Unique New Laperm Cat Is Bound To Create Waves

"They are an in-your-face type of cat," says Solveig Pflueger, chairman of The International Cat Association genetics committee, when characterizing The Dalles La Perm, "kinda aggressively friendly."

Linda Koehl, of The Dalles, Ore., matriach of the breed, adds, "They thrive on attention. Sometimes, they won't leave you alone. They love to be petted and carry on a conversation with you. They're very affectionate but not in a demanding way. You might call them `dog' cats.

Sounds like the perfect companion, doesn't it?

Personality, however, is only half of this distinctive package that will be up for full recognition in new breed and color at TICA's annual meeting in Seattle in September. A curly coat that comes in all colors is the other.

The origin of the LaPerm, like numerous other unusual breeds that have clawed their way up the popularity climbing post almost overnight, is the barn.

Koehl and her husband, Richard, own a 10-acre cherry orchard about five miles from The Dalles. The couple bought two barn cats when they moved there in 1982 from Los Angeles.

Speedy, a gray tabby, gave birth to a litter of six. One of the kittens looked nothing like the others or her mother. It was smaller, yet longer, with big ears and little hair. Within eight weeks, soft, curly hair began to emerge.

"I called it Curly, and began to feel sorry for it," recalls Koehl. "It resembled the Pink Panther. I didn't know what I had. I

left it with its mother because I thought it was gonna die. Thank goodness, the litter was born in the summer because I don't know whether that cat would have made it during the cold winters we get here."

Well, Curly survived. In fact, she thrived, and it wasn't long before others like her appeared in barn litters at the rate of two to eight per litter."

Eventually, Curly's love of the outdoors caught up with her. She disappeared one night and never returned. "Though we lost her," says Koehl, she left behind a legacy of kittens who inherited her soft, curly coat and marvelous disposition."

Koehl wasn't a breeder, admitting "I knew very little about cats. We got them to hold down the mouse population."

Her husband is a maintenance manager for a child-care center in town and Koehl operates a theatrical-costume business.

"Curly's coat kept attracting me to her. It was so inviting and soothing to touch. And it wasn't long before her personality blossomed to the point, I wouldn't leave her alone. But she wouldn't let me leave her alone, either."

As subsequent barn litters produced Curly clones, Koehl eventually called them LaPerm, signifying wavy and ripply in several languages.

For five years, no attempt was made to breed selectively. But with bald cats appearing more frequently in subsequent uncontrolled litters, Koehl began wondering what she had here. As friends saw the kittens, they became intrigued and started asking questions. "I didn't have any answers," says Koehl.

Finally, three years ago, her husband implored her to get some answers or he'd have to get rid of some of them.

"I took four to a CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) show in Portland. A korat breeder came by, took one look at them and asked excitedly, `Do you know what you've got?' "

Again, she didn't have an answer. He rushed over to the public-address announcer, and urged breeders to come over and take a look. Soon Koehl and her four cats were encircled by about 40 curious onlookers.

Everyone's enthusiasm tweaked her. "When I left there, I began thinking I had something special," she says. She began attending more shows and asking questions of judges and exhibitors, who studied her LaPerms carefully.

But Koehl is reluctant to take too much credit for this unique creature. "This was a case of Mother Nature doing her thing. Since these cats ran loose, they reproduced on their own. I didn't have anything to do with it. Mother Nature just found a patsy and helped by adding a lot of refining herself."

Now, that patsy is the guiding force for what may become one of TICA's most popular breeds yet.

It wasn't long after the 1992 Portland show that Koehl began rounding up her free-roaming LaPerm barn cats and putting them in a controlled environment for their protection.

"I began keeping records of every breeding," she says, "writing and calling geneticists like Solveig and Gloria Stephens (an Oregon author and breeder). This is a labor of love, but I really want to get these cats full recognition."

Koehl is mailing complete information packets about the LaPerm to TICA's 15-member board of governors, who will vote in September whether to invite the LaPerm into its show lineup. She will take several so those unfamiliar with it can meet them up close and personal.

Pflueger, of West Suffield, Conn., owns two, and will recommend the group accept the LaPerm. "Linda has impeccable records - enough data to analyze the genetics.

"Anytime you talk to someone about a new breed, they always say it has a `wonderful personality.' That's not always the case, but with the LaPerm it certainly is. This breed sells itself and I think it has a good chance with the board of governors."

Plueger is impressed with cat's unflappable character. Her pair and one owned by Laurie Bobskill of West Springfield, Mass., were shown at a big Madison Square Garden show earlier this year.

"They endured three days of crowds, media and handling and loved almost every minute of it," says Pflueger. "That was a real testimonial to their hardiness and character."

Pflueger says the breed's personality and coat overshadow its elegance, which she labels a "bonus or hidden quality."

A low-maintenance cat requiring minimal grooming, the LaPerm needs only an occasional bath and towel drying. Blow drying, says Koehl, produces a frizzy coat. After it is completely dry, a spritz with a fine mist of water will produce more curl.

The LaPerm is medium sized - males weigh about seven pounds, females five to six. "Easy to pick up, easy to hold," adds Pflueger. "They are face lovers. They'll place their paws on your face and rub their faces against yours. They love being kissed and will even nibble your ear. They're very content being cradled in your arms like a baby or draped over your shoulder as you walk about."

Pet-quality LaPerms sell for $300-$400 and come in both long- and short-haired varieties.