The distinctive feature of the American Curl is their attractive, uniquely curled-back ears. Elegant, well balanced, moderately muscled, slender rather than massive in build. They often appear well proportioned and balanced and can vary in size.
American Curls have qualities other than the whimsical ears that make them attractive pets. They are people cats who are rarely aloof and are affectionate without harassing their families for attention. They enjoy perching on laps and love to pat and nuzzle their family members. American Curls are oftentimes easily taught to play fetch and rarely lose their love of play. They often do very well with children. While not as active as the Abyssinian or Siamese, American Curls are plenty frisky and energetic. They also display the typical cat curiosity and want to be right there to investigate any changes in their home.
The American Curl originated in June 1981 as a spontaneous genetic mutation in the domestic cat population. They became popular in 1983, and by 1986 they were recognized by three of the largest North American cat registries.
In June 1981 two cats with ears that curled backwards arrived on the doorstep of a couple in Lakewood, California. One of the cats died shortly afterward, but the other, a friendly longhaired female, remained a member of the family and was named Shulamith. At first, little attention was paid to Shulamith’s unique curled ears, her new family was more taken with her devotion and sweet trusting temperament. They assumed Shulamith was one of many curly-eared cats, even after visits to local libraries and book stores provided no mention of Shulamith’s supposed breed.
In December 1981 Shulamith gave birth to a litter of four; two of the kittens had the same curled-back ears. The father, a local longhaired tom cat, did not have curly ears or, it soon became apparent, the gene for them. Although the couple didn’t understand cat genetics at the time, the gene governing the curled ears is dominant, and therefore only one parent needs to have the gene to pass on curled ears to at least some of their offspring. Likewise, if a cat doesn’t have curled ears, they cannot possess the gene for them; a dominant gene will always appear in a cat’s physical appearance.
Shulamith continued to have litters by the local tom cats, adding to the local Curl population. Both long and short hairs appeared in early litters, and many colors and patterns, including the pointed pattern. The couple gave kittens to friends and family.
Two of these kittens ended up being acquired by Nancy Kiester, who fell in love with their unique ears and gentle temperament. After reading an article on the Scottish Fold, another cat breed with distinctive ears, it occurred to Kiester that these kittens might be an entirely new breed. It was proven that they were and from there the American Curl was recognized and promoted.