There are many versions of the Peterbald history out there, and I have worked hard to try to compile as correct and complete a history as I am able. I have done much research online (thanks to Irina Nemykina, "MIF" cattery, Rostov-on-Don in Russia for great information, and to Moon Rainbow cattery for the photos of the early Don Sphynx - to take a look at the English version of her website, go to our links page). I have also spent time talking to breeders who have been involved nearly from the beginning, such as Olga Shidlovaskaya of Mercuryhold cattery of Russia. Specail thanks to Olga, and thanks to all who have helped me with this endeavor. All excerpts and photographs are used with the express permission of their owners. Please do not copy without permission. You may contact us about this article, or you may contact Irina Nemykina at firstname.lastname@example.org about the photographs of Varvara and Chita.
History of the Peterbald Cat
Any new breed of cat comes from one of two things: a cross of two existing breeds, or a spontaneous genetic mutation. Any cat with a unique and prominent distinction will have begun from a genetic mutation. Some examples of this would be the American Curl, the Munskin, the Scottish fold, the distinctly curly coat of the Rex breeds, the Canadian Sphynx, and the Don Sphynx. And so begins the history of the Peterbald, not with a Peterbald, but with a woman and her cats that became known as the Don Sphynx.
The Peterbald's existence is due to the kind nature of one Russian woman, Elena Kovaleva. In February 1986 Elena was going home to her daughter and their four other rescued cats. On a playground near her home, she noticed some boys throwing each other a bag. In the bag a kitten was crying. Elena took the bag from them, and, in it she found a tiny kitten. She estimated the kitten to be 3-4 months of age. She was a pretty, fluffy tortoiseshell girl. What would you have done? Elena took the kitten to her house.
She named her Varvara, although some histories record her name as Varya. As she grew, there was nothing unordinary about her; just a fluffy kitten. However, strange things began to happen after about 4 months: the kitty began to slowly lose hair. Her hair loss began with her head, then her back... Elena took the young cat to her vet clinic. The vet, of course, thought Varvara was ill; demodicosis, dermatitis, ringworm? So they began an impressive treatment program, which included many medications that were very difficult to get. Desipte their best efforts, her condition did not improve. What else to do? They finally decided to let her alone, after all, she appeared otherwise healthy and had a very good appetite. As she grew, she continued to appear healthy and continued to lose hair.
In 1989 Svetlana Volkova from Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine) with "Alisa" club cat show came to Rostov-on-Don (a rural Russian community). Elena and her friend, Irina Nemykina asked Inna, Elena's daughter, to participate in the show with Varvara. Inna returned after just a few hours; the pair were not well received. They called Varvara "shabby" and harassed her until she left the show. Over the next year, Varvara continued to grow and also to "undress." By the time the "Alisa" cat club had their next show, she only had fur behind her ears, a fluffy tail, and fur on her legs. This time, Elena decided to show Varvara herself. At the show, Elena explained that Varvara was a Sphynx, like the new hairless cats recently discovered in North America. Very few people at the show had even heard of a Sphynx, and none had seen one. They did not believe Elena's cat could possibly be a healthy, hairless cat.
In May 1990, Irina moved to a new apartment. Coincidentally, the move coincided with her birthday. Elena surprised her with a kitten! A daughter of Varvara's. The sire of this litter was a European Shorthair named Vasily. He had a nice gray-blue coat with marble pattern and a big locket. He was chosen because of his beauty, and because he lived next door to Elena.
She was a funny, furry little kitten. Her tail was covered with hairs radiating in a flat, fan-shaped manner - similar to a squirrel. Her little head was slightly bald, like her mother's at the same age. She was born February 20th, 1990. She had a gray coat, so Elena called her Serka (in Russian "sery" means "gray"). Once they let her go in the house, she walked and sniffed around. While Irina watched her, she decided that, no, this is not a cat - she doesn"t look like a cat. Next the kitten took an interest in something, using her paws like hands and holding it to bite it. Irina decided that this is not a cat; this is a monkey. And as she is a monkey, she should be called Chita, the name of a monkey in a movie Irina recalled.
Yet another year past, and the cat show had come again. Elena and Irina took Varvara, Chita, and Chita's sister, Patchy this time. As there were now three cats with the same thin(ning) hair, it was hard to say that Varvara was just one sickly cat; this is how they were being born! At this show, they won a large glass salad bowl; their first prize!
Although they were received much better at this third cat show, there was still no real interest in the cats. Irina bred Chita once she was old enough. They had to work hard because Chita did not receive the Toms well. She tore two neighbor tomcats up before they finially found a stray tom with the experience to breed her quickly. She had four kittens, all large males with a strange, brushy coat. She kept one for a bit longer than the others, and was surprised that he lost his hair at two months old, becoming what we now call velour.
The sire of the next three litters was a smoky blue tabby named Dima. He had no white (remember, Vasily; Chita's father - had a locket, and he became the source of white marking, "piebald" gene, locket). This breeding process really confirmed their suspicion that this "hair losing" tendency would happen in every litter. Chita's third litter brought a female that was different than the rest: she was born completely hairless! Irina sent her to Leningrad to Irina Katzer, where she would live with her brother of a previous litter, Anton Mif.
It was here that Irina made a decision: she had read of a breed of horse, the Przewalski, where they had needed to line breed to save a nearly extinct line. She understood from the book that line breeding would lock in specific characteristics and features, so she chose to cross Chita with her son. The kittens came in February 1993, and once again, there was one born naked kitten, a male this time. She named him Viscount Mif. Another male of the same litter, Vityaz Mif, was the first to go to Moscow.
As you have read, at first, these women thought that they had a Sphynx. After the first breedings, the primary difference was discovered: the gene that is responsible for the hairlessness or hair losing tendency of these cats is dominant, where the Sphynx's gene is recessive. This is to say that, when you breed a Sphynx to a furry cat, the first generation of kittens will be furry. It is not until about the third generation of breeding back to hairless Sphynx that the kittens will again be hairless. With the Don Sphynx, the kittens will be hairless and hair losing in the very first generation. Therefore, the name was changed to the Don Hairless, and is often referred to today as the Donskoy or Donsky.
So, now you know of the origins of the Donsky, but what of the Peterbald, you ask? It was in 1993, in St. Petersburg, Russia, that a brown mackeral tabby Don Hairless male with a rather refined look, Afinguen Myth (pictured below left), was mated to a very classy tortie Oriental female, Radma Vom Jagerhof (photo right). Although their offspring were not very well received in Moscow, they were very popular in St. Petersburg, and soon became known as the Peterbald. Another male that played a big role in development of the Peterbald was a black male called Nocturine Iz Murino (see photo, below). He was born in February 1995, resulting from the same sire and dam as Radma. He was used widely for matings with purebred Oriental and Siamese females, and produced many high quality offspring. To increase the gene pool, the Peterbalds are also crossed with light-type Don Hairless cats, new lines of Oriental Shorthairs, and Siamese cats. This is why most colors are present in the Peterbald. Through the past several years, a few poeple have tried to cross a Peterbald and a Sphynx, and all resulting kittens were born with a full coat. It is partially because of this, and more because the Sphynx and the Peterbald have nothing to offer one another for looks or type as they are so different, that the Sphynx is not an allowable outcross for the Peterbald breed.
Peterbalds can be born completely hairless, called a "sticky bald", with a very short, very soft coat called "velour", with a short, thin, coarse coat of fur called a "brush coat", or with a combination of the velour and brush, with the body being a dense version of the velour, and the face, feet, and tail having some degree of fur and is called "flocked". All kittens born with the Peterbald gene should have a mostly bald, red "cap" at birth, and their eyes tend to open very early. As they grow, the hair on their head quickly evens out to match the rest of the kitten's coat type. Once their whiskers have grown in, you will also notice the kinky or curly whiskers and eyebrows that are characteristic of the breed. At this time, none of these coat types is faulted and all are sought after per personal preference. (For a more thorough description of coat types and photos, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)
At present, the Peterbald is accepted in Championship status the WCF, one of the major cat organizations in Europe. In TICA, the breed is recognized as an Advanced New Breed. The CFA does not currently recognize the Peterbald and they can be shown in CFA shows as exhibition only.
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