by Bill McKee
(The following is from a telephone interview with Mrs. Virginia Daly, the founder of the Ocicat and owner of Dalai cattery in Berkley, Michigan.)
Virginia Daly with CFA Judge Bill Lee
BEFORE OCICATS, HAD YOU OWNED OR BRED OTHER BREEDS?
Yes, almost all of them, but I especially liked the Siamese. We got our first for my daughter Virginia's 10th birthday -- she had won a scholarship to Munich and we wanted to get one of those "black-faced" cats. My husband, Whitman, said to take $15, no one will ever ask more than that for a cat. So we went to get the little Siamese advertised in the paper. We had to put the $15 down and go back for her because she wasn't quite old enough. She was named Leo Lady because the Ledo Road in Burma had been in the news and was on our minds. We got her home, and Whitman said "Take her back, she's all moth-eaten?" She had earmites, and ringworm. Want to know the way I made a top Champion? My [Dalai] Jakki was a top winning sealpoint male Siamese, anywhere in the world, five seasons All-American. I had an opportunity to get a female from a lady in Royal Oak. By that time I had been breeding five or six years and had five females. I was prepared to spend $50 but she gave me "Tinker", [Ting Ke Ling Toi]. She had little ears, a bulge over her eyes, and a face that was not too long with a body that was a little dumpy, but her coloring was beautiful. She was three years old, and since I didn't have a carrying case, I brought her home in my arms. She had such a lovely, mush, temperament. That was Jakki's mother. She was such a divine cat, I had to find a champion for her. There was only one local champion, sired by an English import. I paid a $35 stud fee and bred to him several times. By the third litter, I realized the kittens looked just like those winning in the shows. So we took them down to the Trotter Exhibition. I got Best Kitten, 2nd Best Kitten, and Best Kitten - Opposite Sex out of the three I took. This must have been in 1952.
Virginia Daly and CFA Judge Bill Lee
WAS THAT THE LINE YOU USED TO MAKE YOUR OCICATS?
No, those were different. I used a ruddy Aby, Dalai Deta Tim of Selene. He was from an imported Champion, Raby Chuffa of Selene. I suspect we got our golden (cinnamon) gene from Chuffa, through Deta Tim. There wasn't any such thing as a red Abyssinian over here back then. Chuffa is also behind many, many of the Somali pedigrees but we didn't get the long hair. I bred Tim to my Seal Point Siamese, Patter [Dalai Tomboy Patter]. She was kind of big and horsy for a Siamese even back then. Al those kittens looked like Abys and I kept She, a ruddy Aby-coated hybrid. Then I bred her to Sunny [CH Whitehead Elegante Sun]. He was a chocolate point Siamese, very large, from an imported chocolate point, CH Kanhuri Hassan. That was when I got my Aby-pointed Siamese that I was breeding for, we called her Driftwood. And I also got this divine little golden spotted boy and that was Tonga, the first Ocicat.
BUT YOU WERE NEVER ABLE TO USE TONGA?
No, it never worked out. I sold him as a pet without papers to a medical student and I heard that he did use him - did a lot of cross breeding and inbreeding, but then later had everything destroyed. I never did hear why. Two cats survived that massacre and eventually came to another Ocicat breeder. She asked me how much I would want for Tonga's pedigree. I said, "Oh, I don't know, about $100." That was the last I ever heard about it.
SO HOW DID YOU MAKE YOUR NEXT SPOTTED CAT?
Well, I still had the parents, and I worked from those and other people's mistakes.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
Well, there was a woman named Olive Duffy who ran Serendip cattery. She had American Shorthairs and Siamese, and I got a couple of cats from her that were from mismatings. Serendip Silver Olivia is in a lot of my pedigrees and she came from a Silver Classic American Shorthair and a Lilac Point Siamese. I also got cats from a man, I've forgotten his name, who ran Klang cattery. He had Abys and American Shorthairs and he had an accidental mating. Those kittens had the most fantastic coloring. They were a dark, dark mahogany red, like the color of cherry wood. Dalai Maha Gony came from that.
WAS DOTSON YOUR NEXT SPOTTED CAT?
I don't know. could be. I sold a lot of cats as pets without papers. Dotson was one of my first dotted cats to be registered and used for stud. He was tawny from the same breeding as Tonga, from Sunny and She.
ONE CAT I SEE IN A LOT OF YOUR PEDIGREES IS DARWIN VIERDALAI. HOW DID YOU GET HIM?
Well, I had given Barbara Rounds and Dr. Viergutz their start, given them some cats to work with. Vierdalai came back to me from them. He was one of the most intelligent cats I ever had. If I wasn't careful to keep his cage latched, he'd figured out how to let himself out and he'd be off and across the room before I could even turn around. I couldn't keep him though. I used him with four cats and had problems of one kind or another in every litter. So I sent him back.
BUT YOU DID GET SOME GOOD CATS FROM HIM?
Yes, that where I got Nikki [Dalai Golden Phoenix] and [Dalai] Sequin. Nikki's head type is too round he's too American Shorthair. But he's love personified. Now his brother [Gherri], who is laying on the floor on his back right now looking up at me, is a little bit too fat because Whitman overfeeds him but he weighs 15.5 pounds. He has such marvelous type. His head is nice and smooth. I've seen some pictures lately of Ocicast that have kind of an eye bulge and a whisker pinch that I don't care for. Now he doesn't have ear tufts but he's so smooth and he's big and his markings are perfect. But he has a heart murmur so I had him neutered. Nikki is not as large as his brother and he's as streamlined as his brother. But all I have to do is stick my hand in his cage and he nearly knocks my head off because he's on an upper level. He'll put his head out if he can and rest it on my shoulder and just stay there and be so loving. And of course he's where so many of our goldens [now registered as cinnamons] come from. He got that from his mother, Pamper [Dalai Baby Pamper]. He looks golden to me but he's got that chocolate tail tip.
Well, also, if you look at what he's produced, I think that he's one of those real hot chocolates that we've been getting that are so easy to confuse with the goldens.
Yes, you were the one that taught me about telling color from tail tips and I have to thank you for that. I have to apologize for putting on the pedigrees that Golden Phoenix and Chevy [Dalai Golden Cavaliar of Ociville] were goldens, but at the time, I didn't know.
Well, back then we didn't know how golden lined up with cinnamon and chocolate and all that stuff. We learned a lot from the Oriental Shorthair breeders working with cinnamon, and tabby markings throw another whole set of complications into diagnosing color. What we're dealing with colorwise is no different than what the people breeding chocolate cinnamon spotted Oriental Shorthairs have to deal with. But it's hard. It's just something that's inherent in genetics. We've pretty much figured out that most of the cats that were registered as goldens were probably cinnamons and maybe a few of them were the hot chocolates with the darker tail tips. Do you have any sense of what the dusky goldens would like up with in terms of the colors we use now?
Pamper was a dusky golden. You know how when you have a set of silver and it gets tarnished, it's still silver but it's black. Well, that is what the difference between Tonga and Pamper was. It just as though she was a golden and got tarnished.
IF YOU GOT THAT AGAIN TODAY, HOW DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD REGISTER IT?
I don't know. It didn't look like Nikki looks.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM CHOCOLATE, FOR EXAMPLE?
It was too bright! She was a lot darker than Nikki but she was too bright. She wasn't dark like a couple of the chocolates I have here now.
ANOTHER STUD YOU'VE USED A LOT IS DALAI SILVER DOLLAR. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIM?
I sent in a picture to the newsletter of Silver Dollar's father Silvaking. It never got used, but he was sitting up doing one of the tricks that these guys do. People who have a descendent from Silver Dollar that acts this way should know where it comes from. He is the third generation, back through Silvaking to Dalai Quicksilver, who have such a divine temperament. I call them melters. As you approach them they just melt and look up at you so adoringly. And they're so clever . I taught Silver Dollar to wave buy-buy, from making bread the way they do when you hold them. And he and his sons would pat my face, they'd reach right up with their paw on command.
SOME OCICATS ARE NATURAL RETRIEVERS TOO. HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE SILVER DOLLAR TO NIKKI AND VIERDALAI AND GHERRI? WHAT SORT OF CAT IS HE?
He's rangy. He's more of the body type I like. He's sort of long. His ears are too small. But he's the third generation of this divine temperament. I don't think I'll use him again. I've got some gorgeous kittens from him right now, but he's old and he hasn't been well. He's looking fine now but I almost lost him.
WHO ELSE HAVE YOU USED IN RECENT YEARS AS A STUD?
Beau Dot. He's a Silver Dollar son, a tawny. Rather American Shorthair type. He's not that great but he's given me some pretty babies.
WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE OCICAT?
I don't know if I could name just one. [Dalai] She was a wonderful cat but she wasn't spotted, of course. But there's something so special about Sequin. Sequin is like having an angel live in your house. She's from Vierdalai and Silver Lady, Silver Dollar's sister. There were two females in that litter. One you could not touch. And the other was the one that I kept, my precious cat Sequin. We named the other girl Sparkle but I couldn't use her. You could not pick Sparkle up and hold her in your arms, but Sequin was a love. Pamper was a good cat too. She was so loving and took such good care of her babies. You could do anything with that cat and she would be happy.
FROM THE FIRST-BRED OCICATS, HAVE YOU NOTICED THE BREED CHANGE IN ANY WAY?
From those I've seen, the ones that look most like Ocicats are those that look like my first ones. Tonga was large, thought he might have been what I would now consider a little coarse. I don't want the Ocicat to look too "refined", but I want them to have that feral look, which is far away from a round head.
HAVE YOU NOTICED IMPROVEMENTS IN THE BREED OVER THE YEARS?
The pattern has gotten better. You can see this when you compare some you see with Tonga's markings. We didn't have to go too far to get the better ones with the round thumbprints.
WOULD YOU SAY THERE ARE ANY "PROBLEMS" IN THE BREED?
I don't think we have any problems in the cat as a breed -- other than what some people have put there.
WHAT CAT, IN YOUR OPINION, HAS BEST REPRESENTED THE BREED?
Oh, I don't know. I think I'm "stable blind." All I've seen lately are my own. I haven't been to shows lately and I've had only my own -- nobody else's. I now have a litter of five kittens I find very hard to fault.
ARE THERE ANY IMPROVEMENTS WHICH YOU ARE CURRENTLY BREEDING FOR?
Pattern, always. And color is what I pray for, but don't get.
IS THERE ANYTHING IN THE OCICAT BREED STANDARD THAT IS PARTICULARLY BOTHERSOME TO YOU?
I don't particularly like the wording having to do with the whisker pinch. I don't want any kind of pinch or weak chin. My best description of the head is that it's like an egg, but not a short, round egg. A nice "egg-shaped" head. And I mean from every point, face-on or in profile.
WHAT FEATURE OF THE OCICAT MAKES IT UNIQUE?
The spots! I prefer to call them dots.
WHAT OTHER BREEDERS DO YOU ADMIRE, AND FOR WHAT REASONS?
I can only judge people from the pictures I see of their cats. I appreciate the way people have backed me up and been honorable in their dealings with others. Many of the cats are "just mine" and that makes it a little embarrassing to comment on them.
ARE THERE MISTAKES IN YOUR BREEDING PROGRAM WISH YOU COULD CORRECT?
Only using an Abyssinian recently and getting monorchids, but that's been corrected now. You don't get everything you want. I don't feel too guilty when I have to sell them for pets since you still have a nice cat and there's no harm in that. You know, if the head's too round, or the body's too short, or the tail's too short, if you get a white toe or something like that, I don't feel too badly about that. I just say "that's the way the fur lays" and go on.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE TO YOU HAVE FOR NEWCOMERS TO THE BREED?
I think I would tell them to find something that is already being shown by the breeder they are considering buying from. You can't believe everything people tell you and we all are a little stable blind when it comes to our own cats. If you can go to a show or get some good pictures -- and know your standard -- you should be able to buy from that. You shouldn't let the dollar bother you. The price you pay now will be lost in the shuffle. Eventually you, too, will get that kind of price for a nice cat.