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Breeding Success With a Spotted Cat : New Feline Is a Hot Catalogue Item . . . at $1,400 Apiece

Times Staff Writer

What’s a guy who used to write “Lassie” scripts doing raising cats?

Ask Paul Casey, who has the hottest breed in town--the new California Spangled domestic cat that Neiman-Marcus is featuring in its Christmas catalogue for $1,400 apiece.

Casey, a 51-year-old screenwriter and playwright, has spent the past 15 years developing the new breed of cat by combining eight different breeds of domestic felines from four continents. The result is a striking spotted house cat that looks like a miniature wild one that just walked out of a jungle.

“People have been fascinated with spotted cats since cave days,” said Casey. “There were drawings of them on cave walls, and stone carvings. They’ve turned up in art and literature for centuries. People love spotted cats.”

They certainly do, if sales of the California Spangled at Neiman-Marcus can be used as a barometer. In the 2 1/2 weeks since the Christmas catalogue came out, 53 orders have been taken for the California Spangleds and there is now a waiting list for the unborn litters.

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“We’re really pleased with the response,” said Barbara Freeman of Neiman-Marcus’ Dallas store who handles inquiries about the California Spangled cats. “We’ve gotten 300 or 400 calls. I do a lot of talking in a day’s time.”

A “His/Her” Gift

Neiman-Marcus is selling the California Spangled cat as its exclusive His/Hers Christmas gift for 1986. Each year the store lists a unique, and expensive, item in this category. Among its past offerings have been his and her airplanes, mini-submarines, full-length fur bathrobes and Chinese junks.

It is not the first year, though, that Neiman-Marcus has come up with an animal as one of its unusual gift suggestions. In 1967, there were his-and-her camels; 1980, his-and-her ostriches; and in 1983, his-and-her Shar-pei puppies, a Chinese breed of dog with lots of wrinkles.

In its catalogue, Neiman-Marcus advertises the California Spangled as “leopards for your living room . . . a purring, affectionate pet with the look of the wild. A jaguar whose natural habitat is your lap, not the jungle.”

The store also promises its customers that their new cats will be personally delivered by Casey or one of his representatives. Each cat comes with its registration document, and pedigree, a history about the new breed, description of standards for the breed and medical records.

New owners of California Spangleds become members of the California Spangled Cat Assn. and will receive newsletters about the breed.

“I’m going to start out delivering all of them myself,” said Casey. “But I have a feeling it’s going to be a really big rush around Christmas time. We just had three kittens the other night. They normally have from three to five. And we are expecting four more litters between now and Christmas.”

Today, Casey is on his way to deliver the first cat to a customer in Gladwyne, Pa., near Philadelphia.

He decided to name his new breed “spangled” rather than “spotted” because there already are recognized classes of cats called the spotted tabby and the ocicat, also a spotted breed.

Casey estimated that he has spent about $200,000 developing his purebred cat over a 15-year period. Much of that figure, he said, went for medical expenses.

“Now is the first time I’ll be making anything on them,” said Casey, explaining that he receives a percentage of the $1,400 for each cat. “They (Neiman-Marcus representatives) asked me not to say a dollar figure. They have been really sensational people to work with. They’re paying for the travel and expenses to deliver them.”

The eight domestic feline bloodlines that Casey used in the California Spangled are: Siamese, spotted silver, Manx, Abyssinian, cat of the Nile, brown tabby, Malayan tropical house cat and a spotted silver longhair.

Visited With Leakey

“I’m not a cat breeder,” he explained. “That’s not my profession. I was just planning to develop the cat. I wasn’t planning for a marketing program like this.”

A native Angeleno, Casey said he decided to begin developing a new breed of spotted domestic cat after a 1971 trip to Africa, where he visited with Louis S.B. Leakey. Casey said that he and the famed anthropologist, who died in 1972, had spent “a lot of time talking about people’s fascination with spotted cats.”

Casey, who writes screenplays for television and belongs to the Los Angeles Playwrights Group, has been so busy with his cats that he hasn’t written a TV script for 1 1/2 years.

“Right now my big interest is in plays,” he said. “I have two I’ve been developing, a comedy and a satire. But the cats take so much time now. There’s so much involved, invoices, book work, travel and the cats themselves.”

To help him display the cats at several Neiman-Marcus stores in California, Casey enlisted the help of his parents, Corinne and Paul Casey who live in Hemet.

In addition to delivering the cats that have already been purchased, Casey must still exhibit the new breed at Neiman-Marcus stores in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago and San Francisco. He displayed them at the Beverly Hills store last weekend.

Assisted by Veterinarian

Casey has a kennel for his colony of cats in North Hollywood and has been assisted in the venture by Northridge veterinarian Dr. Alan Epstein.

“Dr. Epstein has been a real friend to the California Spangled,” said Casey. “He’s been giving them medical treatment, shots and things, at cost and donating a lot of his time in helping with medical and lab records. You have to keep an enormous number of records.”

Casey’s cats come in a variety of colors: silver, bronze, black, charcoal, gold, red, (silver) blue and brown. There is also a “snow leopard” that is born white and develops its markings as it gets older. None of the spangled cats reaches its full color and final coat texture until about 12 to 18 months of age.

They are not large cats. The females weigh from 8 to 10 pounds; males, 10 to 12. The dominant-color cats usually have brown eyes; the recessive-colored “snow leopards” have blue ones.

“We’re aiming for the brown eyes,” Casey said. “They’re hard to get in domestic cats. But they give the cat more of the look of a wild one.”

‘A Real Purpose’

Most of his cats are kept at the kennel, but several can be found at his home in Hollywood, a former residence of Carole Lombard that he leases from actor/composer Max Showalter.

“I never intended to show the cats,” he said. “But there is a real purpose to it now. We’re going to show so we can meet the requirements of a formal registry with TICA (The International Cat Assn., located in Harlingen, Tex.).”

Casey has been in the animal breeding business before--he started raising, training and showing collies at age 10.

“I had my own kennel when I was 12, and did a lot of showing over the years, did film and TV work with them and trained some for seeing eye dogs.”

Casey said he became furious recently when he learned that people from “some humane society” had called Neiman-Marcus representatives in Dallas questioning his breeding of the new cat.

“They called and said ‘God knows how many cats he’s destroyed getting this breed.’ I haven’t destroyed cats. I wouldn’t think of that. Everything was on paper before I got my first cat. I knew I wouldn’t be using but one of three. But those that I retired I had neutered and found places for them, like ranches, nice homes.

“I still have the original female,” he continued. “She’s a sealpoint Siamese and her name is Monkey. She’s 16 and in great shape. She is still the dominant cat of the whole colony. The original male, a spotted silver named Paddy, went to a friend of mine in the movie business. They were the beginning of the California Spangled.”


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