The Somali is endowed with more than its fair share of good looks. It is an attention getter from the start, an Abyssinian with long hair, often full at the chest and around the chin (the area referred to as the ruff), ending in a thick fluffy fox-like tail, and topping with large fox-like ears. If one judged by appearance, the Somali appears feral, but one look into its eyes and it is clear that this cat has a lot more going on in its head than the average cat. The Somali is so well known for its alertness that the standards for the breed include "alert" in the physical description. The eyes are almond-shaped, and may be green or copper-gold.
In size, the Somali is medium to large, muscular and well proportioned, and like its forbearer the Abyssinian, the Somali is elegant yet solidly built. It is a slow developing breed, reaching its full size, maturity, and potential around 18 months. The hair is agouti, or ticked, with anywhere from 4-20 bands of color on each strand. The standard colors for the Somali are red, blue, ruddy, or fawn, but this breed is born in a lot of other colors as well. Silver is one of the colors gaining popularity, for example.
For the person who does not plan to breed or show the cat for competition, considering other colors will be an encouragement for the breeders who are working to have more colors accepted in the standards, and will give you a cat that is not only different from the average cat, but is different from the average Somali as well.
This lively cat may turn your life upside down. Curious and playful, it has the dexterity to open cupboards, turn on the water faucet, explore the top shelves, and find the smallest spaces to explore. By some reports, the Somali can hold food and objects in its paws like a monkey. Some personality traits are better known than others. One is its tendency for sudden surges of energy throughout the day, when it will rush around and leap into the air. The Somali seems to wake each day with an agenda: eat, rest, bounce around, open the cupboards to look for new and interesting places to hide, make a puddle with the water faucet, etc. Because of its inherent high energy and inquisitiveness, the Somali would do best to be kept indoors where it will not be at risk of running into a troublesome fast moving vehicle.
With that said, this cat can be ornery. It has a mind of its own, so do not expect immediate obedience. But, because it does love to be with humans, and thrives on attention and affection from humans, it can be trained to do things that encourage that social time, like being still, fetching, and walking on a leash. Positive reinforcement is the key with this breed. Affectionate, and social to a high degree, the Somali will stick close without smothering you. If it notices that you are working in the kitchen, it will likely jump up to see what it can do to help out. The Somali wants to share every aspect of your life, and is noted for its touchy-feely behaviors. It will knead you like dough when it is feeling happy, and will groom your hair as well. The Somali is the hair-stylist of the cat kingdom, grooming the hair on your head, your beard, or your mustache.
Though this breed is generally healthy and vigorous, they occasionally have problems with gingivitis, tooth decay, and amyloidosis -- protein buildup in the organs. It should be noted that these problems are no more prevalent in the Somali than in any other breed. Another common affliction for all breeds of cats is feline infectious anemia (FIA). Less common in cats (more in dog breeds) is auto immune mediated hemolytic anemia (AIHA), but at least one breeder has reported that some lines of Somali are more prone to this condition.
Because the treatment for each condition is very different, if your Somali is showing signs of anemia, it is recommended that you ask your veterinarian to perform a blood work-up, including a packed cell volume (PCV) test.
The origin of this cat remains clouded in mystery. Many believe it was produced as a result of spontaneous mutation among the Abyssinian breed. Another more probable theory is that they originated in England in the 1940s. It was the post-war period and breeders had fewer Abyssinian's for breeding. War has not only proved destructive for humans, but to animal populations as well. Therefore, in desperate times breeders are sometimes compelled to use other breeds to perpetuate bloodlines.
It is assumed that breeders in post-war England began using long-haired cats to fill in the gap. Yet, when the first long-haired kittens began appearing in Abyssinian litters, breeders panicked and hastily got rid of these kittens with "polluted" genes.
Raby Chuffa of Selene, a male Abyssinian who ventured into America in 1953, was one of the first Abyssinian born to be identified with the longhair gene. His ancestry can be traced back to Roverdale Purrkins, an English Abyssinian female whose mother, Mrs. Mews, was of uncertain ancestry and probably carried the longhair gene. Most breeders continued to stay hush on the occasional longhair Abyssinian's in their litters, sweeping them under the rug, as it were, but some breeders recognized the unique beauty of this new breed, and continued to breed them, even focusing entirely on longhair Abyssinian's only.
The first influential breeder to focus on longhair Abyssinian's was Evelyn Mague of Gillette, New Jersey. Mague was a breeder of Abyssinian's, and was working in a cat shelter when she was struck by kismet one day in 1969, when a lovely but anti-social longhair Abyssinian named George was brought to her door. George was being dropped by his fifth owner, having been tossed out of his own litter at the criminally young age of five months. Mague developed an instant devotion to George, but found that since he had never bonded with other cats, he could not live socially with her cats. She neutered and vaccinated George and found a quiet home for him, where he could live comfortably as the only cat.
Considering George's shabby treatment, Mague grew increasingly indignant, especially as she traced the line of George's owners and found that he had come from a litter that had been produced with the help of one her own cats, a male Abyssinian named Lynn-Lee's Lord Dublin. The story goes that around the same time, she had also the good fortune to acquire George's mother, Lo-Mi-R Trill By. In homage to the lovely and forlorn George, she channeled her creationist inclinations to the genesis of a new line of Abyssinian's, with Trill By (the queen) as Eve and Lord Dublin (the stud) as Adam. Together, they begat Lyn Lee's Pollyanna. Pollyanna was later to be the first Somali officially shown in the U.S.
At the same time, and unbeknownst to Mague, breeders in Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand had been working with the longhair Abyssinian for several years, so when she put out a call for more of the same to breed with her own line, she was delighted to find that there was already a stable coterie of longhair Abyssinian breeders with which she could ally. But, other Abyssinian breeders were not as delighted with this development, and treated the long haired Abyssinian breeders with disdain, refusing to allow this offshoot to even be called an Abyssinian and working hard at keeping the longhair anomaly out of the cat societies. In an inspired show of creativity,
Mague settled on the breed name Somali -- as Somalia bordered the eastern and southeastern borders of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Just as land borders are a human creation, so goes the genetic border between the Abyssinian and the longhair Abyssinian, she felt.
In 1972, Mague founded the Somali Cat Club of America, with members from both the U.S. and Canada. Together these Somali devotionalist's were able to garner championship status for the Somali breed with the (now defunct) National Cat Fancier's Association (NCFA). Mei-Len's Sunflower of Margus was awarded that honor by the NCFA in 1973. In 1975, the International Somali Cat Club was founded by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), and finally, after a ten year crusade, the CFA granted championship status to the Somali in 1978.