Colour: Dark Brown and Ivory
A recently acknowledged cat from Singapore. A small, short-haired breed that was known locally as the 'Drain Cat of Singapore' (because it is reputed to take shelter in the city drains, during the dry season, when suffering from human persecution), or the 'Singapore River Cat' (because it is supposed to have originated on the banks of the river system there).
Domestic Breed. A recently acknowledged cat from Singapore. A small, short-haired breed that was known locally as the 'Drain Cat of Singapore' (because it is reputed to take shelter in the city drains, during the dry season, when suffering from human persecution), or the 'Singapore River Cat' (because it is supposed to have originated on the banks of the river system there).
There is no mystery over its internationally recognized name, Singapura: it is simply the Malay term for Singapore. This was the title originally given to the city in 1299, by a visiting Sumatran Prince.
Today this cat is known by yet another name in Singapore. It is called 'Kucinta, the Love Cat of Singapore'. This is not, however, an old traditional name, but a recently promoted one. It was introduced in 1991 by the Singapore Tourist Board as part of a worldwide promotional campaign for the city.
In 1993 the Singapura Cat became the official symbol of Singapore and two pedigree specimens were returned there to act as models for statues of 'Kucinta' that will be positioned on the Singapore River, where the breed supposedly began its existence.
Appearance: This is one of the smallest of all the pedigree breeds. It is a muscular cat with a very short, fine, satiny coat that lies close to the body. The ground colour of the breed is ivory, each hair being ticked with two or more bands of dark brown. (The only other pedigree cat breeds with ticked, or agouti hair are the Abyssinian, the Somali, the Wild Abyssinian and the Ceylon.) The tail tip is black. The eyes and ears are large. The legs are strong, but the feet are small.
History: There has been considerable controversy about the origins of this attractive breed. The usual story, as reported in most cat publications (but now known to be incorrect in several respects), goes as follows:
The founders of the breed, an American couple called Hal and Tommy Meadow, discovered it in Singapore in 1974. There they heard about an unusually small breed of cat that lived in the streets and sewers of the city. They acquired a kitten which they called 'Pusse' and later an adult pair called 'Tickle' and 'Tessa'. They started breeding from these cats while still in Singapore and then, in 1975, took five of them, including the original three, back to the United States. There they set about establishing the Singapura as a new addition to the list of pedigree cat breeds.
In a 1988 interview, Mrs Tommy Meadow added the following details to this version of the Singapura's origin: 'In April  Saigon fell and in July I was moving back to the United States, with my husband Hal following a few days later. With me I brought my orchids, ten hooded rats...and six cats. Of the six cats, five were cats that acquired the breed name of Singapura while in Singapore and had been registered with the Singapore Feline Society...the oldest one was Pusse who had been found near the Goldhill Building in the centre of the 225 square mile island.
The next in age were a male, Tickle, and his little sister Tessa found near the waterfront. George and Gladys, named after members of the Singapore Feline Society, were 4 month old kittens travelling with mum Pusse and had been sired by Tickle. These 1975 immigrants into the United States were joined in 1980 by a cat named Chiko who had been located at the SPCA by another American cat breeder vacationing in Singapore. Subsequently Chiko was shipped to a Singapura breeder [Barbara Gilbertson] in the State of Washington.'
That was the official story of the origin of the new breed and was accepted by everyone until, a few years later, another American breeder, Jerry Mayes, visited Singapore in search of new blood, only to make a surprising discovery. To his astonishment he found that there was documentary evidence to prove that Mr and Mrs Meadow had imported Pusse, Tickle and Tessa into Singapore from the United States.
The story of them being found 'near the Goldhill Building and 'on the waterfront' was an elaborate deception. But why?
One theory was that Mrs Tommy Meadow had deliberately concealed the true origin of the Singapuras in order to give them a more romantic heritage. It was pointed out that she had previously owned both Burmese and Abyssinians, and that a cross between those two breeds can look remarkably like a Singapura. If she had created such a cross in America, taken the progeny to Singapore, 'discovered' them in the streets of the city, and then brought them back to the United States as an exotic new breed from the Orient, she would have had pulled off a remarkable subterfuge to become the founder of a delightful 'Eastern' breed that was rapidly gaining popularity on the show benches.
Critics of the original version of the Singapura 'history' felt that this was the true story of what had happened, and their scepticism forced Tommy Meadow made a new statement, correcting her earlier comments.
In a 1994 interview, she admitted that there were inaccuracies in the way she had told the original version of the story. Her new account ran as follows:
During a previous marriage, she had been a successful exhibitor of Siamese, Burmese and Abyssinian Cats. In 1970 she met to Hal Meadow, a geophysicist whose work for an oil company took him repeatedly to the Far East, including Singapore. Hal had always been fascinated by cats, and through Tommy he developed an interest in the cat fancy and pedigree breeds.
When he was on one of his trips to Singapore, in 1971, he spotted some local cats that he realized at a glance were unusual. He was particularly struck by the fact that they had a ticked coat like an Abyssinian's, but with a more silvery colour. Never having seen such a colouring before, he arranged to have four of these 'strange coloured Abys' shipped back to his wife in the United States. The group consisted of a male and three females, and in Tommy's care they soon began breeding.
Then in 1974, after Hal and Tommy had married, they travelled to Singapore together, accompanied by a group of her cats, including three grandchildren of the original quartet. These three were called Pusse, Tess and Ticle.[Slightly different spellings are given in this version of the story.] The Meadows continued breeding from these cats while still in Singapore.
They had intended to stay there for ten years but, following the fall of Saigon in July 1975, and the collapse of the American involvement in Vietnam, they returned earlier than expected to the United States. They took five Singapuras with them, including the original three, plus Gladys and George, who had been born there in the meantime. Once back home, they set about firmly establishing the new breed and gaining official recognition for it.
From this point onwards there is no controversy about what happened. In late 1975, Tommy Meadow started exhibiting her Singapuras at America cat shows. In the years that followed, the Singapura was formally recognized by more and more cat societies in America and in 1980 a United Singapura Society was formed to support the breed. By 1988 it was estimated that there were over 500 of these cats in North America and by the mid-1990s this figure had risen to about 2000.
The first Singapura in Britain was a pregnant female called Faye Raye, who arrived on July 25th 1988 and gave birth a few weeks later, while still in quarantine. British interest in the Singapura developed in the 1990s and a Singapura Cat Club was formed to promote the breed. By 1995 there were an estimated thirty cats of this breed in the British Isles.
The question remains as to what drove Tommy Meadow to 'simplify' the history of the breed by pretending that she and her husband had picked up Pusse, Tessa and Tickle in the streets of Singapore. Were these three cats, as some critics were now suggesting, American-born hybrids between Abyssinians and Burmese, or were they truly the grandchildren of those original Singapore cats discovered by Hal Meadow in 1971? When this question was put to Tommy Meadow, she defended her 'revised' version of events in the following way:
It had been necessary to conceal the information about original quartet of cats sent to her from Singapore by Hal Meadow in 1971, because at the time (to quote her): 'he was involved in "sensitive" work and his presence in Singapore could not be revealed'. The cats were perfectly genuine and had originated Singapore, but for reasons quite unconnected with the animals themselves, it had been advisable to omit the earliest phase of their discovery.
Additional information obtained directly from Hal Meadow himself in 1996 confirms this. He was in Singapore to carry out confidential marine surveys for an Oil Company and was operating out of a port in the North East of the island called Loyang. One day he noticed three ship's cats on one of the marine survey vessels and was surprised by their unusual appearance. They looked to him like odd-coloured Abyssinians and, as he had never seen anything like them before, he arranged for them to be shipped back to Houston on one of the work boats. About six months later, he saw a fourth cat of this type, also in the harbour at Loyang, which he managed to obtain from a local sailor.
This, too, he had shipped back to the States. Tommy took in all four cats and began to breed from them. When the Singapore cats arrived, her other cats were all neuters and she was not at that stage engaged in breeding programmes with anything else. She kept the Singapore cats pure and took them through two generations before she set off for Singapore with Hal in 1974, taking with her the soon-to-be-famous trio of Pusse, Tessa and Tickle.
The fact that, in July 1975, when Saigon fell, the Meadows returned suddenly and unexpectedly to the United States, was due to the sudden change in the economics of oil company activities in the Orient, caused by the sudden ending of the war in Vietnam.
Based on this more detailed explanation, it is safe to assume that the Singapura is, after all, a true-blue Eastern cat that developed naturally over a long period in the streets of Singapore. Certainly, it is the general view among most Singapura breeders that a cat of this type has been present in Singapore for at least 300 years, and that it is a well-established, ancient breed.
Furthermore, supporters of this 'ancient Singapura' view believe that there is a perfectly good explanation as to why some critics have favoured the rival idea that the breed is a more recent hybrid between Abyssinian and Burmese Cats. They point out that attempts by unscrupulous dealers to mass-produce inexpensive 'fake Singapuras' using crossings of this type, could easily have led to the incorrect belief that all Singapuras were created like this. It is pointed out that Mrs Meadow has been quite open about the fact that she did introduce other breeds in the early days of her Singapura breeding programme, but that these crossings were merely 'test-matings to eliminate known recessive genes from Singapura breeding stock.'.
The best way to settle the matter of the breed's origin is for a detailed check to be made of the feral cat population of Singapore today, to see if pockets of typical Singapuras are still present there. A recent attempt to do this by Sarah Hartwell, during a brief stay in the city, proved inconclusive. She scoured the streets for pure specimens, but reports that 'although I saw numerous nervous cats of Oriental or Bobtail type, I found no Singapuras...During my stay I saw tabbies, bi-colours and self-colours, but not a single cat with "ticked fur the colour of old ivory", though this might simply mean that Kucinta is a shy and elusive creature. Having scoured the river area and not managed even a glimpse of Kucinta, I eventually began to wonder "are there any Singapuras in Singapore?".'
It seems likely that she was looking in the wrong districts. Perhaps if she had searched in the harbour region in the North East of the island, where Hal Meadow discovered the original foundation stock for the breed in 1971, she might have been more successful. Obviously, a more careful search is indicated, although it must be borne in mind that, according to a new report, the Singapore authorities have recently introduced a policy of 'clearing the streets of stray cats', so it may already be too late.
Personality: Words used to describe this breed are slightly contradictory and include: playful, sociable, lively, responsive, undemanding, calm, even-tempered, quiet, gentle, alert, good-natured, placid, inquisitive, mischievous, active, intelligent, friendly and fearless. Some describe them as outgoing, but this is denied by others who say they are shy, demure and reserved. They have also been called 'aggressively affectionate'.
Colour form: Only one colour is accepted: Sepia Agouti (sometimes called Brown Ticked)
1988. Meadow, T. B. The Singapura Cat in the United States. In: Cat World, September 1988, p.8-9 and October 1988, p. 34-35.
1994. Flavia, C. Tommy Meadow: 'Discoverer' of the Singapura. In: Cat World, June 1994, p. 12-13.
1995. Edwards, A. The Singapura; The Cat with a Coat of Antique Ivory. In: All about Cats, March 1995. p.13-21.
1995. Van Den Berg, D. Spotlight on a New breed: The Singapura. In: The Journal of the Chinchilla, Silver Tabby and Smoke Cat Society, Autumn 1995. p.13-15.
1996. Hartwell, S. Kucinta - The Love Cat of Singapore and the Bobtails of Malaysia. In: Cat World Annual, 1966. p.44-45.
International Singapura Alliance. Address: P.O.BOX 32218, Oakland, CA 94604, USA.
Original Singapura Breeder's Network. Address: P.O.BOX 1457, Solvang, CA 93464, USA.
Singapura Cat Club. Issues a quarterly Mewsletter. Address: 437 Whippendell Road, Watford, Herts, WD1 7PS, England.
Singapura Fanciers' Society. Address: 82 W. Catalina Dr., Oakview, CA 93022, USA.
United Singapura Society. Address: 2135, Edison, Santa Ynez, CA 93460, USA. or 5520 Dublin Avenue, North Little Rock, AR 72118, USA.
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