Abyra Abyssinians

Journey from the Blue Nile
a history of the abyssinian cat

written for the United Abyssinian Club, Inc.
Aida Bartleman Zanetti, Cambridge, Mass.
in collaboration with
Elinor Dennis, Media, Pa.
Mary E. Hantzmon, Washington, D.C.


Mr. H.C. Brooke, in his pamphlet The Abyssinian Cat, written in England some thirty years ago, deplored the fact that the history of "this beautiful and interesting breed has been neglected, that too little was known of its origin and too little interest was being shown by the cat fancy.

Since Mr. Brooke's time, interest in the Abyssinian cat has increased among breeders and the general public. We wish that it could be said here that we have added the missing pieces to the puzzle of its origin and thus had solved the mystery of the Abyssinian Cat.

After many months of careful study and research into the history and origin of the breed, we present the following findings. These are not based on our opinions and theories but solely on existing material which has been gathered from sources in Great Britain, the United States, Ethiopia and Egypt.

We present this booklet in the hope that it may prove informative and diverting, and help to promote a wider interest in this beautiful and enchanting cat.

Because a number of persons have expressed curiosity as to what possible relationship there may be between the Abyssinian cat and the sacred cat of ancient Egypt, we have included something of the historical connections between these two countries as well as a few chapters about animal worship and the cat cemeteries in Egypt.

The photographs used in this booklet have been selected for their availability, humor, general interest and by reason of being good representative American Abyssinians. Shown are Abys from all regions of the United States as well as a lovely cat from Canada. There are many beautiful Abys, each well known in his own area, which we wish might have been included, as it has not been our intention to slight any of these cats.

Nearly everything that has been written about the cat implies that her origin is veiled in mystery. Such is the case of the Abyssinian. It is nor our intention to implant the idea that we have solved the riddle; nor do we wish to lend credence to the rumors and myths that persist about the abyssinian as they only discolor and confuse the facts.

This booklet is meant for the ever-increasing number of devotees of this most beautiful and gentle of all cats, providing an unbiased account of all the material we have been able to gather about the breed.

Prior to this, there have been only two publications dedicated expressly to the Abyssinian. H.C. Brooke, the late British authority, published his The Abyssinian Cat nearly thirty years ago. It is now out of print and almost unobtainable. A second booklet by Helen and Sidney Denham, also British, Child of the Gods is now out of print and is very difficult to find. Mr. Denham is recognized as the leading authority on the Aby today.

This slender, sleek-looking animal is looked on by zoologists, geneticists, and particularly breeders and fanciers as possibly being the oldest breed of the cat family. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald in his book Cats, tells us: "and now this seems to be accepted - especially by Abyssinian cat breeders and owners, who, in support of their belief, point to Egyptian bronzes and paintings of cats, which emphasize the litheness, long body, whip like tail, large eyes, and alert ears which are such distinguishing features of the best type of Abyssinian today - as being descended from the cats so highly prized and worshipped by the ancient Egyptians."

Sidney Denham, who publishes the British Abyssinian News Letter, in his booklet, refers to the Abyssinian as a "Child of the Gods." It may well be that the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt are forever alive, and in the Abyssinian cat of today we have the reincarnation of a divinity!

It is not enough to say that the Aby looks entirely unlike any other breed nor that her fur resembles that of a wild rabbit. To truly appreciate an Abyssinian one must see it and touch the satin like softness of her coat. Mr. Brooke described the color of the cat as "very strikingly resembling that of a wild rabbit, when placed side by side, until carefully examined, when it is seen that the fur of the rabbit is grey near the skin (under-colour) whilst that of the cat is, or should be, rufous. The ticking is a most essential property of the breed, and is caused by blackish, or dark brown, tips to the hair. Some, the best ticked, have about three bands of brown or orange shades, the darkest being at the tip. Others have merely the rufous base and the dark tip. The under-colour should always be as bright as possible, and as clear, not a dull lifeless brown, which much distracts from the beauty of the cat."

Mr. Denham, in his book, admits to hearing friends, on seeing an Abyssinian for the first time, exclaim, "But it's not very different from a tabby, is it?" He has excused them on the grounds that they are people whose acquaintance with cats is limited to saying "puss-puss" and either putting them out or getting them in for the night!

How often many of us have had similar experiences! On the other hand, a discerning person, though having little familiarity with the cat-tribe, can usually detect the unusual characteristics that are peculiar only to the Abyssinian.

For the history of the Abyssinian cat in England we must rely on two sources, namely - H.C. Brooke's pamphlet, The Abyssinian Cat and the booklet by Helen and Sidney Denham, Child of the Gods. A brief article which appeared in 1938, in "Fur, Feather, Rabbits and Rabbit Keeping", written by Mrs. H.W. Basnett gave the standard for the British Aby of twenty years ago! "The typical Abyssinian has a long, lithe body, showing well-developed muscular strength, and the beauty of the long, fine head is accentuated by luminous, almond-shaped eyes. The whole head is set off by large ears, broad at the base, which, while matching the feet and legs in colour, are tipped with a darker shade. The coat is short and close-lying, of a rich, tawney brown colour, and instead of being striped or barred, each hair is 'ticked' with black or brown, ie, two or three bands of colour on each hair being preferable to a single ticking'. The feet and legs must be clean colour, free of barring and toning with the body colour, whilst the under parts of the body should preferably be an orange-brown to harmonize with the main colour."

Frances Simpson, in her book, Cats and All About Them, published in 1902, gave the following, which was written by a well known English breeder of the period: "The only other foreign cat that calls for attention is the Abyssinian or Bunny cat, and it is not often that specimens are exhibited at our shows. We have no special fanciers of this breed. The fur has a ground-work of reddish brown ticked with darker brown markings. The coat should be close and soft."

Nothing is more puzzling than the "Abyssinian" part of the Abyssinian cat - so puzzling that one British cat authority, Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, forthrightly states in his book Cats that the Abyssinian does not exist at all, except as a breeders creation, developed from the common British domestic tabby! It should not be to difficult to prove him wrong, because while ticked fur is not especially hard to find among cats at large, nothing could be further removed from the cobby British cat than the Abyssinian, occasional tabby markings to the contrary. Of course, at the opposite extreme is the school which insists upon a very intricate legend concerning the "sacred cats of Abyssinia," and which passes about the story that in darkest Africa wealth is counted in Abyssinian cats, which constitute a girl's dowry!

Both these notions seem wholly lacking in authentication. As for the "Abyssinian" part, it may be attributable to the careless usage of place-names in Africa, which was common until this century. As we know, Abyssinia is now known as Ethiopia; and, we have it on good authority, from Mrs. David Sayre of Brooklyn, New York, whose husband spent some years at Oxford University and on whose behalf, Prince Zhode Selassie, the nephew of the Emperor, and one of his students, made some inquiries but could not relate the modern Abyssinian cat to anything he knew at home. It appeared that cats of any type as domestic animals are rare in Ethiopia, and certainly do not form part of the legendary "dowry" of the Ethiopian girl! But various persons familiar with African fauna, have insisted that the Abyssinian is a recognizably African type of cat, basing this on its striking resemblance to small wild cats of the north african area. Mrs. Sayre tells us that recently she made the acquaintance of a young male African felis-libica, and was very impressed by its Abyssinian characteristics: black pads, tile-red nose, ticked coat, orange belly, ear tufts and - to be honest - heavy leg bars! It was much larger than a domestic Abyssinian, and had a very different tail - broad-based but short - but the resemblance was strong enough to make one suspect a familiar relationship. She was struck by the fact that her own Abyssinian male, Alexander, seemed to recognize this remote cousin as a cousin! The two of them were appearing together on a television program which had to do with the very subject of the relationship between domesticated animals and their wild ancestors, and were sitting side by side - the wild one, however, in a cage. Mrs. Sayre tells us she expected a violent display of hostility on both sides, and thought her Alexander would be terrified out of his pelt - after all, a libica, is twice the size of an Abyssinian, and this one was fresh from Africa and far from tame, although he could be handled a bit with caution - but instead of fear and hostility, they sniffed each other's noses and proceeded to have a good gossip. They chattered for several minutes, to the delight of the television audience, in remarkably similar voices. It was Mrs. Sayre's impression that Alexander was catching up with the folks at home or advising his relative about living conditions in America! Although this proved absolutely nothing, it was a charming incident. Alexander like so many Abyssinians was a frightful ham, and loved to act, always putting on a good show.

That England served as a bridge between the ancient Abyssinian cat and the Abyssinian we know today, and for many years protected and preserved the breed, is an established fact, and American breeders owe a debt of gratitude to such persons as Mr. H.C. Brooke and Mrs. Carew-Cox who recognized in the breed that which so merited preserving.

The earliest account to be found anywhere concerning the Abyssinian cat in England was by Gordon Stables in 1874. He stated that Mrs. Barrett-Lennard brought an Abyssinian cat into England in 1868. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald points out to us that there is no explanation of just what Mrs. Barrett-Lennard was doing in Abyssinia, a country singularly unhealthy for white woman - and we might add, anyone - at that time. (He Tells us, too, that the Barrett-Lennard family have no record of this lady or her cat.) Since it was at the end of the Abyssinian War, there is no reason to doubt it as there are tales of cats having been taken to England from that country by British soldiers; Mrs. Barrett-Lennard may have acquired her cat in that manner.

Following a series of events, Theodore, the emperor of Ethiopia, ordered the arrest of some Europeans - Englishman, Germans, and Frenchman - about sixty in all - and in July of 1867, Sir Robert Napier was sent by the British Government to enforce their release. Theodore felt that he had been insulted by Queen Victoria, as there had been no answer to a letter he had sent her - some references tell us that along with requesting that the Queen send him agricultural implements, he had asked for her hand in marriage! Little wonder the reply was slow in returning. Napier's forces consisted of about 32,000 men, and to reach the camp of Theodore, a march of over 400 miles was necessitated over mountainous and little-known wild country inhabited by savage tribes. On learning of the approach of the troops and fearing his plea for peace would not be heeded, Theodore committed suicide - with a revolver which had earlier been a gift from Queen Victoria. As a token of gratitude to the native chiefs through whose country they had passed, and without whom safe passage would have been impossible, the British presented much of the surplus stores to Kassa, of Tigre, a chief held in high esteem by all. The British troops left Ethiopia in may 1868.

Under these circumstances, it seems entirely credible that these men on departing from the country might easily have acquired some young cats or kittens that readily took to kindness and domesticity.

The name of that first Abyssinian cat, appearing in England and said to have been taken there by Mrs. Barrett-Lennard, was Zula. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald raises the question of what happened to the breed between the introduction of the first Abyssinian in the late sixties or the early seventies and publication in 1903 of "The Book of the Cat" by Frances Simpson. Mr. Brooke could not account for the lack of interest by the cat fancy, which permitted thirty years to pass without having kept records of any sort pertaining to the growth of the Aby in this country. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald takes this opportunity to say that it seems hardly likely that if there had been any further importations - assuming Zula did come from Ethiopia - that they would have gone unrecorded. He adds that it should: "be noted that no cats have been imported from Abyssinia at any time since the arrival of Zula", Rosita Forbes, the explorer, in her book, From the Blue Nile to the Red Sea, states that she never saw a domestic cat in that country.

Although the first listing of the Abyssinian as a separate breed appeared in Britain in 1882, those in authority at the time were very doubtful about it. We know that Harrison Weir insisted that the Abyssinian was not a breed at all. Our Cats and All About Them, his book, was published in 1889. Louis Wain, another authority. agreed with him about this. These men both were of the opinion that "very passable Abyssinian-type kittens are born from time to time as the result of 'chance matings' between very ordinary tabbies! Both these observations can be regarded by breeders as fanciful and certainly not substantiated.

Around 1900 there were sharp differences of opinion in the English Cat Fancy. At this time the title of "Abyssinian" was dropped and the "ticked" or "British Ticks", also known as "Bunny Cats" were accepted. These cats were definitely ticked but frequently had a "mottled" appearance. Mr. Louis Wain showed great preference for this English variety and kept quite a large number of them. The "ground color was usually a dark grey or blackish grey; they had heads of a pronounced 'British' type and heavily barred legs and tails." It may be that the cold-tone, greyish Abyssinians that occasionally crop up to distress breeders today may date from this unfortunate period.

The first pair to gain well deserved fame were Sedgemere Bottle and Sedgemere Peaty, owned by Mr. Sam Woodiwiss. These cats were not related. H.C. Brooke wrote of these cats: "If these cats were not related it is truly remarkable how two such specimens were obtained. They were much the colour of a hare." Peaty ended her days with Mr. Brooke, who always regretted not having preserved her skin to at least retain her glorious colour, though her beautiful sinuous form and delicate limbs can hardly be imagined by those who have not seen her."

Two of the largest Abyssinian catteries in England were those of Major Sydney Woodiwiss and Mrs Clare Basnett. They were known as Woodrooffe and Croham). The foundation of American stock came from these justly famous catteries. The Second World War and the death of both these breeders nearly put an end to these fine catteries. During her life Mrs. Basnett had kept in touch with American breeders who were fortunate in having some of her lovely Croham cats, she wrote to them "that it was perfectly amazing how the Abyssinians took the terrific noise and bombings." She stated that "the cats were calmer than their owners and took everything in stride."

Mr. Sidney Denham, who spent much time in research on the history of the Abyssinian cat in England, learned that in the eighties the breed was shown and recognized. An English Judge, Mr. Harrison Weir, wrote out his own standard for the Abyssinian, and Mr. Denham quotes his as writing, "There is the same emphasis on absence of white anywhere and a minimum of 'marks', the same emphasis on the 'graceful, lithe, elegant carriage'." Mr. Denham however, notes with wry amusement that Harrison Weir had written for his own satisfaction that the Aby should be a cat that is large, with the fur described rather curiously as "wooly,yet soft, silky, lustrous, and glossy, short, smooth, even dense." It must have been a confusing time for judges and breeders alike.

A picture of the slow growth of the Aby in England may be seen by studying the registrations. At one point they jumped from a listing of thirty to forty Abyssinians to ninety-two in 1937. It was Mr. Denham's opinion that the Italian invasion of Ethiopia stimulated public interest in the breed. It seems an unusual commentary that the conclusion of one war resulted in the arrival of the Aby in England, and that it took a second war to rekindle interest in this lovely cat. During the Second World War English breeders were compelled by food shortages and the constant threat of being "bombed-out", to drastically cut their stock in Abyssinian cats. Some were exported for safety to America. A nucleus of their fine stock however has been preserved and is once again a matter of great interest to all breeders everywhere.

"The general appearance of the Abyssinian is that of a rather small and very elegantly built cat, with graceful slender limbs, fine head with rather large ears and lustrous eyes. Any person capable of appreciating truly graceful lines and sinuous and elegant shape in the cat, will admit that in this respect the Abyssinian cat has but one rival, to wit, the Siamese." This is H.C. Brooke's description of the breed. It is difficult to improve on it, and we have not attempted to do so.

In Mr. Brooke's time there were some "Silver Abyssinians" in England. The first to mention these "Silvers" was Harrison Weir in 1882, referring to them as a new variety. Mr. Brooke was very opposed to them, and in his booklet The Abyssinian Cat, stated an unequivocal opinion of them! "I regard silver as an absolute alien colour to the breed, and though there would have been no harm done if these silvers had been kept to themselves, I cannot but think that they did an infinity of harm to the breed, by introducing a grey tinge into the coat, with the result that the beautiful "ruddy" tinge which we used to see in the cats of long ago, is now apparently lost to us. How they originated, or whether any cross was made use of to obtain them, I do not know." It is very interesting to note, that, regardless of how Mr. Brooke may personally have felt about them, the 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the section devoted to cats, shows a picture of a beautiful "Silver" Abyssinian. This specimen belonged to Mrs. Carew-Cox, who, upon the retirement from the cat fancy by H.C. Brooke, took great interest in the Abyssinian and for twenty-five years worked to keep the breed from becoming extinct.

American breeders appear to have re-ignited the fire of interest in "Silvers." Several have expressed the wish that "Silvers" might be shown as a separate class.

Very few breeders or fanciers of the Abyssinian in the United States have ever seen a "Silver." Knowing that Mrs. Sayre of Brooklyn had at one time owned one, we were prompted to ask her for a description. "My silver Aby, Griselle, turned up in a litter of my Wendy's (Nepata Wendy Girl of Andasa) and I think probably the occurrence of silvers is more frequent where the breeding has been very close, as was true in Wendy's line. Griselle was the most beautiful kitten I have ever seen. Her base-coat was the palest oyster-grey and her ticking came in silver-white, so that she looked frosted, but she was not albino in any sense, as her paw-pads and lips and ear-edges were black, and her nose tile-red. This black trimming gave her something of the made-up-with-mascara look of the Chinchilla Persians, which I think is extremely attractive. I gave her to friends who had her altered - she is still with them, and is a beautiful cat. Griselle was the closest thing to a really silver-colored cat I have seen, and at least in Griselle's case, the color was exquisite. Of course there are greyish Abys to be seen, the ones with the coats people call, I think quite accurately, cold, but Griselle wasn't like that at all. She was truly silver - visible from birth; she looked like a ghost-kitten in the litter, almost the color of a new-born Siamese." Mrs. Sayre describes Griselle's appearance when entering a room as "glowing" so that all eyes turned to her.

We have turned up evidence which gives us reason to believe that two of the very earliest Abyssinian Cats to be shown in the United States were "Silvers".

The first Abyssinian cats in the United States (of which there is a record) were owned by Miss Jane Cathcart of Oradell, New Jersey and were exhibited in Boston, Massachusetts in 1909.

Their suggestive names, Champion Aluminum and Salt, indicate they may have been silvers. CFA records for 1917 revealed that a male Abyssinian cat, Boz Ah Sin, born August 1914, and sired by Binnacle Sin out of Hell On Ship, had been registered in that organization by his owner, Mrs. Owen Kildare.

An official CFF premium list of the Boston Cat Club for 1920 showed a classification for Abyssinians.

From that date until Mrs. Gardiner Fiske of Boston imported a pair of kittens from England in 1934 little or no trace of Abyssinians in the U.S. could be found. These kittens were Woodrooffe Anthony and Woodrooffe Ena and were bred by Major Sydney Woodiwiss. Three litters of kittens were born of this pair while in Mrs. Fiske's possession, but only two lived beyond the baby stage. Anthony was later neutered and kept as a pet by Mrs. Fiske and Mrs. Arthur Cobb of Newton, Mass., acquired Ena. The first Abyssinian kitten (of which record was kept) to have been born in the United States was Addis Ababa, a female born July 7, 1935. A photograph of her appears in this book. This kitten died while very young as did the two males of that litter. In 1936 Mrs. Martin Metcalf and Miss Mary Hantzmon of Washington, D.C., while attending a cat show at Danbury, Conn., met and fell completely in love with Woodrooffe Ena of Newton and persuaded her owner, Mrs. Cobb, to lease her to them. Since no male was available Champion Ras Seyum was imported from England in 1937.

He was a magnificent specimen of the Abyssinian breed. Very handsome - a beautiful reddish brown color - well ticked and with perfect body confirmation and headtype. Later it was learned from published reports in England that Major Woodiwiss had been sharply criticized by the British Cat fancy for selling to the American Cat Fancy THE BEST ABYSSINIAN IN GREAT BRITAIN.

A color photograph of Ras Seyum appeared in a special cat issue of National Geographic Magazine in November 1938. This issue has been so popular over the years that a reprinting has been made and it may still be obtained through the society.

This was the true beginning of the Abyssinian Fancy in this country. From that time more and more Abyssinian cats were imported and they began appearing throughout the entire United States.

Mr. Charles Johnson of Philadelphia acquired a fine pair of imported Abys. Mrs. Blanche Warren of California imported two beautiful females bred by Lady Mary Barnard and later a male and female bred by the Countess of Liverpool. Dr. and Mrs. Fairchild of California became enthusiastic Aby breeders and did much to popularize this lovely cat. Mrs. Fairchild, in an article published in 1945 said: "All cats are smart, some of course are smarter than others and some are outstanding in intelligence, but for downright ability to outsmart a person every time, I give you the Abyssinian."

In the twenty-seven years that have passed since Woodrooffe Anthony and Woodrooffe Ena arrived from England and began the Abyssinian dynasty in the United States, interest in this cat has grown continually and today there are Aby breeders in every state in the land. Each show season finds a greater number of Abyssinians exhibited.

Selene's Skylark of Mar-Jon

Chota-Li Pathfinder

Selene's Chris of Mar-Jon
Su-Ryan Saadia of Dalai
Shermax Tirette

Selene's Garnette

Chi-Sai Ras Uba
Aida's Mr. Mistletoe

Wohl-Rabe's Ponti

Pharoh Rameses II
Aida's Nila Samara of Torcrag
Addis Ababa

Selene's Venita
Chi-Sai Baila

Arca's Karnak

Selene's Beau of Chac-Ma
Nile's Meresa III
Mar-Jon's Firefly

Selene's Sassi Susu Fireball

Crestline's Thunderball
Ring's Abi Abdel
Chota-Li Russet

Saqqara's Mia of Aida

Samdur's Golliwog of The Braves

Mel-End's Little Bradley of Aida

Shermax Ababa
Jungle Farm Occhi D'Oro

Since the end of the Abyssinian War in 1868 there has been no evidence of any cat having been taken from that country and it has often raised the question of how the Abyssinian cat got its name.

In an earlier chapter we quoted Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, who in his book Cats, states that the Abyssinian cat does not exist at all except as a breeder's creation.

There is now what we consider to be irrefutable proof that the Abyssinian cat familiar to us is indeed a native of Abyssinia. In South Weymouth, Massachusetts, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Maguire there is today an Abyssinian cat that has very recently come from Abyssinia and is in every respect the cat known to us by that name. His color is ruddy, his ticking good, there are some bars on his tail and legs but there is no white at all beneath his chin! His disposition is that with which all Aby owners are charmed.

Smokey P. (P. for people - for that is what his owner says Smokey believes himself to be) Maguire was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1957 in Addis Ababa, Abyssinia - or Ethiopia, as Mr. Maguire tells us is preferred since Abyssinian means 'mixed', in the home of an American family. His mother was a native domestic cat and his father a semi-wild cat that looked just like Smokey P. In Abyssinia all cats and dogs are semi-wild as the Abyssinians do not take care of their animals but leave them to shift for themselves.

Shortly after arriving in Abyssinia, where Mr. Maguire was to head the four year teacher program at the Haile Selassie I Day School, the Maguires adopted Smokey P., a tiny six week old kitten whose unusual appearance, intelligence, and delightful disposition had immediately won their hearts.

Soon Smokey P. made himself a full fledged member of the family and a beloved pet. While in Addis Ababa Smokey P. Maguire, as he is usually called, took a leading role, that of Pyewacket, in an American production of the play Bell, Book and Candle (staged by the Addis Ababa Little Theatre Group). His full name appeared on the program and his "purr-formance" was received with such a tremendous ovation and thunderous applause that he took several curtain calls!

When the time arrived for the Maguires to return to the United States there was no thought of leaving Smokey behind - but getting him an exit visa or "puss-port" was quite another matter. A cat? Were there no cats in America? No one in any official capacity knew what to do for no one had ever asked to take a domestic cat out of the country before. There was no precedent for this. A lion perhaps, but a cat! Insistence paid off, and convinced at last that the Maguire family would not leave without Smokey, an official issued a document which gave: 'Permission to export a pelt with a live animal in it! Finally, and only to be done with the matter, an exit visa was issued for Smokey.

Arrangements were made with various airlines for passage home. The first stop-over was Cairo, Egypt. The Egyptians are still cat lovers for when it was learned on reaching Cairo that a cat was traveling with the Maguires, Smokey received a great welcome. The best hotel was none too good for him. The manager insisted on personally serving Smokey with the finest beef to be had and, noticing that Smokey was panting because of the torrid Cairo heat, ordered that he be given the only air-conditioned room in the hotel. The rest of the travelers had to content themselves with hot, airless rooms. As a parting gift to Smokey the Egyptian Airlines flew him without charge to Athens, Greece. From this point Smokey's trip became a comedy of errors. It had not been possible for Smokey to travel with the family on the same plane and he had been sent on ahead, to be picked up by his owners at the airport in Amsterdam, Holland. Somehow, Smokey was flown past his destination and was not to be found when the Maguires reached there. For three frantic days telegrams and telephone calls were made throughout Europe when at last Smokey was found - waiting at the airport animal shelter in New York City! Cutting short what was to have been a European vacation the Maguires took the first available plane to New York where they located poor Smokey, still in his small carrier, as no one at the shelter had dared attempt move him to larger quarters thinking him to be a wild cat!

A happy reunion followed and Smokey was taken home to Massachusetts where today his travels are limited to vacation trips with his devoted owners.


That the Abyssinian has been saved from extinction and is with us today is probably largely due to the cat herself, enchantress that she is - and the spell her delightful personality casts, making devoted subjects of all fortunate enough to know her.

Apart from her superior intelligence, remarkably memory, sense of humor and a desire for the company of humans, insisting that she be treated as "people", the Aby is an altogether ideal cat either for showing or as a pet.

Mr. Denham sums it up rather nicely in his book Child of the Gods: " We thought that the unusual sweetness of disposition, great intelligence and companionability of our first Abyssinian was due to our understanding of cats. But we flattered ourselves - or else all Abyssinian owners are remarkable for their charm, intelligence and understanding of cats. For we have never met an Abyssinian breeder who was not a devoted cat-lover. This regrettably, is not true of all breeder of other varieties. We take is as a testimonial to the exceptional gift for living with humans which the Abyssinian possesses. In their letters to us Abyssinian owners, in all parts of the world have said the same things in different ways. They may have been critical of the white chins, the necklaces, the colour and even the barring of their Abyssinians, but not one remarked unasked that their cats are enchanting, unique in their sweetness of disposition and companionability."

In the opinion of Captain W.H. Powell, a judge of many breeds, writing in 1938, said: "There is no other breed of cat against which nothing can be laid in the way of disparagement. The coat of the Persian requires constant attention and the shortness of his nose renders him liable to sniffles. The Siamese is immune from the coat trouble, but even its most ardent admirers must sometimes wish its (her) vocal powers were less well developed. The quiet, unassuming Abyssinian combines all the good points and none of the failings of his more widely advertised relations."

Abyssinians seem to have excellent memories. "Kitan" a male kitten was sold when four months old and returned to the original owner and breeder after the buyer had kept him for nearly eighteen months because: "Although he loves me he has never been completely happy in my home", said the buyer, a doctor, who was doted on the cat. Kitan was taken to the breeder's home and released from his carrier in her living room. He knew at once he was home again. He remembered the house, the other cats, and immediately investigated the premises to see if everything was exactly as he had left it. He was most happily home and needless to add, he never left it again - yet nearly one year later while he was being held in the arms of his owner at a cat show, on hearing his name called, leaped from her arms into those of the person who had called, the doctor who once owned him! After a great display of affection for the man Kitan returned joyously to his first owner whom he loved and who loved him.

Alexander, another Aby we know, never in his long life time acquired a "litter pan" but taught himself to use the w.c. quite properly - and made himself heard throughout the entire house if anyone forgot to leave the door to the bathroom open!

Radames, a full male Aby, loves to ride in the family car. His owner has had a small shelf attached to the back of the driver's seat and there Radames stretches himself out majestically. He can always be depended on not to spray in the car and often takes long trips with his owner.


Judge's score

Confirmation..........55      Body..................30     Coat............40
A. Head.................25     A. Torso.............15     A. Color......15
B. Skull....................5     B. Tail...................5     B. Ticking....15
C. Ears.....................5     C. Legs & Feet...10     C. Texture...10
D. Eyes...................10                                 General Condition 5
(Color 5 Shape 5)
GENERAL: The overall impression of the ideal Abyssinian would be a colorful cat of medium size and firm muscle, giving the impression of eager activity and showing a lively interest in all surroundings.
HEAD: A modified, slightly rounded wedge without flat planes; the brow cheek and profile lines all showing a gentle contour. A slight rise from the bridge of the nose to the forehead, which should be of good size with width between the ears and flowing into the arched neck without a break.
MUZZLE: Not sharply pointed. Allowance to be made for jowls in adult males.
EARS: Alert, large, and moderately pointed; broad and cupped at base and set as though listening. Hair on ears very short and close-lying, preferably tipped with black or dark brown.
EYES: Almond-shaped, large, brilliant and expressive. Neither rounded nor Oriental. Eyes accentuated by dark lidskin, encircled by light-colored area.
BODY: Medium long, lithe and graceful, but showing well developed muscular strength without coarseness. Abyssinian confirmation strikes a medium between the extreme of the cobby and the svelte lengthy type. Proportion and general balance more to be desired than mere size.
LEGS: Proportionately slim, fine boned.
PAWS: Small, oval and compact. When standing, giving the impression of being on tip-toe.
TAIL: Thick at base, fairly long and tapering.
COAT: Soft, silky, fine in texture, but dense and resilient to the touch with a lustrous sheen. Medium in length but long enough to show two or three bands of ticking.
CONDITION: Lithe, hard and muscular, giving the appearance of activity, sound health and general vigor. well balanced temperamentally and physically; gentle and amenable to handling.
WITHHOLD WINNERS: White locket, or white anywhere other than nostril, chin and upper throat area. Kinked or abnormal tail. Dark unbroken necklace. Grey-black hair with no ruddy undercoat.
PENALIZE: Off-color pads. Long narrow head. Short round head. Barring on legs. Rings in tail. Coldness or grey tones in coat.
RUDDY: Coat ruddy brown, ticked with various shades of darker brown or black; the extreme outer tip to be the darkest, with orange-brown undercoat, ruddy to the skin. Darker shading along the spine allowed if fully ticked. Tail tipped with black and without rings. The undersides and forelegs (inside) to be a tint to harmonize with the main color. Nose leather tile red. Paw pads black, or dark brown with black between toes and extending slightly beyond the paws. Eye-Color: Gold or green, the more richness and depth of color the better.
RED: Warm glowing red, distinctly ticked with chocolate-brown. Deeper shades of red preferred. However, good ticking not to be sacrificed merely for depth of color. Ears and tail tipped with chocolate-brown. Paw pads pink, with chocolate-brown between toes, extending slightly beyond paws. Nose leather rosey pink. Eye color: Gold or green, the more richness and depth of color the better.


The origin of animal worship in ancient Egypt has been lost in the darkness of time, but for thousands of years animals, the Bulls of Memphis, the Ram of Thebes and the Cat of Bubastis were venerated by the Egyptians.

Throughout the world today in many museums may be seen evidences of this by the amulets in the shape of animals which have been found by archaeologists. The British Museum possesses an unusual collection of these as well as many cat mummies which clearly reveal the important place held by the cat in the days of the Pharoahs.

Cats were the special animal of the goddess Bast, also known as Bastet and Pasht, whose cult centered in Bubastis, a city of lower Egypt. Bast was the goddess both of love and war and was believed to appear on earth as a cat; and therefore cats were highly regarded. This veneration was especially high in later periods, when cats were on their death, carefully embalmed and buried with great ceremony in cemeteries reserved for them.

Bast was often represented as a slender, cat-headed woman, in a long sheath-like dress, holding in her right hand a sistrum, on her left arm a basket and at her feet several kittens.

The statues of the goddess were always depicted as being lionheaded while the bronzes were already cat headed. The Egyptians seem to have considered the cat as a diminutive of the lion.

Bubastis was made the capitol in 950 B.C. Here a colossal temple was dedicated to the goddess. All that remains today of the splendor that once was Bubastis are mounds!

Because of the profound respect shown to some animals and the attention given to their remains, Egypt was long regarded as the seat of idolatry. The religious significance given animals may well have originated from the practical and beneficial advantages with which their services provided man. Not the least of these services was rendered by the Cat, who guarded Egypt's vast granaries, upon which the entire populace depended, from the scourges of rodents.


The cat, in the day of her glory, was an ennobled and exalted creature held in such reverence and awe that to kill one, though the act was unintentional, meant death (to the one responsible) at the hands of a mob that did not wait for judgment to be passed.

Like men, cats held positions of rank, and sacred temple cats were considered the actual agents of the goddess Bast. It is not difficult to understand why these superstitious people shaved their eyebrows as a sign of grief upon the death of a cat, fearing that evil might befall them and divine favor cease to continue.

When a cat died, devout Egyptians, zealous in performing their religious obligations, took great care in preparing it for burial. The body of the cat was first embalmed and then wrapped with bands of linen of two or more colors, artfully folded in winding, to form intricate geometric patterns. Disks of cloth were sown in place to indicate eyes and nostrils, and ears were sometimes fashioned from bits of palm leaves.

Cats were often interred in elaborate cases of exquisite design made of wood, bronze, or clay. Other cases were made to resemble the feline form and had eyes of crystal with inlays of gold and pupils of black obsidian; a dark, glossy volcanic rock.

Cemeteries for cats have been found in many places throughout Egypt, at Thebes, Speos, Beni-hassan, Bubastis and other places where the rites of Bast were faithfully followed according to custom.

Cats were so honored and loved by their owners that on their death, they were often sent long distances to the necropolis at Bubastis, while many others were entombed in consecrated areas reserved especially for them near the towns or cities where they had lived.

An Egyptian peasant at Beni-Hassan came by chance on one of the largest cat cemeteries ever discovered. About him on all sides were cat mummies by the thousand, reposing on shelves, undisturbed, lying as they had for centuries! The tranquility of their rest was broken as soon as news of the find became public. Looters entered the tomb, and like an attacking enemy left it destitute and stripped, carrying off, like the spoils of war, the silent, once revered relics of the past. The mummies were sold in great numbers to tourists and to dealers who supplied the antique shops of Cairo and Alexandria, while thousands more were disposed of in various ways. Finally, those that remained were sold in ton lots, and shipped to Great Britain in March, 1890, to be sold as agricultural fertilizer! Later, when the value of these mummies was realized, one good specimen would have brought far more than was received for an entire ton.

Sidney Denham, in his book Child of the Gods suggests that: "There must still be quite a number of pieces of English soil that will be forever Egypt!"

Interest prompted us to send an inquiry to the British Museum. The following is part of the reply received from Mr. John Edwards Hill of that world famous institution. "Cat cemeteries have been found at a number of places in Egypt apart from Bubastis. I know of no person who has attempted to reconstruct the fur or its color from the remains therein. Many tons of embalmed cat bodies were shipped in the past to this country for use as fertilizer.

The collection at this museum contains some 200 skulls taken from embalmed cat mummies. My experience of these mummified cats is that no trace of fur remains, having long since passed to dust."

In 1889, under the sponsorship of the Egypt Exploration Fund, Mr. Eduard Naville excavated the cat cemetery at Bubastis which was then thought to be wholly depleted by earlier excavations. Wishing to determine, if possible, the manner in which the cats had been buried and hoping to find more of the bronze cats which had been found there, Eduard Naville emptied several large pits of the bones they contained. These pits were of tremendous size. One is described as having contained 750 cubic feet of bones - giving one an idea of the number of cats needed to fill it! Naville was rewarded for his persistence with several fine bronze cats and a statuette of Bast. Bones were piled everywhere. It was difficult to find any that were not broken as the bodies appeared to have been cremated. Mr. Naville states that if embalming did take place at Bubastis, it was a rare occurrence, while at other cat cemeteries, like Beni-Hassan, it was the rule. Berlin naturalists could not agree with Mr. Naville that the cats had been cremated. They did agree, however, that the bones and skulls which they examined, taken from Naville's excavations at Bubastis, belonged to cats of the African type which abound in Ethiopia and the Upper Nile!

Mr. Ivan Sanderson, an eminent British zoologist now residing in the United States, writes in his interesting book Living Mammals of the World, that: "Another group of small cats which may, in this case, actually be closely related and which certainly look much alike, are typified by the common wild cats of Africa, Felis Lybica and Ocreata. The former which has been preserved almost unchanged in the Abyssinian breed, was the ancestor of the house cats of Europe, having apparently first been domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and spread to Greece, Rome, and western Europe, where it was still regarded as a very valuable and protected animal as late as the thirteenth century. The Egyptians called this animal the Mu and trained it not only to keep down mice in their granaries but also to retrieve waterfowl shot with bow and arrows, because it was originally a water-loving animal. Cats do not dislike water; they dislike cold water."


Nearly 3000 years ago one of the most celebrated of all woman, the queen of Sheba, sat on the throne of Abyssinia, or Ethiopia as the country is now called. It is through Menelik, the son of Sheba and King Solomon, of Biblical fame, that all the rulers of Abyssinia have since based their ancestry. Contrary to common belief, the Abyssinians do not regard themselves as members of the negroid race but as Hamitic-Semitic. Since early recorded history, Abyssinia and Egypt have been closely linked and have at times been under the same ruler, so that the traits and patterns of one naturally influenced the other. During at least two dynasties Egypt was conquered and governed by her neighbor, Abyssinia! In reconstructing the relationship between these countries, it is useful to know that when, in the fourth century Abyssinia embraced the Coptic Christian faith of Egypt, the first archbishop was consecrated in Alexandria - and every archbishop of Abyssinia has until very recently always been an Egyptian chosen in the Coptic monastery in Alexandria or Cairo. Today the archbishop is an Abyssinian. Upon the death of the last archbishop, Haile Selassie refused to accept a new one, insisting that the head of the church in his country should be an Abyssinian. He had his way, but the choice of the emperor must still be approved by the patriarch of the church in Egypt.

Further tightening the bond between these countries is the Nile, a single river, rising as the Blue Nile in Abyssinia's Lake Tana, twisting and winding as it weaves its way southward through parched and barren regions, joining the White Nile, and flowing northward as one to Egypt and the sea. Egypt has little or no water of her own and has ever been dependent on the bounty of the Nile, which, yearly, through the miracle of inundation, provides the lush and fertile valley that is the heart of her being and maintenance.

Many Europeans, confident that the source of the Nile lay in Abyssinia, have from time to time traveled into the interior of the country in attempt to prove this. James Bruce, in 1769, traced the origin of the Blue Nile to its confluence with the White Nile. He left records of his findings as well as an interesting account of his experiences and travels.

Later, in 1805, Henry Salt, a British subject sent into Abyssinia on a mission for his government, wrote a tremendous volume describing in great detail the country, its people, and its customs. Here we found the first reference to cats which we had seen in any of the books relating to this land. In the appendix was the following: "Tame cats are likewise to be found in every house in Abyssinia." This is difficult to understand as we had concluded from his book and others which we read on the same subject, that the population apparently exhibited very little interest in animals of any kind whatever except lions, which preyed on their herds. A too vivid description of Salt of a raw meat feast, and the manner of its preparation served to convince us that these people never were and are not today animal lovers.

In case you have questions or comments you can contact me at: Harry_Blok@compuserve.com

This page was last modified on 22.01.2003

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