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Devon Rex Breed History

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Devon Rex Breed History

Devon Rex Cat | Breed History | Breed Description

The Devon Rex is noted for its soft, short, naturally curly coat. Its large eyes and ears give it a pixie-ish appearance. In 1960 a new coat mutation was discovered in the cat. Ten years earlier, cats with curly coats had been born in Cornwall, England. By this time, their descendants were being displayed at cat shows around London. Miss Beryl Cox happened to see photos of these unusual cats and recalled having seen a large tom cat with masses of curls living in an abandoned tin mine in Buckfastleigh, Devon, England.

Miss Cox took in a tortie and white pregnant stray who gave birth to a litter of kittens. In the litter was a curly-coated male kitten. She named him Kirlee and kept him for her pet. She contacted Mr. Stirling-Webb after seeing photos of the curly-coated Cornish Rex. It was assumed that Kirlee was a relative of the already existing breed, but could nevertheless be used in a breeding program adding to the gene pool.


Miss Cox allowed Mr. Stirling-Webb to use Kirlee, and after test matings with several Cornish queens, only straight-coated kittens resulted! It soon became clear that although Kirlee had curly hair, a new rex gene had been discovered! Many other test matings were tried, with the same results; straight-coated kittens! After mating brothers and sisters together, some curly-haired kittens were born, but it was impossible to tell which curly gene they possessed. It was decided that the Cornish (Gene 1) and the Devon (Gene 2) were not compatible, and it was advised to discontinue further crossings between the two.

The Devon Rex originated near a tin mine in Devon, and is distinct from the Cornish Rex, though the coat mutation appears similar. This first cat, Kirlee, was discovered in 1960, ten years after the discovery of the Cornish Rex gene in Cornwall. Although it was assumed at first that the genes were the same, this was not true. All Devon Rex today can trace their ancestry to Kirlee. The first Devon Rex arrived in the United States in 1968, and it was accepted for championship status in CFA in 1979.

Kirlee was then mated to several British Shorthairs. His straight-coated daughters were brought back to him for breeding, and these litters resulted in 50% curly kittens. This showed that the Rex gene is a recessive according to the Mendelian theory that a recessive gene is produced in a 1:1 ratio in a back-cross to the original recessive genotype. This then became the foundation for the Devon breed. All Devons today should be able to trace their ancestry back to Kirlee, the first Devon Rex!

It also became quite clear that Kirlee was of completely different “type” than Kallibunker; the first Cornish Rex. His coat was mole-grey and he looked like a little pixie. He had wide cheeks, a short face, and huge ears like bat wings! Kalli had a slightly longer head, high-set ears and a straight, Roman nose.

Although both Kirlee and Kalli had huge ears, Kirlee’s low-set ears were covered with tufts of hair on the back creating an “earmuff” like effect that is unique to Devons. To this day, Devon breeders have maintained the original look of the Devon Rex. Photos of today’s kittens look remarkably just like photos of the earliest Devon Rex. All of the Rex breeds were born as spontaneous mutations out of ordinary domestic cats. Both the Cornish and the Devon Rex have a distinctly “foreign” body type.

The Devon Rex is a potential choice for a minority of people who are allergic to cats. While no naturally bred cat can be truly hypoallergenic, Devon Rex (and Cornish Rex) do not aggravate allergies in some people with cat allergies. Allergic people are encouraged to visit a breeder to determine their own tolerance for the breed.