Singapore, an island spanning 226 square miles (585 sq. km) perched off the tip of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia, has scores of feral felines, as do many seaports. These cats make their livings off the leavings of the fishing trade, and in the past were not paid much attention unless they became nuisances, and then they were picked up by the cat police and summarily dealt with. It is a hard life for these nomads and, far from being praised as pedigrees, they were disparagingly known as 'drain' or 'sewer' cats by the denizens of the island.
Small brown cats with ticked coats have been observed on the isle since at least 1965. This variety, however, is not the only kind of cat found on the island; other varieties include solid-colored cats, deeper-colored ticked cats that often have short, bobbed tails, and cats that display the white spotting factor.
The Singapura breed as we know him in North America has made the Guinness Book of World Records (as the smallest breed of domestic cat), has had an entire advertising campaign centered around him (to promote tourism in the Republic of Singapore), and has had the dubious distinction of being the center of a cat controversy.
In 1975 Tommy and Hal Meadow returned from Singapore with three ticked, sepia-colored cats by the names of Tess, Tickle, and Pusse. Tommy Meadow, a former CFF judge and Abyssinian and Burmese breeder active in the cat fancy since 1955, wrote a standard for the breed and began a breeding program to weed out undesirable traits and produce consistency in color, coat, pattern, and disposition. The breed was promoted under the name Singapura, the Malaysian name for Singapore. In 1980 another breeder obtained a fourth cat from the Singapore SPCA and that cat was also used in the breeding program. Tommy Meadow founded the United Singapura Society, whose stated goal was to protect, preserve, and promote the Singapura. The CFA accepted the Singapura for registration in 1982, and granted Championship status in 1988.
Controversy arose in 1990, when Singapore reporter Sandra Davie interviewed Tommy Meadow for The Straits Times. Tommy admitted that Tess, Tickle, and Pusse had been born in America and transported to Singapore when she and her husband Hal moved there in 1974. Tommy said Tess, Tickle, and Pusse were the grandchildren of Singapore cats that Hal had sent to Tommy in Galveston, Texas, via a company ship when he was in Singapore on business in 1971.
Tommy explained that after she allowed the cats to mate, she became convinced that the cats could be the foundation of a breed unknown to the United States cat fancy, and decided to promote them as such. However, because of the confidential nature of Hal's work (collecting information for the geophysical company for which he was employed), Hal insisted that Tommy not tell the true origin of Tess, Tickle, and Pusse. Since she did not keep records of the matings of those first three cats, Tommy maintains that, for all practical purposes, the breed began in 1975.
In February 1991 Tommy and Hal Meadow were invited to appear before the CFA board to explain the discrepancy, and they reiterated this story to the CFA board of directors. Hal produced several passports and visas to document his visits to Singapore and said that, since the cats originally came to the United States via a company work ship, no import or export papers were filed for the cats.
The CFA board found no probable cause of wrongdoing and took no action against the Meadows; nor did any other association revoke recognition of the breed. The Singapore tourist promotion board apparently came to the same conclusion since they continued with an advertising campaign featuring the Singapura as their national mascot, importing two Singapuras from the United States to serve as models for statues to represent Singapore's National Treasure.
Other fanciers and breeders, however, were not willing to let the matter go, believing
that the Singapura was actually the product of Abyssinian/ Burmese crosses produced in Texas and transported to Singapore as a money-making scam. They pointed to the similarities in type and ticking.
Proponents pointed out that the Singapura ticked pattern resembling the Abyssinian's does not necessarily prove anything more than a common ancestry, since the Abyssinian is thought to have originated on the Malay Peninsula, swimming distance (if you're a really strong swimmer) from the island of Singapore. The Burmese originally hails from that part of the world as well. However, skeptics pointed out that someone wishing to perpetuate a scam, someone familiar with those breeds, would have chosen the breeds for that reason.
Some Singapura breeders not affiliated with the Meadows' United Singapura Society also were concerned about the breed's reportedly small litter sizes, which they believed was an indication of inbreeding resulting from the four-cat foundation and the unwillingness of the Meadows to allow other Singapore cats to be imported to widen the gene pool. Because of these and other disagreements, they formed other breed clubs, such as the International Singapura Alliance. Additional Singapore cats were imported as early as the mid-1980s by breeders to provide a basis for the additional Singapura bloodlines.
Copyright © 1998 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. based on
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAT BREEDS by J. Anne Helgren.