The Controversy-Filled Origins of the Ragdoll Cat

The Controversy-Filled Origins of the Ragdoll Cat

The Ragdoll cat is a relatively new breed that is known for its affectionate, docile nature, beautiful blue eyes, and tendency to relax and go limp when held. The origins of the Ragdoll also include more controversy than most cat breeds. 

Ragdolls make excellent family pets and get along well with children and other pets.  They are known for their sweet, people-friendly nature and will often follow their people around the house.  The semi-long haired Ragdoll is a big cat, with adult males ranging from 12 to 16 pounds and adult females 8 to 12 pounds. 

Detailed accounts of the breed’s origins usually include the controversy surrounding it. 

Enter Josephine 

In the early 1960s, Ann Baker of Riverside, Calif., took in a white, domestic long-haired cat she named Josephine, who produced several litters of typical, mixed-breed kittens. When Josephine was injured after being hit by a car, Baker brought her to the University of California veterinary hospital, notes Ragmeister Ragdolls, a California breeder. After Josephine recovered, she gave birth to kittens that were especially easygoing. When a second pregnancy, fathered by a neighbor’s cat, produced kittens with the same temperament, Baker decided to breed more of the same and ultimately created the foundation stock of the Ragdoll breed. 

Now here’s where the story gets weird. 

Baker selectively bred her Ragdolls for traits including gentle disposition, large size, pointed coloration, and the tendency to go limp when picked up. She believed, and made no secret of it, that Josephine had been subject to a secret government genetic experiment when she was treated for her accident injuries, says Ragdoll International. Baker maintained this experience rendered Josephine docile, relaxed when picked up, and immune to pain. 

She also claimed that Ragdolls did not provoke allergies in those allergic to cats and do not have normal cat instincts because they cannot defend themselves and do not hunt. These beliefs, including the pain immunity claim, were quickly debunked but the myths continued to circulate.   

Even Stranger Claims 

According to the organization Ragdolls of Texas, Baker’s claims got even stranger. “As time went on, Ms. Baker’s representations about the breed became unusual and unbelievable. She published information in great detail stating Ragdoll cats have human genes, are immune to pain and they represent a link between humans and space aliens,” states Ragdolls of Texas. 

What is known for sure is that all Ragdolls are descended from Josephine and that very little is known of her life before Baker took her in. 

Breeders Rebel 

The next twist in the Ragdoll saga came when Baker set up her own Ragdoll registry, International Ragdoll Cat Association (IRCA), and imposed strict standards on anyone who wanted to breed or sell Ragdoll cats. Baker also decreed that Ragdolls could not be registered with any other breed associations, according to Ragmeister Ragdolls.  

Other Ragdoll breeders rebelled against Baker’s control and increasing eccentricity and founded what eventually became the Ragdoll Fanciers Club International (RFCI) to gain mainstream recognition for the breed. All major cat breed associations now recognize the Ragdoll.

Image: Matt & Nayoung / via Flickr