The LaPerm is a recognized breed of cat. A LaPerm’s fur is curly (hence the name “perm”), with the tightest curls being on the belly, throat and base of the ears. LaPerms come in many colors and patterns. LaPerms generally have a very affectionate personality.
The LaPerm is a rex breed which originated in the USA and is now present in many other countries worldwide. The breed is genetically unique and not related to any other rex cat varieties, having a dominant gene causing their curly coats. They have an elegant and athletic build and are affectionate, active and outgoing in character. They are reputed to be hypoallergenic cats, provoking a significantly lower level of allergic responses than normal cats. Their most significant feature is their coat which is made up of soft waves, curls and ringlets, resembling a shaggy perm.
The first LaPerm was born in 1982 and was a spontaneous mutation in an otherwise normal litter of kittens. The breed founders, Linda and Richard Koehl owned a cherry farm in The Dalles, Oregon, and had obtained some farm cats for pest control. One of these was an ordinary brown tabby shorthair called Speedy who gave birth to a litter of kittens which included a rather bald female kitten with tabby markings on her skin. The Koehls were initially concerned about the kitten’s appearance but she developed healthily and as she grew she developed a soft curly coat.
The kitten was given the name Curly and was given no special treatment, also working as a farm cat. In fact, she was nearly killed in an incident when she climbed into the warm engine of a pickup truck and was injured by the fan when the engine was started. She survived and became a house cat for a while recovering from her injuries and it was during this time that the Koehls came to fully appreciate her affectionate personality. She became pregnant and gave birth under a tree in the middle of a rainstorm one night. Linda Koehl heard strange noises and took a flashlight outside to find Curly fiercely defending her newborn kittens from barking dogs. Linda put the kittens into her pockets and took them into a warm barn to make them a safe nest in the hay. The next day when Linda was able to look at them in daylight she realized that all five kittens had the same appearance as their mother had at birth. All five were male and grew up to have the same soft curls. None of the five were neutered and their breeding activity led to many more curly coated kittens being born.
Linda found herself with a growing colony of unusual rex cats which included long and short coats. There was a range of colors and patterns including chocolate and colorpoints, due to the input of a local cat who had a Siamese mother. When people started commenting on her unusual cats and asking what they were, Linda did some research and realized that she had some kind of rex. She took some cats to a show to ask for feedback and was told by exhibitors, breeders and judges that she had something very special. Several key people in the USA cat fancies gave her their support and the breed has grown and to become a well established championship breed in the States with breeding programs in many other countries around the world.
The LaPerm breed is strongly allied with Native American culture as the area where the Koehl’s farm is situated is in a sacred territory of the Wishram people, a Chinook speaking tribe who traditionally made a living netting, drying and trading salmon from the Columbia River. The area still contains rock carvings of the vigilant goddess Tsagaglalal. It is because of this that many LaPerm breeders give Native American names to their kittens and decorate their pens with this theme in mind when showing. Careful consideration was given to the naming of the breed; several possible names had already been used or were too clumsy sounding or close to something else so a name was chosen by Linda which evocatively brings to mind the breed’s most important feature: its curly coat, and follows the Chinookan tradition of adopting French words while incorporating the definite article to create a new word.
The LaPerm is in many ways a cat of moderation with no extremes and is still true to its original type. It does however have a striking appearance because of its unusual coat. The breed standard describes a muscular foreign-type body, which is medium in size with longish legs and neck. The head is a modified wedge with gently rounded contours and a muzzle which slightly broad of the wedge. In profile the straight nose leads into a gentle break between the eyes up to a flattish forehead. LaPerms also have rather broad noses. Their flared ears are placed to follow the line of the face, while their almond shaped eyes are medium large and expressive.
Like other rexes, all colors and patterns are acceptable, although tabbies, reds and torties are well represented reflecting their origins. Also the unusual colors from the early days of the breed have been selected for, so lilac, chocolate and colorpoints are popular. Tabby points are especially attractive. Newer varieties such as ticked tabbies, shadeds and darker points are also being bred. The curl tends to open up the coat showing off shading, ticking or silver undercoats.
The coat itself is described as having a unique textured feel. It is not silky, having a certain drag on the hand like mohair and the texture comes as much from the shape of the curls as from the mixture of different hair types. It should be soft and inviting, although the shorthairs will have more texture to their coats. The coat is rather loose and bouncy often feeling springy when patted, and stands away from the body with no thick undercoat. It is light and airy and judges sometimes blow on the coat to see if it will part. The coat varies according to the season and the maturity of the cat but is essentially wavy or curly all over with the longest and most defined curls in the ruff and on the neck often falling in ringlets. There is also longer curly fur inside the ears, tufts at the ear tips and ‘ear muffs’, or longer, silky hair on the backs of the ears. The longhairs have a curly plumed tail while the shorthairs have tails rather like bottle brushes, and both have long curled whiskers. Sometimes the coat falls into a natural parting along the back, jokingly referred to as the ‘parting of the waves’.
The first LaPerms were those belonging to breed founders Linda and Dick Koehl at their farm in Oregon. The other breeders who joined Linda to work on the breed’s initial development in the USA included Solvieg Pfleuger (Manawyddan), who is a well-respected feline geneticist, Anne D Lawrence (Uluru), Beth Fillman (Calicorose) and Dee Borgardt (Deebor and Dairyland). Still during the early days of the breeding program they were joined by other breeders, including Pete Meisinger & Donna Lawry (Woodlandacre and Hattkatts), Maureen Neidhardt (Lakotaspirit), Lynne Daggett (Loriders) and Mary Sharum (Sekani). The LaPerm Society of America (LPSA) was formed in 1997 and became affiliated to CFA, helping to push the breed forward in that organization. Valued members of the LPSA who have contributed to the breed’s development and whose prefixes are seen in key LaPerm pedigrees include Erika Fetz (Vankkadia), Cheryl Cook (PacificGem) Diane Dunn (Lakme), Andrea Brew (Moonrise), Sandy Brew (Sunfall), Dennis Ganoe (Dennigan) and Debbie Estep (Shoalwater). When TICA finally approved championship status for the LaPerm in 2003 the all important first cat to become a champion was Ch Dennigan’s French Maid of Shoalwater, bred by Dennis Ganoe and owned by Debbie Estep. The breed gained championship recognition in CFA in May 2008 and the first champion was Ch Sunfall’s BC Kahaha Towanjila. The first grand was Grand Premier Uluru BC Cloudfeet of CavalierCats owned by Cathy Hurley.
The first LaPerm in the UK was Champion Uluru BC Omaste Po of Quincunx, a lilac tortie and white Longhair who was bred in the United States by A. D. Lawrence and Maureen Neidhardt. She was imported by Anthony Nichols (Quincunx) using a PETS pet passport in May 2002 after a stop-over with LaPerm breeder Corine Judkins in Holland. She arrived pregnant and gave birth to a litter of five kittens shortly after who were used as the foundation stock for the UK breeding program. A number of other imports followed, including cats from Europe, New Zealand and the USA. Judy Whiteford (Aswani) and Kate Munslow (Canonna) have been involved from that first litter and have both imported new cats themselves and Corine Judkins (Crearwy) moved to Wales bringing her cats with her including the stud who sired the first UK litter. Other key breeding lines found in UK pedigrees include those of Edwina Sipos (Cycada), Penni Cragg (Wakanda), June Gillies (Ballego), Kate Ekanger (Cloudborn), Sue Amor (Amorcatz) and Sue Pyrke (Bane). The breeding program has been characterized by efforts to breed down from outcrosses for generational advancement by combining outcross lines, old lines and import lines. The UK now has the largest LaPerm breeding program of any country and is the home of the LaPerm Cat Club. The breed has made solid progress within the GCCF and is often seen at British cat shows. In June 2008 the LaPerm gained Provisional Recognition in the GCCF and the first cat to gain an Intermediate Certificate was Aswani Miranna Keys.
Breeding programs for LaPerms have spread to many other countries around the world. The breed was brought to Canada by Constance & Martine Sansoucy (Butterpaws), to New Zealand by Twink McCabe (Coiffurr) and Glynne Jackson (Wakijaki), to Australia by Christine Brelsford (Curlz) and later by Anne-Louise Magee (Frisson), to South Africa by Johan Lamprecht (Les Beaux Chats) and later by Grant Leih (Silkenclaw). LaPerms are also present in Japan, having first being exported there in 1997 by Anne D Lawrence. In continental Europe the first LaPerms were imported to Germany by Sabine Albrecht (Isanyati), these included the first LaPerm champion, Ch Uluru BC Wiyaka. However, it was Sylvie Groenveld (Smeralda’s) who led the breeding programme in that country. The initial imports to the Netherlands went to Corine Judkins (Crearwy) and a breed club was set up: the LaPerm Raskatten Vereniging, with key prefixes belonging to Frank and Rina Stapel (Taricats), Karin Langeveld (Takoda) and Angela Bruynswyck (Brunswick’s). The first Scandinavian breeder was Elinore Kopp (Shangri-La) in Sweden who imported Grand Champion Quincunx Qinkifurr and Champion Crearwy BC Madryn Merch Cari from the UK. The first Russian breeder was Svetlana Ponomareva (Russicurl). Several other countries now also have LaPerms and the breed’s popularity continues to spread.
In TICA outcrossing has mainly been with the domestic cat or moggy although registration rules do allow other breeds to be used and bred down from towards the F3 generation which is eligible for entry in TICA cat shows. When undertaking outcross matings to non-pedigrees reputable breeders seek out cats closely resembling the correct LaPerm body type with coats which are not overly thick. This practice continues the use of the kind of cats which composed much of the original foundation stock for the breed and helps to maintain genetic health by using the widest gene pool available. However, in some countries, such as the UK, it is illegal to sell the kittens from such matings as pedigrees because of the Trades Description Act 1968 through which it has been established that the legal definition of a pedigree cat in the UK is one with a fully recorded three-generation pedigree. After outcrossing to a cat of unknown parentage, at least three generations must be bred to establish a full pedigree record. In Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) breeders used the Ocicat for a two-year period, terminating on 1 May 2002; LaPerms registered during this period were permitted to have an Ocicat parent, and by extension, one or two Abyssinian grandparents, as the Abyssinian is an approved outcross of the Ocicat. Currently CFA breeders may only use non-pedigree domestic cats and after 2015 no outcrosses will be permitted in CFA.
The GCCF has the most strict of the registration policies and only LaPerms with a full three generation pedigree (i.e. parents, grandparents and great-grandparents) of only LaPerm to LaPerm breeding are permitted on the full register. Only LaPerms or cats from a list of approved breeds are permmitted in the 4th and 5th generations. Cats with non-approved breeds anywhere within their five-generation pedigrees, particularly those with other rex genes or non-pedigree cats with unknown genotype, cannot be registered as LaPerms. In order not to cause any damaging restriction to the breed’s genepool a supplementary register also exists for the registration of LaPerms bred as part of an outcross breeding program. LaPerms can only be registered on the supplementary register if within their five generation pedigrees only LaPerms and cats from the approved outcross list are present. In the GCCF this list comprises the Somali/Abyssinian, Asian/Tiffanie/(European)Burmese, Ocicat and Tonkinese. There was also a rather small amount of use of the Old Style Siamese/Balinese/Oriental during the initial development phase of the UK breeding program, and a cutoff date for use of these breeds was built into the breeding and registration policies. In other registries the approved list (with some slight variations) is used for outcrossing and cats of unknown parentage are not permitted. In the Netherlands and Germany Somalis and Turkish Angoras have also been used. In antipodean countries, Somalis, Tiffanies and Orientals have also been used.