When you first glimpse the LaPerm, you might think you’re seeing a kitty just back from the hairdresser. However, only Mother Nature has styled this breed’s curly locks. The breed's whiskers and eyebrows are curly, too. This breed is moderate in size with medium to medium-fine boning, and seems to walk tall on its feet. When lifted, you’ll notice the breed has surprising weight for its size. The hips are slightly higher than the shoulders.
The head is a modified wedge with rounded contours. Whisker pads appear full and rounded, with a moderate to strong whisker pinch, and with long, flexible whiskers. The neck is erect and medium long in proportion to the body. The ears are slightly flared and cupped, medium to large in size, and placed to continue the wedge lines of the head. They are rounded at the tips with full furnishings and earmuffs (with lynx tipping on longhairs.)
The medium-large eyes are moderately far apart, slightly slanted to the outside base of the ear, and appear almond shaped when relaxed, rounder when alert. Eye color has no relation to coat color; all eye colors are accepted.
The legs are medium-fine boned and medium long to match the body length. The hind legs may be slightly longer than the forelegs. The tail is in proportion to the body, tapering in shape, with the longhair's tail generally curly and plumed and the shorthair's wavy and more like a bottle brush. Adult males weigh between 7 and 10 pounds; females weigh between 5 and 8 pounds. The breed matures in two to three years; females tend to mature sooner than males.
The adult’s curly coat is moderately soft and not wiry. In general, the coat is springy, free of matting, light and airy enough to part with a breath, and stands away from the body in waves or ringlet curls. Curls are preferred over waves. The perfect cat will have a moderately soft but textured coat that will be loose and bouncy, standing away from the body. The longhair adult has a medium to long coat with an almost unkempt appearance known as the Gypsy Shag look, and both males and females may have a full neck ruff at maturity. The shorthair adult coat is short to medium in length, may be harder in texture and need not have a ruff, ringlets or earmuffs. The tail fur isn’t plumed but may be wavy. The coat may vary in both length and fullness by season and the cat’s maturity. Both lengths are accepted in any genetically possible color or pattern, including the pointed pattern.
In both CFA and TICA, outcrossing with domestic longhairs and domestic shorthairs that are not members of recognized breeds is allowed to expand the gene pool and keep the breed healthy. In CFA, however, a cutoff date has been established. LaPerm kittens born on or after January 1, 2020 can have only LaPerm parents.
In summer 1982, on a 10-acre cherry orchard in The Dalles, Oregon, a gray tabby barn cat named Speedy gave birth to a litter of six kittens. The owners, Linda and Richard Koehl, noticed that one of the kittens looked very different from her littermates. Instead of the fine down that covered the bodies of her siblings, she was completely bald. She weighed less than her littermates but had a longer body and larger ears. Linda Koehl thought she was the ugliest kitten in the world and would soon die.
The kitten thrived, however, and at about eight weeks of age, soft, curly hair began sprouting from her body. Linda Koehl appropriately named her Curly. As Curly grew, Koehl found that Curly not only had a unique coat but also had such a charming personality that she found herself becoming a bonafide cat person—quite a step for someone who had previously owned cats only for their mouse-catching abilities.
Curly, a tabby like her dam, soon produced her own litter of five male tabby kittens, all of whom were bald at birth. Like their mother, all soon grew coats of curly hair. Although Linda Koehl didn’t know it at the time, the curly coat is governed by a dominant gene, so only one parent needs the gene to pass on the trait to at least some of the offspring.
As soon as they were able, the five toms enthusiastically set about to increase the curly crowd. One of the males hiked across the street to mate with a neighbor’s black shorthaired female. The result was five more curly kittens, all of whom Koehl obtained and added to the rapidly increasing clowder of curly-haired cats. According to the CFA-associated LaPerm Fanciers International, another neighbor presented Koehl with a litter of curly Siamese-patterned kittens, which meant Curly or her unknown mate possessed the recessive gene for the pointed pattern. Over the next five years, Linda Koehl made no effort to curb Curly and her offspring—she just let nature take its course. Since nature dictates that domestic cats reproduce at an amazingly fast pace, Koehl soon had a large and diverse colony of curlies, both long and short hair, in a plethora of colors and patterns. Unfortunately, Curly disappeared one night and never returned, but her legacy continued.
After reading up about cat breeds, Linda Koehl realized how unique her cats were and decided to introduce them to the cat fancy. She named the breed LaPerm, which she says implies "wavy" in several languages. In 1992, she took four LaPerms to a CFA show in Portland, Oregon. Her cage of curly cats was soon surrounded by a crowd of curious and captivated cat fanciers.
Motivated by the cat fanciers’ enthusiasm at the show, Koehl started attending shows regularly. With the help of geneticists and other breeders who were also enthralled and helped her out, she established her Kloshe Cattery, wrote a breed standard, began a breeding program, and started the long and involved process of gaining recognition for the LaPerm. Other breeders quickly joined the curly campaign. TICA, the second largest North American cat association, recognized the breed for championship in 2002. CFA, the largest, promoted the LaPerm to championship status in May 2008, and ACFA accepted the LaPerm for championship in May of 2011. UFO advanced the breed to NBC in 2011. The other North American associations are likely to follow in the years to come.
The LaPerm has caught fire in many other countries as well. The breed has championship status in FIFe and WCF (international), LOOF (France), GCCF (United Kingdom), SACC (South Africa), ACF and CCCA (Australia), and CATZ Inc. and NZCF (New Zealand), among other associations.