Norwegian Forest Cat

Freya, for whom the F in TGIF is named, is the Norse goddess of beauty, love, fertility and, on the odd occasion, battle and death. Not

to be confused with Frigg, the goddess of marriage, who prefers gauche-white limousines,Freya often goes traveling in a chariot hitched

to a team of cats -- when she isn't riding on a golden-bristled boar. Cat lovers contend that Freya rolls out her cats and chariot in the

service of love and fertility, reserving the pig for less savory occupations. What's more, say Norwegian forest cat fanciers, the cats

providing the horsepower for Freya's runabout are the mythological antecedents of the Norwegian forest cat.

 

Norwegian Woods

 

On the physical plane the Norwegian forest cat, Wegie for short, is a naturally occurring breed whose domain comprises the farms and

woodland of central Norway, which territory lies roughly between the 59th and 62nd degrees north latitude. That's only a snowball's

throw from the Arctic Circle, which begins at 66.5 degrees north latitude. (The only one of the United States that lies above the 59th

parallel is Alaska.)

 

The rough winters of Norway nurtured the forest cat's vitality, resourcefulness and sensible, semi-long, water-repellent coat. In order to

master his trying domain the Wegie was also obliged to develop a diehard, constitutional resilience to the harsh, wet climate that rewards

the survivors of one winter by allowing them the opportunity to survive another.

 

Some observers theorize that forest cats are the products of fraternization between shorthaired cats brought to Norway from England by

the Vikings 1,000 years ago and longhaired cats imported by the Crusaders in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Others challenge the

notion that Crusaders returned from their missionary endeavors with any cats. Still others assert that Norwegian Vikings, who reigned

havoc on the coasts of Europe and beyond from the 8th to the 10th centuries, kept forest cats as mousers and pets. Some of these cats

were introduced to the lands toured by the Vikings, thus helping to an extent to restore the balance of trade with those lands. The Vikings'

talent for disseminating cats is credited by some for the presence of semiferal longhair cats in places such as Normandy and the North

Atlantic coastal regions of the United States.

 

Hindsight being no less subject to flights of fancy than is foresight, some people have constructed links between the Norwegian forest cat

and the Norwegian lynx. "The most apparent of these," says one lynxologist, are similarities in size, ruffs and ear tufts. "Moreover they

both like water, and the stories of swimming forest cats who catch their own fish in lakes and rivers are innumerable. The forest cat

evidently utilizes the same methods as the Norwegian lynx when it goes fishing."

 

Finally, some Wegie advocates put their own spin on the history of feline domestication: "We do not know ... when it [the Wegie] first

approached people and joined the ancient tribes in their wanderings."

 

Whatever the forest cat's origin the earliest references to cats that resemble today's Wegies are found in Norwegian folk tales that were

gathered and recorded between 1837 and 1852. Another reference to the forest cat occurs in Norwegian author Gabriel Scott's Sølvfaks,

a popular children's book published in 1912. The central character in Sølvfaks (silver fox) is a forest cat of the same name.

 

Truls Rules

Truls NFC prototype

 

For all but the last 20 years or so the forest cat has been a prophet without pulpit -- or papers -- in Norway. The Wegie was left to his

considerable devices outdoors while those two-legged Norwegians who succumbed to the spell of the show ring sought the indoor

company of Persians, Siamese and other members of the pedigreed fraternity. There had been a few desultory attempts to promote forest

cats -- a red-and-white Norwegian male was shown in Norway in 1930, and a forest-cat club was started in 1938 -- but World War II

plowed these tender shoots under and kept the breed from blossoming for several decades.

 

To make a worsening situation worse yet, continued postwar breeding between forest cats and shorthair hauskatts, the equivalent of our

free-ranging domestic felines, almost stopped the Wegie's progress cold. Short hair being dominant over long, breedings between

shorthair and longhair cats will produce only shorthair kittens, unless the shorthair parent is carrying the recessive gene for long hair.

 

Fortunately in the early 1970s Carl-Fredrik Nordane, then president of the Norwegian Cat Association, began lobbying on the Wegie's

behalf. He organized a meeting at which the initial forest cat breeding program was designed, and he helped to charter the

Norskskogkattering, a forest-cat breed club that held its first meeting in February 1975. Two and a half years later Nordane traveled to

Paris to plead the Wegies' case before the general assembly of the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe), a cat registry that governs

shows and related matters in Europe and other parts of the world. Norway's quarantine laws precluded bringing any Wegies in living

color to Paris, but on November 25, 1977, Nordane showed the FIFe assembly slides of two forest cats with certifiably winning

names: Truls and Pippi Skogpus. Truls, a brown-tabby-and-white male, has been called "a glorious specimen ... the first prototype of the

Norwegian Forest Cat breed."

 

The FIFe board of directors must have agreed. They voted to admit Wegies to the ranks of pedigreed cats eligible to compete for the

greater honor and glory of their owners at cat shows. When Nordane returned in triumph to Oslo the following night, flags were flying,

music was blaring and 40 cars' worth of Norwegian Cat Fancy Council members were conducting a joyous, horn-honking line dance.

 

Every Figure Tells a Story

 

Two years to the month after its November 1977 anointment by FIFe, the Norwegian forest cat arrived in the United States. Sixteen

months later (March 29, 1981) the first Norwegian litter born in this country was delivered. By 1984 the forest cat was accepted for

championship competition by the first of several North American cat-registering associations. Today it is eligible to compete in the shows

of all cat registries here.

 

During the six years following the birth of the first Norwegian forest cats in this country, 350 members of the breed were registered with

various cat associations. That works out to fewer than 60 new registrations per year. Such are the numbers of what the cat fancy calls

minority breeds. There were, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), only seven breeds out of the 31 it recognized in 1987

that had fewer than 100 new registrations that year. Since then the forest cat population has grown. In 1997, four years after CFA had

recognized Wegies, it enrolled 508 new forest cats. This number, which represented an increase of 9 percent over the preceding year,

came at a time when the registrations of many pedigreed breeds -- and of pedigreed cats as a tribe -- were declining significantly. (The

Wegie stood 17th among the 36 breeds recognized by CFA last year.)

 

The Bottom Lines

 

Since it was given the keys to the pedigree-cat club's lounge two decades ago in Europe, the Skogkatt, as the Wegie is known in the

land of its birth, has traveled from footnote to spotlight. Referred to as a "living national cultural monument" by many of its fans -- and

declared "the hottest breed in America's cat fancy" by a Chicago Tribune writer five years ago -- the Norwegian forest cat is a tactile

pleasure as well as a visual and temperamental delight.

 

According to Norse folklore there was once a forest cat so heavy that the fearsome Thor -- the mighty god of thunder, the Bad, Bad Leroy

Brown of all the gods -- could not lift the prodigious feline. Whether or not Thor could lift a Norwegian forest cat, it's safe to say he

couldn't resist petting one.

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