The Ragdoll History: 5 Decades in the making
The beginning of the Ragdoll breed is just as controversial and shrouded in myths as the breed itself. The recorded history is somewhat confusing and full of contradictions, some parts of it even proven to be impossible. There are some elements that we know for certain, though; the Ragdoll was founded in Riverside California in the 60’s by a woman named Ann Baker, and the foundation cat of the breed was an ordinary non-pedigree cat called Josephine.
Ann Baker was a breeder of Persian cats, mostly blacks, before she started working on Ragdolls. Josephine was a white, long-haired cat who belonged to Baker’s neighbour Mrs. Pennels. Like many cats in the area, Josephine was half feral and she often produced kittens. At one time Josephine was hit by a car and Ann Baker’s neighbours, who worked at the local university, rescued her and she was nursed back to health. During this time Josephine had to stay indoors and she became somewhat tamer. When she had her next litter, the kittens were born in the house where Ann Baker first noticed them.
Josephine’s previous kittens had been half wild like Josephine herself, but after the road accident they were quite the opposite. They were very relaxed and social; in fact Mrs. Pennels regarded them as a real nuisance! It is not quite clear what exactly was so different in those kittens and how they came to be that way. One theory goes that the road accident changed Josephine’s genes, which is quite impossible. Ann Baker also claimed at one point that Josephine was “fixed” at the university after the accident and she had new genes inserted in her; this would have been impossible in the 60’s, even if someone would have had a good reason to do so. Another theory suggests that Josephine had a mutation in her reproductive cells, which is possible in theory, but highly unlikely since there must be more than one gene responsible for the kitten’s temperament. In any case Ann saw something so special about the kittens that she eventually decided to use them for creating a new breed.
The first Josephine’s kitten Ann acquired was Buckwheat, a black female that looked somewhat like a Burmese. Ann was later given another daughter of Josephine, a bi-colour she called Raggedy Ann Fugianna. The father of Fugianna was mitted Daddy Warbucks, a son of Josephine’s, owned by Mrs. Pennels. All these cats were Josephine’s offspring, but they probably all had different sires. Ann was very impressed by the looks of Daddy Warbucks, who had the appearance of a Birman with a nose blaze and a white tip on the tail. It was this cat that Ann called the “Father of the true Ragdoll look”, she borrowed him often for her Ragdoll breeding program. These three cats are the foundation stock of Ragdolls, for Ann never had a chance to get any more Josephine’s kittens. When Josephine had her next litter, the owner’s husband had Josephine and her kittens destroyed.
Ann promoted the breed with ads and fliers and soon Ragdolls started to have the attention of the media. When the breeding program was well established, Ann Baker did something unheard of in the world of cat fancy; she trademarked the Ragdoll name, and other Ragdoll breeders had to make a contract and pay royalty fees for every kitten they sold. Ann also started a registry called the International Ragdoll Cat Association (IRCA), which was not connected to the big cat associations. Ann had very strict breeding policies, which other breeders had to follow in order to get the kittens registered as “real” Ragdolls. In time Ann also started to make very strange, if not downright amusing claims. For example she said that Ragdolls had human or raccoon genes, they were immune to pain and fear and they were the last link between humans and space aliens! The relationships between Ann and other Ragdoll breeders got tense and many gave up and quit. Finally a group of breeders got tired of the arrangement and decided to split from IRCA and start to work on getting Ragdolls accepted by the major cat fancy associations. The most instrumental figures on this were Laura and Danny Deyton, who luckily had obtained their Ragdolls before Ann’s breeding policies were implemented, and were technically free to follow their own breeding program.
The Ragdoll Society, which was later changed to the Ragdoll Fancier’s Club and then to the present Ragdoll Fanciers´ Club International (RFCI), was established in 1971 to promote the breed in the biggest cat associations so that Ragdolls could be shown more widely. In 1967 Ragdolls were first recognized in the USA and in 1981 Ragdolls were first exported to overseas. Due to its curious name and the strange myths associated with them, Ragdolls were often represented in the mainstream media and more and more people got interested in the breed. The fame has had its drawbacks though; many cat associations refused to accept the breed for a long time because it was considered inhumane to breed a cat that didn’t feel fear or couldn’t protect itself! Fortunately these misunderstandings have mostly been corrected by now and the Ragdoll has become perhaps the largest-growing cat breed in the history of the cat fancy!
Today the Ragdoll is still a relatively rare breed, but the number of Ragdolls and breeders is growing very rapidly. Ann Baker died in 1997, feeling bitter and betrayed for the rest of her life. The Ragdoll trademark and IRCA remained active after her death, and there are still both IRCA and non-IRCA Ragdolls on the market. IRCA is still not associated with any of the major cat associations, and because the IRCA breeders are not allowed to register in any other associations, the number of breeders is very small and continues to drop. RFCI is also still functional. Right now Ragdolls are accepted by all cat associations, with many breeders breeding newer colors and patterns to the breed.