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A Very Rare Cat Who Loves to Swim

Turkish Van

The Turkish Van Cat is an ancient, natural, longhaired domestic cat breed that originated near Lake Van in Turkey. The breed is extremely rare distinguished by the van color pattern, where color is limited to the head and tail, and the rest of the cat is white. This is due to the emergence of the “piebald white spotting gene.” Renowned for its love of swimming which is highly unusual for a cat, the Turkish Van is fond of water as a pig is fond of mud.

Beyond its unique relationship with water, this cat offers a number of other interesting characteristics. A large burly cat, it is extremely exuberant especially when it’s time to eat. Famous for its maniacal bursts of energy, this cat will keep you jumping, as it impresses you with its superior intelligence and loquacious conversation. Domineering and extremely bossy, the Turkish Van will want to rule the roost regardless of how small it may seem in comparison to your other much larger pets.

How this delightful feline was created is shrouded in mystery and folklore. One story dates back 5,000 years to the time of Noah’s Ark, which upon arrival at Mount Arafat in Turkey, resulted in the exodus of two white and red cats who dove from the ark and swam to land. When the Great Flood receded, the cats pioneered to Lake Van, about 75 miles south—where they lived happily ever after. For thousands of years these cats have resided in the Middle East, in regions which border Turkey.

Perhaps these cats love water because their homeland is so hot. Everyone knows cats detest getting wet but uniquely, the Turkish Van’s lush coat repels water which probably makes swimming a pleasurable experience, especially to cool off. Today’s Vans who now live indoors in the United States may lack a place to swim but still show an intense fascination with the toilet, the bathtub and impudently spilling the water from their water bowls.

If depictions of cats in artwork from ancient periods are accurate, then the Turkish Van cat may be one of the oldest natural breeds still in existence.

Modern development efforts in 1955 discovered that this cat will breed “true.” A program to further the lineage in Great Britain where the cat was unknown meant many trips to Turkey, lengthy quarantine periods, much patience and extensive perseverance. But the hard work paid off in 1969 when the Turkish Van was given full pedigree status by the British GCCF (the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy).

The gene pool thrives because until recently, it mainly used cats imported from the Lake Van area of Turkey. Imported Vans have had no human breeding intervention and are quite robust and healthy. No other breed is allowed to be mixed in, and all registered Turkish Vans can trace their ancestry back to imported cats from the original area. In 1985, TICA (The International Cat Association) granted the Turkish Van Championship status. The CFA (the Cat Fanciers’ Association) accepted the breed for registration in 1988, and for Championship showing in 1994. Since then, CFA has registered only approximately one hundred Vans born each year in the US, making them one of the rarest of cat breeds.

Today, Turkish Vans are being preserved by the Turkish College of Agriculture in conjunction with the Ankara Zoo, the longtime breeder of the Turkish Angora. Vans are no longer permitted to be exported from Turkey, so most of the current breeding stock now comes from Europe.

In the Lake Van region and surrounding areas, the Van is highly revered as a cat of outstanding hardiness, wonderful temperament, and lovely fur. Turkish Van breeders who can produce the "thumbprint of God" pattern in these cats are highly respected, since there is a large Muslim population in Turkey. Cats with a colored patch between the shoulder blades referred to as the Mark of Allah – a trait similar to the dark-colored “M” that appears on the foreheads of some other breeds – are considered blessed by God.

Differentiating this cat from all others is its coloration traits which result from a piebald spotting gene. As a consequence, the Van’s extremities have color but its body is pure white. Classic colors include red tabby on the head and tail but other colors are also accepted including Black, Blue, Brown, etc. Eyes can be blue, amber or odd (meaning two eyes of different colors.) Unlike other white cats who also have blue eyes, deafness does not accompany this genetic marking.

Because of the significant seasonal weather swings of Lake Van which is about five thousand feet above sea level, the Turkish Van cat has had to survive through adaptation. Its coat is comprised of only awn hair which functions to provide the warmth of the down layer which is usually close to the skin as well as the protection of the guard portion of the coat which is usually the outer layer. In this cat’s case, the awn layer has the voluptuous texture of rabbit fur which keeps the cat warm or cool while being simultaneously water-resistant. To combat the winter’s severe cold, the cat has grown a full, thick ruff around its neck in addition to a prominent, bushy tail. The coat will shed during the hot summers, but the full tail is kept all year long.

The Turkish Van represents some of the largest of cat breeds. With broad shoulders and a buxom build, this cat is very muscular. Males can reach sixteen pounds, females up to fourteen, with some measuring three feet in length. So massive are their paws and strong are their limbs that, like Superman, they can easily attain great heights in a single bound. The Van is very slow to mature, however, needing from three to five years to achieve complete development!

Valedictorians in their class of cats, Turkish Van cats are aggressive and savvy, manipulating their owners’ emotions with the cleverness of a magician. Described as dog-like in personality, the intense degree of a Van’s loyalty makes it difficult to ever transfer an adult Van from one household to another. Once bonded, always bonded.

Like dogs, Vans love to retrieve tossed objects, and will play with a great variety of things, whether designated as their toys or not (such as your off-limits jewelry). You may tire of their interactive games long before they do. When Vans play, they play until they drop. They are very athletic and acrobatic, and will leap and jump and spin in the air like trapeze artists. They routinely figure out how to open cabinets, doors, and child-proof locks!

The Van gets along extremely well with other animals after they get to know them. They tend to want to be the alpha animal in the household. Like most other cats, they would prefer not to be left alone for long periods of time without some companionship. They enjoy the presence of other lively cats, particularly of other Vans. Extremely assertive, they will defend themselves against perceived attacks, regardless of how large or intimidating the intruder.

Turkish Van cats are generally not lap cats, preferring to keep all four paws on the floor, although there are exceptions to this rule. They do love a show of affection from time to time, and will return that affection generously. When they rub against your legs, they may be signaling that it’s time to cuddle.

Today, Turkish Vans are being preserved by the Turkish College of Agriculture in conjunction with the Ankara Zoo, the longtime breeder of the Turkish Angora. Vans are no longer permitted to be exported from Turkey, so most of the current breeding stock now comes from Europe.

References
www.wikipedia.org
www.iams.com
www.catsofaustralia.com
www.cfa.org
Barrons Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds, J. Anne Helgren