304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
With their brilliant blue eyes and dark-colored “points,” these raspy-voiced felines are instantly recognizable. They have been celebrated on both the small and silver screen, in books, and in song. We are talking, of course, about Siamese cats, or meezers as they are called by their many admirers, a term which comes from the last syllable of the word Siamese.
The Siamese is an old breed. In Bangkok ‘s National Library, the “Tamra Maew,” or “The Cat Book of Poems,” written between 1350 and 1767, depicts cats with tan bodies and darker colored tails, feet, faces, and ears. They were called “Wichiemaas,” which translates to “jewel,” or “moon-diamond.” So highly regarded were they in ancient Siam (now Thailand ) that when persons of high status, including royalty, died, it was thought that their souls passed into the body of a Siamese.
The first meezer in the U.S., “Siam,” was given as a gift to Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of president Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), by the American consul in Bangkok. Other well-known Siamese lovers, or “meezer pleasers,” include Elizabeth Taylor, Ann Margret, Sophia Loren, John Lennon, and Lillian Jackson Braun, author of the beloved “The Cat Who . . .” mysteries, which feature Siamese sleuths KoKo and Yum Yum.
As the first picture in the photo gallery illustrates, Siamese kittens are born white. The first Siamese in the country were seal points . Other colors include the blue, which is actually a dilute, or lighter form of the seal point ; the lilac point , and the chocolate point, a cat with very brown dark points and an ivory body. All four shades can occur in the same litter. The Siamese is also the foundation for more than a dozen other breeds, including the Burmese, the Tonkinese, a Siamese/Burmese hybrid, and the Birman, a long-haired Siamese (cats with Siamese ancestry are also called meezers).
Siamese became a staple of popular culture in the fifties and sixties, and were the most popular pedigreed cats in the country. “Bell Book and Candle,” a 1958 romantic comedy starring Kim Novak and James Stewart, featured “Pyewacket,” a role which was actually played by nine different cats. “DC” was the star of 1965’s “That Darned Cat,” while that same year, another Siamese, “Tao,” helped his canine companions find their way home in “The Incredible Journey.” A meezer named “Syn” played the lead in both movies (more recently, a Tonkinese performs a death-dying circus act in “Big Fish” (2003) and in the 2011 hit “Puss In Boots,” animated Siamese are seen cavorting in “The Glitter Box,” a nightclub for cats).
Siamese even made their way into popular music. Bob Dylan’s 1965 hit Like A Rolling Stone featured “a diplomat who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat,” while one year later, Mick Jagger sang of a “Siamese cat of a girl” in Under My Thumb. In the swinging’ sixties, Siamese cats were where it was at.
Then there’s Disney’s “Si” and “Am” from the 1958 classic “Lady and the Tramp.” These modern, or show Siamese, which were developed from felines sent from Europe to the U.S. for safekeeping during World War II, quickly became the “it” cats of the show world, and a feud soon broke out between fanciers of the modern and old style Siamese. States one breeder who wishes to remain anonymous: “Show breeders were so nasty in their greed for attention and being ‘the best’ that breeders of old style Siamese were treated very harshly. The term ‘applehead’ was coined as a derogatory insult.
This created a long standing rift that has caused both breeders to strive to opposite extremes in breed type.” Today, the OSS is recognized by just a few breed associations, but some blame the modern’ Siamese’s extreme look for its decline in popularity (it is now the sixth most popular pedigreed cat).
The old-time Siamese, however, might be making a comeback. Says newspaper-photographer-turned-breeder Diane Varni, who raises Siamese, chickens, horses, and dogs at her rural Oregon home: “As a breeder of the old, original type Siamese it was hard to find non-related breeding stock and I would normally only produce two litters a year because it was so hard to sell them. In the past 15 years or so I have seen a turnaround in attitude towards the traditional Siamese. People realize how calm and sweet they are plus what a wonderful family cat they make.” Breeders of OSS have even adopted “applehead” as term of pride (those Siamese in “Puss In Boots” are definitely appleheads)!
Prices for pedigreed Siamese start at around five hundred dollars and can climb into the four figures. However, breed rescue organizations offer Siamese at a very modest fee, including the Siamese Cat which operates along the east coast. To date, it has placed over 19,000 cats. Most of the Siamese up for adoption are adults, but kittens are occasionally available, and the Center operates scholarships for individuals willing to adopt older cats, or “meezer geezers.” Some of the cats were given up when their owners became too ill or old to care for them, many were strays, and others were abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Says spokesperson Siri Zwemke, “Siamese are very smart and bond closely with their owners. When they are deserted like this, they are often traumatized.” She also states that economic hard times have forced many to give up their cats. The cats stay in foster care for an average of six weeks and fortunately, all of them are eventually placed.
Anyone who has ever owned a meezer (or had them own you) is usually hooked for life. My love affair with Siamese cats began when my mother brought home a tiny lilac point kitten. We called him Kitty-too, from when she would tell us to “feed the dog, rabbit, fish, and bird – and kitty, too.” My meezer of the moment is Rudy, a natural mink Tonkinese. At ten, he is a meezer geezer, but shows few signs of slowing down. He still loves to fetch and “attack” birds through the window, and also likes to play with Miss Goldie, a sweet-tempered orange tabby who I found wandering the streets, starving and dehydrated.
Rudy can be annoying, like when he promenades on the kitchen counter or sits on my Kindle while I’m trying to read (like many cats, he loves to be the center of attention). However, these are minor annoyances compared to the love and companionship he has provided. In the past few years I’ve been hit with a “triple whammy” – divorce, the onset of menopause, and seeing my children leave the nest. Through all the tears and hot flashes, he’s been there with me, always ready with purrs and headbutts. I hope I am blessed with ten more years with my beloved meezer, for he truly is a jewel.