The American Wirehair's unruly hair is a gift from Mother Nature, whose love of diversity knows no bounds. This scruffy gem of a breed is truly rare.
The American Wirehair's defining characteristic is its coat, which is unique in the cat fancy. The hair is coarse, stiff, dense, resilient, and springy to the touch. All three types of hair (down, awn, and guard) are crimped, hooked, or bent, including the whiskers and the hair inside the ears. The overall appearance of the wiring of the coat and its coarseness and resilience are more important than the crimping of each hair. The density of the wired coat leads to ringlet formation rather than waves.
The Wirehair is medium to large and moderate in type. The back is level, the shoulders and hips are the same width, and the torso is well-rounded and in proportion to the body. The head's underlying bone structure is round, with prominent cheekbones and a well-developed chin and muzzle with a slight whisker break. The eyes are set well apart, and are large, rounded, bright, and clear. The eye aperture has a slight upward tilt. Eye color should complement the coat color. Adult males weigh 8 to 11 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 9 pounds.
All colors and patterns are acceptable except those showing evidence of hybridization resulting in the colors chocolate or lavender, the pointed pattern, or these combinations with white.
The breed's ideal look can vary from association to association. For example, in CFA the Wirehair's breed standard has obvious differences from the American Shorthair's, while in TICA the Wirehair is considered part of the American Shorthair breed group and shares a common standard, except for coat texture.
Coat texture sets show quality Wirehairs apart from pet quality cats. Show quality Wirehairs are so rare and valuable that virtually all are kept for breeding. A person without experience in exhibiting and breeding will have a tough time buying one at any price. To obtain a pet quality American Wirehair, find a breeder you like and get on her waiting list. Usually a pet quality Wirehair has a coat that's too soft, or is a "straight Wire" who lacks the Wirehair gene and has an ordinary coat.
Like many new breeds, the American Wirehair began as a spontaneous mutation in the random-bred domestic cat population. In 1966, five scruffy, wiry-haired kittens were born to ordinary domestic cats on Council Rock Farm in Verona, New York. The parents, Fluffy and Bootsie, were ordinary barn cats, but Mother Nature stepped in and all five of the kittens had the distinctive coat. As fate would have it, however, all but one of the kittens were killed by a weasel, and subsequent matings between Fluffy and Bootsie produced no more Wirehairs. Whatever wizardry Mother Nature worked in that litter was a one-time deal.
However, the one surviving kitten—a red and white male appropriately named Adam—lived and prospered. Joan O'Shea of nearby Vernon, New York, an experienced breeder of Rex cats, heard about the kitten and went to have a look. She immediately realized that the long-legged, big-eared kitten was not a Rex but perhaps an entirely new breed. She bought Adam from the farm's owner and officially named him Council Rock Farm Adam of Hi-Fi.
About a year later, O’Shea provided an Eve for her Adam. Actually, her name was Tip-Toe; she was a random-bred calico cat owned by a neighbor. Tip-Toe produced two red and white females with their father’s wiry hair and two straight-coated kittens, which indicated the gene for the wiry coat was dominant. O’Shea bought the two Wirehair kittens from her neighbor and named them Aby and Amy. Aby died young, but Amy carried on in her father's tradition. All of today's Wirehairs are descendants of Adam or Amy. Unfortunately, Adam died of cystitis when he was 4, after he'd sired only three litters.
O'Shea sent samples of Adam's hair to the noted British cat geneticists Antony G. Searle and Roy Robinson for analysis, to make sure the mutation was unrelated to any other breed. Robinson told her the hair samples showed the coat was unique and not related to either the Cornish or Devon Rex. All three types of hair (guard, down, and awn) were twisted and the awn hairs were hooked at the tip.
Joan O’Shea sold Amy to Rex breeders Bill and Madeline Beck, who were instrumental in developing the American Wirehair breed and bringing it cat fancy acceptance. Together, O’Shea and the Becks created a breeding program for the Wirehair. To enlarge the limited gene pool and prevent the Wirehair from becoming inbred, they needed an appropriate outcross. Since the Wirehair arose from the American domestic cat population, they chose the American Shorthair, as it also developed from America’s random-bred cats. O’Shea and the Becks wrote the standard to reflect the American Shorthair’s conformation, except for the unique coat, for which they wrote a separate description. American Shorthairs still are used in Wirehair breeding programs, and over time, this has influenced the Wirehair's body and head type.
CFA accepted the American Wirehair for registration in 1967 and granted championship status in 1978. Since then, a handful of dedicated breeders and fanciers have kept the American Wirehair from extinction. The breed is still one of the cat fancy's best kept secrets, even though it is now accepted for championship by six of the eight North American cat associations. The American Wirehair is the rarest of the North American breeds accepted for championship status. It ranks 41st out of the 41 breeds CFA recognizes for championship, according to CFA’s 2014 registration totals.