The Cape Breton Bobtail

Several years ago my parents bought a new summer home on an island at the south end of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  Chatting with my mother (a retired cat breeder), she mentioned that the cats on the island were unusual.  Many had no tails and as we chatted we realized that many tailless cats have something in common:  island habitats.  Japan:  Japanese Bobtails.  Isle of Man:  Manx and now Cymrics.  Kuril Islands:  Kurilian Bobtail and now one of the Cape Breton islands:  the Cape Breton Bob.  (In fact, I have also found references to bob-tailed cats in New York state as early as 1921.)  My mother told me the cats ran wild on the island and while I have often wondered about the cats and their ancestry, I didn't ever visit until this year -- my parent's Golden Wedding anniversary.  Even so, the cats nearly slipped my mind until we were driving out to the point to get eggs.  As we drove out past the deep blue sea and rocky shores, I asked my mother about the cats -- but she hadn't seen any that year.  In fact the colony she had observed out near one of the other beaches seemed to have completely disappeared.

As we stood chatting, a lovely blue tortie and white semi-longhair appeared -- being a cat person I had to pet her :-) and we quickly drifted into a conversation about the cat as we waited for our eggs.  I learned that blue tortie and white cats (and possibly all tortie and whites) are known locally as "money cats" because of all the different colors -- guess it reminds people of our local Canadian currency which has different colors depending on the denomination of the bill.  And then they mentioned her daughter -- another cat named Bob because of her tail.  Yup, one of the elusive bobtails a mile or two from where my mother had seen the original bobtailed cats.  Bob was in a cage down near the shore because she is an intact female that they didn't want to have a litter of kittens.  Her sire was their red male who was nowhere to be seen but who had a full length tail.  Bob was the only bobtailed kitten in a litter of 4 born to tailed parents -- in other words, the bobtail gene was a recessive one and both parents must be carrying it.


Bob and Owner (Linda) beside Bob's cage next to the ocean.



Off we went to see Bob.  Fortunately I had a new digital camera and was able to take some pictures -- as well as making sure that they were captured correctly.  There she was in a cage beside the crab fishing gear by the sea -- another blue tortie and white but this time without a tail!  You can see the ocean and rocky shore right behind where she was confined along with the fishing equipment -- and you can clearly see her short tail.  She is not completely tailless -- and based on other conversations I don't think there are any completely tailless cats like the modern show Manx and Cymrics however you can also see that the bobtail is not kinked into a pom-pom like the Japanese Bobtail.  Body structure is more similar in proportions to the Japanese Bobtail however you can see there is good depth through the flank and height on the sound legs.  Her coat had a plush denseness to it and was very soft -- I had expected a harder, water-repellent texture to the coat of cats living outdoors in a northern climate beside the ocean.  Bob is essentially a shorthaired cat however there is enough length to it for the perpetual winds to ruffle it lightly and you can see some of the longer hairs slightly ruffled in the photo.  The picture to the right shows the depth to her flank and her gentle profile -- body style and head style are midway between the elegant parallel lines of the Japanese Bobtail and the round circles of the Cymric and Manx.  Note, too, how her little tail is always held upright.


Bob's Body showing tail length, position and depth of flank.


You can see the puffiness of the hair on the tail creating the pom-pom effect however this was not created from a set of kinks like the Japanese Bobtail.  Since Bob was the only example of the cats that I saw and handled, I don't know if this is true of all the Cape Breton Bobs.  I also don't know if they were of varying lengths of bobbed tail. You can see the softness of the coat and see how the wind has parted slightly.  You can also see the length of the coat beside the fingers along with the soft texture and density of the double coat.  

Bob's head (below) has a very gentle profile and a good depth of chin.  There was nice breadth in the head and the ears cornered it however they didn't really create the "cradle rocker" ear set of the Manx family. 

The gene involved is certainly a recessive--both Bob's parents were tailed cats.  The mother was the blue tortie I had first seen and the father was a tailed red tabby.  Bob was one of a litter of 4 and was the only kitten with a bobbed tail.  The islanders call the cats "bobs" and they seem to be a relatively common site on the island.  The original community of cats my mother had seen seems to have disappeared.  However the gentlemen who had cared for them did have a couple of cats left and was expecting a litter of kittens which may or may not have kittens with bobbed tails. 





Later that evening we were talking with some friends of my parents--long time residents of the community.  They said that they had noticed that there were far fewer cats around than there had been in previous years although they seemed to be coming back again.  They had, in fact, had a family discussion about it a month or two earlier when the son looked out the window and saw a cat running across the bottom of the garden--one of the "bobs".  From this I'd assume that the gene is also spread throughout the domestic population on the island and so it will be there for some time to come.  While I was quite vigilant looking for cats wandering around with bobbed tails, I was only visiting for a few days and didn't see any cats other than Bob--even my cousin from England kept asking me "Did you see that cat?  Did it have a tail?".  I'm hoping my parents will also keep an eye out for more examples of these cats and take some pictures-- as I find out more about the cats, I'll try to provide updates.  I'd also be interested in knowing if anyone else has heard about these cats or found any documented information about them.  I do plan to comb the Cape Breton literature to see if I can find references to them but I certainly haven't found any references in any publication in my collection of cat books and magazines.