Meet the Turkish Van
The Turkish Van is one of the larger, more heavily-built domestic cat breeds. Males average between 10 and 20 pounds, and females weigh substantially less. They have long, strong legs, massive rounded paws and well-defined muscles, which allow them to be very strong jumpers. Their head is blunt and wedge-shaped, with a short muzzle and large, prominent tufted ears. The overall appearance of the Turkish Van is one of sturdiness wrapped up in a luxurious fur coat.
Turkish Vans are loving, loyal, curious, companionable and affectionate. They also are extremely intelligent, which can make them mischievous. Vans are very people-oriented cats. They like to play, jump and explore anything that is within their reach or range of vision. Many Vans are dedicated to fetching their particular object of interest, and many Turkish Van owners describe them as being "dogs in a cat suit" because of their charming personalities. Vans will follow their owners around the house from room to room, wanting to participate in whatever is going on in the household. They typically get along quite well with other companion animals, including both dogs and cats, as long as those animals respect the Van’s position at the top of the hierarchy. While the Turkish Van loves to be with its owner, it is not particularly fond of being picked up and cuddled unless it is on its own terms.
Turkish Vans have been described as being lively, inactive, playful, nervous and/or lethargic, among many other things. Despite this disparity in descriptions, most authorities find the Turkish Van to be an energetic animal. They love to run. They also love to play with - and in – water, which is uncommon in cats. They are extremely agile despite their stocky build.
Vans are talented jumpers and climbers. Their powerful hind legs give them a tremendous ability to jump, leap and climb. They can easily land on top of the refrigerator or on top of the highest shelf or bookcase from a cold stand-still. They love to fetch and can learn to retrieve. They instinctively catch toys in mid-flight while turning somersaults and backflips in the air. One of the most interesting behavioral traits of this breed is their fascination with water. Turkish Vans are exceptionally good swimmers, which is unusual among domestic cat breeds. They actually will seek out water and swim as a form of recreation. They have been given the nickname, “The Swimming Cat,” for this reason. The voice of the Turkish Van is pleasing and surprisingly melodious.
The Turkish Van is a rare, naturally-occurring breed that originated in a remote, rugged region of southeastern Turkey, around that country’s largest inland body of water, Lake Van, which spans more than 1400 square miles. These cats were originally brought to Europe from the Middle East by returning crusaders. They have been known over the centuries by various names, including the White Ringtail and the Russian Longhair. They developed in central and southwest Asia, in areas that are now Iran, Iraq, the former southeast Soviet Union and eastern Turkey. For Turkish Vans, the word “Van” refers to their color pattern, where the color is restricted to the head and the tail, and the rest of the cat is white. This name was given to them to distinguish them from the Turkish Angora.
Concerted development of this beautiful breed began in Great Britain in 1955, after two English photographers, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, brought a pair of Vans back with them from a trip to Istanbul. They brought a stocky white female with flashes of auburn head color and a full auburn tail, and a male with similar markings. After four years, they were successfully breeding litters of consistently marked kittens. The two English women returned to Turkey and acquired another male and female, to broaden the gene pool of the English Vans. The breed was officially recognized in Great Britain in 1969, as the Turkish Cat. The name was later changed to the Turkish Van. The International Cat Association (TICA) granted the Turkish Van championship status in June of 1979. This breed was independently imported into the United States from Turkey in 1982.