Tonkinese were originally observed in the Far East. In the United States, their ancestor is a little brown cat named Wong Mau, an import thought to be a Burmese. Wong Mau was bred to her closest Malay relative, a Siamese. She produced kittens in Siamese, Burmese, and intermediate- Tonkinese- patterns. Eventually, Mrs. Margaret Conroy, a Canadian breeders, registered the intermediate-colored kittens as “Tonkanese” in the Canadian Cat Association. Later, an American breeder wrote a breed standard for “Tonkinese,” and they were registered in several small cat registries. In 1975, I joined the Cat Fanciers’ Federation, where Tonks were accepted in a probationary class. When the breed was advanced to Championship, I was well-established in the CFF breed club, but realized that the Tonkinese needed to grow out of the predominantly New England region to be nationally recognized. This meant approaching The Cat Fanciers’ Association for registration. I convinced the members of the Tonkinese Breed Club to prepare pedigrees and registrations, and went to the Chicago CFA Board Meeting in February, 1977 with the paperwork and the checks. At first, the Board refused to hear me because the Tonkinese was not on the agenda, our letter of application having been relegated to “the round file.” However, the Board decided to hear me out, since our paperwork was in order. After a lengthy, emotional discussion, I was told the Board would make a decision in the morning. I was in the Board room by 9:00 AM. Mr. Tom Dent, the then Executive Director for CFA, approached me during coffee break to tell me a decision had been made during the closed 8:00AM session, and the Tonkinese application for registration had been rejected.
As far as I was concerned, this was unacceptable. I have never learned to take “No” for an answer and wasn’t going to start now. I told Mr. Dent and Mr. Richard Gebhardt, then President of CFA, that I wasn’t leaving until the Tonks were accepted. Mr. Gebhardt said the issue could be reopened by a board member who had voted no. He asked Dr. Rosamonde Peltz to reopen the issue. A lengthy and rip-roaring discussion ensued. Finally, Mr. Genhardt made a statement. He said that since Mr. Dent said our submission was in order, it was CFA’s business to register cats; and registering cats was the purpose of CFA. He pointed out that registering Tonkinese did not mean they would automatically be advanced to Championship status, but that the cats would be shown in Miscellaneous and would have to qualify for the next step. The vote was called, and Tonkinese were accepted for registration by one vote.
Dick Gebhardt is my hero.
Due to dissention within the TBC, I chartered the Tonkinese Breed Association in CFA. I was appointed acting Breed Council Secretary until we were formally recognized May 1, 1978. I also started taking my Tonks to CFA shows and encouraged other breeders to do the same. At that time, there were no rules for advancement. CFA used our breed as the paradigm. Every time we approached the Board asking for Provisional status- the step above Miscellaneous- they set up a new barrier. For seven years, with the help of some astute friends among the Tonkinese breeders and in the cat fancy at large, I maneuvered us over, around, and up the boobytrapped byways, first to Provisional in 1982, then Championship- at last! – in 1984.
At first, the Tonk breeders were a cohesive group. They supported me when I went head to head at Board meetings, often bearing the brun of a screaming contest, walking away bruised but undefeated. We set up refreshments and cages full of Tonks at every meeting. We paid our own overhead from New England to the West Coast. Provisional was granted in Philadelphia, Championship in San Diego, at great personal emotional, physical and financial cost. But the Tonks were in, designated by the breed standard I had adapted from Jane Barletta and Margaret Conroy’s originals, in five colors: Natural (Seal), Champagne (Chocolate), Blue (Blue), Platinum (Lilac) and Honey (Cinnamon). The Platinums were added when Catherine Rokaw pointed out that Champagne had to have a dilute. There was no Fawn, because no one understood that the Honey was actually the Cinnamon gene and should also have had a dilute. Rokaw, along with several other breeders, was also manipulating behind the scenes to force me out of TBA, and to put Larry Rhinhardt in my shoes. Meanwhile, I was exhausted, suffering from acute Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and needed a time-out, so I resigned from TBA, thinking I’d done my share and deserved to be able to show my cats in peace.
Instead, Larry turned out to be a dictator and was soon out of office, but chose to run Connacht Shenanigan against my girl, Shotoku Glimour. Glee was by far the better cat. I had- have- every right to criticize this male. I had started Rhinhardt and his partner, Frank Yaccino, in cats. Shenanigan was not only straight from my bloodlines, but when the guys asked my opinion of him as a youngster, I told them that aside from a spatulate muzzle (incorrect by the Tonk standard), he was not a Platinum: he was a “spoiled Blue.”‘ Rheinhardt and Yaccino were not above playing politics. Shanny beat Glee for the national breed win. However, Glee’s mother, Shotoku Mageia, produced the five Grand Champions that made her CFA’s first Tonkinese Distinguished Merit Cat, which was vindication enough.
Those were difficult times. With championship competition came the fissures that tore the breeders apart. It was years before a Tonkinese scored in the top 25 cats Nationally. Despite National wins, the breed is still frequently overlooked in the show rings. Part of this is probably due to the petty dissention over the Honeys, which were deleted from Championship status in 1991 with the excuse that it was not a CFA Siamese color. The Tonkinese Breed Council membership decided that the Tonks should be limited to those defined by the Siamese standard, which in CFA allows only Seal, Chocolate, Blue and Lilac. Furthermore, the newer breeders made changes in the breed standard that created a dichotomy in what the Tonks should look like. This caused confusion in judging the cats. Older breeders continued showing cats which conformed to the original type and standard in all colors, while newer breeders began emphasizing Platinum as the color of choice, and showing cats with ski-slope noses and rounder eyes. Many judges, confused by the disparate conformation of the cats they were seeing, dismissed the breed as inconsistent. A few took sides, but as in most competitive situations, their choices were not necessarily based on the quality of the cats. Bipartisanship is a function of every community, and the cat fancy is no different.
After years of breeding and exhibiting my cats, year after year of showing almost every weekend, I slowed down. I reduced my large, active cattery, maintaining only enough cats to keep my hand in, and show occasionally. I’d given up trying to chase down the elusive Cinnamon gene, which at that point we knew produced Honey. Then- along came Uno. I had given Shotoku Funny Girl to Wendy Rosfeld. In 2004, bred for the first time to Shotoku Dorito, an inbreeding to my oldest lines. Wendy called the kittens Uno, Duo and Tres. I took Uno, a very extreme golden Champagne kitten, for my breeding program. As he developed, I became suspicious of his color. He was more cinnamon-colored than the normal Champagne. DNA testing had just become reasonably accessible. I had him tested by Dr. Leslie Lyons at UC/Davis. Uno- soon to become Wyccats 1singulrsensation of Shotoku (1 Singular Sensation, from the show Chorus Line carried the Cinnamon gene! Dr. Lyons tested the rest of my Tonks for me. Several carried Cinnamon. Because the color is a double-recessive, it is extremely elusive. To produce Cinnamon cats, it is necessary to breed cats carrying the gene and hope for a “Honey” colored kitten. I began linebreeding my cats. Before long, there were Honey kittens running around my cattery and I started bringing them to shows.
Their type wasn’t very good when I’d managed to breed a couple of Honeys years before, and I couldn’t produce the color consistently. Now, though, Uno embedded type as well as color. Then disaster hit. One of my males got outside and was gone for nine days. I isolated him and tested him twice before putting him back in my cattery. Unfortunately, though he had tested negative, he became positive for Feline Leukemia and infected all but three of my cats. I was left with a male Honey, a female Honey, and a Champagne solid carrying Honey. And Uno took off out an open window on New Year’s Eve and never came home. It was one of the most devastating years of my life.
I started over.
Last year, several other breeders joined me in the quest to place the Honeys, with their dilute color, Fawn, back into CFA Championship. The Tonkinese Breed Council in a slanted straw ballot instigated by the breed council’s secretary, after heated discussion, voted no. I tried a distraction, requesting of CFA by proposal that rare colors be considered by the CFA Board without Breed Council approval. I knew it wouldn’t fly, but hoped for discussion. The resolutions failed, of course. However, several of us have showed Honeys in the North Atlantic Region, with positive responses; and breeders in other regions have indicated an interest. We are now organizing to present the color(s) (hopefully one of us will soon breed a Fawn) and hope that they will be advanced to Championship status in CFA within the next two years.
Cinnamons are being shown in European organizations, with several breeders producing them consistently, notably Monika Wernlii in Switzerland, who is now liasing with a group of German breeders. A breeder in New Zealand is the source of a Fawn boy whose owner has placed him discreetly at stud in Germany. Monika’s male, Shotoku Nashira’s Boy O Boy, who carries Cinnamon, is a prolific fellow, whose offspring have quickly become desirable.
Neither Honeys nor Fawns are being sold as pets. They are being placed exclusively in breeding programs. Potential breeders may contact Monika Wernli in Europe or me in the United States directly by email if they are interested in working with this rare and stunning color.