Learn more about the Singapura
by Nicki Ruetz
Originally published in The Cat Fanciers’ Almanac , April/May 2006.
My first introduction to the Singapura was an article in the 1987 Cat Fancy titled “Hard-To-Find Breeds.” I was so intrigued by the picture and the description, I just had to find out more. I ended up with my first Singapura, a pet, and he was everything the article said and more. I became so enthralled with the breed that I joined the cat fancy to help promote and preserve the Singapura, and also because I wanted my home to be graced by several of these special cats.
Most inquiries Singapura breeders receive about pets are from people who have only seen pictures and read descriptions, just like myself many years ago. They fall in love with that cute round Singapura head, large eyes and ears and that mischievous twinkle in their eyes. Their delicate look and angelic face can be deceiving – they live up to that twinkle. Singapuras are very tuned-in to the people around them and insist on being in the middle of everything.
There has been much controversy concerning the origin of the Singapura. It has been insinuated that the breed was a hybrid, created using Burmese and Abyssinians. The official history states that the Singapura is from Singapore, an island off the tip of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has been recognized as the original gene pool for ticked cats. According to Feline Husbandry, by Niels Pederson, small brown cats with ticked coats have been observed in Singapore since 1965. Hal Meadow, a geophysicist working overseas, sent cats from Singapore to Tommy Meadow in the United States, on a company ship in 1971. Tommy bred them and in 1974, Hal was transferred to Singapore. They arrived in Singapore with five cats, a blue Burmese, a spayed sable Burmese and three other ticked cats (grandchildren of the Singapore cats Hal had sent to Tommy). Hal and Tommy Meadow left Singapore to return to the United States in 1975, with five brown ticked cats and one brown cat; “Pusse,” “Ticle,” “Tes” (the three ticked cats they arrived with), “George,” “Gladys” (kittens of Ticle and Pusse) and a neutered sable Burmese (the blue Burmese was spayed and placed in a home as a pet in Singapore). In 1980, “Chiko,” a female cat found in Singapore’s SPCA, was imported by Singapura breeder, Barbara Gilbertson. Not only was Chiko a needed addition to the Singapura breeding program, but she also legitimized the fact that cats who fit the Singapura’s description did exist in the streets of Singapore.
CFA accepted the Singapura for registration in 1982 and granted it championship status in 1988. The origins of the Singapura have been debated at great length throughout their short history. In October 1990, the question of the Singapura’s origin was brought before the CFA Board by a CFA Singapura breed club. The CFA Board found no probable cause for wrongdoing and took no action. The controversy over the origin of the breed seems to continue within CFA even today. The statement that they where created in Texas using Burmese and Abyssinian cats has even been expressed by CFA Judges, while describing the Singapura to exhibitors. Singapuras are classified by CFA as a natural breed and as such, no outcrosses are allowed. To avoid any further confusion and controversy, we must stand by CFA’s classification of the Singapura as a natural breed.
In The Beginning…
While in Singapore, the cats were recognized by the Singapore Cat Club as the CFA equivalent to a provisional breed named “Singapura.” They picked the name Singapura since it is the Malaysian term for Singapore. The breed is also known locally as, “Kucinta, the Love Cat.” The government of Singapore officially recognized the Singapura as a “living national monument.” In 1991, the Singapore Tourist and Promotion Board placed statues of these cats along the Singapore River and began featuring the breed in promotional literature. Singapuras are also in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest pedigreed cat. So the cats that went into quarantine as “brown ticked” were exported again as “Singapuras.” There was no Singapura breed before this time.
Ticle, the first male, was large, dark and stripy but he didn’t have any necklaces or tail barring. His best assets, besides being a male, were that his eyes and ears were large. As soon as his son, USAF’s George, was siring, Ticle was neutered. Tes was Ticle’s littermate and she was very close in conformation to today’s show quality Singapura. She was very small and weighed around four pounds as an adult. Pusse, the other foundation female, was just a little larger than Tes. Her head was a little long, she was very lightly colored and she had no barring, not even where it should have appeared. It was later discovered that Ticle and Tes carried the solid color gene while Pusse did not. However, Pusse had difficulty delivering her kittens, which was later determined to be caused by uterine inertia, a problem that still appears in a few of our females today.
When the Meadows returned to the United States, they began a breeding program with these five Singapuras. Worried about the close breeding, Tommy consulted with geneticist Roy Robinson. According to Roy, she could start a line but she had to be careful about what was kept for future breeding. Roy felt that inbreeding was not necessarily bad, as long as the foundation cats did not have common faults, and that any kittens produced that had faults, or “problems,” be removed from the breeding program.
The Singapuras were granted registration status for record-keeping purposes at the CFA Board meeting in February 1982, with 59 cats registered from ten breeders. As Singapura breeders continued breeding and showing, a solid brown kitten would occasionally appear in litters. By 1985, it was apparent that some Singapuras were carrying a simple recessive gene for solid color. All but two of the then-current Singapura breeders in September 1985 agreed that they wanted the Singapuras to breed true, and embarked on a test-mating program. The test-mating consisted of breeding Singapuras to a solid color cat. Based on Roy’s “Genetics for Cat Breeders,” if a Singapura mated to a solid color cat produces seven ticked kittens, there is a 99% probability that the Singapura will not carry the solid color recessive gene. All of the kittens produced as a result of the test breeding were placed as pets. It was reported in September 1988 that only seven tested cats were found to carry the solid color gene and were removed from the breeding program. However, since not all breeders test-mated their breeding Singapuras, the remote possibility still remains that offspring of these untested cats can produce solid color kittens.
In 1987, Gerry Mayes, an early Singapura breeder, went to Singapore to find and import more Singapura cats into the U.S. He brought back several cats, some of which did not conform to the CFA standard. The cats Gerry brought back were not eligible for registration in CFA, but were registered in TICA. The offspring of these cats with five generation pedigrees can now be accepted in CFA as Singapuras.
In 1988, the number of Singapuras in the U.S. was estimated to be around 500. By the mid-1990s, there were about 2,000. A pregnant female, “Faye Raye,” was the first Singapura imported to Great Britain on July 25, 1988. A few weeks later, while still in quarantine, she gave birth. Interest grew in the 1990s, and by 1995 there were about 30 Singapuras in Great Britain. Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 5,000 Singapuras (pets and breeding cats) worldwide.
The Singapura is affectionate, outwardly friendly and no one is a stranger to them. They are quiet cats with soft gentle voices (at home, but not necessarily in the show hall). They love human companionship and are “company” cats, content to sit on their owner’s shoulder or lap. They like to be off the ground and up in their owner’s world; they will climb on kitchen cabinets or anywhere that gives them a better view of the world.
To be owned by a Singapura is like having another member of the family – a caring affectionate and sensitive friend. They make such a difference in peoples’ lives. Those who have never before been won over by a cat can never again envision a life without a Singapura. Cat people are amazed by that magical “something” that the breed possesses, which somehow complements their existing cat population. Owners would not be without their Singapuras because of the love, devotion and fun that they bring into their lives.
Being vigorous cats, they are active and lively, with a love of warmth. Their stature makes them gentle cats, but they are also playful and remain so throughout their lives. They are mischievous and inquisitive, meaning they will thoroughly investigate anything that intrigues them. With a common sense attitude, they are everywhere their people are, insisting on helping with everything from cooking, to newspaper reading and in general, getting into the middle or on top of whatever you are doing. They are “under the covers cats” because most prefer to sleep under the covers with you in your bed.
The Singapura develops slowly, coming into season for the first time usually between 15 to 18 months. Males generally take at least until the age of 1 1/2 years to become interested in breeding. A typical litter ranges from two to three kittens, with four kittens born occasionally. At around five weeks of age, kittens start coming out of their box, even if there is a low door. At a year old, a Singapura female is about the size of a 6-month-old American Shorthair kitten – some are even smaller. They are excellent mothers and would go on nursing their kittens until the next litter is due!
Singapuras are still labeled as a “minority” breed. Sadly, there are relatively few breeders and exhibitors working with the breed. Unfortunately, the judges do not see Singapuras consistently. Those who have had the opportunity to frequently judge Singapuras, enjoy them and recognize when they see quality cats.
As of the end of the 2004 show season, 215 Singapuras had achieved the title of Grand. There have been 147 Grand Champion titles and 68 Grand Premiership titles awarded. There are 15 Distinguished Merit Singapuras: three males and 12 females. That is a great achievement for a relatively young breed that is also considered a minority breed.
The first Singapura to acquire a national win was GC, GP, NW Nuance’s Original Design By Rimba. She was CFA’s 15th Best Cat in 1991. In 1993, GC, GP, NW Changi’s Sahaja of Angiras was CFA’s 11th Best Cat in Premiership, followed by GC, GP, BW, NW USAF’s Sennada’s Scamp of Angiras as CFA’s 14th Best Cat in Premiership in 1995. In 1996, GC, GP, NW Nuance Rimba’s Peaches of Squire was the 5th Best Cat in Premiership and in 1999, GC, GP, NW Sayang Princess Diana joined this esteemed group when she became CFA’s 22nd Best Cat. There have been numerous regional wins by Singapuras across the United States and throughout the world.
In an effort to determine if a breed-wide problem exists and to gather additional information about the Singapura, a survey was mailed to Singapura breeders, regardless of their affiliation. Forty-nine (49) surveys were sent to all known Singapura breeders around the world. The data was summarized and the information presented at the 2002 Singapura Breed Council meeting in Houston, Texas.
The general conclusion, as evidenced by the responses, was that there were no significant health issues. It was discussed that as breeders, we need to be aware of the inbreeding co-efficiencies of the offspring that result from planned breedings. If necessary, to keep inbreeding co-efficiencies lower, we may need to explore the introduction of cats from TICA or European lines, that are not so closely related to the American CFA lines. As an ongoing effort, several breeders have brought Singapuras into the U.S. from Europe, that are eight to ten generations removed from U.S. cats. Although the imported cats still are descendents of the original foundation cats, it does provide us with some diversity. Although not all the breeders in other countries have Singapuras that conform to the CFA standard, many have show quality Singapuras that will help not only with our inbreeding co-efficiencies, but also with the conformation of our cats.
There has been some discussion about looking into the possibility of requesting permission from CFA allow an outcross for the Singapura. For now, more Singapura breeders are against this action than for it.
The preference is to use the Singapuras that we currently have around the world. Singapura breeders are very mindful of the potential issues involved and are continually working to keep our breed healthy.
The breed has achieved a great deal since its arrival in the U.S. in 1975. The Singapura that started out as the Singapore “drain cat,” with Hal and Tommy Meadow as their protectors and promoters, now belongs to the entire world. It is our hope that more breeders become interested in our Kucinta (Singapore’s Love Cat) and help us preserve their future in the cat fancy and as a beloved pet.
On April 9, 2004, Tommy Meadow died from cancer. Tommy was a much-loved and controversial member of the cat fancy for over 50 years. She spoke her mind and worked tirelessly for this breed. I feel very fortunate to have known her as a friend and mentor. We will always remember “The General.”
I first met Tommy via a telephone call on Christmas Eve in 1988, when she called to inform me that she had located a pet quality Singapura for me. “Ian,” our first Singapura, was large and dark colored with little “Batman” ears and a coiled tail – the furthest thing from a show cat. His personality and intelligence soon warmed our hearts and minds; we were hooked. We lost Ian on May 15, 2004 at the age of sixteen.
Special thanks to Hal Meadow and the Singapura Cat Club for providing material for this article.