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  • Writer's pictureMollye Miller

Unusual Pet Project: #5 Turkish Van Cat

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Known as the rarest cat breed in the world, this Turkish Van lives with her artist mama in Upper Fells Point, Baltimore.

Jessy found this rare kitten by accident. Out at the ASPCA in Baltimore one afternoon looking for a possible kitten to bring home for her daughter, she spotted a gorgeous soft looking kitten with white fur and a color on the top of her head and her fluffy tail.

Arya (she was later named) was gentle and sweet with the softest fur. Jessy scooped her up and, like people do at the ASPCA, fell quickly in love.

While Arya had no background information, other than that she was transferred from another ASPCA, Jessy says she was sweet and gentle, she thought she must have belonged to another family first and gotten lost.

So, after adopting her, just to make sure she had a clear conscience in keeping Arya, she searched online to see if anyone was missing a kitty. But didn't find missing cat posts. So she and her daughter felt comfortable knowing that Arya was theirs to keep and love.

The kitten's same mild mannered and attentive and affectionate manner has stayed the same. She's now 2 or 3 years young.

The breed is known as the "swimming cat." It's unthinkable that a long haired cat especially would like water when they are known for detesting it - from rain, to puddles, to the slightest splash when washing the dishes. Jessy told me that when she takes a bath, Arya sits on the edge of the bath and plays with the water.

The fur lacks an undercoat so these cats don't need much grooming and makes their fur water-resistant. When scritching a Turkish Van, it feels like you're stroking a floofy cashmere sweater.

Regal pose.

Turkish Vans are also known to play fetch like dogs, trotting back happily with their toy in their mouth. Jessy told me she throws things and Arya gets them...but doesn't bring them back. Valid.

The cat known in the United States as the Turkish Van is a rare and ancient breed that developed in central and southwest Asia, which today encompasses the countries of Iran, Iraq, southwest Soviet Union and eastern Turkey.

Per the Cat Faniers site: "Van” is a common term in the region that has been given to a number of towns, villages and even a lake - Lake Van - so it is no surprise that the uniquely patterned cat native to the region was named the “Vancat” by the residents.

Jessy and Arya enjoy a calm moment together in her studio.

They were first brought to England in 1955 as the Turkish cats, but this was later changed to Turkish Van to avoid confusion with the Turkish Angora. Although the breed has an ancient lineage, the Turkish Van is a relative newcomer to the United States, arriving in 1982.

They are considered rare even in their homeland and are honored as regional treasures and are not readily available for export to other countries. Even in areas where the breed has been known for centuries, they are still relatively rare.

A scritch in this luxurious fur is delightful for human and kitty cat alike.

The breed was first brought into Europe from the Middle East by returning crusaders, and has been known by a variety of names over the centuries such as the white ringtail and the Russian longhair.

Arya poses for a shot on a pink velvet desk chair Jessy found on the road.

The coloration of the Turkish Van, which is considered by many to be the original breed to carry the piebald gene, calls for a white, semi-longhaired cat with colored markings restricted primarily to the head and tail.

Arya spies on Donatello the turtle, a yellow-bellied slider who also loves to swim.

The Turkish Van takes three to five years to reach full maturity and is a large and agile cat of substantial strength. They are very intelligence as well as curious and make very rewarding companions in the right home. The breed is a healthy one and the unique coat does not lend itself to matting, so they require little grooming.


Intensely curious about my camera.

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