Fanciers say that to fully appreciate your first sighting of the Poodle Cat, you must put aside all preconceived notions of what a cat should look like. The Devon Rex’s large oval eyes; prominent cheekbones; huge, low-set ears; and short, wavy fur create an unparalleled appearance. Like all the Rex breeds, the Devon’s wavy coat was created by Mother Nature’s magic wand—spontaneous mutation.
The Devon Rex has a medium-fine frame and a hard, muscular body that’s lithe and of medium length. Broad in chest and medium fine in boning, the Devon has long, slim legs ending with small, oval paws. The body is carried high on the legs with the hind legs somewhat longer than the front, making the Devon a strong jumper. The tail is long, fine, tapering, and well covered with short fur. Males generally weigh 8 to 10 pounds; females weigh 5 to 8 pounds.
The head is a modified wedge shape, slightly longer than it is broad, set on a medium-long slender neck. The face has pronounced cheekbones, a short muzzle, prominent whisker pads, and a whisker break. In profile, the nose has a strongly marked stop; the forehead curves back to a flat skull. Whiskers are short, curly, and sparse. The Devon Rex’s satellite dish ears are strikingly large, very wide at the base, and set low so that the outside base of the ear extends beyond the line of the wedge. They taper to rounded tips and are well covered with fine fur.
The large, wide-set, oval eyes slope toward the outer edges of the ears. Any eye color is acceptable, since no points are awarded for eye color. However, pointed pattern Devons usually have blue eyes and minks generally have aqua eyes.
Often confused with the Cornish Rex, the only real similarity between the two breeds is the rexed coat, and even that is different. While the Cornish Rex coat lacks guard hairs, the Devon Rex’s coat has all three hair types: guard, awn and down. However, the Devon’s guard hairs are fragile and stunted, and the whiskers are often shorter and sometimes missing altogether. All coat colors and patterns are accepted.
The Devon Rex’s coat is soft, fine, full-bodied, and rexed; a rippled wave effect should be apparent when the coat is smoothed with the hand. The wave is most evident where the coat is the longest. The coat is short on the back, sides, upper legs, and tail, and very short on the head, ears, neck, paws, chest, and abdomen. The cat is well covered with fur, with the greatest density on the back, sides, tail, legs, face, and ears. Slightly less density is allowed on the top of the head, neck, chest, and abdomen. Bare patches are faults in kittens and adult cats; extensive baldness is a disqualifying fault.
The Devon Rex breed can be traced back to a single cat. In 1960, a cat lover named Beryl Cox of Buckfastleigh, a small town in the large county of Devon in southwest England, noticed a curly-haired feral tom cat living in the deserted tin mine near her home. In due time, this curly transient fathered the kittens of a straight-coated calico female who delivered her renowned litter in Cox’s garden. One of the kittens took after his father, and had the same short, curly coat.
Cox, quite taken with the pixie-like kitten’s huge ears and deep brown curls, adopted him and named him Kirlee. Aware of the Cornish Rex, another curly-coated breed that 10 years earlier had been discovered in Cornwall (a county bordering Devon), Cox contacted the breeders and told them about Kirlee. After taking a look at Kirlee, they were overjoyed, since at that time the Cornish Rex was literally dying for breeding males. They encouraged Cox to allow Kirlee to join the breeding program, and she reluctantly parted with her beloved companion, selling him to Cornish Rex breeder Brian Sterling-Webb.
However, to the great disappointment of all concerned, it soon became apparent that Kirlee was not a Cornish Rex because matings between Kirlee and Cornish Rex queens produced nothing but litter after litter of straight-coated kittens. Kirlee clearly didn’t have the same genetic makeup as the Cornish Rex. Finally, Kirlee was bred to one of his straight-coated daughters, Broughton Golden Rain, and the resulting litter contained two straight-coated kittens and one curly blue-cream female. The breeders didn’t have a new Cornish Rex breeding male; they had an entirely new breed—the Devon Rex, named for the breed’s place of origin. (Later, the genes responsible for the two coat types were discovered: The gene for the Cornish Rex’s coat was named rex gene I, while the gene for the coat of the Devon Rex was named rex gene II.)
They also realized that the gene for Kirlee’s curls was recessive, or else some of those early litters would have contained curly kittens, since only one copy of a dominant gene is needed for the trait to show up in the physical appearance. This made it likely that Kirlee’s parents were related, since a recessive gene must be acquired from both parents for the offspring to exhibit the trait. In 1967, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy of Great Britain (GCCF) recognized the Devon Rex as a separate breed.
In 1968, Marion White of Texas masterminded the Devon Rex’s first North American breeding program by purchasing two breeding Devons from England. In 1969, Shirley Lambert of Texas imported two seal point Devons of her own, the first pointed pattern Devons in North America. White and Lambert imported several more Devons and worked together to promote and increase the breed. In 1972, ACFA became the first American association to recognize the Devon Rex for championship. Over the next 10 years, Devon Rex breeding programs started all over the United States and Canada as more people learned about these purring pixies.
The Cornish Rex had been accepted for championship status in CFA in 1964, and at first, the registry balked at recognizing the Devon as a separate breed; it decreed that all curly-coated cats were to be registered under the blanket name of Rex. This didn’t please Cornish or Devon breeders, since the genetic incompatibility of the two breeds and the differences in type were well known. Devon breeders didn’t want to be forced to breed to fit the Cornish Rex breed standard and lose that elvish charm. After years of persuasion by breeders, CFA relented in 1979 and accepted the Devon for separate registration. That year, the Devon was also accepted for championship by the recently formed TICA. Finally, the Devon Rex achieved CFA championship status in 1983. Today, the Devon Rex is accepted by all North American cat associations.
Because the gene pool is still relatively small, Devons are outcrossed with other breeds to widen the gene pool and keep it healthy. Acceptable outcrosses vary depending upon the association. For example, in CFA, American Shorthairs and British Shorthairs are allowable outcrosses. However, kittens born on or after May 1, 2028 can have only Devon Rex parents if they are to be shown in that association. In TICA, in addition to the American Shorthair and British Shorthair, European Shorthair, Burmese, Bombay, Sphynx, and Siamese are also allowable outcrosses, although few breeders use most of these breeds. No cutoff date has yet been set. Since the purpose of outcrossing is to provide new bloodlines and widen the gene pool while keeping the traits for which the Devon Rex is celebrated, breeders carefully choose prospective partners for their Devons. Usually, they are not looking for outstanding examples of the outcross breeds, but rather those that have desirable Devon characteristics. Outcrossing with, say, a grand champion Extreme Siamese would cause a considerable change in head and body type of the Devon. Fanciers say that today’s Devons look very much as they did 30 years ago because breeders are dedicated to maintaining the original characteristics of the breed.
Since the beginning, Devons have been a hit among the cat-loving public because of their loving personalities and pixie appearance. Popularity and demand have grown, and breed numbers along with them. According to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the Devon Rex ranks seventh most popular shorthair, and tenth most popular breed overall.