Freya, Norse goddess of love, fertility and beauty, travelled in a chariot drawn by huge cats and, thus begins our journey into the world of the Norwegian Forest Cat.
The Norwegian Forest Cat (NFC) is truly a natural breed, originating from the farms of Norway. Its exact origins will never be precisely established, but one thing is certain; the Forest Cat was produced by nature. There are at least three theories on how the Norwegian Forest Cat arrived in Scandinavia. One theory suggests that the cats that came to Norway were probably shorthaired cats that emigrated from Southern Europe during prehistoric times. Due to natural selection imposed by the harsh climatic conditions, only individual cats with particularly thick coats and other adaptations to the cold survived. Another theory argues that the ancestors of the Norwegian Forest Cats may have been the results of matings between shorthaired cats brought from England by the Vikings and longhaired cats brought in by the Crusaders. A third theory believes that it is possible that the ancestors to the Norwegian Forest Cat (longhaired Turkish cats) may have been given as gifts to the Scandinavian guards - the vaeringer by the Byzantine emperors. One thing is certain however; the original cats are thought to have arrived in Norway in approximately 1000 AD.
Norwegian Forest Cats have been featured in folk tales and mythology for centuries. The earliest literary descriptions suspected to be the Norwegian Forest Cat come from the Norse myths, describing the large, strong cats that drew Freya's chariot. Or the cat so heavy that not even Thorr, God of Thunder, could lift it from the floor. In Asbjornsen and Moes folk tale the forest cat appears several times. Here they are called "Huldrekat" which in the glossary is described as "forest cat with a thick bushy tail". In the Norwegian townships there were of course many cats, but in the oral tradition and in folk tales there is one kind which is mentioned repeatedly, and that is the large, longhaired cat. Because of its size and the lynx-like characteristics many people believed that it was a cross between a dog and a cat Folk tales and legends are not the only evidence of the frequent natural occurrences of the forest cats. The Skogkatt has been around for centuries. We know this because of cat descriptions in fairy tales that historians say are very old indeed. It has been described in a children's book in 1912, and the artist Olaf Gulbransson has a drawing of a grand champion type Skogkatt in his autobiography - the drawing was made about 1910. The Norwegian author Gabriel Scott wrote in 1912 a very well read children's book call "Sølvfaks" (Silverfaks). The main character in the book is a forest cat called Sølvfaks.
The oldest tales tell us that the Norwegian Forest Cats were the pets of the Vikings. The Vikings took the cats on their journeys and this could possibly explain the number of half-long and half-wild cats in Normandy and even in the United States of America. Vikings kept cats for their valuable skills as mousers as well as keeping them as pets. The kittens were sometimes given to new brides as an essential part of setting up new household. It is specially appropriate that brides should receive cats, since cats were associated with Freya, the goddess of love.
In 1559, the Danish priest and naturalist Peter Clausson Friis, who had lived a great part of his life in Norway, separated the lynx into three sub-species: the wolf- lynx, the fox-lynx and the cat-lynx. There are similarities between the lynx and the Forest Cat. Both are big with long legs, they both have tufts on the ears, they both like water and some Norwegian Forest Cats have been known swim to catch their to fish. The Forest cat evidently utilises the same methods as the Norwegian lynx when it goes fishing. These similarities between the lynx and the Forest cat have often been the reason why people have shown great interest in the Forest cat.
The Norwegian Forest Cat originally inhabited Norway's forests and was known by local farmers as a large, hardy animal with superior hunting skills. Breeders did not raise the cat until after World War 2, by which time it had nearly disappeared. It was not until after the war that a group of cat lovers began working to save the Skogkatt, as it is known in Norway. It was not until the 1970s that a breeding programme was introduced. It had been noticed that a reduction in the numbers of the Forest Cat was occurring, mainly due to the expansion of the urban areas. It was felt that the only way to save these beautiful, naturally occurring cats from extinction, was to start a serious breeding programme and then to apply to the governing body FIFe to accept the breed as a recognised pedigree breed. Their efforts were successful, resulting in the Forest Cat being not only welcomed into the show ring in Europe, but also designated the official cat of Norway by the late King Olaf.
The Norwegians had heard of a fine, red forest cat, but the tears flowed when they saw the brown and white tiger-striped Truls, a magnificent specimen who became the first prototype of the Norwegian Forest Cat breed. Gradually, a group of enthusiasts became involved in breeding the cats: the Norwegian Forest Cat Circle was founded in 1975 and the Norwegian Forest Cat was provisionally recognised in 1976. Then came the moment of truth - the general assembly of FIFe in Paris, in November 1977.
While the whole world of the Norwegian Forest Cat sat tense at home, Carl-Fredrik Nordane and Arvid Engh went to Paris as delegates of the NPCA, and showed photographs of Truls and other Forest Cats. The smiling faces and waving of Norwegian flags told the rest of the story. Hurrying from the spectator's bench, Helen Nordane telegraphed back to Norway and the same evening Truls was the main story on Norwegian television.
Prior to the 1970s the Forest Cat was left to survive outdoors while Norwegians took part in cat shows seeking the company of other, more exotic breeds of cats. The cat fancy in Norway started as late as 1934, and not until 1938 did anyone think of the Skogkatt as a special breed. World War II brought all pedigree cat related activities to a temporary halt, and it was not until the early seventies that people realised that the Forest cat was beginning to disappear from the Norwegian countryside. The Skogkatt was almost forgotten until the beginning of the 1970s, when a group of fanciers started breeding programs in earnest. The people who had shown a few skaukatt in 1938 and got very favourable reactions from Danish and German judges, recruited some more breeders and got going.
(The Norwegian National Association of Pedigree Cats, or Norske Rasekattklubbers Riksforbund (NRR), was founded as late as 1963, and some of the founders were very interested in the skogkatt). FIFe international approval was given in 1976 and the cats started spreading out into the world. The first two cats exported were sold to Sweden, and the first wegies came to the US on November 29, 1979 the cat breed is registered with the Department of Trade as exportable goods.
All registered NFO cats are descended from Norwegian or Swedish cats, with no outcrossing allowed. A possible exception is Finland, where novices were accepted until about 1992. At this time the development of the Norwegian wilds was in full swing, and as a result of this the conditions for shorthaired cats had dramatically improved in Norway. As is well-known, matings between shorthaired and longhaired cats lead to shorthaired offspring, and if the factors which favour the longhaired variety begin to disappear, it will quickly die out. In December 1975 Norwegian cat breeders therefore started Norsk Skogkattring (The Norwegian Forest Cat Breed Club) to attempt to preserve the breed, and already in 1976 the breed was officially recognised by FIFe. There was now a great deal of work ahead, finding appropriate breeding stock, insuring that the gene pool became large enough to insure the breed against the risks involved in inbreeding. This work went on in Scandinavia until 1990 when it was decided to stop recognition of new animals straight from the countryside, the so-called novices. Among the pioneers the one who is best remembered is undoubtedly Else Nylund, breed prefix 'Pan'; also Randi and Arild Grotterød who have made a great contribution to the breed under the breed prefix 'Torvmyra'. The reason why these two breed prefixes are remembered in particular is that cats are still being bred under them, and it is today almost impossible to find a cat whose pedigree does not somewhere along the line have ancestors with the breed prefix 'Pan' or 'Torvmyra'.
Other breeders, who for one reason or another have stopped breeding Forest cats, but whose influence can be clearly traced in the breed as it looks today, have used breed prefixes such as: 'Colosseum', 'av Baune', and 'Pjewiks Forest'. In Denmark the pioneers were: Vibeke Poulsen, breed prefix 'Dovregubben', and Dortemarie Kaplers, breed prefix 'Guldfakse'. At the moment no Forest cats are bred under either of those prefixes. Vibeke Poulsen was the owner of Denmark's very first, and until now longest living, Forest cat. The cat was named Norwegian Wood's April Dream, in daily life called 'Sidser'. Sidser was recognised as a Forest cat at a Danish cat show. She died at age 16. The recognition of Sidser started things. Several cats were now imported within a short timespan. The best known of these today are three males, who were almost of age. The oldest, born 1980, was International Champion Røde Peer (Red Peter). After him came Grand International Champion and European Premier Torvmyra's Grand Soltario. The Benjamin of the three was European Champion Colosseum's Gustav Graah, Distinguished Merit, born May 1981. These three studs are obviously no longer active, and only Torvmyra's Grand Soltario is still alive, but they have all contributed greatly to the breed's development in Denmark.
We are left with the question: What is happening to the breed today? Norwegians are immensely proud of the fact that the Forest cat has conquered so many homes with its uncomplicated, easy-going temperament. Moreover, the cats winning championships in Denmark has, for three years running, been a Forest cat, or to be more accurate, three different Forest cats. The absolute pinnacle was reached in 1991, at the FIFe World Show in Innsbruck. FIFe holds a World show once a year in varying member countries, and here the World Winners are found. In 1991 the World Winner, adult, was Norwegian bred and Danish owned European Champion Flatland's Bjørnstierrle, Distinguished Merit. And the World Winner, 6-10 mths, was also a Forest cat, the Danish bred and owned Hedda Gabler Felis Jubatus, Distinguished Merit. The Norwegian Forest cat now wins regularly in the Best in Show competitions at international FIFe cat shows. Since then three more World Winners have come about. In 1993, in Copenhagen, European Champion WW/93 Et eller andet Felis Jubatus (unusual, but it is the cat's name) became World Winner, 6-10 mths. And at the World Show in Lisbon in 1995, Skovhugger Felis Jubatus became WW/95, 6-10 mths. It is worth noticing that these cats are the only World Winners within the breed, and that they all live in Denmark. This shows that Denmark has achieved an outstanding position for the Norwegian Forest cat.
That the Norwegian Forest cats have reached the summit, not only at ordinary FIFe international shows but also at the FIFe World Shows, marks the final acceptance of the breed as a worthy and equal member of the pedigree cats' exclusive society. Many years of hard work to get the Norwegian Forest cat recognised has reached its conclusion.