by Stephanie Black
HOW DID A BREEDER AND EXHIBITOR OF PUREBRED DOGS BECOME INVOLVED IN BREEDING CATS AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO SETTLE ON OCICATS?
I was never what you would call a big time "dog breeder". I mostly exhibited Sighthounds (Borzoi, Salukis, Whippets and Scottish Deerhounds). As much as showing, I enjoyed field trials and lure coursing and for a brief period was President of the Carolina Lure Coursing Society. Although I exhibited the breeds mentioned here, I only bred Whippets and only a few litters at that. My family though had owned cats when I was a child. My interest in purebred cats began when I moved from the country to the city and found I had neither the time nor the space to keep the running dogs which were my passion. Cats are much more adaptable to city life and my interest in breeding had become keen. I looked in earnest for a breed of cat I would enjoy. The spotted cats caught my eye. Being interested in purebred animals, I first contacted breeders of Egyptian Maus. I had inquired about Ocicats and Mrs. Daly had supplied me with much information on the breed. I recall my reluctance in becoming involved with what some considered a "mongrel" breed that was a mixture of other breeds, and which had not achieved "breed status", i.e. was not yet recognized for championship status. But the more I learned about the Ocicat, the range of colors, their bigger size, their wonderful temperament and other attributes unique to the Ocicat, I was hooked. And it was not only the Ocicat itself, but the wonderful people already involved with the breed that convinced me that the Ocicat was the breed I wanted.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I had talked and corresponded with Virginia Daly and was very impressed with her efforts in promoting the Ocicat. Since she had no kittens available at the time, I contacted and got to know other breeders who were so enthusiastic about this "new" breed of cat that I wanted to get to know them better and learn all I could about the Ocicat. I bought my first female from a breeder in the state of Virginia. I must admit she was nothing to brag about! Her dull tawny color was nothing to rave about and while her pattern was quite nice, she did not have the contrast I had hoped for. But living with this little girl for only a few days convinced me I had made the right choice. When I got her home from the airport, she walked out of her carriers as if she owned the place. As she grew, she got prettier. Was this my imagination or was I merely getting used to her? Who knows, but she won my heart and committed me to the breed in a way I never expected. If she wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped, she was all I needed to get started on a breeding program that would eventually produce Ocicats like I had dreamed about.
BUT WHY THE OCICAT?
As I said, it was size, temperament and variety of colors that most excited me. The Mau, also a consideration, only comes in basic black (be it silver, bronze or smoke). I was not impressed with their size or what I was hearing about temperament. The more "exotic" breeds which involved wild blood were also a fascination (the Bengal, Safari Cat, etc.) but the more I learned about them the more I realized these had their own problems with temperament and even sterility. The Ocicat filled the need for a wild looking cat while having a domesticated heritage.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR CONNECTIONS TO VIRGINIA DALY?
I first responded to Virginia's ads in CATS Magazine -- just like so many hundreds of others have done. I got her standard packet of information. We continued to begin touch since I wanted to be placed on her waiting list. At that time Mrs. Daly had far more requests for kittens than she could possibly fill, so the wait could take some time -- often a year or more. I guess Virginia realized how enthusiastic I was -- as well as patient in wanting to wait for "the very best" -- and during the course of things she realized she could trust me and we became very good friends. Virginia had begun to publish her own personal newsletter to those on her waiting list and for those who already owned Ocicats. I responded to her questions, gave my opinions on the breed standard she was developing, and promised her I would work as hard as it took to get the breed the recognition it deserved. Virginia was then the President of another Ocicat club, The Ocicat Society of America. For some reason I still don't understand and which Virginia tells me she never understood, the woman who was Secretary of that club would not process club applications which Virginia so vigorously encouraged. When I cam along, OSA was floundering. Many of its charter members were in declining health as well as losing interest in the breed. I contacted OSA and asked if there would be any objection to the formation of another club for the Ocicat. Ocicats International was born and members were solicited from contact Virginia had developed over the years.
HOW DID YOU ACQUIRE "CHEVY" (DALAI GOLDEN CAVALIER OF OCIVILLE)?
As I mentioned, I was only Virginia's waiting list for one of her best. Virginia was not doing what one would consider a great deal of breeding. The most sought after color at that time was what we called "golden". We now would know this color would include the cinnamons and the more golden (or hot) chocolates. Virginia's photos of Dalai Golden Phoenix really knocked my socks off! He was truly a wild looking cat with the most gorgeous golden-ivory ground color I had ever seen. So when one of his "golden" kittens (Chevy) was available, Virginia notified me.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE CHEVY'S MAJOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE BREED?
Gosh, where do I begin? I couldn't believe my eyes when I first took Chevy from his shipping carrier. He was incredibly beautiful! There was a quality about him that took my breath! Not only was he an incredible color with the most gorgeous pattern I had ever seen -- big, round, dark chocolate spots on an orange ground -- but he had an outstanding "feel" with bone and muscle unlike any cat I had ever had the experience of holding. He was never what I considered a really big cat, but all the judges who handled him commented on his weight and incredibly hard body once they got him in their hands. His biggest contribution was undoubtedly his ability as a sire. Most Ocicats of that day lacked "pizzazz" -- color was not spectacular on most and very few had what we would call a good pattern by today's standards. Chevy had the color and the pattern and passed this along to most of his offspring. Fortunately, he also had the correct head type -- including ear set -- and the conformation we want in a good Oci. But I would have to say it was his incredible pattern and his ability to pass this along to his progeny that was his strongest suit. It was this trait that many breeders were looking for at that time. I believe Chevy's contribution is undeniable when one looks at the pedigrees of most of the winning Ocis of today (1990) and sees his name listed at least once, if not several times. However, Chevy never loved the show ring, was never shown as a kitten, and made his first appearance on the show scene while the breed was still in Miscellaneous Class which was prior to Provisional and long before Championship Status was granted. Even so he was a sport and a trooper and accompanied me to shows throughout the Southern Region. He went to Orlando as one of our ambassadors for the breed when we moved from Miscellaneous to Provisional and again went to Seattle, the following year, when Championship status was granted by CFA. I truly believe his impression on CFA and its judges had a lot to do with the breed being recognized. Considering everything though Chevy's greatest contribution was in his ability as a sire. He never failed to improve color and pattern while passing along his type and conformation. He is a direct descendant of Mrs. Daly's very first Ocicats. It is a shame that a few jealous breeders have tried to discredit him even though he is responsible for getting so many breeding programs off to a good start. I feel Chevy's record speaks for itself.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PUSH FOR CHAMPIONSHIP STATUS?
That's simple. The Ocicat deserved it! Breeders had worked long and hard. The breed was not really new, but had been in existence for at least twenty years before I became involved. I respected the work others had done and especially appreciated the work Virginia had done in promoting and preserving the breed through difficult and disappointing times. The "homework" has been done by breeders who had produced lovely Ocis. What was missing was an organization carry the Ocicat flag. The Ocicat Society of American was still in existence and had unsuccessfully approached CFA for advancement. Sadly, those who had formed OSA were losing their steam, some were older people, some in less than good health, so when I came on the scene there was not a true functioning organization to carry the breed along. I remember meeting Ann Hollier. It was when she once came to visit me and brought some of her Ocis for me to see that Ann and I first discussed starting a new club and working hard and fast to advance the breed. We contacted OSA and learned there were no objections to forming another club. Virginia gave us her blessings and support -- as well as her mailing list -- and Ocicats International was formed. As support grew, we made plans to pursue advancement with CFA.
FOR OUR NEWER MEMBERS, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW A BREED IS ADVANCED FROM MISCELLANEOUS TO CHAMPIONSHIP STATUS.
This is a good questions and one I really didn't know the answer to when I first associated with Ocicats. I was not at that time involved with CFA to any degree and knew little of the "ins" and "outs" of advancement of a new breed. I requested the guidelines from CFA and went about the business of building -- with the help of several others -- an organization that would support the Ocicat for the advancement it deserved. Ann and I agreed to do the "grunt work" if others would help and support us. As the club grew, it was apparent that there were many others who were also interested in this goal and there was no lack of help and support other members were willing to give. It might surprise you to know that some who are now very involved in the breed had at that time become very discouraged and told me I was wasting my time working with the Ocicat. I was also told I would be throwing my money and time away on this effort. While not everyone was willing to work, enough showed and demonstrated their support. Without getting into the detailed specifics of all the steps we had to go through getting the breed accepted, I will say I lots of help from those who had been instrumental in advancing other breeds. Evelyn Mague, who had worked with the Somali, and Joan Bernstein who had just helped advance the Tonkinese, were very helpful.
Not only did they explain the technical aspects of advancement, but warned me of the expense and investment of time that would be required and also shared with me personal tips from their personal experiences with their respective breeds. The whole process came down to proving to CFA that we had the required numbers of breeders, cats, show entries, etc. Once that was done, it was quite a bit more complicated than simply going through facts and figures. The Ocicat had acquired a dubious reputation. Many thought the breed had wild blood despite Mrs. Daly's advertising "CFA pedigreed only". Many thought the Ocicat was only bred in Michigan even though there were breeders throughout the country. The unwarranted reputation of being a "fluke" or "mongrel breeding" and the fear that their "wild blood" made them unmanageable took quite a bit of undoing. I had been advised to "shove them down the judges' throats" if that was what it took. While I am not sure those of us who showed in Miscellaneous Class actually had to do this, we did get them out in fair numbers and tried to make the bigger shows where CFA Board Members might be judging. At that time is was important that not only the Ocicats but also the Ocicat exhibitors would make a good impression. Apparently we did all the right stuff since I know of no other breed to advance so quickly (and smoothly) through CFA ranks.
WHAT, AS A BREEDER, HAVE BEEN YOUR PERSONAL GOALS FOR THE OCICAT?
I have mostly wanted the breed to find its rightful place in the cat fancy and I believe this goal has been accomplished. Time was when I could practically name each and every owner of an Ocicat and certainly knew all of the breeders. Now there are people I've never met or heard of breeding fine Ocicats. I remember Judges being afraid (or too disinterested) to even handle th3e Ocis presented to them. I recall spectators asking "what is that" and "is it wild?" or "will it bite"? Now it seems everyone knows what an Ocicat is and that has been the reward for all the hard work. My personal goal was to produce Ocicats that not only had the lovely pattern and wild look we wanted, but to produce cats with the consistency in head and body type that we know is unique to our breed. It may sound odd to those newer in the breed, but time was when any group of Ocicats would show a great variety in breed type with ran a range from the "oriental" to the "domestic".
The Ocicat, of course, is neither and it was the south-after "moderate" type we had to encourage. I was extremely lucky to have gotten Chevy to use in my breeding program. His improvement in color and pattern, as well as breed type really helped the breed. So many of the early Ocis had very plain colors and poor pattern which was, as much as anything, rather like a poorly patterned broken mackerel. To tell the truth, I had my doubts that the breed would progress as it has to give us o many lovely and correct Ocicats. We have come a long way from the days of Miscellaneous when cats of such varying breed type and (can we talk?) ugly patter were the norm. Those you with truly beautiful Ocicast perhaps do not realize just how rare these cats were just a few short years ago. Seeing so many really correct Ocicats at the shows today is another personal reward for the hard and difficult times the early Ocicat fanciers endured.
CHEVY WAS THE FIRST OCICAT GRAND CHAMPION, BUT HOW MANY CHAMPIONS AND GRANDS HAVE YOU BRED?
I have bred 40 some Champions and 10 Grand Champions and one cat that I bred, now in Germany, is an International Champion and was Best in Show in Munich, Germany a couple of years ago. I have been very lucky in placing my Ocis in homes with people who not only appreciate them but who will take the time and make the effort to exhibit the cats to their fullest potential. It is a bit unfortunate that some really good cats have never been shown as I would have liked. I have never been what you would call a campaigner and actually have done limited showing myself. Virginia Daly took Chevy to his first show after Championship status was granted and he championed that first weekend of Championship competition. I had to rely on the help of friends who got him out to shows when I could not attend myself, but I will never forget the thrilling moment when Chevy Granded with my showing him at the large and prestigious National Capitol Show near Washington, DC. My desire for Chevy to be the first Ocicat Grand Champion was something I wanted very much for this deserving cat who had represented the breed so admirably. And since Virginia had worked so long and tirelessly for the breed, it was fitting that one from her breeding be the first Ocicat grand.
WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING YOU HAVE DONE AND WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?
That's a tough question! I guess there are always things we would change, but I have to admit I am pleased with the way things have progressed. While I am delighted with the progress the breed has made, I do regret it has never really attracted many experienced breeders and exhibitors; however, it has been rewarding to see so many newcomers being attracted to our breed and the Ocicat has pulled many novices into CFA activities. It would have been nice if we had been able to involve a few millionaires who could spend tons of money promoting the breed, but we have done quite well with those who have worked long and hard over the years. Would I do it again? I certainly would! There has been never been a breed so deserving a place in the cat fancy. As Virginia has said numerous times, "We never planned the Ocicat (it was the Aby-pointed Siamese she was really after when the Oci "happened"), but it was a 'gift''. If I have a regret, it would be that too many people fuss and fight to become instant "authorities" on the breed. Virginia Daly's gift, the Ocicat, is our pleasure and companion. I think we should appreciate this gift for filling our desire to own a wild-looking spotted cat without having to take such beautify from Nature's jungles. With preservation of the truly wild spotted cats becoming a critical issue and so many succumbing to extinction through loss of habitat, we are indeed lucky to have our lovely Ocicats as companions. Those who want to create issues to fight about are really missing the point and take good and positive energy away from the "gift" that was given to us all. Any regrets I might have are certainly outweighed by the positive aspects of owning and knowing such wonderful cats and the people associated with them. That Virginia has lived to see her gift prosper and fill the lives of so many people with so much joy is my personal reward. Being a part of the experience and helping the Ocicat to realize its rightful place is something I will always cherish.