The story of the RagaMuffin cat
The story of the RagaMuffin begins with an accident. During the 1960s, Ann Baker, a Persian breeder, developed a friendship with a neighbor who fed and cared for a colony of feral cats. A car struck one of these cats, named Josephine, who had previously given birth to wild kittens. After Josephine returned to health, she delivered a litter of kittens that impressed people with their sweetness and sociability. Although any difference in temperament could be explained by natural variation or having different fathers, a highly unscientific theory, that the accident somehow accounted for the kittens docile nature persists to this day.
Baker gathered as many of Josephine's kittens as possible and began breeding to preserve the wonderful personality of these cats that went as limp as a rag doll when cuddled. She gave the cats the angelic name Cherubim.
The most well-known of Josephine's random-bred offspring were Buckwheat, a black shorthair female who resembled a Burmese, and Daddy Warbucks, a male with Birman-like points (dark face, ears, tail and legs) and mitts (white paws). Many of the Cherubim had points and mitts, but others came in a rainbow of solid colors and bi-color variations. Baker called these non-pointed and non-mitted cats Miracle Ragdolls.
Determined to direct the progress of her Cherubim cats, Baker developed strict rules for anyone wishing to breed them. She alone knew the ancestry of each cat and made all breeding decisions. In 1967, a group split away from Baker's control, taking their cats to mainstream registries to show and make their own breeding choices. They chose to call their cats Ragdolls and to breed only pointed cats in three patterns.
Bitter over this defection, Baker took steps to exert greater control over the development of "her" breed. She set up her own registry, the International Ragdoll Cat Association, and required all her breeders to register only with her. Baker patented the name Ragdoll for use only with cats of her breeding and registry. Catteries were franchised and paid royalties for each kitten sold. For more than 20 years, Baker's program continued, with Cherubim breeders relatively content to enjoy raising the kittens while allowing Baker to make marketing and breeding decisions.
Eventually, even her loyal group developed misgivings about Baker, who struggled to keep a healthy cattery while handling the responsibilities of the registry. Her stories about the breed's origin grew increasingly strange, linking them to extraterrestrials and human-gene-implantation experiments.
By 1993 a group of breeders including Janet Klarmann, Curt Gehm and Kim Clark persuaded Baker to retire and planned to take over management of the association. After a few months, however, Baker refused to relinquish control. Regretfully, the group voted to leave IRCA and seek recognition with established registries.
Since their cats included all colors and patterns and they signed contracts not to use the Ragdoll name, the first crisis focused on what to call the cats, in the process of submitting a standard to American Cat Fanciers' Association. Klarmann credits Curt Gehm of Liebling Cats in Virginia with the choice of "RagaMuffin" because they came from the endearing little urchin cats of Riverside.
The M is capitalized "because they're big huggable, loveable Muffins," says Klarmann, who operates Encore Cattery in Florida. The new name stuck and in May 2001, the cats gained championship recognition. The American Association of Cat Enthusiasts, United Feline Organization and Cat Fanciers' Federation also recognize the breed.
A Breed Apart
From the beginning, RagaMuffin breeders have faced the challenge of gaining acceptance for their cats as a distinct breed, despite their common origins with Ragdolls. The patterns that form so important a part of the Ragdoll standard receive little emphasis from RagaMuffin breeders. They accept every color and pattern, with or without white. But the differences go deeper than that.
The RagaMuffin has a distinct head shape. Rather than having a flat plane between the ears, the skull has a slight dome. The RagaMuffin has a shorter nose than the Ragdoll, and walnut-shaped eyes rather than oval. While the Ragdoll profile exhibits a gentle curve with the final segment straight, the RagaMuffin standard requires an obvious nose dip or scoop. RagaMuffin breeders aim to produce a rounded, more heavily boned cat and have used Persians, Himalayans, Ragdolls and unregistered domestic longhairs to broaden the gene pool. Currently only registered cats may be used, and breeding to Ragdolls will cease as of 2010.
Kim Clark, owner of Ultimate Rags cattery, who is no longer breeding, echoes the words of other breeders when she describes the RagaMuffin's coat as texturally similar to a rabbit's coat, shorter and thicker than the Ragdoll's medium-long, coat.
When asked about the cats' personality, Klarmann, the ACFA and AACE breed committee chairperson, says, "That's the best part," using words like "wonderful" and "perfect" to describe her favorite breed. Melody, her first Cherubim, impressed her with an unhesitating sociability though she was cage-raised.
"Their ideal family would probably include children," says longtime breeder Gehm. "This is the kind of pet that children will remember for the rest of their lives."