Learn more about the Singapura
by Cathie McHenry
Originally published in The Cat Fanciers’ Almanac March 1996
“The best kept secret in the cat fancy!” These were the words of Mary Ann Mehren, an established Abyssinian breeder, when she obtained her first Singapura. Pet owners gush that it was “well worth the wait” for their Singapuras. What makes these cats so special? Initially, it is their deceptively delicate appearance with that angelic face; but the true hook is the Singapura’s enchanting personality. To those of us lucky enough to work with the breed there is simply nothing like a Singapura.
The Singapura was first presented to CFA by Hal and Tommy Meadow in 1981 as a natural breed. The Meadows said that while living in Singapore in the early 1970’s they acquired three of the local “drain cats.” The cats, which they called Singapuras, while typical of the city, were by no means the most common street cat in Singapore. When the Meadows returned to the United States in 1975, they brought the three cats which were the foundation cats of the Singapura breed, Puss’e, a young female, Ticle, a male kitten, and Tes, his female littermate with them. Tommy had always been interested in brown and brown ticked cats as she had been a breeder of Abyssinian, Burmese, and Siamese cats beginning in 1955. Singapuras were accepted for championship status in 1988 as a natural breed.
In 1990, one of the CFA Singapura breed clubs requested that the CFA Board look into questions which had arisen regarding the origins of the breed. The questions arose from import documents showing that the Meadows had in 1974 brought into Singapore cats with the same names as those originally said by them to have been found in Singapore: namely, Puss’e, Tes, and Ticle. At the board meeting held October 6-7, 1990, Joan (Wastlhuber) Miller gave Singapura breeders heart with the following statement:
Everyone generally agrees that the gene pool that created the Singapura has always been in southeast Asia. Naturally, it came from the Burmese gene pool, the Copper Cat has been there since 1350 that we know of, and the Abyssinian. Whether they mated on the streets of Singapore or whether they mated in Michigan, it doesn’t really matter. In addition, there is at least one documented cat [Chiko; see below] that is behind many Singapura pedigrees and it was picked up at the pound. Even with none of the cats the Meadows brought in we still have a legitimate cat from Singapore behind our Singapuras. (1991-1992 CFA Yearbook, page 629, columns 2 & 3.)
Although officially the status of the breed was not in question, those who had spent many years and countless hours working with the Singapura were very concerned and nervous. Mr. and Mrs. Meadow attended the board meeting held February 9-10, 1991, to provide information regarding the origin of the breed. Mr. Meadow told the board that the original cats were imported in 1971 via physical work boat without export or import documents. Tes, Ticle, and Puss’e were the offspring (grandchildren) of the unnamed four original boat cats. (1991-1992 CFA Yearbook, page 635, columns 2-4.)
On April 22, 1980, Chiko, a Singapura straight from the drains of Singapore via the SPCA, flew into Seattle, WA. Brad, a Flying Tiger Captain, and Sheila Bowers, after seeing a Singapura of Barbara Gilbertson’s, had decided to see if they could find one during stopovers in Singapore. They were successful in seeing cats described as Singapuras at night in the bushes along the drains but that was it. One day they were surprised to find one meeting the description (except for the tail) of a Singapura in the SPCA. They were able to convince the SPCA veterinarian, Dr. Lee, to release Chiko as a whole cat since she would be leaving the country. Chiko proved to be a very important cat. She came with documentation that the Singapura exists in Singapore.
In 1987, an opportunity presented itself that Gerry Mayes, a retired engineer and early Singapura breeder, could not resist. He was able to go to Singapore for an extended stay. During his three months there, Gerry Mayes enlisted the aid of the Singapore Cat Club in his quest to secure and import additional Singapura cats to the United States. It was a successful venture. He was able to bring back several Singapuras along with a few other cats. Although the Singapura cats imported by Mr. Mayes were not eligible for CFA registration, their offspring are beginning to trickle in with a five generation pedigree.
Hal and Tommy Meadow worked diligently breeding, perfecting, and promoting “their” cat, the Singapura. They flew around the country getting the cats before judges and working for recognition. Hours and hours, not to mention untold dollars, were spent getting their cats known. In late 1978 one giant step was taken when Barbara Gilbertson became the first breeder other than the Meadows to own a pair of Singapuras: “Rummy,” a female, and “Thumper,” a male. The Singapura was on its way. Other early breeders included Helen Cherry, Jo Cobery, Alice Dilts, Alice Faber, Florence Greenburg, Priscilla Hobbs, Catherine MacQuarrie, Nancy Mattos, Gerry Mayes, Tord Svenson, and Mary Tichenor. All of these breeders shared an intense commitment to the Singapura.
After CFA accepted the Singapura for registration status in 1981, The Singapura Fanciers’ Society was formed as a CFA affiliated club. It looked as though the Singapura would make the big time. The cats were doing well in the show ring, the public was entranced by them, and the numbers were growing. One concern the breeders did have was the appearance of an occasional solid color kitten in litters from two Singapuras. Since the solid color gene is recessive, both parents had to be carriers. Some felt the only way to go was to test mate with solid color cats and remove those found to be carriers of the solid color gene from the breeding program. Others felt that the breed was too new and the numbers were too small to follow this course and all it entailed. There was a profound difference of opinion and the second Singapura breed club to be granted affiliated status with CFA, The International Singapura Alliance, was formed.
The Interactive Cat
Singapuras genuinely seem to need their people. This is truly amazing when you consider how close they are to their “drain cat” ancestors. The desire for closeness with their humans is a constant characteristic whether a cat is descended from those which have been in a controlled breeding program for 20 years or is one of the acclimated imports or an F1.
In Singapore this willingness to trust humans, balanced with the skills required to survive on the streets, undoubtedly has led to the rescue of many a half-drowned little thing plucked from the drains (more like our culverts) before it was washed away. It is ironic that a government that has pursued a vigorous “clean up” project which has essentially eliminated cat habitats would turn around and declare the Singapura to be a “living national monument”; however, that is exactly what happened. In 1991 the Singapore Tourist and Promotion Board placed statues of the Singapura along the river and began featuring the Singapura in all types of promotional material. The cats used as models for these endeavors resided with a couple in Singapore but had been imported from the United States. I can only hope that the government’s clean up efforts were not completely successful. The Singapura can be a determined cat.
Rita Kay Bee, who bred Persians and Exotics for 25 years before becoming involved with Singapuras, describes the Singapura’s attitude as: “The world is my oyster. Get out of my way – I’m going for the pearl and you can’t stop me.” The Singapura has a low key way of getting exactly what it wants, somewhat like the small child who looks at you with huge imploring eyes saying, “please, please, please….” Before you know it you have given in.
Are Singapuras trainable? Certainly. The only problem is they seem to be better trainers of us than we are of them. It is not unusual for a new Singapura exhibitor to become so enchanted with their first Singapura that the cat ends up terribly spoiled. As you can imagine, this has led to many adored individuals with unfulfilled show potential. You have to stay one step ahead of these cats; and they are very good.
These beguiling creatures with their large eyes and ears do not miss much going on around them. They are lively, curious, intelligent – some would say too intelligent – cats. Singapuras know they can do anything and everything better than you. Cooking is a particular favorite. Pens when you are trying to write and computer keyboards make great toys. This playful nature remains well into and sometimes throughout adulthood. They do not grow out of it. While they are extremely playful, they are also very sensitive to the moods of their people. If you are feeling under the weather, your Singapura may be in bed under the covers with you (its usual place), but it will probably wait at the foot of the bed to be asked.
Singapuras are not confrontational cats; they rarely squabble. One Abyssinian breeder reports that when her Abys start quarreling, the Singapura just leaves the room. Singapuras mature rather slowly. Females may not cycle until past one year old, and males frequently do not breed until fifteen months of age. The females make excellent mothers with a willingness to nurse the kittens seemingly forever. Kittens generally do not leave the nest box until about the age of four weeks.
One of the most intriguing things about the Singapura is the whole males. Stud cats actually seem to prefer living together – with other Singapura studs. There is no fighting. Most breeders buy the large cat beds for queens and kittens. I buy them mainly because the males like to sleep together in a pile.
Singapuras have enjoyed considerable success in the show ring and they are prized by their owners. The first Singapura Grand Champion, Jubilation Pikku Poyka, bred and owned by Mary Tichenor, earned his title only a short time after the Singapura was accepted for championship. The first Singapura Grand Premier, Mutiny Pa’ki Wun Sun, bred and owned by Margaret and Robert LaBounty, earned his title in 1989. Marge Jackson became interested in Singapuras and used the experience she had amassed with her Russian Blues to great advantage. Marge and Bob Jackson showed GC, NW Nuance’s Original Design By Rimba to the first Top 25 national win in championship for a Singapura. Bill and Barbara Courtney branched out from their American Shorthairs to show GC, GP Changi’s Sahaja of Angiras and GC, GP Usaf’s Senada’s Scamp of Angiras to national wins in premiership.
Although only granted championship status in 1988, the Singapura can proudly boast approximately 100 cats that have earned the title of Grand Champion or Grand Premier and five Distinguished Merit Award winners, with others close to fulfilling the requirements. In 1995, a third breed club, United Singapura Society, was accepted by CFA. The breed standard had its first major refinement. The Singapura is a credible member of the cat fancy.
Some have criticized the breed for its slow numerical growth. One needs to remember that the Singapura is a natural breed with no allowable outcross. CFA Singapuras trace back to three cats from 1975 (two of which were littermates) and one additional cat from 1980. We are now at approximately ten to twelve generations based on those few initial cats.
Hal and Tommy Meadow can truly be proud of their triumph. The Singapura has gone from being “their” cat, with a small group of dedicated breeders requiring their constant support, to the cat of today. Today’s Singapura has gathered the allegiance of a vast and diverse group of independent, experienced, and most importantly committed breeders. What a wonderful gift the Meadows have given the cat fancy.
Contributors: Fred and Jean Barrowcliff, Rita Kay Bee, Susan Bradbury, Pat Brelvi, Helen Cherry, Marie Geary, Barbara Gilbertson, Stu and Rita Grim, Lil Herbstritt, James Holland, Marge and Bob Jackson, Dale and Dorothy Johnston, Cynthia Kella, Margaret and Robert LaBounty, J. Don Mauk, Mary Ann Mehren, Lisa and Dan Polzien, Linda Raum, Linda and Chuck Segar, Catherine Smith, and Mary Tichenor.