THE SACRED CAT OF BURMA
by Harriet Rindfleisch
As it has been in past generations, so be it today, the wheels of fortune press steadily onward gathering a promenade of the mystic and exotic Sacred Cat of Burma. Just a tiny fleeting glimpse of this unusual and quaint " cherub" of the world of cats, often creates a wonderment and lingering thirst to acquire more knowledge relevant to the breed. In the event you have seen this lovely cat, groomed to perfection being taken to the judge's ring, without doubt you were ready to inquire about the breed and its origin. Although not too much information is given in books in America, which possibly would lead one to believe it is a new breed, to the contrary, it is an old natural breed readily found in France among conscientious established breeders. We shall strive to give a bit more help about the Birmans (Sacred Cat of Burma).
The gleaming four pure white paws, spoken of as "gloves", the continuation of the same flashing pure white up the rear back hocks (legs) to a point, called laces (gauntlets), set the Birmans aside and is on the distinguishing characteristics so beautifully displayed in this special breed. There is a strangeness associated with the fur, soft and silky, almost like one would touch the air! Not all the lineages found in America feature this exquisite softness - and you will know it when your hands glide for caressing the cat. The chance meeting with these Sacred Cats, which over the past years have been a struggle to establish, the expressive charm from their angelic faces radiate and cast a magical spell, enough so the breed will linger in your Memories
Although known since the early 1900's, more accurately would be about 1919, not too much information can be achieved. Most of the helpfulness lay in the French language and has not been translated into English. More and more breeders are giving out helpful facts, but it all falls short of expressing in reality the joys and hours of pleasure the Birman gives when one makes the step to be owned by a Birman. The Kittas loved the breed dearly, when France discovered them, they too held admiration and in 1925 Mme Marcell Adams had given the breed their standard of perfection.
The breed demands respect and receives it from those that have come to know very intimately the individuality and devotion next akin to worship, these cats display toward chosen masters. Even tiny tots, which to permanent homes can be found with nostalgia, that is one of their traits of expressive longing for a love they had attached to a certain person, mostly the breeder. It is seemingly true, these Birmans appear to have consciousness of their sacred origin, presenting themselves immaculate at all times. Since they are not as animate and impetuosity inclined as some of the other breeds of cats, the adjustments to family dwellings and small apartments (in which people dwell) is favorable. The outgoing sweet dispositions can be easily dampened if they are allowed no sharing of the family activities, they love so well! Especially they are not a cat that adjusts to caging and will in one way or another express their resentment in behavior protest if caged.
It is difficult to explain early breedings of this special breed, in comparison of today where every registered cat has its credentials, this was not accomplished by the early breeders that had known this breed. Rather they passed out information by word of mouth, so many particulars were lost such as generations of pedigrees. The confinement of a small colony of Sacred Cats bred within their own private circles, little was recorded or even kept. In one phase of bloodlines, the cats were kept in the home, the male allowed to breed the queens whether it was his progeny or another the owner had acquired. That fact was told to me by an early breeder of Sacred Cats, and for that reason the acquired imports from Western Asia came to America with little recorded credentials, except what the owner was able to relay to the American breeder.
A few short years back, one could almost say, the guardians, or owners of these Sacred Cats had taken a pledge to support and care for the welfare of these Birmans. If a Sacred Cat was in want or need, it would quickly come to the attention of the devoted folks and emergency needs were taken care of for the one in want. The vow was taken seriously, rarely found broken by new acquaintances to the breed as the breeders had taken time to explain that aspect of working with these marvelous cats. Today the vow seems to be taken lightly, yet it is instilled in the hearts of all older breeders.
The Sacre de Birmanie, as the French breeders speak of these cats, were granted their own Championship status from a standard written in 1925. The standard used by CFA had been a verbatim English translation of the French standard, most of the countries supporting the breed have given the same established characteristics in their standard of perfection. Today the Birmans can be found in all the continents and countries, each have their own name applied. Exportation and importation flourishes with the breed, more so these past years since the breed has so readily progressed, yet not too populated in various areas. Some breeders limited their kittens to areas near their homes, fulfilling the purpose of watching the different lineages develop. The submission of many breeders to bring their cats to the standard of perfection has favored the breed by leaps and bounds. There can always be found breeders desiring changes in a standard to suit their breedings, thus guarding the basic general format of the CFA standard is not taken lightly by experienced breeders.
It is always interesting to know that July 1, 1967 CFA had given sanction to the Sacred Cat of Burma on Championship status to the shows. Three devoted and serious breeders had taken on the obligation to set up the CFA standard and had brought it into conformity to a fine judging standard. Although in some of the written parts of the standard, there were needs for supplement clarity, in time this would be easily taken care of since most of the Birmans would be derived from cats bred under the French format. Credit for such a fine basic standard is given to Mr. Richard Gebhardt, Mrs. Jane Martinke and Ms. Irene Powell. The verbatim English translation was taken care of by Miss Verner Clum that had campaigned the Birmans during her reign as a breeder. One of the foresights necessary to the establishing of the chocolate points and lilac points had been given during the early standard sanction of CFA. Prior to 1963-64 only the seal point was known, then the blue point established, the first to be known in French shows was Int. CH Nady de Lugh, owned by the well known French breeder, Madam Yvonne Drossier. Since blues and seals were known, eventually the chocolate and lilacs would appear thus the Breed Council three members had "borrowed" the color standard from the pattern of other thermo-restrictive breeds. To the anxiety of many established breeders knowing characteristics of the breed the one important aspect of the breed was not included in its standard of perfection, which is the golden "halo" that tints very softly all early Sacred Cats over the back and sides of these cats. In time, will it be a lost characteristic? Hopefully not, to see it glow on a blue point lets it be known they can still maintain their "bluish white coats" without the gold detracting from the coloration.
France gave over to the Sacred Cats as a Natural breed of cat, they knew the history and established the fact this breed was not an established breed brought into conformation by a program perfected by man. During the War (World War 11) the breed experienced a great setback, the hardship created by the war left little for the human population to survive upon, let alone the lovely cats, thereby there was but one known pair and possibly some others that had not come to attention until sometime at a later date. In order to reestablish the breed outcrossing was needed and limited to a couple of breeds. On pedigrees, it can be found that the inter-breedings of members of the same lineages, this progressed the breed except problems occurred genetically again limiting the progression. In time it was overcome, but this was after the American breeders had the opportunity to work with the breed. Even today it can be found unfavorable when certain lineages are crossed, the compatibility of lineages rings true if one applies himself to pedigree study for he is able to avoid the pitfalls that early breeders experienced. It takes hours of study and much corresponding to be able to understand some of the breed's characteristics. In favoritism to the breed selectively breeding is the "key-word", and if one will be able to read a five-generation pedigree of some of the Birmans today, they will note the lineages that genetically give strength to reproduction.
The large Birman show in Ohio is well attended by serious breeders, here they can compare progress annually in the perfection to standards of CFA. It has been known for breeders to ship their Birmans to the show, the valuation given on the insurance premium give no secret what the owner felt in love towards their prize-winners! (If not in the winning-circles of judging conformance to the standard, it is expressed in breeders wishing the Birman to be cared for properly while under the guidance of others.) Anyone familiar with Ed Rindfleisch and his devotion to the breed, would know he is a stickler to get the breeders together each June. Other areas have taken upon their shows in likeness of gathering classes. With this outlook the breed shall take its rightful place in the world of showing and breeding.
I should stop now to explain a fact. In the early years of working with the Sacred Cats they were called Burmese. Unless one is aware of that fact the name would not be linked with early Birmans. Most know the Burmese as a cobby, shorthair, gold-eyed brown-colored kittie far removed from description of the early-Burmese in France which actually was in reference to the Sacred Cats in reviews and articles written on the breed. Please impress that to thoughts in the event you will be reading material of early writers. The Burmese Consulate in New York helps little in the identify of this Birman from facts given, had they known the coloration of this special breed, their information could have been with more enlightenment.
Maps have been handed down to breeders pinpointing the area where the "Temple Cats" had resided between India and China, in the western locale of Burma. Mme. Marcell Adams of the noted Madalpour Cattery and President of the Central Feline Society in Paris, France appears to be the first prominent breeder. The KaaBaa Cattery prefix can also be found on early specimens, mostly in France the "prefix" is placed as we Americans call a suffix (after the cat's given name).
After France had established and well favored the known lineages, in the early 1930's a second lineage perpetuated. Germany played a leading part in cat breeding. Frau L. von Werner owned a cream Angora, "Hell von Babersberg" which was a beautiful male from the breeding of Frau von Harbour's Wolfsitz Cattery of Baroness von Larisch. "Bredon" was a famous English prefix. In the early 30's Frau von Werner, by selectively breeding, succeeded in producing the Colorpoint, Khmer (Kymer) lineage with all the characteristics of the Siamese except their heads were wide and their eyes blue, the long hair of their ancestors. They had reintroduced the genuine Angora hair. One of her home-breds was "Fandango" - eventually he became known as "The Father of Birmans".
Frau Hanna Krueger of Berlin took up Birman breeding, she had acquired an inbred "Burmese" (Sacred Cat) female with four white paws. She was able to introduce the fine stud "Fandango" to this female. After the death of Frau Krueger, a French lady Mlle. Gillet had taken over Frau Krueger's lines, and it can be searched out Frau von Werner's female Colorpoints "Fee" and "Flock" were fourth generation registered cats mated with "Fandango". Some fine specimens were brought forth from breeding and almost all of which were of the best in selection had journeyed to France to carry forth lines ' Frau Liselotte von Werner's records state, "It remains to be seen if this internationally crossed breed will be successful and stand up before the strict eyes of European judges." Thus the lines passed from France to Cambodia. Mrs. Griswold's writings state the "King" and "Queen" of Tibet owned by Carter Townes was found to be lineages that coincided with those in France. She had spent many hours of corresponding to verify Bok Kymer (Khmer) and Schaiffa of Asia were lines with the Sacred Cats of Burma.
From France, it was told, Birmans were exported to the United States, Scandinavia, Germany and England and derived from the French breedings. Two distinct Cat Clubs were associated with showing and breeding this particular cat, "Le Cercle du Chat Sacre de Birmanie" under the President Mme. S. Poirier and "The Paris Cat Club" under the influence of Madam Drossier.
To mention just a few outstanding cats of this variety, there is Int. CH Fantine and her daughter also an Int. CH Folie de Crespieres. Hamlet de Madalpour, the last survivor of the well known Madalpour Cattery and Int. CH Gypsie and her daughter Iris des Floralies. In scanning pedigrees one will have to be alert to name changes given when one Club adopted cats of another Club. There are five name changes associated with that custom. Nadine des Crespieres had been exported to Germany, which CH Or des Crespieres to Holland. To America came Korrigan de la Regnardiere (Korrigan of Clover Creek), and Leslie de Regnardiere. Nouky de Mon Reve and Orlamonde de Khlaramour were exported to England, also mentioned was the "de Lugh" Cattery prefix.
One of the first breeders associated with the Sacred Cats from French Imports was Dr. and Mrs. John Seipel. He and Mrs. Griswold had correspondence, from indication of letters neither approved of the other's cats, however pedigree study relates the Birmans extensively to one and anothers. From enthusiastic breeders came original pedigrees in hopes the breed would prosper, of which by hard work and humbleness we can look back today with a feeling of rejoicing to know so much has been accomplished with this Sacred Cat.
In America as the breed moved along from early established breeders, it was most difficult to own a breeding pair, one could adopt a female but had to receive the sanction of the breeder's sire. Determination led to importation, even though in a few anxious novice breeders the wait was as long as a two year span. In time the exceptional imports came to America, established in shows and did their part of progression for the breed. Those that desired not to cross with the lineages soon found problems that could not be solved by going out of the lineages, the twig did bend to favor the breed and the Ohio show speaks that part of history in the many lineages that represent the Birmans.
Birmans are pleasurable to work and breed, although it can be said there are trials and tribulations that arise just as other breeds find. Queens are very choice with their marriage ceremony and often fail to produce their litters with a chosen sire made by the breeder. A number of passive males are able to impress their chosen queens. Here much depends on the sire's past experience and of course the sire's owner that is often too eager to get the pair together.
The birth of these spectacular tots is a fantastic experience. They are born pure white with point markings a rosey-pink and within a very few days the tracings start to appear where the points will establish. Certain lineages carry the genetic feature of huge paws, the good thick tails that was such a problem a few years back in that it deformed easily even though there was no hint of it at birth. (Queens must be observed for often they are a bit on the less gentle side when cleaning the tot's end of its tail.)
Genetically working with the Birmans quality litters can be achieved, each must know his own stock well. It is a good way to run a test-run of the first pairing and from indication of hints of the litter one can observe whether lineages are compatible or not. Many place emphasis upon the sire, but the queen is equally as important since each of the progeny has inherited the genes from both parents. A certainty is to acquire a sire that is compatible to most of the queens, in comparison the sire has much more work than one queen would have in her "gift" to the breed. A serious breeder will grade-up his litters, each having a sheet to grade the conformity to standard and points expressed to the less-conformed individuals. Over the time this grade-up is valuable, in a flash-back examination of both sire and queen's litters, one can read his progress. For that reason the Point Score in the standard is important to the breeder, especially if the points are broken-down and governing each individual part of a breed's standard.
How sad it is to look back upon the many breeders that had started to work with Birmans then dropped by the wayside after a time of working with the breed. Discouragement can never be if one hopes to stay with a breeding program and showing his home-breds. There had to be a starting place for every breeder and knowledge does not come over night with any breed. It is a low slow progress to reach goals set, which should be high in striving for the standard of perfection. Never in all history of breeding cats has a breeder achieved a perfect specimen of a breed. Some have bred outstanding examples, nevertheless faults are there to be found. Breeding not only carries the joys but heartbreaks as well - the joys can and will overshadow the heartbreaks, thus it is well to remember that aspect when searching out a family of Birmans to show and breed.
Why are they cats called "Sacred Cats of Burma" you ask! The story would not be complete until you have read the "Legend" associated with this special breed of cat. Another question often is asked, "How did the Sacre de Birmanie get to France?"
Since we believe Mlle. Marcelle Adams that no documentary evidence about the race so rare that no breeder or author in the two continents with whom she had corresponded those thirty years had anything more than a sketch of them, and onIv knew them by the writings of August Pavie and the writings she had done. If a sketch was had, what more evidence is needed to know the Sacred Cats existed! Breeders of the thermo-restrictive coat cannot become indignant and opinionate that the Birman is an offshoot of their breeds since the Sacred Cats were known long before the crossing of two well known breeds established. To establish a fact, the Birmans have some very odd and peculiar characteristics, these traits are not found in any other breed of cat, they are strong genetically and carry through generation after generation. In cases where they have been masked, they will become active again by selective breeding.
If one will turn to the books of Knowledge he can see the part that August Pavie and Major Gordon (Russell) would have given to the beloved Kittahs during the bitter wars and greed for power. The Sacred Cats arrived in Nice, France by boat, what other means of travel in those days was to be had? That the male died on the boat trip by an accident would not be questioned and the surviving female gave birth to a kitten Poupee that carried all the genetic features of the Sacred Cats would not be questioned. The pair of Sacred Cats were bestowed upon the British Army Officers? I would believe that to be the truth since we know this special breed of cat was never sold but given only as gifts to highly esteemed friends. The boat was mentioned as belonging to Vanderbilt, this too is possible - he had monies and he had power to go with the monies - he without doubt would have known the great Mme. Adams and grant to her the honor of the first Sacred Cat in France. When pondering all these known facts associated with the breed and debating the material given, is it not possible to live in the same area of another and not know or even read the newspapers that call for information on a particular subject... so why would it be questioned about the breeding of Poupee? Even in the travel and customs we have today, certain breeds of cats can escape being known to the public or those interested in breeds. I find it not difficult to believe this Sacred Cat found its way to France by a shadow higher than man's fragile hand. I have worked with this breed for a decade and am ever surprised at some of the genetic features they are capable of producing.
Do read the article of "The Temple Cat" by Mme. Marcelle
Adams, does one ever question the honesty and integrity of a selective
active President of an Association? Mme. Adams knew this breed, she worked
with it for many years, that she found no evidence of documents but a sketch
must have warmed her heart, that they existed in the Temples... unless
you work and breed this Sacred Cat, on what grounds can questions arise
as to the Natural breed it was in France?
LIKE A PATCHWORK QUILT
Life isn't given us all of a piece,
With some patches gay and some patches dark
For it takes the dark patches to set off the light,
No, life isn't given us able of a piece,
July 27, 1981
The Golden Halo
The four pure white matched paws, the tapering gauntlets up the back hocks are individual distinctive characteristics of the Birman breed. Just as importantly so is the sprinkle of gold across the back of the Birmans. As one is to the other, so be it that both are to the ONE! To go a bit further...NO breed of cat in the Fancy carries the distinctive body-type and head that can be seen with this Birman cat. No resemblance, whatsoever!
If races or breeds of cats group the same or similar characteristics in likeness to one another within its own circle, then it would be looked upon as a featurement of the breeds. In breeding and working with cats, it is a knowledgeable breeder that will strive to incorporate all the known outstanding characteristics into his lineage. He will choose his pairs of sires and dams carefully, with thought to maintain the related distinction. Each of the features should be given serious thoughts. The antecedents have their individual and distinctive qualities, facts should be investigated and studies given - the present generation has within itself, that of the past.
The 'golden halo' without a doubt was the pursuit of several older breeders. Many lineages can be found today that have preserved the featurement. With its mark of distinction that enhances the cat, we should strive to retain or restore that beautiful halo.
The Birman standard has failed to incorporate or even mention the golden cast that was known to the older breeders. Novice and even some of the seasoned breeders, unless told about it, could be unaware there was this special golden appearance to the Birman's fur that lay across their backs. Perhaps breeders have been lax in bringing it to attention, then again if the gold has been lost in their lines, little thought could have been centered upon the importance to the Birman breed. Years slip by fast, when little heed is given to thoughts of an issue, it moves and fades, an unimportant factor.
Today in the show circles, it can be found that judges remark and single out Birmans with an outstandingly light coat. The standards call for it and they are within their rights to search out the lovely pale coats; it is the breeders that are responsible for the standards.
To see a Birman basking in the sun, the touch of gold shimmering like a mist of rays across its back, is a sight that could never be put from thoughts -- AND one that would install a bit of guilt to the conscience for not openly speaking out, calling it to attention. It is there and it belongs with the Birman cat. If some lines are able to maintain it, for what reason have others brushed it aside? For what reason was the halo lost?
When fortunate enough to find translated a few remarks about the Birmans, mentioning the small patch of fur directly across the shoulder blades as being similar to a 'sooty hand print', and the mention of a 'cast of color' across the backs, it is then we pull up the bootstraps, march back down through the pedigrees and see just where a particular attraction could have lost it's original feature. That the 'halo' has not carried through in some of the lineages, can undoubtedly be seen.
Indeed, we desire the light coats, especially the Blue Points with the glacial white coloring and of course the Seals with their pale fawn to cream, but we should be pondering the misting rays of the trace of gold, shimmering across that light coat. We should be striving to retain a breed's original characteristic, neither allowing them to die or be bred out of lineages. If you are in doubt about the golden cast across the older Birmans, search out facts. For certain it can be found the beautiful 'golden halo' was known to no other breed of cat but the Birman.
Harriet Rindfleisch - Jan. 1977