The cat fancy's version of downsizing 'the Munchkin' has cat fanciers on both sides hissing over whether the breed should be recognized. While most new breeds have to face periods of resistance before acceptance can occur, the battle over this breed is particularly heated because it raises questions regarding where 'unique variety' ends and 'abomination' begins. This point has been previously raised within the cat fancy concerning breeds such as the Sphynx and the Manx. The word (or words to that effect) was even applied to the Siamese when he made his debut in London in 1871.
Short-legged cats have been documented as early as the 1930s in England. According to reports, these short-legged cats survived for four generations before World War II took its toll on the cat population of Europe. One such cat was also reported in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and dubbed the 'Stalingrad Kangaroo Cat' for his tendency to sit up on his haunches. But the breed as we know it today began in Rayville, Louisiana.
In 1983 music teacher Sandra Hochenedel discovered two cats hiding under a pickup truck where they had been cornered by a bulldog. Hochenedel rescued the cats and took them home, later noticing two things, both were pregnant, and both had short, stubby legs. She kept Blackberry, the black cat, and gave away Blueberry, the gray.
When Blackberry had her first litter, Hochenedel gave one short-legged kitten, named Toulouse, to her friend Kay LaFrance, who lived in Monroe, Louisiana. Since LaFrance's cats were allowed free access to the outdoors and were not altered, a feral population of Munchkins occurred around Monroe, where they apparently competed very well with their long-legged friends for prey and mating opportunities.
Hochenedel and LaFrance contacted Dr. Solveig Pflueger, chairperson of TICA?s genetics committee. Her studies determined that the short legs were the result of a dominant genetic mutation affecting the long bones of the legs. This mutation apparently occurred spontaneously within the feline gene pool. Any cat that possesses this gene will exhibit the short legs. A cat that has received the Munchkin gene from one parent will produce Munchkin kittens at an approximate ratio of one Munchkin to one normal kitten.
Other breeders joined the cause, and in 1991 breeders tried to gain acceptance from TICA for the Munchkin, named for the little people in The Wizard of Oz. They were turned down on the basis that not enough was known about the breed. They tried again in September 1994 and this time were accepted. As of May 1, 1995 the Munchkin was recognized for New Breed and Color status in TICA. When the acceptance was announced, TICA member Katherine Crawford resigned her ten-year position as judge, saying that the breed was an affront to any breeder with ethics. Others shared her sentiments, feeling that the short legs will cause crippling back, hip, and leg problems in the future, although no evidence exists that the Munchkin is prone to such problems. Breeders had their oldest Munchkins X-rayed and examined for signs of joint or bone problems. No problems were found, but the breed is still in infancy, with the oldest Munchkin only 14 years old at the time of this writing.
According to Laurie Bobskill, breeder and president of the International Munchkin Society, 19 separate Munchkin-like mutations have been found in the United States, all unrelated to Blackberry's lines. Breeders find this encouraging, because it gives credence to the contention that this mutation is a viable variation of Felis catus.
Ironically, the controversy surrounding the breed has contributed to its growing popularity. Because of articles in The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and other publications, public demand for Munchkins has been great, the waiting lists long, and the supply limited. The sports car of the cat fancy is commanding sports car prices, too, and breeders want to
ensure that disreputable people don't take advantage of the Munchkin's popularity by using unethical breeding practices.
Copyright © 1998 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. based on
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAT BREEDS by J. Anne Helgren.