Snowshoes are often favored by people who like the Siamese look but are not fond of the extremely svelte body and head type of today’s show Siamese. A number of today’s Showshoe breeders also breed Traditional Siamese and other traditional breeds. The Snowshoe is a medium-sized shorthaired cat with a semi-foreign body style that combines the heftiness of its American Shorthair ancestors with the body length of its Siamese ancestors. Power and agility are evident, but with the look of a runner rather than a weight lifter. The body is moderately long with surprising weight for its size, firm and muscular but neither extreme, Oriental, nor cobby. The legs are of good length with medium boning and in proportion to the torso. The tail is medium at the base, slightly and gradually tapering to the end; the length is in proportion to the torso.
The head is a broad modified wedge shape with high-set cheekbones with gentle contours; the head is nearly as wide as it is long and resembles an equilateral triangle. The muzzle is neither extremely broad, square, nor pointed, but is in proportion to the head with a gentle break . The nose is of good length in proportion to the rest of the head. In profile, two distinct, even planes can be seen, separated by a slight stop or gentle curve at the nose bridge. The chin is firm. The ears are medium in size, alert, slightly rounded at the tips and broad at the base. The eyes are medium in size, oval or rounded oval with greater length than width, and slanted to the base of the ears. The eyes do not protrude. Bright, sparkling blue eyes that stand out against the contrasting color of the points is preferred; in TICA any shade of blue is acceptable.
The coat is smooth, short to medium-short, moderately close-lying and single-coated. As for pattern, Snowshoes are like snowflakes—no two are alike. However, color and pattern are considered to be just as important as type. In most cat associations, the Snowshoe breed standard is strict when it comes to the acceptable pattern. The ideal Snowshoe is a pointed cat, with the color of the mask, tail, ears and legs dense, clearly defined, and all the same shade. The mask covers the entire face, except in the white areas, and may be connected to the ears by tracings. Color patterns consist of the “preferred” white patterning and “accepted” minimum/maximum white patterning. The preferred pattern consists of a white inverted “V” extending from the mouth to the whisker tufts above the eyes, with even white boots extending to the bend of the ankle on the front feet and to just below the hock on the back feet.
The acceptable minimum/maximum pattern allows as little as a pronounced solid white mustache or an unbroken blaze, to a “V” as broad as halfway under the eyes with or without a white chin. The front feet have white toes to as high as the dew claw and the back feet are white from one-fourth inch above the toes to as high as one-fourth inch above the hock joint at its point. White on the feet should be as even and regular as possible on both the front and back feet.
In TICA, however, two patterns are accepted: mitted and bicolor. In mitted, the ideal cat is about one-quarter white with white limited to the paws, back legs, chest and chin. The ideal bicolor has an inverted white V on the face that begins at the middle of the forehead and continues to the muzzle. White areas are usually on the legs, thighs, chest and chin; the bicolor is usually one-quarter to one-half white, with less white preferred. TICA’s standard also allows for more variation in pattern in show-quality cats. Some Snowshoes who are considered pet quality in the other associations can be shown for championship in TICA.
Allowed point color also depends upon the association. Most associations accept only seal point and blue point, while TICA accepts chocolate, lilac, cinnamon and fawn, red and cream.
Adult males weigh 8 to 14 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 12 pounds. Females have finer boning and are medium-small to medium, while males are medium to large. Depending upon the association, allowable outcrosses are American Shorthairs, Oriental Shorthairs and Siamese, although most breeders don’t use the American Shorthair. The Traditional Siamese is often used as an outcross since the body type is much closer to the Snowshoe ideal than that of the Extreme Siamese.
In the early 1960s, Siamese breeder Dorothy Hinds-Daugherty of Philadelphia found three unique kittens in an otherwise ordinary Siamese litter. These kittens had the Siamese pointed pattern but each also had four white mittens (white paws). Most breeders would be horrified to find the white spotting factor (controlled by a gene responsible for mittens and other white spots) in their purebred Siamese litters because it’s not supposed to be there, but Hinds-Daugherty was charmed by the look of these tiny nonconformists. Since the happy mistake was never repeated by accident, she set out to reproduce the look by breeding a seal point Siamese with a bicolor American Shorthair (then called the Domestic Shorthair). The resulting offspring lacked the Siamese pointed pattern, since both parents must possess the recessive gene for the pattern to appear in the offspring. By breeding the resulting kittens to Siamese mates, however, she achieved the desired result. She named the new breed Snowshoe, since the kittens looked like they had just romped through glistening snow. Continued breeding with bicolor American Shorthairs produced a variety with a white splash in the shape of an inverted V on the nose and muzzle. She promoted her new and as-yet-unrecognized breed at local shows. Contrary to some early published sources, the Snowshoe is not a shorthaired Birman and has never been outcrossed to the Birman or the Ragdoll.
After a few years, Hinds-Daugherty abandoned her breeding program. Fortunately for Snowshoe fans, breeder Vikki Olander of Virginia continued working with the breed. She wrote a breed standard, recruited other breeders, and in 1974 obtained experimental status with CFF and the American Cat Association (ACA).
By 1977, however, Olander was the only Snowshoe breeder left, as one by one the breeders dropped out, despairing of ever producing perfect Snowshoes. After struggling for three years to keep the breed going, Olander was ready to quit, too. Help arrived just in time: Jim Hoffman and Georgia Kuhnell contacted CFF for information about the Snowshoe and CFF referred them to Olander, the only breeder left who was registered with them. Hoffman and Kuhnell took up the challenge and recruited new enthusiasts to work with the breed. Olander gave up the effort in 1989 because her fiancé was allergic to cats, but by then other dedicated breeders had joined the elite group.
Ultimately, persistence paid off. CFF granted championship status in 1982. Breeder Maia Sornson joined the group in the early 1980s and was instrumental in advancing the breed to ACFA championship in 1990. TICA joined the crowd in 1993. Today, most United States cat associations recognize the breed for championship status, the notable exceptions being CFA and CCA. Breeders are working on recognition for the Snowshoe in the CFA Miscellaneous class, the first step toward possible full acceptance.
The combination of an agile yet strong body, pointed pattern, fancy white gloves, and (in some) white facial markings makes this breed singular and special. The unique combination of traits also makes the Snowshoe one of the most difficult cats to breed to perfection. Because of that, the Snowshoe breed remains rare even 45 years after its inception.
Three elements make it challenging to breed Snowshoes: the white spotting factor (also called the piebald pattern), which is governed by a dominant gene; the pointed pattern, which is governed by a recessive gene; and the body and head type. The white spotting factor responsible for the areas of white is the most demanding and unpredictable. If a Snowshoe inherits a copy of the dominant gene from both parents, she will have larger areas of white than would a cat with one copy of the gene. However, other genes can affect the white areas, so the influence is not consistent and is difficult to control. In other words, it’s hard to keep the white in the right areas in the correct amounts. Combine this with the other two elements and you have a genetic cocktail that’s difficult to perfect.
Did you know?
Pet quality Snowshoes generally have either too much white or not enough, or white in the wrong places. However, this doesn’t prevent them from being charming companions for those who don’t mind their cats wearing mismatched socks.
Snowshoes who lack the color and pattern to be show cats still make grand champion pets. Owners rave about the pleasing personality, a lovely blend of the mellow, even-tempered American Shorthair and the lively, vocal Siamese. Snowshoes are active without being high-strung. They particularly love perching—the highest spot in the house is just the place for the curious, intelligent Snowshoe.
Fanciers note they are almost too intelligent, and easily learn to open cabinets, doors, and sometimes even refrigerators. Like the Siamese, they carry objects in their mouths and love to retrieve, bringing back their toys for repeated throwing. They enjoy teaching you tricks as well—Snowshoes are experts at wrapping you around their little white feet. They also enjoy running off with small personal items. If you’re missing a hair scrunchy, first look in the water dish—a favorite place to deposit their spoils. They have a fascination for water, particularly if it’s running.
Snowshoes are people-oriented and show extreme devotion to their human families. The epitome of the underfoot cat, Snowshoes always want to be by your side or on your lap, big blue eyes gleaming with affection, snowy paws patting you if you’re not giving them their due of attention. Snowshoes don’t like being left alone for long periods—or even short ones—and will register their complaints if you thoughtlessly leave the house for any reason. Snowshoes will accept your absence more easily if they have a cat companion to keep them company until you return, particularly if you work full time out of the home. While not as loud or outspoken as the Siamese, many Snowshoes are never at a loss for words if they feel they have a legitimate complaint. However, their voices are generally quieter and more melodic than that of the Siamese.