In praise of the Russian Blue

“The Naming of Cats” in T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) might have been written for the Russian Blue. Such a unique cat demands a name that befits its character and reputation.

“But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?”

No one knows the origins of the Russian Blue. One tradition says that the sailors of Queen Elizabeth I of England brought the cat back from the Russian port of Arkhangelsk on the White Sea. As a distinct breed, the first recorded showing was in 1875 at the Crystal Palace in England and there are rumours that the Russian Blue was favoured in Russian and British royal circles. In fact, one of the first Russian Blues in England was a female, Dwina, imported by Mrs Constance Carew-Cox in 1889. After the cat died, the same lady acquired a pair of Russian Blue kittens from a breeder who had come to England from Norway. These cats – Olga, Pashoda, and Yula – actually came from Archangelsk, adding credence to the legend.

World War II nearly put an end to the Russian Blue. Unable to feed and care for their cats, breeders discontinued their work and by the end of the war there was hardly any breeding stock left. To remedy this situation, breeders used Siamese outcrosses and by 1950 the Russian Blue in England had been bred to a standard that delineated a solid blue cat with Siamese type. An unfortunate result was that the unique coat of the Russian Blue began to disappear until concerned breeders took steps to return to the original standard.

In 1907 a North American breeder imported a Russian Blue and they began to appear on the show scene. A lull followed until 1947 when Cats Magazine trumpeted the arrival of two Russian Blues as “the first in America”. Of English stock, they were crossed with Russian Blues from Denmark to create today’s North American standard: a cat with jade green eyes, a pale blue coat frosted with silver and the smile that is a distinguishing feature of the breed.

The Russian Blue is a graceful cat with a medium-sized body that is lithe and muscular. The long legs are fine boned and the cat often seems to sit with its feet crossed in a pose accentuating its line. It is known for being very intelligent, curious, and placid. Sensitive to human feelings, it enjoys playing and develops extremely loyal bonds with loved ones. Some people believe the cat is mute. In fact it makes a fine, soft, chirping sound quite unlike the more strident tone of its closest relation, the Burmese or Siamese.

The Russian Blue is also known for being shy – or aloof – around strangers. Maybe that’s because it has not been properly introduced:

“When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name.”

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