With more than 600 member clubs to its name, the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA) is a huge player in the wide, wide world of hardcore feline enthusiasts. Founded in 1906, the organization licenses hundreds of pet shows and keeps a seriously impressive research library. But above all else, the CFA is noted for being the largest pedigreed cat registry in the known universe.
It also chronicles industrywide trends. The CFA draws upon its own registration data to create an annual "Most Popular Breeds" list for the preceding year. While the 2020 and 2019 editions haven't been published yet, the 2018 results are in — and you'll never guess which housecat variant topped that list.
Was it the beguiling Siamese cat? Nope. The vociferous British shorthair, per chance? Negative. Instead, the CFA's most frequently registered cat breed of 2018 was a lovable critter known as the "ragdoll" cat. You might call it one of the new kids on the block. Unlike certain competitors with arguably ancient pedigrees, ragdolls are a modern invention.
Our tale begins in the 1960s. Early in the decade, Ann Baker — a resident of Riverside, California — bred a white angora cat named Josephine with a male feline who resembled a Birman. (That's a long-haired breed renowned for its full face and deep blue eyes.)
Three of the resulting kittens would go on to help Baker establish an all-new breed, later dubbed the ragdoll.
At one point in her life, poor Josephine had been hit by a car. She survived, but Baker claimed the accident changed the cat's genetic makeup — and had a physiological effect on her future kittens. Healthy though they were, these little animals would go limp when held, not unlike a stuffed animal or Raggedy Ann doll.
Scientifically, there's no reason to think Josephine's vehicular collision influenced the behavior (or genetics) of as-yet unborn kittens. Still, this habit of turning floppy in their owners' arms became one of the ragdoll breed's most endearing trademarks.
Like the aforementioned Siamese cats, ragdolls are "pointed." In other words, they've got tails, faces and (occasionally) feet that look darker than the rest of the body. As for the coat itself, the cat's long, silky fur invites comparisons to super-soft rabbit pelts.
Another key feature is the ragdoll's big blue eyes. Oval-shaped and slightly slanted, these peepers can be pale, dark or any shade in between — but they're always striking.
According to the CFA, female ragdolls weigh about 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kilograms) while the males can hit 20 pounds (9 kilograms) after reaching maturity. So, by feline standards, ragdolls are bona fide heavy weights.
The good news is these hefty housecats are famously laid-back. Ragdolls enjoy meeting new people and seldom exhibit aggression. When you adopt one, you'll probably wind up with a furry shadow: These amicable beasties love to follow their owners around. Being gentle, playful and somewhat extroverted, they do well with kids. And unless it's mealtime, you'll seldom hear one vocalize.
To prevent knots and tangles from appearing in the fur, owners are encouraged to groom their ragdolls on the regular. Speaking of supplies, this breed loves toys — especially small, throwable numbers they can play fetch with.
One thing you'll need to watch out for is the onset of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that often affects ragdolls. Breeders are now making efforts to minimize the spread of this malady in future generations of cats.
Cats and Celebrities
The ragdoll's merits weren't lost on Baker. An astute businesswoman, she had the name "ragdoll" trademarked and set up an international registry exclusively for this new breed. By the mid-1980s, the cats had crossed the pond, where they quickly endeared themselves to British pet-owners. Meanwhile, the CFA has been registering ragdolls since 1993, and it fully recognized the breed in the year 2000.
Baker died in 1997; after her death, the naming trademark was allowed to expire. Though Baker is no longer with us, the breed she developed is still going strong. Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift adopted a ragdoll kitten in 2019. And speaking of celebrities, Grumpy Cat — a world-famous cat whose face launched countless internet memes along with a merchandising empire — might've been part ragdoll (according to her owners).
Then there was the strange case of "Frank and Louie." Born in 1999, he was a purebred ragdoll with one body and two faces. He had twin sets of noses and mouths, along with three eyeballs (though the central one didn't work). Despite all this, Frank and Louie only possessed a single brain. Such two-faced felines are known as "Janus cats," and they're the victims of an exceedingly rare genetic disorder.
Yet while most Janus cats die young, Frank and Louie lived to the ripe old age of 15, setting a Guinness World Record in the process.