In 1987, a feral cat in Montana gave birth to a litter of five kittens, but one of them looked a little different from the others.
The female kitten had thick curly hair that breeders had never seen before, and she caught the eye of Persian breeder Jeri Newman. Newman adopted the kitten and dubbed her "Miss DePesto" after the curly-haired character in the television show "Moonlighting."
Now, 25 years and nine generations of curly furred cats later, researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna have confirmed that the felines are a genetically distinct breed.
Known as Selkirk Rex, the breed is the fourth type of curly haired cat, but it's distinct from other Rex breeds. Unlike the Devon Rex and Cornish Rex, this breed's hair is of normal length and isn't prone to balding, and it differs from the LaPerm breed because its coat is thicker.
Sometimes called "a cat in sheep's clothing," the Selkirk Rex's signature fur is caused by a genetic quirk. Because the kinky hair is a dominant trait, it's easy for breeders to retain the curls while crossbreeding to maintain genetic diversity.
Selkirk Rex cats are often crossed with Persians or British shorthairs, making them laid-back, playful animals.
There are longhair and shorthair varieties of the breed, and their fur can come in a variety of colors. Because of their extremely dense coats, the animals shed a great deal and, unlike other Rex breeds, the Selkirk Rex isn't recommended for people who might be allergic to cats.
Although science has only recently confirmed the breed, the Selkirk Rex has been an accepted cat breed by the International Cat Association since 1992, the American Cat Fanciers Association since 1998 and the Cat Fanciers' Association since 2000.
Today, the ancestry of all Selkirk Rex cats can be traced back to Miss DePesto.
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