My life in the Cat Fancy
Betty M Harrison

This article was written by Betty shortly before she suffered a major stroke in August 2005
unfortunately she is no longer able to take any active part in the Cat Fancy

Betty at home
Summer 2005

I had always wanted a Siamese and in the early '60's shortly after we moved to Anglesey my husband John found someone on the Island who had a litter of Siamese kittens, and bought a Seal Point Siamese female kitten for my birthday. She was a very tiny little kitten and at eight weeks old much too small to leave her mother, but in those days it seemed to be quite acceptable. With a lot of care and attention we reared her. I called her 'Sabishi', and so began my long life with pedigree cats.

A young Betty

The Gwynedd Cat Club was formed and I quickly became involved, and in the process met with other pedigree cat owners. I soon had another Seal Point kitten to keep 'Sabi' company. Neither were of show quality, they were just pet Siamese. I was rather scathing about cat shows, and then a friend suggested that I go with her to a show! Before long I had acquired a really lovely young Lilac Point Siamese female and of course cat shows became a regular occurrence, very quickly I was involved in the Show world.

For some years I bred Siamese, being particularly fond of Lilac Points, though it wasn't long before I became attracted to the newly recognised Tabby Points. I well remember a very senior judge, Mrs Phyllis Lauder, withholding a CC from Rushay Romano one of my young Tabby Point males. I plucked up my courage and asked her why she had withheld the certificate. Her reply was "Oh my dear he's so very beautiful, but his colour is far too chocolate", when I told her he'd already won two CC's and was in fact a Chocolate Tabby Point she apologised profusely and told me that she had not realised Chocolate Tabby Points were accepted! How times change!

Rushay Romano
4 years old in 1970

My husband used to buy "Exchange & Mart" from time to time and was always finding obscure things ranging from bags of nails to ammunition boxes which would always 'be useful to have'! One day, by sheer chance, I looked at the Pets Section and saw an advert asking if anyone was interested in colour breeding Foreign Shorthairs. I had always been fascinated with colour and had for many years bred budgerigars, including the 'new' colours. So I answered the advert and met up with Angela Sayer of the famous "Solitaire" prefix. Angela and I were in regular contact and over the years exchanged many cats.

The only recognised 'Oriental', though of course that name was many years away, was the Chestnut Brown Foreign. I was fascinated by these beautiful brown cats, and was on the Committee of the Chestnut Brown Foreign Group, I wanted to breed its lilac cousin. Over the years Angela and I exchanged many cats, and started the lines that bred the Foreign Lavenders, now called Oriental Lilacs, and the then "Egyptian Mau" which of course had no connection with Egypt and we now recognise as 'Oriental Tabbies'. At this time none of them were recognised as varieties, they were all registered as AOV Breed 26. Anglesey became populated with my coloured kittens!

Champion Harislau Flying Fox

Life was so very different then, we lived out in the country and many of the cats were allowed their freedom, at one time I had more than 40 cats! I also had three Golden Retriever stud dogs and kennels full of bitches, old-timers and youngsters, and of course my pedigree British Alpine goats! My husband was very supportive and fed the animals, emptied trays and cleaned kennels & pens out when I was away from home. He loved the cats but was totally clueless as to their breeding, or indeed their pedigree names, he just liked them as cats! Fortunately he never seemed to do a head count of either the cats or dogs! In those days tinned dog and cat food was in its infancy and cat food really did smell foul! All our cats were fed on fresh meat, fish and cooked rice. My husband collected all the meat for the animals and kept us supplied with shavings for the litter trays and for the kennels - looking back I now appreciate how much time and effort that took!

British Alpine Nanny with kid

Today one wouldn't dream of letting stud cats roam free, but in the wilds of Anglesey, far from a road it was a perfectly natural thing to do. I can still remember the bewildered wife of a neighbouring farmer coming to ask me if I would look at a litter of kittens one of the farm cats had produced, and there in the middle of the blacks and tabbies were two little colour-point 'British', proving that our boys did indeed get around!

I was very much involved in cat clubs, I was at times the Chairman, Hon. Secretary and Show Manager of the Gwynedd Cat Club; and the Hon. Secretary of the Havana Cat Club - a position I held for over twenty years. The Havana Cat Club was originally the Chestnut Brown Breeders Group which was renamed when GCCF changed the name of the CBF to Havana. In the early days of the 'Lavender' I had been Hon. Secretary of the 'Foreign Lavender Group', eventually this merged with the Havana Cat Club and the 'Havana & Foreign Lilac Cat Club' came into being, later to be re-named the 'Havana & Oriental Lilac Cat Club'. I was also Vice Chairman and second GCCF Delegate for Oriental Cat Association, a position I eventually resigned from to become the GCCF Delegate for the Havana Cat Club when it became affiliated to the GCCF. I had the honour of taking the Foreign Lavenders through Governing Council to recognition, though to my disappointment the name was changed to Foreign Lilac. I also correlated the pedigrees and information for the OCA's application for recognition of the Oriental Spotted Tabby.

Janville Quintella
One of the Golden Retriever bitches

Today I'm not really involved in the politics of the Cat Fancy, but I do try to stay in touch. I am the President of the Oriental Cat Association; Vice-President of the Havana & Oriental Lilac Cat Club; and Vice-President of the Oriental Shaded, Smoke and Tabby Society. At one time son John and I were both GCCF Delegates - for different clubs, and we are the only Mother and Son to sit in Council and indeed we are the only Mother & Son to be GCCF Judges! My daughter Jane shared my prefix 'Harislau' in the early days until she left home, married and had a family of her own, and now very occasionally she does appear at the odd show. Son John of course had his own prefix 'Megrim', mainly because I refused to have his Silvers in my prefix ---- oh dear how times have changed! 'Harislau' has been jointly owned by John and I for some years now, though we don't breed many kittens.

A Harislau Tabby

My first Havana champion was Ch Harislau Little Otter. I was of course thrilled when he gained his title, but all the more so because he was a hand reared baby! His mother had died four days after kittening leaving one Havana and three Chocolate point Siamese. We reared all four! It is difficult to pick out the best cat I've owned or bred there have been so many cats through the years, but in the early days of the Havana Ch. Solitaire Pikake and her son Ch. Harislau Flying Fox were outstanding examples of the breed. Then of course there were the "Foreign Lavenders" Solitaire Archil and his daughter Harislau Estralita. The most beautiful cat I ever bred was Harislau Bronze Isis, a magnificent 'Egyptian Mau' female registered as Breed 26, today of course she would have been a Chocolate Spotted Oriental Tabby. She was born before her time, she had everything you could ask for, slim elegant type, rich colour not like the cold colour of so many of today's Chocolate Tabbies, and a clear pattern, sound to the roots with no agouti invasion. She really was a superb cat. Her pedigree did not go back to Chinchilla, and there was no wideband in her breeding.

Harislau Estralita

Two of my Lilac Spotted kittens from this line, Harislau Magnolia and Harislau Myosotis, went out to America where they played an important part in the development of the World famous 'Felitan' line of Oriental Tabby. Another of my Tabbies who found his way to the USA was Harislau Mau, he did well at the shows. In the 1960's I also had Ticked Tabbies, though long before they were ever thought of -- I let the line go, Oh how stupid can one be? I also bred some beautiful Classic Tabbies before the wide band and agouti invasion infiltrated the Orientals and spoilt them. Back in the 1960's and early 1970's all the colours and patterns were new, and it just wasn't possible to develop them all …. at one time I had nine Havana, Lilac and Spotted stud cats … there really had to be a limit!

Harislau Mau
at Madison Square Gardens in 1976

I also bred British Blues and have very happy memories of bumbling blue kittens trying to chase Havana kittens around the house! I had a beautiful male Ch Ryelands Blue Baize and a lovely female Ryelands Victoria from Mrs Entwistle, and I also enjoyed showing Ch Gwaenysgor Serenymynydd. In those days it was common practice to mate to Persian every three generations and I well remember Int Ch Platina Marcos, a White Persian coming on his holidays from Eire to visit my British queens! He was a delightful natured cat, and of course in those days even the best of Persians still had a nose!

I also had several Red Abyssinians, though of course today these are known as Sorrel and not Red. I had a very dear friend, Miss Flora McLaughlan who lived up in the mountains near Snowdon, who bred Abyssinians, and, in the days long before the Somali was recognised, bred three long-haired kittens from a straightforward Abyssinian mating. "Mac" was furious when other breeders told her that she should have the kittens put down, and decided to enter the litter at the National - more as a statement of defiance than anything else! Shortly before the show she was taken ill and asked me to take them … the kittens certainly caused a bit of a furore and I took quite a bit of flack from other breeders - and the kittens weren't even mine!! But at least "Mac" did her bit in raising attention to the fact that so many Abyssinians carried longhair - but it certainly didn't make her many friends! I often have a smile when I see a Somali today!

Though I had other breeds it was the Orientals I really concentrated on, even though they were not recognised and if the truth is known I never thought some of them would be! It's rather strange to look back over the last 40 years, half of my life and realise the part I played in the creation of the Oriental. Between us my son John and I have bred just about all the colours and patterns of Orientals except the Bicolour; and I now before long John & Mark will remedy this; and after some 40 years we are still breeding Orientals, quite a record I think. I'm pleased that occasionally a 'Harislau' still pops up on the show bench, and I was overjoyed when John and Mark's very beautiful Chocolate Tortie Silver Shaded queen Ch Harislau Spiritoftheage gained her title a couple of years ago.

In April 2006 I will have been a GCCF judge for 30 years ; in addition to Orientals I also judge Cornish & Devon Rex, Korats and Asians; I never wanted to judge breeds I wasn't really interested in so I stuck with those I really liked. After three replacement joints and severe arthritic degeneration in the others I am now a little unsteady on my pins and have to use a wheelchair, so judging becomes ever more difficult. In the Spring this year I decided to become Judge Emeritus, I don't want to retire just yet, and I hope that I shall be able to judge at a few more shows before I have to call it a day. Have I enjoyed my time in the Cat Fancy? Well yes of course I have! I've gone through a few rough patches, and felt like throwing the towel in a few times, but yes I enjoyed developing the Oriental, the company of the many friends I've made; judging so many generations of cats and watching lines develop; and of course owning so many lovely cats.