The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois on February 23, 2007 · Page 77
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The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois · Page 77

Bloomington, Illinois
Issue Date:
Friday, February 23, 2007
Page 77
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ft i He q I Q 1, I Inside the making of America's next great cat By Kenneth Miller Cover and photographs by Roe Ethridge In an oak-shaded backyard 30 miles outside of L.A., Judy Sugden is conducting a tour of her secret genetics lab. The well-kept facility consists of several cabins built of plywood and fencing in which dozens of domestic cats nap, wrestle, prance, and preen. The cats flock toward visitors as they pass by, pokingpaws through their cages. They're striking creatures, more muscular than the average tabby, with reddish-amber fur set off by bold dark stripes. But to Sugden, they're pieces of a puzzle a collection of traits and tendencies from which she's constructing a cat such as the world has never seen. "Look at this little boy," she says, cradling a young torn. "See the nice dark markings over his eyes? But he doesn't have the muzzle." She gives him a few strokes, then moves on. "This one has a lovely face. Look up, sweetie. But he doesn't have the coat." Sugden doesn't like to publicize the location of her cattery, for fear of wire-cutting animal-rights activists. But her project is creating a high-decibel buzz in the world of cat fanciers. The 58-year-old architect is the inventor of the Toyger, a house cat bred to look like a toy model of the largest member of the cat family. If this dedicated breeder can perfect her imitation tiger, some experts expect it to become one of the most sought-after cats in history fetching prices as high as $4,000. "They're going to look different from other breeds," says Kay DeVilbiss, the president of the International Cat Association (TICA). "There's going to be Toyger fever." CATS GONE WILD In an era when a few cosmetic tweaks can elevate a handbaginto ahigh-priced fetish, it's no surprise that demand for designer cats especially those that bring a whiff of wilderness to the suburbs is booming. Current popular felines include the Savannah (part house cat, part African serval) and the Chausie (a house cat bred with a jungle cat) . But until now, no professional breeder has tried to capture the mystique or allure of a tiger in a sofa-friendly form. The breed standard for the Toyger, as registered with TICA, is a big-boned, pumpkin-colored animal with a whitened belly. Ideally, its stripes mimic those of its powerful role model, flowingup from the stomach and down from the spine, and forming concentric arcs around the face. The perfect Toyger has small, round ears, a strong chin, a broad nose, and a long muzzle. Its coat has flecks of golden "glitter," and its movements are "reminiscent of the big cats." At present, no Toyger embodies all of these attributes. With some 400 Toygers registered, most of them being bred by Sugden and about 20 colleagues worldwide, it could be several years before the cat looks amazingly like its 500-pound muse Sugden hopes by 2010. But even imperfect specimens exude a certain jungle glamour. That comes easily; Many of the Toygers traits stem from the domestic Bengal cat, itself derived from a tabby and a wild Asian leopard cat. In fact, Sugden's mother, Jean Mill, created the Bengal, and the tale of the Toyger is as much about human inheritance as it is about the animal kind. THE FAMILY BUSINESS Jean Mill, a rancher's wife who studied genetics in college, dreamed up the Bengal in the early 1960s as a S LIFE FEBRUARY 23. 2007

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