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HAVANA (Reuters) - In a Havana apartment, four silvery gray cats race around the floor and tumble over the furniture playing with each other, occasionally jumping into the laps of their human visitors.
They act like typical house cats, but these are not just any felines. They are members of what Cuban cat lovers believe is a newly identified breed of short-hair cat they call the Cuban blue.
"They are very docile, very playful. They have a very agreeable personality," said Angel Uriarte Rubio, president of the Cuban Association of Cat Enthusiasts, as he gently stroked a male cat at rest in his lap.
Rubio is a physician for humans, but a cat lover by disposition. He spearheaded the effort to identify the Cuban blue as a new breed and hopes it will one day take its place alongside the world's five other cat breeds known as "blues."
Blue is a bit of a misnomer the cat world uses for cats that are actually gray. The other breeds are the Russian blue, the Chartreux, the Korat, the Nebelung and the British blue.
The Cuban blue looks similar to the Russian blue, and for a long time was believed to be the same breed, but that made no sense, Uriarte told Reuters on Thursday.
"We knew there were no Russian blues in Cuba because Russian blues are not very widespread in the world and none had ever arrived in Cuba," he explained.
So, last year, the cat association got serious about establishing the separateness of the Cuban breed by studying its body structure, fur qualities, eye shape and other details.
"The structure of the body is different, as is the shape of the head. The color of all of them is the same, but, unlike dogs, the differences in cats are in the small details," he told Reuters on Thursday.
Last year, he appeared on television with a Cuban blue and asked owners of similar cats to come forward.
"They began to call from all over Cuba," he said. The results showed that the Cuban blues were not scarce, but also not out there in great numbers.
Cat association member Olga Fernandez is leading an effort to breed the cats with the intent of producing first-class Cuban blues, which is to say those that more closely match the association's standards.
Predictably, she is swimming in cats, with 11 living in her apartment and another 21 in her garage. Not all are Cuban blues; some are strays she has taken in.
It remains to be seen if the rest of the cat world will accept the Cuban blue as a new breed. There are four major cat associations worldwide, including in the United States, which is Cuba's longtime ideological foe.
But Uriarte said bad U.S.-Cuba relations should not influence decisions on whether the Cuban blue is a separate breed.
"I don't think cats have anything to do with politics," he said.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman