Controversial History of the Ragdoll Cat Breed
Controversial History of the Ragdoll Cat Breed
The Controversial History of the Ragdoll Cat Breed is as colorful as these beautiful cats are. There are many facets to this story, some of which are verifiably true, others which are possibly true, and still others that clearly have no basis in fact. We will do our best here to stick to the true and probably true details. Check out our Myths about Ragdoll Cats page to read about the misconceptions about the blue-eyed beauties we love.
Probably the two best primary sources of ragdoll breed history are from the Ragdoll Historical Society and the Ragdoll Fancier’s Club. The case can be made that this information is likely more accurate even that things that Ann Baker herself said over the years. If you watch the the video below, you will see that some of the things she says should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Our content here will be a brief summary of what we understand from these main sources.
Brief History of the Ragdoll Cat Breed
The Ragdoll Breed was created in the 1960s by a woman named Ann Baker who lived in Riverside California. She was born Florence Annabel Cone on September 6, 1918 and passed away on January 30, 1997 at the age of 79.
In 1963, Ann’s neighbor (Merle Pennels) had a feral cat named Josephine who lived outdoors. Since Josephine was feral, she wasn’t any particular breed, but rather was a mongrel mix of whatever circulated in that area. Josephine was white colored and reportedly had the appearance of a white or Turkish-Angora cat. However, being feral, Josephine was almost certainly not purebred and was definitely not registered. Her genetics were never tested because that technology didn’t exist in the 1960s.
First, Ann borrowed a male cat from Merle Pennels that had the appearance of a Birman breed cat, also known as the “Sacred Cat of Burma”. It is believed that this cat was feral and it is therefore important to emphasize its “appearance” – it was not registered or known with any confidence what its breed truly was. Ann bred this cat to Josephine and Daddy Warbucks was born.
- Daddy Warbucks was a solid black color and became the foundational male for the Ragdoll breed.
After Josephine’s son Daddy Warbucks matured, Ann mated him back to Josephine, and Fugianna was born.
- Fugianna was a seal pointed bicolor female, and became the foundational female for the light side of the breed.
At some point around that time, Ann also acquired Josephine’s daugher, Buckwheat, from the Pennels. It is not clear which male was bred to Josephine to sire Buckwheat, but it is believed to be a different feral cat than the one who sired Daddy Warbucks.
- Buckwheat was a black and white mitted female, and became the foundational female for the dark side of the breed.
Kyoto and Tiki
In the summer of 1965, Ann mated Daddy Warbucks to Buckwheat, and they produced a litter of four kittens:
- two pointed kittens, a seal mitted male named Kyoto, and a seal colorpoint female named Tiki.
- two solid-colored kittens, that she named Gueber & Mitts. The two solids were never registered as Ragdolls.
The photo at right shows Buckwheat with Kyoto and Tiki.
Here is how Ann described the original cats from which the Ragdoll breed was created:
“Well they weren’t any breeds … They were alley cats…but I did explain that one of them looked similar to an Angora, another one looked similar to a Burmese like they have back east, not like a Burmese here.“
Josephine, Daddy Warbucks, Fugianna, and Buckwheat are the cats from which the Ragdoll breed was established over a several year period of selective breeding.
Of these four, only Daddy Warbucks and Fugianna were registered as Ragdolls in the National Cat Fanciers Association (NCFA) on December 30, 1966. NFCA was the first cat association to recognize the Ragdoll as a breed.
The first four registered Ragdolls were:
Probable Original Breeding Location
Ann Baker’s address listed on the registration certificates of the first 4 ragdoll cats (dated December 30, 1966) is 2974 Berkeley Road, Riverside California, 92506. This is appoximately 6 miles southwest of the Iowa Avenue cattery building discussed below. Presumably, the initial breeding program may have started first at Berkeley Road, and then later moved to the Iowa Avenue location. Here is a Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/cGiNLsXB4YnYsTBRA
It would seem likely that Merle Pennels probably lived in the Berkeley Road neighborhood, and that Josephine and the other feral cats from which the Ragdoll breed was developed probably originated here.
Raggedy Ann Cattery
Mrs. Baker established her Raggedy Ann Cattery facility at 156 Iowa Avenue, Riverside California 92507. This property remains intact as of this writing. Here is a Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/e2HqubTbgKXWiX849
The Tax Assessor records show that the property was constructed in 1948, however there is no indication when she purchased the property or converted it into the cattery function.
In Part 1 of the transcript below, Ann mentions details about her two locations:
- “…when I had to move here from my house and what I had to do to make the breed…”
- We believe that the word “here” refers to the 156 Iowa Avenue location and “from my house” probably refers to the 2974 Berkeley Road location.
Also, in Part 1 of the video below, she discusses how she arranged the kennels inside the cattery in this photo.
Ann Baker Tells Her Story on Video
In the 1990s, before Ann Baker passed away, a video was made of an interview that she gave where she told the story of the creation of the Ragdoll breed, told about other breeding initiatives that she undertook, and discussed genetic engineering. We were given a DVD copy of this video by a cattery that we visited, and decided to transcribe Ann’s stories for inclusion here. Her style of speech while speaking here without a script, and telling stories that come back to her mind, resulted in many fragmented sentences. It was very challenging to capture her words from this video, and we have done the very best that we could. If someone listening to the video discovers any improvements that can be made to the transcription, please let us know and we will amend the transcription record.
We also extracted video from the DVD to post here. When we had completed about 70% of the transcription, the printed label on the DVD became dislodged and disintegrated inside our DVD player. It damaged a part of the DVD that we had already transcribed. Fortunately, we had already transcribed the text, but we lost a couple of minutes of the video content. If anyone happens to have a copy of this DVD, we would like to be able to extract the full video to preserve it online.
In the meantime, we have posted the most significant excerpts of text and video from this interview, and exercised some editorial judgment to leave out portions that don’t necessarily contribute to advancing the story of the ragdoll cat breed. Please keep in mind as you read or watch this content that this interview occurred very late in Ann’s life and it is very plausible that her late-in-life recollection of details may not have been consistent with what really happened. There is content here that may not be as flattering to her memory as she probably deserves, considering that she produced one of the most wonderful and popular breeds of cats in the world, and has clearly made a major contribution to the quality of life of everyone who now enjoys a ragdoll cat.
As we mentioned at the top of this article, we believe that the two primary sources above are probably more accurate explanations of certain points of the Ragdoll breed history when Ann’s explanation of things tends to stretch credulity. Our hope is that you will see Ann Baker as a richly interesting character, full of self confidence, unafraid to try something big in the face of naysayers, and boldly proceeding on her own terms. When you consider what it takes to run a breeding program involving hundreds of cats, there is a lot to admire about Ann and we hope that her legacy will continue to be preserved.