In 1982 Linda and Richard Koehl had recently moved to the country for an easier pace of life, buying a cherry farm in The Dalles, Oregon. They had invested in some hardy farm cats to keep mice away from their fruit. One of these was a plain but hard-working brown tabby shorthair called Speedy who gave birth to a litter of kittens which included a rather bald, long skinny kitten a bit like the pink panther, with tabby markings on her skin. Linda wondered if something was wrong with the kitten but as she grew she developed a lovely soft curly coat which everyone liked to touch. Perhaps this was also why she turned out to be so affectionate and a favourite of everyone on the farm.
Curly grew up and took her place alongside her mum working hard on the farm. One day Curly, and the whole LaPerm breed, were almost wiped out when she climbed into the warm engine of a pickup truck and was injured by the fan when it was started up. She pulled through from this ordeal and became a house cat for while convalescing from her injuries, but she managed to find her way out and into the arms of one of the farm’s toms. As a young and innocent first time mum she didn’t know what was happening and found herself in labour under a tree in the middle of a blustery rainstorm one night. Linda heard strange noises and took a torch outside to find Curly fiercely staving off barking dogs while straddling her newborn babies. Linda popped the babies into her pockets and took the family into the warmth of a barn to make them a nest in the hay. The next day when Linda was able to look at them in daylight she realised 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 were neutered and all grew up to make fine studs so before long all of the females in the colony were giving birth to curly kittens.
Linda found herself with a growing colony of unusual Rex cats, initially only with short coats, but evidently carrying the long hair gene, as long hair kittens were born when a long haired cat belonging to the Koehl’s neighbours came across to mate with the curly cats. Another neighbour had a half-Siamese cat, who must have been the source of the chocolate, lilac and colourpoint kittens who appeared in the original LaPerm colony. It was only when people started commenting on her odd cats and asking what they were that Linda did some research and realised that she had some kind of Rex. She took some cats to a CFA 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 a breeding programme was developed, working with TICA, who were the organisation which spearheaded the breed’s development. CFA recognition followed a little later and the group supporting and encouraging the breed’s early development included CFA judges Kim Everett and Dennis Ganoe, and the head of TICA’s genetics committee Dr Solveig Pflueger.
TICA was the first organisation to grant recognition and developed the breed’s first Standard of Points. It is this SOP which was used as the basis for the breed’s SOPs in other registries, such as CFA and GCCF, and the breed standard remains extremely unified across all registries. TICA was also the first major registry to grant full championship recognition, with the prestigious title of first champion going to Ch. Dennigan’s French Maid of Shoalwater, owned by Debbie Estep and bred by Dennis Ganoe. The first CFA champion was Ch. PacificGem BC Saguaro of Bosque.
The breed has grown and grown and is now a well established championship breed in several registries around the world with breeding programmes in many other countries. LaPerms are being bred in countries as diverse as Canada, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Norway, the Netherlands, Russia, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the UK, which is the home of the LaPerm Cat Club.
The LaPerm breed has an interesting link 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, who watches over her people. 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. The naming of the breed was a carefully considered affair; 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. It is also greatly fitting that the trade language spoken up and down the West coast in the early days of American settlement formed words in this way. The Chinook Wawa, was a mixture of Chinook, French and other languages and many French words were adopted into the language and adapted into new words by adding the definite article onto the front of the word, so the word for pipe became LaPipe, the word for apple (pomme in French) became LaPom. The name LaPerm honours this tradition.
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 muscular semi-foreign type body 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 Rex cats, all colours and patterns are acceptable, although tabbies, reds and torties are well represented reflecting their origins. Also the unusual colours 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. White LaPerms are also bred, and breeders have to undertake a BAER test before breeding from such cats as this is good practise to manage and reduce the risks of producing deaf kittens.
The coat itself is described as having a unique textured feel. It is not silky, having a certain drag on the hand like velvet 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 are also curly ear furnishings including tufts at the ear tips and ear muffs. The longhairs have a curly plumed tail while the shorthairs have tails rather like bottlebrushes, 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”!
They are essentially low-shedding, low-maintenance pets. Some allergy sufferers find that they can cope with the coats, perhaps because they reduced shedding does not spread the allergens about to quite the same extent, but they cannot be described as non-allergenic. Grooming is an easy affair, even for a show cat and a rub with a pet wet wipe is as much as most cats need. Rubber brushes should never be used as they can strip the fragile coats; only a revolving toothed comb will move through the coat easily without pulling out the fur or pulling the lovely curls straight. Too much grooming leaves the coat looking like a frizz-ball and takes away the desired definition of the curls. However, a spritz with plain water and a scrunch will help to redefine the curls. Anyone with curly hair, will recognise the care routine, including those who can think back to their perms from the 1980s! Hair products are not recommended as cats will lick and swallow these as they groom themselves, however a tiny speck of coconut oil or olive oil rubbed into the palms of the hands can be stroked into the coat if it is overly dry.
LaPerms are a healthy and robust breed with no known breed-related health problems. Kittens tend to be good developers and are playful and inquisitive from the moment they can get out of the nest box to explore. Breeding LaPerms is an enjoyable challenge, and breeders endeavour to balance good type with good coat; perfection is a cat which excels in both areas.
LaPerms are an intriguing breed which is very enjoyable to live with. Their unusual coats with the soft curls in many colours and patterns are what draws many people to the breed but their good health and playful, loving and affectionate personalities are equally likely to make people fall in love.
The LaPerm is a delightful Rex breed, which is recognised by all the the world's major cat associations and is found in many countries worldwide, but which remains one of the more rare breeds. They are very well loved by their loyal devotees for their many charming characteristics. LaPerms are genetically unique and not related to any other Rex breeds. They have an elegant and athletic build suited to their lively, sociable dispositions. But their most impressive feature is their soft coats of shaggy curls and ringlets, that feel so wonderful to touch.