The Havana Brown:
A Brown Delight and an Endangered Species
by Richard C. Bilello
I first became interested in this breed some eight years ago when I saw the cover photo of a Havana Brown on the May 1991 issue of the CFA Almanac. At the time, my wife Lori and I had been breeding and showing Russian Blues. The Havana Brown in the cover photo was GC, NW Kapalua Lady In Brown of Heirbourne, and I was awestruck by this mahogany beauty with brilliant green eyes. After reading every word of the article and reexamining the photo several times, I showed my wife the picture. I was excited and said something like, "Look at this magnificent cat. She is like a Russian Blue with a rich, red-brown coat and the same brilliant green eyes." Good specimens in both breeds have awesome color, and green eyes complete the look.
I immediately set out to purchase a show quality Havana Brown and quickly found out how difficult it can be. There simply were not many breeders to contact. With some measure of difficulty, I acquired a female kitten and entered her in the Invitational Show. It was out of town, in winter and very cold. I just had to see other Havanas from around the country so that I could develop an eye by comparison.
Our kitten didn't make any finals, but was the best and only Havana Brown kitten entered. We did have the opportunity to meet a small group of Havana breeders and exchange telephone numbers.
At this point, for those who are not familiar with the history of this breed, I will provide a brief overview of the highlights. It has been documented that self-brown cats were known and shown in Europe in the 1890s. One of the names given these cats was "Swiss Mountain Cat." These cats disappeared until the post World War II period, most likely because the Siamese Cat Club of Britain issued a statement around 1920 that, "the club much regrets it is unable to encourage the breeding of any but blue-eyed Siamese." As a result, all solid-brown cats with non-blue eyes were excluded from Siamese classes at shows; and that was the end of brown cats as the early breeders knew them.
In the early 1950s, a group of English fanciers collaborated to systematically isolate the genetic design of a self-brown cat. Early experiments produced a chestnut brown male kitten named Praha Gypka, the result of mating a black shorthair and a chocolate point Siamese. However, it should be noted that a year prior to this planned breeding, an accidental breeding between a black shorthair and a seal point Siamese produced a self-chocolate male kitten named Elmtower Bronze Idol, the first Havana Brown to be registered in England and the forerunner of our present day breed. The sire of the black shorthair, also accidentally bred, was a black domestic, while the dam was a seal point Siamese.
To clarify the breeding:
Sire: Parkhill Tritone (seal point Siamese)
Sire: Elmtower Tombee (seal point Siamese)
Dam: Tsiu Chow (seal point Siamese)
Elmtower Bronze Idol (first registered Havana Brown male)
Sire: Pickles (black DSH)
Dam: Elmtower Susannah (black SH)
Dam: Tsiu Chow (seal point Siamese)
Careful studies of pedigrees and written accounts of the founders' original work show that the cats producing the early parentage of the present breed contained almost no Russian Blues and a small number of chocolate point Siamese. The most successful and most often used combination was that of a black shorthair and a seal point Siamese carrying the chocolate gene.
INTRODUCTION TO NORTH AMERICA
In the mid-1950s, Mrs. Elsie Quinn, Quinn Cattery, imported the very first Havana Brown from England, a female named Roofspringer Mahogany Quinn. She was bred to Laurentide Brown Pilgrim of Norwood, also an import, and produced the very first Havana Brown to achieve grand champion status in CFA (in 1959): Quinn's Brown Satin of Sidlo. All of the Havana Browns in North America today can trace their heritage to this cat.
By the time the breed had received recognition in English cat registries, the breed name had been changed to "Chestnut Brown." In North America it is not only the name Havana Brown that has been retained, but also the distinctive type of the cat. In England, breeding back to Siamese has continued; therefore, the original look of the cat has been lost. A Chestnut Brown of today would resemble our chestnut Oriental Shorthair in type. In North America, we can proudly say that the breed has retained its original look - a moderate cat with a distinctive head, an elegant coat and a personality that will melt your heart.
The Havana Brown has not only a unique appearance, with it's rich mahogany brown coat and brilliant green eyes, but also a truly unique personality. I refer to Havana Browns as the puppies of the cat fancy. This breed is outgoing and playful and they love to follow you everywhere you go. While most cats scatter at the sound of a sudden crash, Havanas run toward the sound to see what caused it. Even after they are several years old they still enjoy a good round of tag, and they will play with a simple toy just like kittens. Havanas also like to make biting marks in paper or cardboard, so you must be careful not to leave important documents or photos lying around. One of my cats actually goes into my wife's pocketbook and removes papers, business cards, money, etc.
The only thing they seem to take seriously is eating. If you have other breeds of cats, you may have to feed them seperately. Havanas will eat all of their own food in seconds and then proceed to eat any other cat's food if they can.
Since Havanas are a shorthair breed, routine grooming is kept to a minimum. However, if the cat is being shown, it is important to bathe it several days before the show. Use any good feline shampoo (the Ring 5, Burnished Bronz Shampoo seems to work very well), and after thoroughly soaping the cat, rinse with warm water for two or three minutes. Make sure all the soap is gone; this is very important. Towel dry and then let your cat finish the job in a warm place. After the coat is completely dry, brush gently and use a coat gloss to restore the luster. Finish up with a chamois or soft cloth. Remove any stray white hairs.
A BREED ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION
How, then, is it that so few of these cats and breeders remain? There are several reasons, but I will simply mention the most obvious:
1. Havana Browns are a breed exclusive to North America. As mentioned previously, the Chestnut Brown, the European version of the Havana Brown, is the equivalent of the chestnut Oriental Shorthair in CFA.
2. The breed was closed to outcrosses too early and with too few lines established initially. The first Chestnut Brown, Roofspringer Mahogany Quinn, was imported from England in 1956. The Havana Brown was accepted for championship competition in CFA in 1964. Outcrossing/cross-breeding was cut off in 1974.
3. With too few breeding lines in existence, new breeders were and are discouraged by the difficulty of obtaining unrelated breeding stock. There are too few cats and they are too closely bred.
Please note: Breeding is the process of selecting the most desirable partners for a mating with the anticipation of showing an improvement in the offspring in terms of health, temperament, and adherence to the established breed standard.
This breed, for the past several years, has struggled simply to exist. No selective breeding has occurred beyond that of choosing parents which are not too closely related. In many cases a breeder has, at most, fewer than four choices. A review of Havana Brown pedigrees would shock most veteran breeders.
THE BREED'S ONLY CHANCE: EXTINCTION OR DISTINCTION?
Approval of an outcross program carefully monitored and evaluated by an independent, expert geneticist is a must - in short, correcting a past program error. Today's knowledge of genetics and advances in technology provide us with the tools to determine the degree of genetic diversity currently existing in a breed, and periodic evaluation can determine when outcrossing is no longer necessary.
Fortunately, immediate action to outcross this breed can work wonders. Experimental outcrossing to both a black domestic shorthair and an Oriental Shorthair have produced healthy, solid brown kittens in the first generation. Second and third generation kittens are currently on the ground and exhibiting good type. The introduction of this new bloodline to the beautiful Havana Browns still remaining is producing offspring beyond our expectations. The vigor can, and will, return to the breed, and so will a new generation of breeders eager to produce and promote this unique breed.
Leslie A. Lyons, Ph.D., Senior Staff Fellow, Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, National Cancer Institute, submitted a proposal to The Winn Feline Foundation concerning the evaluation of the health, genetic diversity and long-term consultation to manage the Havana Brown gene pool. Her proposal has been accepted by the Winn Foundation and we look forward to her contribution.
In April 1998, Havana Brown Breed Council members again voted on a proposal regarding outcrossing this breed. The CFA Board will decide at the June 1998 board meeting whether or not to approve this proposal. This decision should be based on the scientific and statistical data presented. I have no doubt that this process will set a precedent on how these decisions are made in the future. Every breed recognized by CFA has its own history, and has developed in its own unique way. Any problems faced by a particular breed need to be recognized, defined and substantiated. Consultation with genetic experts and other professionals should then be brought to bear and all proposed solutions considered by the breed council members and the CFA Board of Directors. This process should yield decisions resulting in high quality specimens with regard to meeting the breed standard, general health and temperament for future generations.
WHERE IS THE BREED TODAY?
It is estimated that there are fewer than 1000 Havana Browns alive today, under 130 unaltered Havanas, and only approximately 12 active CFA catteries. The statistics for the breed, thru 1997, are as follows:
||Number of Cats
(first DM achieved in 1988)
1976: GC, NW Aragon's Tia Maria
1980: GC, NW Kapalua Lady In Brown of Heirbourne
1992: GC, NW Heirbourne's Winds Aloft
1996: GP, NW Timberwild Mr Bold of Serendipity
1997: GC, NW Bundash Levi Garrett
This is not a bad showing given the size of the breed.
Please note that in 1997 only 36 Havana Browns were registered in CFA, the smallest number in any breed.
The author gratefully acknowledges his sources of reference as:
* "The Havana Brown... The Felicitous Feline" by Annette Bittaker and Norma Placchi, 1982 CFA Yearbook.
* "The Havana Brown - The Cat in a Not-So-Plain Brown Wrapper" by Norma Placchi, Cat Fanciers' Almanac, May 1991.
* Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. Central Office for statistical information provided.