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Lorraine Shelton, Featherland Cattery

Featherland Cattery

GC Featherlands Weird Science, Chocolate Tabby PersianLorraine Shelton, Featherland Cattery. Chocolate Cat Fanciers interview with Lorraine Shelton, breeder of Persians, specializing in chocolate and lilac varieties, Selkirk Rex and Turkish Angora. Read more about how her interest in chocolates began.

When did your love for these colors begin?

I was working in a veterinary hospital when a flame point Himalayan came in for grooming. I was a bird breeder at the time, but was considering getting "a cat" when we moved into our new house. I fell in love with those delicate apricot points and blue eyes and decided that I had found "the cat".

When a convenient time came, I started calling breeders advertising in the newspapers, magazines, etc. looking for a flame point Himalayan. I asked one breeder, Toni Renzacci of Cactusway Cattery, if she had any flame points, as I was told they were pretty rare. She laughed, "RARE? Come over here and I'll show you some REALLY rare colors!"

I went over there and spent hours learning about how cats were raised and shown, as I was curious about the differences between raising kittens and baby parrots. She must have known that I would end up in the cat fancy long before I did, as she was very patient and taught me so much. Just in that initial visit with "a pet buyer". Amazing.

When I came back to pick up my little male flame point (Cactusway's Anduril Elvenflame) in the summer of 1987, she showed me all those "really rare colors": the chocolate and lilac varieties for which Cactusway is famous worldwide. I met GRC Cactusway's Chocolate Jackpot, just a kitten then, and the beautiful lilacs, Plum Crazy and Lilac Magic. I especially remember a lilac cream, Cactusway's Lilac Spice. And, of course, the love of Toni's life, and her first grand champion, GRC, RW Cactusway's Chocolate Dream. How could ANYONE not fall in love!

But I went home with my little Andy, and I was content. She told me that she decided not to give me the little pet I had placed a deposit on, but the breeder quality male in the litter, "Just in case you change your mind".

After that, I switched jobs and went into research, developing veterinary immunodiagnostics. To gain some extra capital, we decided to try and sell our new feline leukemia kits directly to cat breeders on the weekend. That's how I started hanging around cat shows, as a vendor. Toni would see me at every show, in every association (she showed in multiple associations), and drop hints like, "I have a half-sister of Jackpot you should come and look at..."

I was at the very large Santa Monica Cat Show one year when Nancy Sullivan walked past me. A huge-eyed flame point was looking at me, over her shoulder, GRC, RW Sulltans Short Circuit. I looked into those big blue eyes and I suddenly "got it", I was hit by the bug: "Now if I could get those eyes and that tiny nose on one of those fancy colors..." Sure enough, I was back at Toni's to pick up that half-sister to Jackpot, Cactusway's Celebrian Elvenhope, a chocolate tortie point. I was on my way.

Do you have a mentor, if so who?

Toni Renzacci was a wonderful mentor, and taught me more than I can ever completely recognize. She turned me on to Linechasing, and taught me to put the CFA Yearbooks and pedigrees on my nightstand and study, study, study. She was very knowledgeable about genetics and sparked my interest in that field. I still look over my pedigrees and say to myself, "I wish I could go over this with Toni". She knew so much, and I was only able to learn such a small portion in the time we had.

I had a recipe in mind from the beginning, to combine two different chocolate lines with the best Persians I could get my hands on. Linebreed on the Persian lines, and outcross on the chocolates. In my search for an outcross line of chocolates, Toni introduced me to Elaine Zimmerman of Dirtypaws Cattery. Elaine offered me exactly what I was looking for, most notably Dirtypaws Truffles (self chocolate), visuals and carriers with wonderful, heavily Persian pedigrees. Elaine has been a wonderful mentor as well.

Do you remember your very first chocolate/lilac brought into your program?

"Kelly", the chocolate tortie point, was my first. She was a grand old lady, and lived a very long and healthy life. She ruled our home with an iron paw. She had large, robust litters and spat out kittens like they were watermelon seeds.

She was followed by a trio of chocolates that Toni asked me to rescue in early 1989 from a bad situation with another local breeder. These were CH Cactusway's Choc Legacy (self chocolate), Cactusway's Choc Chip (choc point), and Parolen's Coco. Later, I was offered a cat I had admired at the shows, TICA GRC/CFA CH Cactusway's Tigre Ole from a breeder going out of cats. Further down the road, when I needed a visual outcross male, Cindy Walbridge-See was kind to offer me QDPies Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs, a chocolate point male that really brought it all together for me. And of course the other visual that came into my life (as a four month old kitten when Toni's health was declining) was GRC Cactusway's Chocolate Memories, a cat I showed to become CFA's third self chocolate grand champion.

Do you have a favorite color division? (bi-color, himalayan, solid, parti-color, smoke, tabby)

Anything but points! As many judges say, "my favorite color is type", and because of that I have had to use pointed cats extensively in my program. I would much prefer it if I could have been able to "lose" the recessive pointed gene long ago. Now, it just seems to be stalking me! I have a chocolate van that I think is just delicious, and I'd love to produce a chocolate or lilac calico one day. Toni had a chocolate smoke long ago that was just exquisite, but that is an exceptionally difficult gene to work with. I never thought I'd end up in the pursuit of chocolate/lilac tabbies, but now that I've traveled down that road, I'm really enjoying it.

Do you have any particular favorite cats in your program?

Memories is a particular favorite because of so many factors. She is the last show cat Toni ever bred, and I have a picture of Toni holding her as a baby that I pass by every day. Memories is the first cat I ever traveled with, the first cat I granded, and continues to have the same delightful personality that I fell in love with almost a decade ago.

Since all Himalayans are born white at birth, at what age do you determine their color? Do you have any advice when distinguishing a spoiled seal point from a chocolate point?

I find I am most accurate if I "call it" while they are still wet. Chocolates and lilacs are PURE white at birth, while blues and seals are "creamy". Chocolate points go through a very strange phase where they almost look like blue points when their color first comes in, so I have to make sure I don't "talk myself out of" the color declaration I made at the beginning. Once that stage is over at 6-8 weeks, the best rule of thumb is, "If you have ANY doubt, IT ISN'T". I've seen a lot of folks sold chocolate/lilac carriers as visuals, unfortunately. A seal/blue point carrying chocolate/lilac is frequently "spoiled" in color and people need to start to recognize that (both breeders and judges). The paw pads are "too light" for a seal/blue, but "too dark" for a visual. The full color will develop on maturity, however, and the color will be unmistakable eventually. The only way to learn how to tell a real chocolate from a "faux chocolate" is through EXPERIENCE. And don't limit your research to your own breed. The real experts on "spoiled seals" are the SIAMESE people. Find a chocolate/lilac Siamese breeder and learn from them.

Do you have any advice when distinguishing a pale blue from a lilac Persian?

Once you've seen a true lilac in person, you'll never forget it or fail to distinguish it from a blue ever again. The problem is that too few breeders and judges have ever seen a self lilac! There *are* Persian lines that throw blues with pale paw pads. PAW PADS AREN'T THE WHOLE STORY!!!

At what age do you determine their quality (pet,breed,show)?

I am MUCH harder on the quality of my cats than most breeders. A kitten, while still wet, falls into one of two categories: "promising" or "pet", based on head structure, body, and boning. Many promising kittens turn into pets/breeders, but rarely does the opposite occur. A Featherland kitten/cat is declared "show quality" when a CFA rosette is hung on its cage in the judging ring. Never before. "Show quality" visuals are overrated and overpriced, in my opinion. People who have spent five years on my waiting list for a "top show visual" could have produced their own in that time by buying for color/pedigree only and breeding their own show cats. Spend your money on QUALITY cats to bring IN to your foundation chocolate/lilac cats. Not on overpriced visuals.

What is the most difficult part of working with these colors?

Mendel's warped sense of humor. Dealing with the large number of boring black/seal point kittens along the way. The litter that contained GC Featherland's Weird Science, CFA's first tabby division chocolate or lilac grand, was a visual bred to a carrier. That breeding gave me 75-100% visuals (the flame point I petted out could have been a homozygous chocolate as well). I have another visual X carrier breeding that I LOVE on paper, but has thrown me seven straight non-visuals so far. Great type... one day I'll get color too! <sigh>

What is the most rewarding experience working with these colors?

Having a judge express amazement seeing a "new" color of Persian for the first time. Having one of the few judges who truly knows how much work goes into these color classes put the product of twelve years of hard work on the judging table and declare (with tongue firmly planted in cheek), "Well, THAT was easy!". That day when the kittens are born, waiting in anticipation to see if the next one out of the sack will be "funny colored".

What is your most important advice about these colors you'd like to give?

Outcross, outcross, OUTCROSS and breed for health first. Chocolates and lilacs have a bad reputation health wise That is primarily caused by the fact that people bring in only a few foundation chocolates/lilacs into their catteries, and then inbreed them to get the maximum number of visuals in the shortest period of time. BE PATIENT. It is no use breeding closely related visuals together if the kittens do not thrive and type doesn't progress. Pay attention to the health of your program. PLAN for the future.

On a related note, buying visuals and carriers from a variety of other chocolate and lilac breeders and breeding them together doesn't further the breed. What are YOU going to bring in to the chocolate and lilac world that will make your program unique? Find a line of successful Himalayans, Exotics, or Persians that appeals to YOU and use that line to *improve* chocolates and lilacs and create building blocks for the future. For the QDPies line, it was the prepotent Demiara Himalayans. For the Foxy line, it was the Kitty Charm Persians. For the Odin line, it was Harwood and Keeperkit Persians. And on, and on and on. I brought in Pajean and Marhei for my line.

Is working with these colors for everyone?

No. It isn't for those who crave rosettes and quick and easy success in the show ring. Unfortunately, our colors have also attracted (for many years) an element of folks who think that their rarity means that they can be used to turn a quick profit. For every "high demand" visual that you produce, there are far too many "low demand" cats to care for! If you think you are making a profit, you'd better check your math.

Do you have any advice to offer anyone just starting with these colors?

One word: DON'T. Seriously. DON'T "start with these colors". That is the biggest mistake I made, and the biggest mistake MOST chocolate/lilac breeders make. Breed something else first. Get to know the cat fancy. Get to know how to raise kittens. Go through those awkward "newbie" years BEFORE devoting your time and our precious limited gene pool to the challenging goal of breeding top chocolates and lilacs. You'll be a better and more successful breeder for it! A breeder who is already successfully breeding and showing Persians, Himalayans, or Exotics has a HUGE head start on their chocolate/lilac program.

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