Snowshoes are often favored by people who like the Siamese look but are not fond of the extremely svelte body and head type of today’s show Siamese. When the breed was first created, the Siamese breed had not yet been refined to today’s extreme svelte appearance, and Snowshoe breeders have kept that moderate head and body conformation. Some of today’s Snowshoe breeders also breed Thai or Old Style Siamese. The Snowshoe is a medium-sized shorthaired cat with a semi-foreign body style that combines the heftiness of its American Shorthair ancestors with the body length of its Siamese ancestors. Power and agility are evident, but with the look of a runner rather than a weight lifter. The body is moderately long with surprising weight for its size, firm and muscular but neither extreme, Oriental, nor cobby. The legs are of good length with medium boning and are in proportion to the torso. The tail is medium at the base, slightly and gradually tapering to the end; the length is in proportion to the torso.
The head is a broad modified wedge shape with high-set cheekbones with gentle contours; the head is nearly as wide as it is long and resembles an equilateral triangle. The muzzle is neither extremely broad, square, nor pointed, but is in proportion to the head with a gentle break. The nose is of good length in proportion to the rest of the head. In profile, two distinct, even planes can be seen, separated by a slight stop or gentle curve at the nose bridge. The chin is firm. The ears are medium in size, alert, slightly rounded at the tips, and broad at the base. The eyes are medium in size, oval, or rounded oval with greater length than width, and slanted to the base of the ears. The eyes do not protrude. Bright, sparkling blue eyes that stand out against the contrasting color of the points are preferred; but in TICA any shade of blue is acceptable.
The coat is smooth, short to medium-short, moderately close-lying, and single-coated. As for pattern, Snowshoes are like snowflakes—no two are alike. However, color and pattern are just as important as type. In most cat associations, the Snowshoe breed standard is strict when it comes to the acceptable pattern. The ideal Snowshoe is a pointed cat, with the color of the mask, tail, ears, and legs dense, clearly defined, and all the same shade. The mask covers the entire face, except in the white areas, and may be connected to the ears by tracings. Color patterns consist of the “preferred” white patterning and “accepted” minimum/maximum white patterning. The preferred pattern consists of a white inverted “V” extending from the mouth to the whisker tufts above the eyes, with even white boots extending to the bend of the ankle on the front feet and to just below the hock on the back feet.
The acceptable minimum/maximum pattern allows as little as a pronounced solid white mustache or an unbroken blaze, to a "V" as broad as halfway under the eyes with or without a white chin. The front feet have white toes to as high as the dewclaw, and the back feet are white from 1/4 inch above the toes to as high as 1/4 inch above the hock joint at its point. White on the feet should be as even and regular as possible on both the front and back feet.
In TICA, however, two patterns are accepted: mitted and bicolor. In mitted, the ideal cat is about one-quarter white with white limited to the paws, back legs, chest, and chin. The ideal bicolor has an inverted white V on the face that begins at the middle of the forehead and continues to the muzzle. White areas are usually on the legs, thighs, chest, and chin; the bicolor is usually one-quarter to one-half white, with less white preferred. TICA’s standard also allows for more variation in pattern in show-quality cats. Some Snowshoes that are considered pet quality in the other associations can be shown for championship in TICA.
Allowed point color also depends upon the association. Most associations accept only seal point and blue point, while TICA also accepts chocolate, lilac, cinnamon, fawn, red, and cream. In addition, TICA accepts patterns of tortie point and white and lynx point (tabby point) and white, and silver or smoke point and white.
Adult males weigh 9 to 12 pounds; adult females weigh 7 to 10 pounds. Females have finer boning. Depending upon the association, allowable outcrosses are American Shorthairs and Siamese, although most breeders don’t use the American Shorthair. The Thai or Old Style Siamese is often used as an outcross, because the body and head types are much closer to the Snowshoe ideal than that of the Extreme Siamese.
In the early 1960s, Siamese breeder Dorothy Hinds-Daugherty of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found three unique kittens in an otherwise ordinary Siamese litter. These kittens had the Siamese pointed pattern, but each also had four white mittens (white paws). Most breeders would be horrified to find the white spotting factor (controlled by a gene responsible for mittens and other white spots) in their purebred Siamese litters because it’s not supposed to be there, but Hinds-Daugherty was charmed by the look of these tiny nonconformists. Because the happy mistake was never again repeated by accident, she set out to reproduce the look by breeding a seal point Siamese with a bicolor American Shorthair (then called the Domestic Shorthair). The resulting offspring lacked the Siamese pointed pattern, because both parents must possess the recessive gene for the pattern to appear in the offspring; two copies of a recessive gene, one from each parent, are necessary for offspring to exhibit the trait. By breeding the resulting kittens to Siamese mates, however, she achieved the desired result. She named the new breed Snowshoe, because the kittens looked like they had just romped through glistening snow. Continued breeding with bicolor American Shorthairs produced a variety with a white splash in the shape of an inverted V on the nose and muzzle. She promoted her new and as-yet-unrecognized breed at local shows. Contrary to some early published sources, the Snowshoe is not a shorthaired Birman and has never been outcrossed to the Birman or the Ragdoll.
After a few years, Hinds-Daugherty abandoned her breeding program. Fortunately for Snowshoe fans, breeder Vikki Olander of Norfolk, Virginia, continued working with the breed. She wrote a breed standard, recruited other breeders, and in 1974 obtained experimental status with CFF and the American Cat Association (ACA).
By 1977, however, Olander was the only Snowshoe breeder left, as one by one the breeders dropped out, despairing of ever producing Snowshoes that would meet the standard. After struggling for three years to keep the breed going, Olander was ready to quit, too. Help arrived just in time; Jim Hoffman of Defiance, Ohio, and Georgia Kuhnell of Cincinnati, Ohio, contacted CFF for information about the Snowshoe and CFF referred them to Olander, the only breeder left who was registered with them. Hoffman and Kuhnell took up the challenge and recruited new enthusiasts to work with the breed. Olander gave up the effort in 1989 because her fiancé was allergic to cats, but by then other dedicated breeders had joined the elite group.
Ultimately, persistence paid off. CFF granted championship status in 1982. Breeder Maia Sornson of Iowa joined the group in the early 1980s and was instrumental in advancing the breed to ACFA championship in 1990. TICA accepted the breed for championship in 1993. Today, most North American cat associations recognize the breed for championship status, the notable exceptions being CFA and CCA. Breeders are working on gaining recognition for the Snowshoe in the CFA Miscellaneous class, the first step toward possible championship acceptance.