Kirlee, the very first Devon...
Curly, cute little imps-But how did it all start? Did
you shave your cat? What happened to that cat??
Nope, our curls are quite
natural and our personality, irresistible...
And so it began....
In 1960, Miss Beryl Cox was living in
Buckfastleigh, Devon, England, near an old abandoned tin mine. A curly-coated feral tomcat was known
to live around the mine, but no one had been able to capture the wild cat. Miss
Cox, a kind woman who had been crippled as a result of a war injury, gave
shelter to a feral tortoiseshell and white female behind her house. When this
female gave birth to kittens in her back garden, Miss Cox was not surprised to
find that one of them was a beautiful, brownish-black male with lots of curls,
some of which even cascaded in ringlets on his tail. It is believed that this
mother was an offspring of the unnamed and untouchable tin mine troubadour, and
that this litter was sired by him as well. Miss Cox, being a cat lover, decided
to keep this lovely kitten who was the spitting image of his father as her own
pet. She named him Kirlee.
Ten years earlier, another curly kitten had
been found in Cornwall, England. This kitten was named "Kallibunker," and a group of
interested breeders had been working diligently to try to establish the Rex cat
as a breed. It was found through outcrossing to straight-coated cats that the
gene responsible for the rexed coat mutation was a simple recessive. The first
litters all yielded straight-coated kittens, but when those kittens were bred
back to Kallibunker, the yield was 50% curly and 50% straight. The gene pool
was tiny and the breeders were struggling to increase it.
Ten years to the day following the birth of
Kallibunker, that first rex-coated kitten, an article was published in The
English Daily Mirror, an English newspaper. It featured a picture of a lovely
curly cat that had one eye closed and appeared to be "winking." He
was touted as the only curly-coated kitten in the country. This kitten was
Du-Bu Lambtex, the first rex-coated kitten to be born as a result of the concerted
breeding efforts with Kallibunker. Miss Cox saw the article and wrote a letter
to the breeder group stating that "Lambtex" was not the only curly
coated kitten in the country, as she also had one - Kirlee. It is interesting
to note that Kirlee and Kallibunker shared identical histories. Both were born
from tortoiseshell and white feral cats, both had fathers that could not be
positively identified above rumor, and both were single curly-coated kittens in
litters of all straight-coated siblings.
The breeders in England were ecstatic over the possibility of another curly
kitten. This could be just the boon that was needed to infuse life into their
breeding program. Kirlee, as a supposed distantly related cat with the same
spontaneous genetic mutation, would be a good outcross. Mr. Brian
Stirling-Webb, a noted breeder of Rex cats and Rex rabbits, and Mrs. Agnes
Watts of Du-Bu Cattery agreed that someone should go to see this kitten to
confirm that he was indeed another genetic mutation with rexing of the coat.
Agnes Watts and her daughter Susan made the trip to the neighboring county to
see Kirlee, who was indeed a lovely rexed cat. Miss Cox was encouraged to allow
Kirlee to be integrated into the current breeding program. Understanding what
Kirlee could mean to the establishment of the breed, she sold her beloved pet
to Mr. Stirling-Webb for 25 English pounds. Kirlee then left the county of Devon
and at the request of Mr. Stirling-Webb, went to live at Darby House with Agnes
and Susan Watts. Kirlee was mated to several Rex queens and the group waited in
anticipation for the kittens to arrive. The days rolled by and one by one the
litters were born, but there were no curly kittens to be had in any of them.
Breedings were repeated and still no curly kittens. It was a large
discouragement to all. It became apparent that Kirlee did not carry the same
genetic makeup as the other curly cats. After breeders accepted the knowledge
that he was a definite separate genetic variation, the first rexed cats which
we now know as Cornish Rex were referred to as "Gene I Rex," while
the cats which we now know as Devon Rex became known as "Gene II
One member of the group, a Mrs. P. Hughes,
had kept one of the straight-coated females from one of the litters that she
had bred. This female was named Broughton Golden Rain. When she was bred back
to Kirlee, her father, the resulting litter yielded two straight-coated kittens
and, lo and behold, one curly blue-cream female. This tiny dilute girl became
the first curly-coated kitten to be born from Kirlee. (Of interest,
"Golden Rain," the straight coated female born out of Kirlee and a
descendant of Kallibunker, was later mated to a Gene I Rex and produced a
litter of two straight-coated kittens and two curly kittens. She thus became
the first hybrid known to carry both Rex genes.) With this confirmation that
the genetic material for the Cornwall Rex and the Devonshire Rex were not
compatible, a new breed was born. The task now at hand was to proceed with
diligent work to establish both Rex cats as independent breeds. Kirlee and his
descendants were and are, the Devon Rex. In 1964 Kirlee was neutered and placed
in a loving pet home by Mr. Stirling-Webb. Kirlee lived out a long and
productive life and even continued to preside at cat shows until 1970 as the
much admired original Devon. Unfortunately, Kirlee passed away in 1970 as a
result of injuries suffered in a street accident.
Today's Devon Rex maintain a look true to
their founder -- huge ears, set low on the sides of the head frame, a
pixie-like face with large, inquisitive eyes and a short slightly upturned
nose. A coat of loose waves and curls covers a strong and supple body in a
compact, refined form. These unusual features decorate a breed whose
personality, intelligence, friendliness and inquisitive behavior are as unique
as the package it comes in. A young breed, the Devon Rex is carefully crossbred
to American and British Shorthairs in order to enlarge and strengthen the gene
pool (In the US, this practice will stop in a year or two, and only Devon to Devon breedings will be allowed in CFA).
The Devon personality has been aptly described as a cross between a cat, a
monkey, and "Dennis the Menace." Devons are highly active, playful
and involved with everything. Powerful jumpers, very few spots large enough to
hold them will not be explored and occupied. Devons have been found climbing
brick fireplaces and perching on top of doors. Although little escapes a Devon's interest, Devons are very people-oriented. Most Devons invite
themselves along for every activity -- preferably perched on a shoulder, lap,
or wherever they can be closest to their people. They are accomplished food
mooches, with "anything they aren't supposed to be into" only
slightly less appealing than "anything you are eating." Many a bag of
snack food left unattended for an eyeblink has suddenly sprouted two legs and a
tail, with a Devon contentedly grazing inside.