly beautiful cat? Then the Somali would be an excellent choice, because the first impression is of a striking, photogenic cat of moderate type, no extremes, with a very soft, fine, semi-long coat that has an interesting ticked pattern, flattering markings and comes in a wide ranging palette of beautiful colours………sounds good so far, doesn’t it?
Although I really love the look of a Somali, I think the best reason for choosing one as a pet is for their wonderful personality! I adore their totally innocent look when they have been naughty, the warm smile as they settle onto your lap with a contented chirrup, but most of all, the way they love to be with you all the time and share everything you do. A Somali will open the door and walk straight into the bathroom when you are in the bath, knocking the shampoo and conditioner off the edge into the water, or they’ll arrive in the kitchen to “help” make pastry and then, generously, decorate your pie with artistic pawprints, or, best of all, on a cold winter’s night they are always ready to share their luxurious warmth as they snuggle up under the duvet. Yes, a Somali is a very special cat!
Living with Somalis is very much a two-way relationship, they love human company and quickly become very attached to their owners. They need lots of affection and attention and will, in return, reward you with their love and loyalty. They are not the kind of cats that will sit on a chair and be content, they are happier to be with you whatever you are doing and being an integral part of your life. Very often at shows, Somalis can appear reserved, not too happy to be handled by those strange people in white coats, they seem to hide their personalities and are just attractive cats in pens. To know the secret of the Somali personality, you need to see them at home with their owners, where they can be relaxed and confident, secure in their surroundings, full of life and a sense of fun.
OriginsThe history of the Somali has been recorded in a number of books and magazines and is easy to study. Longhaired kittens have been cropping up in Abyssinian litters from time to time, regarded with horror, never to be mentioned in polite company! Most sources agree that Somalis were first deliberately bred and given their name in the early nineteen sixties in America by an Abyssinian breeder, Evelyn Mague. There are records of longhaired Abyssinian kittens that go further back than that though! I am particularly fond of an illustration from a favourite book, THE CAT IN ANCIENT EGYPT by Jaromir Malek. It shows a cat, clearly a semi-longhaired cat, described as “mistress of the embalming house” in the papyrus of Nespaheran, c900 BC. The original can be found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The moment I looked at the page, I felt that here was a 3000 year old picture of a Somali!
If we look at the latest edition of the Somali Standard of Points, it states:
- “The expression should be alert and smiling”
- Ears – “Set wide apart but not low, broad at the base, proportionately large, pricked, well-cupped and tufted”
- Eyes – “Large, almond-shaped” “ expressive and bright”
- Body – “Firm, lithe and muscular”
- Coat – “All other points being equal, preference should be given to the cat with a ruff”
Looking at the drawing of the cat, with its proud stance and smiling expression, you must agree the Ancient Egyptian papyrus depicts a Somali? Therefore, I would suggest, the breed’s origins go back a very long way indeed!
You will see Somalis at shows in the Semi-Longhair Section, and there, they are unique in several different ways. The Standard says quite categorically, “Ticking is the essence of the Somali coat.” They are the only ticked cats in the section. Some people find the idea of a “ticked” pattern very complicated to understand, so let me try to explain. If you take a hair from a Somali coat and look at it very closely, perhaps on a piece of white paper, you will see it has definite bands or “horizontal stripes” of colour all along its length. There should be at least six of these but there could be as many as fourteen! These bands are made up of alternate stripes of the base coat colour and the “ticking” colour.
So, for example, on a Usual Somali (63), the bands will be a rich apricot colour alternated with black. The base coat, nearest the skin, will be the apricot, and the colours will alternate until the tip of the hair is black. This gives the overall impression of a vibrant golden brown, and, with the black ear tips and tufts, the “pencilled” eyeliner, the top and tip of the tail, the toe tufts and the black heels extending way up to the hocks, the “Usual” is anything but! They look slightly “wild”, a “natural” cat that could have just come to your home from a faraway jungle and are, therefore, very striking and a great favourite.
Sorrels (63a) are a bright coppery colour made up of a rich apricot base coat ticked and marked with a spicy, warm cinnamon. They always look particularly cheerful and a smile from a sorrel Somali can brighten the darkest day! The Blues (63c) have a soft, warm combination of colours and the Fawn’s warm and powdery tones are both subtle and very attractive. Altogether, with the addition of the Silver and the Red Series, there are twenty eight colours to choose from, enough to appeal to everyone’s taste!
|Another reason the Somali is unique in the Semi-Longhair Section is its size. Sitting among the giants of the cat world at shows, the Somali, in contrast, should be a beautifully balanced cat of medium build and size. It should have style and elegance, its body lithe and muscular, its long legs slender with oval, tufted paws. The head forms a moderate wedge with gentle contours. The muzzle should be rounded and generous to give the unique “Somali smile”. Even in kittens the breadth of the muzzle should be noted if one is choosing for show or breeding quality. The eyes are large and almond shaped. All Somalis have dark rims to the eyes surrounded by lighter “spectacles”. This highlights and accentuates the size of the eyes making them very expressive and appealing.
BreedingFrom the moment they are born and dry, Somalis are very beautiful kittens. The ticking can be slow to develop but by the time they are fourteen weeks and ready to go out into the big, wild world, the ticking should be apparent at least across the shoulders. The dilute colours will take more time to achieve clear definition than the darker colours like Usual or Chocolate etc. The ticked coat gradually develops over the back, head and down the sides of the coat, but the chest, belly, breeches, under the tail and inside the legs will remain the colour of the undercoat.
Somalis are devoted mothers and teach their kittens to play, probably enjoying the toys even more than the babies do! The kittens are healthy, strong and quick to learn, copying Mum as she eats her food and uses her tray, they are easy to rear and a joy to watch as they develop over the first fourteen weeks.
How to find out more about SomalisFernand Mery wrote, “God created the cat so that man could caress the lion”. If you would like to own a “little lion” then I suggest you contact the Somali Cat Club. It was formed in 1981 and is the only club affiliated to the GCCF that caters solely for the breed. It is a friendly, social club of around 200 members and was formed to safeguard the well being of the Somali and to promote the purity of the breed. There is an annual show where members can meet other Somali breeders and owners and have a good day out in congenial company. The Somali Breed Advisory Committee holds a Seminar most years where judges, stewards, breeders and owners can gather to discuss particular aspects of Somalis and learn more together about these wonderful, ticked cats.
If you visit the club’s website on http://www.somalicatclub.com/ you can find lots more information on this fascinating breed and how to join the Somali Cat Club.
The Silver Somali is a particularly beautiful cat. Breeders have worked hard to eradicate the ugly tarnishing that stains the coat. The ticking is clearly defined against a silvery white ground coat, giving the impression of a cat that would be at home in the Arctic wastes! (Photograph by Alan Robinson)
Here is a Red Silver, a striking cat with a beautiful coat, posing proudly for the camera, showing off his gorgeous toe tufts and the clear stripe of the ticking colour (red) down the tail.(Photograph by Alan Robinson)
One of the most famous Somalis in the early days, who stamped his glorious head type on so many kittens was Mycene Bucks Fizz (63), owned by Muriel Harvey (Sitah Somalis) and bred by the Doctors Frayne.
Anne Gregory, June 2004