When rumors of a “Dachshund cat” was being developed in Louisiana in the mid 1980s, not many cat lovers took it seriously and thought that one or two short-legged cats would be a genetic fluke, but making an entire breed would be next to impossible. When pictures began appearing on the Internet in the early 1990s, many people assume the photos had been doctored. But, for better or for worse, Munchkin cats had arrived and they were here to stay.
Sarah Hochendal and Kay LaFrance
In 1983, music teacher Sarah Hocehendal apparently had a lot of her hands after she claims to have discovered two unusual stray kittens. They looked like normal cats – except for having incredibly short legs. The affect was a cat body on Dachshund’s legs. She gave one of the kittens to her friend Kay LaFrance and then they both irresponsibly did not neuter the stray mutants but left them wander about their respective properties to breed with the local feral population.
Eventually, the two Louisiana women realized that they had a potential furry gold mine on their hands and began breeding the Munchkins in earnest. They picked the name Munchkin after the race of dwarfs in The Wizard of Oz (1939). To make their new breed more legitimate, they contacted geneticists to determine if the dwarf leg gene was “normal” in cats. Somehow, they found a scientist who replied “yes”.
The cat show world (known as the “cat fancy”) was into anything that would make people open up their wallets for cats and cat related products. The Munchkin’s appearance, although alarming many cat lovers and veterinarians, became a sensation. Anyone could open up their door and adopt a cat. But not everyone could have a mutant cat. By 1993, demand for the mutant Munchkin moggies was massive.
Due to customer demand, in 1994, the International Cat Association declared the Munchkin a new American breed. There has since been several new Dachshund-legged cat breeds developed, including the Genetta Cat, the Kinkalow (with oddly-shaped ears) and the Bambino (a hairless variety, as if one mutation wasn’t enough).
Although the “International Cat Association” recognizes the Munchkin as a breed, it is not recognized as a breed in the United Kingdom. This is because Muchkins cannot jump or hunt like a normal cat. In the UK, Munchkins are considered mutants.
Is This A Natural Mutation?
Proponents for Munchkins point out that mention of dwarf-legged cats crop up in veterinary records every now and then, claiming that this proves that short legs is as much a normal feline variation and a different colored or different textured coat. One of these is from records of a veterinarian in England who noted some dwarf-legged cats in 1944. There is also a photograph that exists of an Australian cat with short legs that has been dated to the late 1800s or the early 1900s. There are some second-hand reports of a “Kangaroo Cat” that lived in Stalingrad in the 1950s. But outside of these mentions, evidence for short-legged cats surviving to reproduce is scant.
Also, it’s very hard to find any information about short-legged cats that does not come from a Munchkin or “designer cat” association. There does not seem to be a disinterested third party source to verify most of the Munchkin breeders’ claims. We probably will never know the true history of Munchkin cats prior to 1983.
But one thing is clear – Muchkins were being abandoned or surrenders to shelters in the 1990s and even more so after the worldwide economic meltdown of 2008. Petfinder.com lists a heartbreaking number of Munchkins needing homes.