Photograph by Isabelle Francais
The Dictionary of Misinformation cheerfully informs us that banana oil is not made from bananas; SOS is not an abbreviation for «Save Our Ship» (or «Save Our Souls» either); and Spanish moss really isn’t moss at all. What this captious, balloon-buster of a book fails to reveal, however, is that Angora is not a synonym for Persian. This is a considerable omission because many people use Angora in a misinformed sense, most often in a construction such as the following: «We used to have an Angora cat when I was little.» Scratch this locution and chances are you’ll find that what the speaker actually had was a fluffy cat of suspected Persian or part-Persian origin.
Ever the Twains
The confusion that resulted in the near-universal misuse of the word Angora began nearly two and a half centuries ago. At that time longhair cats prospered in and around the Turkish city of Angora and in the Persian province of Chorazan. (Angora, the city, has been known as Ankara since 1930; and Persia, which forms part of the eastern border of Turkey, has long been called Iran by the people who live there. In 1935 they finally persuaded Westerners to stop calling their country Persia.)
There was little difference 250 years ago between the cats living in Angora/Ankara and those found in Persia/Iran. The French naturalist Count de Buffon, writing in the mid-1700s, observed that cats in Persia «except in color… bore a perfect resemblance to the cat of the Angora.» Persian cats were gray, said Buffon, while Angoras were black, white, deep red, light fawn or mottled gray.
Persons traveling through or trading in the Middle East brought longhair cats from Turkey and Persia to Europe, and when cat shows were invented in England during the 1870s, classes for longhair cats were popular. By then Persians and Angoras had begun to develop along different lines. Words such as broad, massive, thick, powerful, cobby and well-developed defined Persian cats, while Turkish Angoras answered to descriptors that included slim, graceful, long, lithe and wedge-shaped. In practice these semantic distinctions meant that the Angora’s head was smaller, more narrow, and less round than the Persian’s; the Angora’s eyes were less circular; its bone less substantial; its tail more fanlike and pointed at the tip; and its coat — frilly on the chest and longer on the underparts — was not so plentiful nor thoroughly profuse as the Persian’s. What’s more the Angora’s medium-long, single coat did not require extensive grooming, while the hair-down-to-there Persian, thanks to a wooly-bully undercoat, was apt to mat if a person looked at it crossly.
Despite these dissimilarities breeders did not segregate Angoras from Persians during mating season, which is why Persians are no longer a monochromatic gray, and judges did not separate Persians from Angoras in the show ring. The two «breeds» were combined to produce cats that were classified generically as longhairs and were judged according to a single standard. Gradually, though, Persian cats became dominant; and by 1909 Dorothy Champion, an American Persian breeder, declared that «the term ‘Angora’… should be seldom if ever used in this country, as a typical Angora scarcely exists. The long-haired cat of today is decidedly more Persian-bred than Angora.»
Bite Makes Right
The typical Angora cat did not officially arrive in the United States until 1962 when Liesa F. Grant, whose husband was an army colonel stationed in Turkey, imported a pair of Angoras from the zoo in Ankara. Subsequent importations by Grant, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Torio of Flushing, New York, and other Americans stationed in or traveling through Turkey provided the foundation stock of the Angora breed in this country.
Although encyclopedias do not list cats among Turkey’s exports, the zoo in Ankara has been breeding and selling white Turkish Angoras since the late 1940s with an occasional assist from zoos in Izmir and Istanbul. These zoological enterprises were started for two reasons: first, the Turkish Angora was becoming an endangered species; second, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), who founded the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, declared that his successor would be bitten on the ankle by an odd-eyed white cat. This prediction increased the interest in odd-eyed white cats in Turkey the way those ponderous envelopes announcing «You may already be a million-dollar winner!» have stirred the interest in the Reader’s Digest in this country. (The zoos do not confine their breeding endeavors to odd-eyed whites only. Blue-eyed and amber-eyed whites are also part of the zoos’ breeding programs.)
In 1973 the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) became the first cat registry in North America to recognize the Turkish Angora. Registrations were limited to white cats at first, but in 1978 CFA began to recognize all other Angora colors as well. Today the Angora is accepted in a multitude of colors by all cat registries in North America, but as CFA’s registration figures indicate, Angora registrations have been decidedly skewed to the white. Between 1973 and the end of 1997, CFA registered 3,001 Turkish Angoras. Seventy-one percent were white. That number represents a slight drop from 1993, when 75 percent of the 2,390 Angoras CFA had registered to date were white. Last year the Turkish Angora ranked 27th among the 36 breeds registered by CFA. Total registrations for the year, 165, were 3 percent lower than the year before.
The Rest of the Rainbow
Ironically, even though the white Turkish Angora is its county’s national cat and may not be exported without government say-so, visitors to Turkey report the white Angoras are seldom seen outside the zoo, private breeders’ houses and some merchants’ shops, where white cats are kept proudly as mascots. Just as ironically, nonwhite cats of varying coat lengths have managed to survive in plentiful numbers in Turkey without the zoos’ paternal attentions. These cats can be seen fending for themselves in Turkish cities and in rural areas, too. A few of these unofficial Turkish Angoras have also found their way to the United States. One such cat is a handsome black longhair named Kontas, whose owner, Michael T. Rutherford of Walnut Creek, California, brought her to this country from Turkey when he returned home after a 32-month assignment with the army in Izmir.
«Her mother lived in the warehouse for the American Base Exchange,» says Rutherford. «Another American took the mother in, and she has babies. One of them was Kontas,» which is the Turkish word for countess.
Rutherford did not learn about Turkish Angoras until after had had left Turkey. When he noticed that Kontas’s personality was «very much» different from other cats he had owned, he did some research; and, on the basis of Kontas’s behavior, «figured out she was an Angora.»
Indeed, Rutherford’s description of Kontas suggests that all Turkish cats, no matter what their color of point of origin, share a distinctive personality. «I have never seen a cat that wants to get into everything,» says Rutherford. «She will open doors and cabinets, and she is also the most intelligent cat I have ever known.» The Building Code
A lithe and willowy cat, the Turkish Angora has a long torso, lengthy legs, fine bones and small, dainty paws with tufts of hair between the toes. The lightly framed chest is «narrow and deep but never rounded,» says one Angora breed standard, and the topline rises slightly from shoulder to rump.
The Turkish Angora has a slim, graceful, medium-length neck and a small-to-middling-size, wedge-shaped head. Wide to moderately wide at the top, the head tapers without a whisker pinch toward a gently rounded chin.
Long, pointed, tufted ears — erect and wide at the base — sit high on the Angora’s head. They are complemented by large, almond-shaped eyes that slant a trifle upward and a medium-long nose with a moderate slope.
The Angora’s coat — medium long on the body, more profuse on the underside and ruff — is fine and silky with an inclination toward waviness. The long, tapering, full-coated tail is carried lower than the body but does not trail.
The Turkish Angora is one of two breeds reputed to be attracted to water. The other is its cousin the Turkish Van. Once known for being temperamental, the Angora has been refined through selective breeding into an intelligent, loyal and amusing companion. Indeed, those of us who own less resourceful cats are apt to be in awe of the deeds allegedly perpetrated by Turkish Angoras like Geordie. Five years ago Geordie made the news for dialing 911 and meowing at some length into the phone after his owner, Linda Anfuso, had left with her husband on a three-week vacation. The Anfusos had arranged for Linda’s mother-in-law, Mary Anfuso, to come in once a day to feed, amuse and comfort Geordie and the other two Angoras with whom he lived, but Geordie obviously felt the need for more human interaction than that. Police officer Eric Olesen, who responded to the 4:15 a.m. call allegedly placed by Geordie, told reporters that the police dispatcher had traced the call to the Anfusos’ house, which one reporter described as «a well-known landmark with its purple paint and a figure of the Tin Woodsman from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that decorates the front lawn.»
Once inside, Olesen said, he «was looking for someone who was hurt and unconscious. The only thing around were the three cats.» Olesen surmised that Geordie was the one who had made the 20-minute call to 911 because the cat was still meowing into the phone when Olesen entered the house. Geordie sure must have had a lot on his mind. The conversation though had to be one-sided because Geordie, like many other odd-eyed white Turkish Angoras, is deaf. Even more blue-eyed white Angoras suffer from the same genetic malfunction, thought to be associated with the color white, which causes deafness.
In addition to making the 911 call, Geordie is suspected of perpetrating other misdemeanors prior to that while his owners were away. According to The Union Leader in Manchester, New Hampshire, Mary Anfuso noticed that closet doors had been opened and lights had been turned on in various rooms between her daily visits to the house. Because the Anfusos’ other two cats had not gotten into any mischief when they had been left alone before, the one-year-old Geordie, whom the Anfusos had owned for about eight months, was the prime suspect in those unsolved incidents, too.
The Turkish Cat Show
Editor’s note: The following story, which appears at http://users.hub.of the.net/~ds/, is reprinted with the permission of the site’s owner, Terry Smith, who lived in Turkey from 1990 to 1992.
When my friend asked me to be in a Turkish cat show, I was a little leery. This was certainly an exciting prospect, since I had never been involved in showing before, but I had no idea what I should do or what to expect.
I arrived at the show hall with my Turkish Angora along with about 15 other Turkish people waiting to show their cats. «Wow!» I though to myself. «There certainly aren’t many cats here, but look at all those spectators and TV cameras. The really must think it’s a big deal.»
There were no cages in which to display the cats, so we left them in their carriers. Since I couldn’t understand Turkish, I couldn’t tell what was happening. I just peeked out around the stage to where the crowd was gathered. The stage has a runway that extended all the way out into the audience. I watched as the first girl went out on the stage carrying her cat. She walked to the end of the runway, turned a couple of times, showing off her cat, then walked back off the stage.
I thought it seemed easy enough, so I got into the line behind the other Turkish girls. When my turn came, I walked down the runway, cat in hand. I did a few turns as the others had, thinking, «Wow, just like a Miss America Pageant.» (I wished I hadn’t worn my American jeans and sneakers. I stuck out like a sore thumb.)
To add an extra bit of excitement, one lady sat her chair in the middle of the runway and fed her cat with a spoon. The crowd thought this was wonderful. And then there was the little girl that brought out her three-legged cat. I could never understand how she won. I also wondered why there were no other Turkish Angoras in the show. I knew right then that showing cats was going to be exciting.
I heard later that I was on the Turkish evening news that night. Since I didn’t speak Turkish, I could only imagine what they were saying about the American girl with the Turkish Angora cat.