by Barbara Sinbine
Originally published in The Cat Fanciers Almanac, 2002

Were British Shorthairs originally street cats from the United Kingdom? Definitely; but, these cats have come a long way since then. Once these purring teddy bear cats made it to the shores of the USA, they managed to ensconce themselves in each of their owners’ hearts. They have also managed to make themselves a force to be reckoned with on the show bench.

It is said that this breed is a refinement of the natural domestic shorthair, which is believed to have inhabited Great Britain since the time of the Roman occupation. Although it was acknowledged that the cat was a most efficient rodent controller, they did not receive special recognition until 1871 when the first properly organized cat show was held in London’s Crystal Palace. This first cat show had longhair Persians, the then very rare Siamese and the domestic shorthairs, which included the British blue with its gorgeous coat.

British Shorthairs were being exhibited in a number of different colors by the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, the first studbook contained more calicos than blues. These British Shorthairs were very successful in early cat shows, before World War I affected the cat fancy in the United Kingdom. Breeders found it difficult to find good quality British Shorthairs to breed once the war was over. It was at that time that unregistered domestic shorthairs were introduced into breeding programs. This new generation of British Shorthairs lacked the type needed to win in the show ring. Subsequently, breeders began to outcross to Persians to regain the type. This was practiced after both World Wars I and II.

Registered British Shorthairs have been imported into the United States since the early 1900s. The first immigrants were all registered in the United States as domestic shorthairs, until the 1950s. Some of the silver tabbies can be found in pedigrees of the American Shorthairs.

A campaign to get the British Shorthair recognized for championship status was started in the 1970s by the growing number of devotees to the breed. The breeders/exhibitors included Alice and Kimberly Huemmer (Denimar), Lydia Conroy Messier and Bettijane Myjak (BeMy). Lydia Messier was the first president of the first British Shorthair breed club; Kathleen Rohrer Von Aswege (KLA cattery and currently the NLDER cattery) was vice-president and Nora Wilson (Anesa) was secretary. They, in addition to Alice, Joseph and Kimberly Huemmer, helped write the proposed standard which Lydia Conroy Messier and Kimberly Huemmer took to the CFA Board of Directors in February 1980.

In May 1980, CFA granted the British Shorthair championship status. CFA’s first British Shorthair champion was also Best of Breed for the year ending 1981, GC Snowmaiden of Denimar. This white female, imported from Scotland, had been the model for the original standard.

The first British Shorthair Breed Council Secretary was Lydia Conroy Messier and the second was Nora Wilson. The first breed council included Lydia Messier, Kathleen Rohrer, Bettijane Myjak, Alice Huemmer, Nora Wilson and Carolyn Hammond (Anesa and then Elende cattery). Other British Shorthair Breed Council Secretaries were Christine Broughton (Beaufort), Bettijane Myjak, Dana Jacobs (Appleshaw), Karen Noble (Devonrose), Marian Johnson (Maou), Erin Vosburgh (Atocha) and Colin Cornwall (Truebrit). Since the beginning, British Shorthair breeders have believed in breeding a cat to meet the standard, and not constantly changing the standard to fit what they were currently producing. Therefore, the standard has undergone very little change over the years, other than clarifying the intent and adding a number of different colors and patterns. The constant refinement to meet this standard has brought about changes in the British Shorthair. There are now a variety of looks which all meet the written standard.

The British Shorthair is a worldwide breed. Breeders in the USA have imported and continue to import cats to expand the gene pool. Many of these imports have achieved the status of CFA Grand Champion, Regional Winner and Distinguished Merit. One of the cats which has greatly affected the British Shorthair in the USA is GC Brynbuboo Georgypeorgy of Earendil, DM. He was originally imported by Jean Thawley (Jedi) and has produced more grand champions than any other British Shorthair. Other imports of note include: GC, RW Mrpositively Chieftan of Stonehaven, bred by Ann Stubbs of Wales; Atrebates Myosotis of Truebrit, DM; Lordsnooty Gai’s My Darling, DM; and, GC, RW Mrpositively Pencampwr Coch of Truebrit.

Since the British Shorthair was accepted into championship status in 1980, there have been 531 grands. The cattery who can boast of the most British Shorthair grands is Castlkatz (Drs. Paul and Ginger Meeker) with a total of 37 CFA Grand Champions. Those figures are followed very closely by Jedi (Jean Thawley) with 36 and Maou (Marian Johnson) with 35. Other catteries that have produced more than 20 grands are: Brithaven (Debby Poplawski), Denimar (Alice, Joseph, Kimberly and Doane Huemmer), Earendil (Thora and Scott Hart), Stonehaven (Barbara and Bill Sinbine) and Truebrit (Jo and Colin Cornwall). All of these catteries, with the exception of Jedi and Brithaven, are still actively breeding British Shorthairs.

Even though a number of USA breeders, such as Jean Thawley (Jedi), have retired, their lines continue to be carried on by other breeders. In the case of the Jedi lines, Jean Thawley was instrumental in assisting a number of breeders in their breeding programs. Currently, Thora Hart (Earendil) and Emily Turner (Rice Hope) carry on these lines. Marian Johnson (Maou) continues to breed, has worked with a number of new breeders, and has carried on the Broughton lines.

CFA’s first British Shorthair national winner was in 1988 when GC, GP, NW Jedi Blusun of Vegamar earned that status. This national win was followed in 1989 by GC, GP, NW Jedi Issy Blue attaining CFA’s 4th Best Cat, and being the only British Shorthair to earn a national win in two different classes when he was CFA’s Best Cat in Premiership in 1994. These were both blue cats. In 1993, Best of Breed and 10th Best Cat went to Debby Poplawski’s GC, BW, NW Brithaven Little Sally Saucer, a blue spotted tabby (the first non-blue national winner). In 1996, another blue cat, GC, BW, NW Earendil Jumpin Jack Flash 4U, represented our breed and was 9th Best Cat in Championship. The 1997 show season produced two national winners, neither of which was blue. GC, GP, NW Stonehaven Harley of Lallysou, a blue and white neuter, was CFA’s 11th Best Cat in Premiership, and GP, NW Earendil Bella Donna Whitewing Dove, a copper-eyed white spay, was 12th Best Cat in Premiership. In 1999, GC, GP, NW Brithaven Tommy Tucker, a blue tabby, picked up the award for 13th Best Cat in Premiership. GC, GP, NW TGFC Calico Hattie of Devonrose, a dilute calico spay, made the national winner list as 4th Best Cat in Premiership in 2000. CFA’s first and only national winning kitten was a blue male, GC, NW Stonehaven Positively The Charmer, who was CFA’s 6th Best Kitten in 2000. In 2001, GC, GP, BW, NW Kresant Noble Iris of Devonrose, a blue spay, was CFA’s 5th Best Cat in Premiership. Then in 2002, those blue boys were back again with GC, BW, NW Stonehaven Shelton picking up the award for 11th Best Cat in Championship, and GC, NW Earendil Boomer’s Minime taking the 25th spot.

Quality British Shorthairs are being recognized more and more often on the show bench. The statistics for the show year ending in April 2002 show that more than 60 individual cats made finals in championship, and over 70 individual kittens and over 40 cats in premiership also made finals.

Compared to most shorthair breeds, the British Shorthair is a relatively calm cat. They are easygoing in nature and talk infrequently. Very affectionate, they become quite attached to the people they own. British Shorthairs are easily trained and very adaptable. They seem to get along well with all human members of the household, regardless of age. Pets of all kinds have been kept with British Shorthairs, including dogs of all sizes, rabbits and birds. They have been called aloof, but this is generally a perception of strangers in a household and if given time, they generally warm up to any cat-loving person. Another thing that draws people is the size of the British Shorthair. Although they are not huge like the Maine Coon, they are medium to large sturdy cats, with the mature males averaging from 9-17 pounds and the females 7-12 pounds.

No breed-specific, health related problems plague the British Shorthair. It is probably due to this very fact that so many breeds over the years have used the British Shorthair breed as an acceptable outcross to establish a good gene pool. Currently, the British Shorthair is being used as an outcross for the Selkirk Rex, Devon Rex and Scottish Fold.

Due to the breeders’ diligence in placing cats, rarely does a British Shorthair need to be rescued from a shelter. There seem to be more people waiting to rescue these cats then there are cats to rescue.

British Shorthairs may have started out as street cats in Great Britain, but the breed has been perfected over the years. With plenty of hard work from breeders all over the world, the British Shorthair has become a beautiful, much-loved cat, internationally. In addition, increasing numbers of CFA Judges are recognizing the high quality of the British Shorthairs being exhibited today