The Selkirk Rex is a medium to large cat with heavy boning that gives the cat surprising weight and an impression of power. The substantial, muscular torso is more rectangular than square, but it is not long. The back is straight with a slight rise to the hindquarters; shoulders and hips appear to be the same width. Legs are medium to long with substantial boning, and end with large, round, firm feet. The tail is medium length, in proportion to the body, heavy at the base, and neither blunt nor pointed at the tip. Males are more massive than females, but the females are not dainty. Adult males weigh 11 to 16 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 12 pounds.
The head is round and broad with full cheeks. The muzzle is medium width with well-padded whisker pads that give the impression of squareness; the underlying bone structure is rounded. The tip of the chin lines up with the tip of the nose and the upper lip in the same vertical line. The nose has a downward slant with a convex curve and is set below the eye line; the cat’s profile reveals a nose stop. The ears are medium in size, broad at the base, tapering, set well apart, and fit into the rounded contours of the head without distorting it. The eyes are large, rounded, and set well apart; the inside and outside corners of the eyes are in the same level plane. Any eye color is acceptable.
The Selkirk Rex comes in both shorthair and longhair varieties. Both coat lengths are soft, dense, full, and obviously curly. All three hair types (guard, down, and awn) curl. Even the whiskers and ear furnishings are curly. The fur is random and unstructured in loose, individual curls that appear to be in clumps or ringlets rather than an allover wave. In both longhairs and shorthairs, curliness may show more around the neck, on the tail, and on the belly. Selkirks that inherit two copies of the Selkirk gene (homozygous) have tighter curls than Selkirks that inherit only one copy (heterozygous). Although the amount of curl varies by hair length, gender, and age, the entire coat shows the effect of the Rex gene. A humid climate increases the curliness of the hair. Any genetically possible pattern, color, or combination of colors is accepted, including the pointed pattern.
The difference in the two hair lengths is most clearly seen on the ruff and tail. On shorthairs, the tail hair is the same length as the coat, which is approximately 1 to 2 inches, and the tail curls are plush and lie compactly around the tail. The ruff is the same length as the coat fur. The shorthair coat stands out from the body and is not close-lying or flat.
On longhairs, the coat texture is soft, full, and obviously curly. It doesn’t feel or look as plush as the shorthair’s coat; however, it doesn’t appear thin and is not close-lying. The coat is dense and full with no bald or thinly covered areas.
Because the gene pool is still quite small and inbreeding is a concern, Selkirks can be bred with a few other breeds. Allowable CFA outcrosses are the British Shorthair, Persian, and Exotic. However, kittens born on or after January 1, 2020, may have only Selkirk Rex parents. Breeders anticipate that by then the breed will have sufficient diversity. In CCA, the British Shorthair, Persian, Himalayan, Exotic Shorthair, and Exotic Longhair are allowable outcrosses until 2015. In TICA, allowable outcrosses are the British Breed Group, Persian Breed Group, plus the American Shorthair, although fanciers today rarely use the ASH in their breeding programs.
The first Selkirk Rex was born in 1987 in Sheridan, Montana, at a shelter called For Pet’s Sake. Curly-Q, as she was originally called, a blue-cream and white female with a curly coat resembling lamb’s wool, was given to Peggy Vorrhees of the Bozeman Humane Society, who gave her to longtime Persian breeder Jeri Newman of Livingston, Montana. Newman, fascinated by cats in general and feline genetics in particular, had made it known that she was interested in adopting cats that were in any way unusual. The young cat, as plush and huggable as a child’s stuffed toy, was certainly that.
Newman soon found that not only did the kitten have a unique coat, but she had an appealing personality. She renamed the kitten Miss DePesto because she followed Newman everywhere, begging for attention. When "Pest" came of age, Newman bred her to Photo Finish of Deekay, one of her champion black Persian males. The mating produced a litter of six, three of which had the distinctive curly coat. Because Newman had studied cat genetics, she knew that this meant the gene governing the curly coat was dominant—only one parent needed to possess the gene for the trait to appear in at least some of the offspring.
That litter also included one straight-haired longhair kitten. Interesting, Newman thought. Not only did Pest carry the dominant curly gene, but also the recessive gene for long hair. (Both parents had to possess at least one copy of the longhair gene to produce longhaired offspring.)
Newman then bred Pest to Pest’s son, a curly black and white male named Oscar Kowalski. The resulting litter of four produced three more curly kittens, including one red-point shorthair male that Newman named Snowman. This proved that Pest also carried the recessive gene for the pointed pattern, which she had passed on to her son Oscar. Clearly, Pest had a unique and diverse genetic makeup.
Newman asked for more information about Pest’s past, and was told that Miss DePesto’s mother and five littermates all had normal coats. No one knew who the father was or whether he had a curly coat, but it seemed probable that the curly coat was the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation.
Newman believed that these curly-coated cats should be developed into a recognized breed. Because of the interesting variety of genes, hair lengths, and colors and patterns, she decided that all colors and both hair types should be allowed from the start. She wrote a breed standard and, because Pest’s body type was unbalanced and not that pleasing to the eye, she based the standard on the best features of Pest and her son Oscar. With his rounded, half-Persian body style, Oscar was much closer to Newman’s ideal than his mother, and he can be found in the pedigrees of many of today’s Selkirks. Newman's standard called for a semi-cobby body style similar to the British Shorthair.
Because she didn’t want to follow the tradition of the Cornish Rex and Devon Rex—breeds named for their places of origin—Newman called the breed Selkirk, honoring her stepfather’s family name, and Rex to associate it with the other curly- and wavy-coated breeds.
Newman went on to combine the best qualities of the Persian, Himalayan, British Shorthair, American Shorthair, and Exotic Shorthair into the Selkirk bloodline. By this time, she had recruited other breeders to help further the Selkirk’s cause. She approached breeders who were working with breeds she was interested in adding to her Selkirk lines, and asked if they’d be interested in working with the new breed. Some accepted the challenge.
In 1990, only three years after the breed’s discovery, the Selkirk was presented to the TICA board of directors and was accepted into the New Breed and Color (NBC) class. This meant the cats could be registered and exhibited but could not compete for awards. Going from shelter to show cat in only three years is a testament to the uniqueness of the breed. Breeders worked hard to keep the Selkirk Rex healthy, establish a consistent physical type, widen the gene pool, and gain association acceptance. In 1992, amazingly quickly for a new breed, CFA accepted the Selkirk in the Miscellaneous class, which also gave them registration and exhibition privileges. In 1994, TICA accepted the Selkirk for championship competition. In 1998, CFA granted the breed provisional status, and in 2000 advanced the Selkirk Rex to championship. In record time the Selkirk Rex earned champion status in all North American associations except for CFF. Although numbers are still relatively small (the Selkirk ranks 25th out of the 41 breeds CFA accepts for championship, according to CFA’s 2014 registration totals), the future looks bright for this cat in sheep’s clothing.