Sharing all Matters cat-related. showing...abuse and everything in between!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Undefined Backyard Breeder

Ugh! The vexed question of what a backyard breeder may be, hangs ever in the air in a haze of ambiguity. There's more concerted (can I say "enthusiastic"?) discussion concerning "BYB's" than any other topic in the cat fancy. If there's one subject you can jump up and down on in a public mail forum, confident in the knowledge that nobody in the cat fancy is going to take offence, it's the so-called BYB bashing.

(Let me state at this point, that all considerations in this post apply equally to the dog fancy. The characters are the same, the issues are identical).

So why doesn't anyone actually know what a BYB is ?

There are no limit of people that think they do, or who use the tag as a slur, but that doesn't mean they've done the thinking around what a BYB is, and why they should be (apparently) hated so much - or what differentiates them, as a "proper breeder" in deed, from BYB's.

But today, we had an epiphany over early morning coffee. Yes, our eyes may still be partially glued shut, but the brain is starting to tick over...

Let's start with the classical cat fancy definition of what a BYB is, and it's illustrated by the following statement on a popular cat fancy nationwide mail list a few days ago. The issue concerned somebody who had independently (& privately) SMS'ed a question to a couple of registered cat breeders, asking where they could get an entire mate for their cat. Within a short time, these conversations were broadcast, (names intact) to the national cat fancy. (We will examine the question of integrity later in this posting).

An oracle of the cat fancy concluded the discussion by posting the following :
"I spoke to (name omitted) I think it is clearer to him now. I explained one needs to join a club and one of our 3 registry organisations to breed correctly. I also explained Siamese are out crossed (cross breed as (name omitted) calls it) to Orientals and it is legal in (name of cat registry omitted) as well. Siamese are legally bred to Burmese not Birmans and produce Tonkinese. (Name omitted) is going to join a club.... At least it will not be another back yard breeder"
There you have it. The classic cat (and dog) fancy definition of a backyard breeder is clearly somebody who breeds animals without being a member of a registry or joining a club. There was no contradiction from the national cat chat list, so I must conclude that all the cat breeders are comfortable with this statement.

The corollary here of course is that once you "belong" (remember that word for later) to the cat fancy, you are classed as a respectable breeder. The implication of this, is that in some mysterious way, all your actions and decisions as a breeder are vetted and regulated so as to ensure that everything you do with, and to your cats is in the highest interests of the animal - if the blurb issuing forth from the cat fancies and breeder websites is anything to go by.

This is borne out by any and every cat registry statement of intent/objectives/ manifesto / constitution - call it whatever. There you will find statements about "protecting", "bettering", "promoting welfare of cats", "improvement of breeds", "investigations to ensure the breeding and showing of cats are to the highest standards" & etc. Now, unless there are processes and actions in place that actually carry out such objectives, this is mere window-dressing, designed to make the registry look as if it's carrying on reputable business. Are there any processes?

- proactive snap inspections of existing breeders by registry or breed-council officials? No.
- vetting of aspirant breeders to ensure they are properly equipped to take on the heady challenges of breeding (knowledge, temperament, personal circumstances etc.)? No
- imposing conditions on aspirant breeders to ensure optimal cattery husbandry as a condition of approval? No
- publication of breeder suspension lists to warn the general public? (A few registries have this)
- are regulations in place to ensure breeders vet buyers to ensure optimal placing of cats to suitable homes? No.
- from the information in the registry database, do registries do anything to discourage overcrowding of cats in breeder-affiliated catteries? No.


So there you have it - anybody appears to be able to join a registry as a breeder, fill in a form, EFT the cash and bingo, you're magically a "responsible" breeder. You don't even have to meet anyone face to face - it's that easy.

Bottom line - all critical decisions impacting the breeding of the cat, other than obvious outcrossing and lineage regulations are left to the discretion and integrity of the individual breeder. There is no interference from breed groups, clubs or fellow-breeders in the affairs of individual breeders, and provided no questions are asked or answered, this is the way it will remain. And any action which will result in a reduction in the number of animals being entered in shows, registered or bred will not enjoy the support of the cat registry, since its income is directly proportionate to, and dependent on numbers.

Now - don't scream that the link below only applies to dogs. The cat fancies also do nothing to clean up their dirty little acts. The similarities are immediate and obvious. And don't get picky about "mills" and word definitions - what the AKC calls "high volume breeders". I know of  breeders with vast numbers of cats who are both registered, and regularly attend shows.

An AKC registered dog means less than you think 
(Hint: A SA- Cat fancy registered cat also means less than you think - especially when it comes to longevity)

and HSUS Unveils AKC- Puppy mill link
(Particularly revealing here is that the AKC encourages its members to oppose legislation aimed at alleviating animal suffering.)

True to form, the CFA (Cat Fancy of America) does the same - they run seminars for their members to show them how to go about opposing draft legislation aimed at controlling overpopulation of cats, or buying without the personal viewing of the animal & etc. (The latter aimed at protecting the buyer from unscrupulous breeders - but also impeding the hugely lucrative internet-based cat trade)

So, joining a club or registry doesn't seem to do the trick to eliminate bad breeding practices, does it?

[I can list registered, show attending breeders who conduct themselves in the same way as those they set out to revile. Some of these breeders have achieved the pinnacle of success in their fancies, being multiple award winners. And that means nothing, if the animals in your care are stressed, overcrowded, sick, malnourished or poorly cared for].

If the animal registries really had the animals health and welfare at heart they would be supporting, encouraging, working with and welcoming the help from animal welfare organisations, and assisting in the rollout of new laws to protect animals from being abused and exploited. Since this is clearly not the case and the opposite is true, one can only assume that the best interests of the animal are not a primary objective (contrary to those warm fluffy statements in their constitutions), and that they have another objective in mind :  growing their business and increasing their financial flows. 

So here's my stab at what a Back Yard Breeder is really.
The cat fancy is just a microcosm of the bigger world, and is inhabited by the same characteristics and social tendencies as the rest of life. It is subject to its taboos and its rules, both spoken and unspoken. And it pays to "go along to get along" in the cat fancy. Those who are loyal and toe the line, who pander and genuflect and breed and show lots of cats do somewhat better than those who don't. And those who question policy, comment or otherwise draw attention to themselves by going against the flow, are shunned, isolated and made to feel unwelcome. This is the same in religion, politics, business, social life and everywhere else.

Which brings me to the simple observation : A backyard breeder is anyone breeding cats (or dogs) who is not in the same canoe as everyone else. They're not part of the "family'. They're an alien. Remember the statement above?

"I explained one needs to join a club and one of our 3 registry organisations to breed correctly. (Name omitted) is going to join a club.... At least it will not be another back yard breeder"

This is obviously complete piffle as it stands, but it's truth lies in what the writer meant to say :

"I explained one needs to join a club and one of our 3 registry organisations to be accepted by other registered breeders. And joining a club will ensure he will not be viewed as another backyard breeder by the cat fancy".

If you're not paddling in the same canoe, you're the enemy. And while they are in the canoe, pointing at the enemies outside of it, nobody is watching to see if the water level in the canoe is rising, whether the canoe is moving forwards or backwards relative to the river bank, whether the water turbulence is increasing, whether there are rocks, or if the canoe is approaching a waterfall. And confound that person in the canoe who tries to point out any of these things - they will be cast out into the waters.

Here are 10 points to Being a Successful Cat Breeder. No's 2, 4 and 9 stand out for me.

1. Love and enjoy the companionship of your cats
2. Beware the Raging Ego
3. Remain a student
4. Breed for Improvement, not winners
5. To thine own self be true
6. Deal with Others as you would have them deal with you
7. By giving, you have nothing to lose
8. Make use of others' achievements
9. You are only as good as your morals
10. Remember and honour the first 9 rules...  

Here's the detail of the above rules  10 Rules

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Preserving the Breed & Other Fables

So often we hear the popular mantra from cat breeders "I'm preserving and protecting the breed", preparatory to going ahead and doing some mass cat-production, upping the numbers by many tens or hundreds of cats.

On the CFA website is a discussion entitled "WHAT IS A PEDIGREED CAT?"
"Over the development years of a pedigreed cat, various natural and planned genetic combinations have provided the evolution of the breeds we recognize today. Some are naturally occuring breeds and others are man-made.
Breeders often choose to work with a single breed and devote their love and attention to the development of that breed. Their aim is to preserve, protect, maintain and improve their chosen breed. All of our breeds of domesticated cats would indeed become extinct were it not for the continuing interest of breeder/fanciers and the public".

We thought to examine these words and see the true meaning of them, and then apply that to what we know of cat breeders, and see how well they match up.

The online Free dictionary defines "preserve" as follows :
pre·serve (pr-zûrv)

v. pre·served, pre·serv·ing, pre·serves
1. To maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect.
2. To keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged.
3. To keep or maintain intact: tried to preserve family harmony. See Synonyms at defend.
4. To prepare (food) for future use, as by canning or salting.
5. To prevent (organic bodies) from decaying or spoiling.
6. To keep or protect (game or fish) for one's private hunting or fishing.

We'll skip 4 and 5, as they clearly refer to food and organic plant material.

1. Maintain in safety etc. Well - I suppose most breeders tend to keep their cats under lock and key, in the inner recesses of their homes, not allowing them out so I suppose that protecting from peril or injury qualifies here. Granted, accidents happen in the best of homes, but that's a "shit-happens" moment and happens to the best of us. What about protecting from harm? Think about the average cramped, overcrowded cat breeder environment, with overgrowth and transmission of pathogens, like URI's, conjunctivitis, overdosing with home antibiotic supplies purloined from the friendly vet & etc. I don't think that qualifies somehow under the category of protecting from harm. So only give half a tick here.

2. What about keeping in perfect or unaltered condition, maintaining unchanged. Nope - the cat fancy has a long history of screwing up just about every breed that comes across the judging table. A bunch of misguided  people somewhere get a dumb idea into their heads and the next thing you know, every breeder is creation is screwing up a perfectly good, healthy cat by inbreeding in pursuit of the outward confirmation required by the changed standard of points. Think I'm talking junk?

Persians : At the 2012 World Cat Congress, Prof Tim Gruffyd-Jones noted that European vets have the greatest problems with Persians and Sphynx. In the case of Persians the concern is the respiratory problem caused by the brachycephalic facial structure, but there is also concern for the longer, more dense coat making the Persian a high maintenance cat. What's the cat fancy response to the prospect of losing their precious squashed faces? A question from the floor "Is the extreme Persian with bigger nose leather and wider nostrils OK?" - missing the point completely that the brachycephalic facial structure has affected breathing, rendered tear ducts inoperable and caused soft palate elongation i.c.w. the flatter facial structure, presenting protruding tongues. I somehow don't think bigger nose leather and nares cuts the mustard.

Witness this change in the past 30 years particularly (see "Battering the Breed" in this blogsite for the embedded video link).

Siamese? The old healthy head and body shape made way for a long slinky strung-out body, the head morphed into a long wedge shape and the cat developed fly-away Dumbo ears. "Dumbo" in this connotation is indeed an apt word. Breeders have been warned (WCC presentation 2012) that the Siamese head shape is becoming too extreme.

Sphynx also develop skin diseases when they are not bathed regularly, specifically in colder months

The lethal American variant Burmese head defect is well known in cat fancy circles, and is a result of breeders aiming for shorter muzzles and slightly rounder facial structure. 

Just about every Maine Coon originates in only 15 common cats, so over-used were the original bloodlines. The origin of the Maine Coon is said to be a mix of the forest cats of Maine, and the domestic shorthair cats of the early settlers. Given that the American wild forest cat is a tabby, just where do all the colour-variant Maine Coons come from, and how does the approval of every colour under the sun "preserve the breed"?

Prof Gruffyd-Jones also discussed the breeding of breeds based on genetic defects and specifically referred to Scottish Fold, Manx, Munchkin, Sphynx and Bambino. He asserted that there is no place in the world for a breed based on genetic faults. He said that there cannot but be a concern for the health of a cat if breeding of these breeds are encouraged, and asked if registering bodies are living up to their main objectives if these breeds are accepted for registration.

OK - so for point 2., give breeders and the cat fancy a big fat cross.

3. Keep or maintain intact. The dictionary sense here does not truly apply in the context of cats, as it merges in point 2, above. However, with tongue in cheek and understanding one meaning of "to maintain intact" - this is one of the things a breeder does best! Any animal which is "not intact" is little use to a breeder. Flippantly give them a little tick here, balanced by a cross for the more serious meaning - their inability to truly maintain the healthy breeds unchanged.

4. Point 6 - to keep or protect for ones private hunting or fishing. Ah! Now here's what cat breeders really do well. They keep cats for their own private hunting/fishing. Realise that in the context of the cat fancy, the hunting/fishing is for trophies and ribbons and is done in the show halls across the world. "Own private" are also appropriate - they reflect the self-interest which dominates the character of most animal breeders. Big tick here, but for the wrong reasons.

Final scorecard : One and a half ticks out of 4 categories, and one point of that was for the wrong reason! Hardly a pass mark, is it?

As for breeds of domesticated cats becoming extinct, at the rate they're going cat breeders and registries are likely to achieve the exact opposite effect, very shortly. But then, the animal fancies are not known for being moderate. To the contrary, continual drift towards the extreme appears to be a hallmark of "breed progression".

And given that most of the breeds are virtually unrecognisable from the breeds only 50 or so years back, I'd say the cat fraternity has been spectacularly unsuccessful in preserving the breed.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A Misguided Sense of Priorities

The posting would be funny if its subject matter was not of such grave concern. Indeed there are moments when you have to smile at the ludicrously inappropriate responses from both the breeder who was raided, and the CFA people. Tragicomedy!

Dozens of cats found in Long Island home

Note the irrelevant information dished up by the breeder to the rescue authorities "The red fellow here is a grand premier". Hello! Who cares? The title is nonsense - it matters only to those inside the cat fancy who think it is something of value. It isn't of course. And to any normal person , this type of statement comes across sounding really whacko. Makes you want to go and bang on his skull and ask if there's anyone in there. He's being raided and the stench is reportedly overwhelming - and he's going around saying "and this is Maddie, and that's Ethylene etc." Are we on the same planet?

"We breed and show pedigreed cats". Yeah Yeah. And live in a sea of cat urine and faeces. But he has someone who comes in twice weekly to clean the house and empty the sandboxes. Isn't this reasonable? The reason I'm asking, is that there seems to be something going on in that lonely dark space this breeder is pleased to call a brain (and in the brains of every other cat breeder) that indicates that this is perfectly reasonable. But it's not, as every normal (non cat fancy) person will attest.

He says, "I'm not overwhelmed". If not, his cats certainly are. They're sentient beings - they surely must find being housed in excrement and filthy stinking surrounds and being made to use over-dirty litter boxes overwhelming.

Cat behaviourists tell us there should be a litter box for each cat, plus one extra. Forty one litter boxes in his home? I doubt it - there wouldn't be enough space. The cat litter boxes in our home are cleaned at least 4 times daily and no waste is allowed to lie in a box for any length of time. But overnight it accumulates, and in the morning boxes have to be cleaned. I shudder to imagine the kind of mess that 40 cats make over a 3-4 day period in their litter boxes.

"And you can take care of the cats?" he is asked by the reporter. YES   "40 of them?" YES

No he can't - he presents himself as a lunatic who needs to be given a nice quiet place to be locked up in - like his cats, but more humane and hygienic. The problem is, as the reader will note when following the link below, that the CFA people think this is merely mischief making by people intent of ruining their cat fancy, and everything is being blown out of proportion.

And there's the rub - cat (and dog) fancies are not self-regulating because they do not focus on animal welfare issues, but only on show income and titles  - again to the normal person, this is clearly inappropriate.

Witness the exchange of mails involving certain CFA cat breeders on behalf of their registry's interest. I am amused by the show manager who was incensed at the fact that this raid occurred immediately before a CFA show that was being held in the same area. So who has a skewed sense of priorities then? I didn't hear much sympathy for the cats.

(In this exchange, BAP = Breeder Assistance Program and BR = Breeder Rescue).

Clearly, the fact that the CFA have assistance programs of this nature to aid breeders who get into trouble (mainly due to overcrowding), is an indication that all is not well in the cat fancy - in that breeders have a tendency to acquire and retain excess cats, spurred on by the promise of show success and the economics of selling kittens. That said, any normal person (they exist in everyday life outside the animal fancies) would put measures in place to prevent the registration of more than a set number of animals, and/or inspect and censure the owners, thus curtailing the practice.

And one of the key areas of cat fancy emphasis is not getting animal rights (AR) or PETA involved, and preferably not the SPCA either. And of course no breeder wants a animal inspector wandering around their home - for obvious reasons that have nothing to do with their privacy. Anyone who was really interested in the welfare of the cat would welcome inspection with open arms. Come to think of it, any cat fancy that really was serious about cat health and welfare, would have instituted compulsory cattery /home of excellence programs (with mandatory inspections) a long time ago.

But nobody is serious about it, and the dirt has to be kept swept under the rug....

Waxolotl cattery raided by authorities

I am starting to formulate the opinion that anyone who remains in the cat or dog fancy for any length of time, gets attacked by brain-rot. Or is brain-dead in the first place.

Cat Collection Addiction

I am again reminded by recent events, of the 2009 case of (yet another) cat hording abuser, one Inez Tyrrell of Amzeni Persians in Telford, Shropshire. For those not acquainted with this little bit of infamy, she was convicted in court, and admitted to 13 counts of causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Twenty-eight of her 72 persians (in a 2 bedroomed house!) had to be put down. Another four were found dead in the freezer.  

From the press records: 

An experienced officer had to leave as he almost vomited from the smell, due to the ammonia levels. Cats were suffering from ocular, dental and respiratory tract diseases, and facial pyoderma.
“One cat had severely deformed hind limbs and couldn’t walk properly and should have been taken to the vets immediately. The hall stairs and landing of the house were covered in cat faeces and were stained with urine."
Judge Morgan branded her actions "totally unnacceptable" and said: “I’ve never come across a case where so many animals have had to be destroyed over just one person’s actions. “You must have known what condition these cats were living in - the physical appearance of them show they were seriously suffering. “The RSPCA had to pay nearly £100,000 in cattery and veterinary expenses. For that great British charity to lose so much money because of you is totally and utterly unacceptable.” 
(Guess who picks up the pieces - as usual). 
It is ominous that Tyrell stated that “It was never a business, it has always been a hobby. All of us cat breeders keep cats for the same reason, we love them so much.”  I sincerely hope that she does not speak for the majority of cat breeders when defending this type of abuse as being a 'hobby' - "loving them so much" that they literally love them to death. Looks to me like "collection addiction" and exploitation. 

The court imposed a life ban on keeping cats, and a 5 year ban on keeping reptiles (which were also abused in her home). It is notable that on the back of a court ban for life, the GCCF saw fit to only charge her with 11 counts of causing unnecessary suffering (after she admitted 13 in court), and one charge of not providing a suitable environment for the cats she was responsible for. I wonder which of the 4 cats in the freezer that charge applied to and why for the other three, the freezer was deemed to be an appropriate environment? I presume it must have applied to the dead freezer cats, surely? But then what about the cats kept upstairs in the many filthy little cages? I suppose according to the British cat fancy, those conditions would be deemed "appropriate"? I wonder which dear soul on the UK Governing Council would like to be locked up in a little cage for several years, to see if it really is appropriate? Surely 76 counts of providing unnacceptable conditions sends a clearer message? The GCCF then imposed a 5 year suspension, after which she may apply to have it lifted. 

I wonder what you have to do to be given a life ban in the GCCF? Maybe if you bring them under public scrutiny for turning a blind eye to overcrowding by their breeders, perhaps? Or possibly setting fire to the cat fancy president? 

Of course, the UK GCCF and every other cat registry worldwide has exact stats on every one of their breeders and owners' cats through the registration and transfer process, so they have the wherewithal to carry out the necessary control measures to prevent cats being overcrowded. All they need is the will to keep their house in order.

But I note in the GCCF's business plan, that registry fees are the bulk (90%) of the income per annum - so guess where the real priority lies? I mean, which business wants to limit its own fee income, merely because it means being nice to a few hundred thousand cats? (And the GCCF (Ltd) is very definitely a business, like every other cat registry worldwide). 

And then of course, cat fancies tend to try and downplay incidents like these of being "one-off" aberrations by misguided individuals who they then go out of their way to disown, since being caught with your hand in the animal-abuse cookie jar is bad PR for the cat fancy. But they do nothing to police their members or discourage hoarding of cats.  

Witness Tracy Mayo, of Tracylooe Cattery in Looe, Cornwall who was found to have more than 100 persian cats locked up in a barn, in execrable conditions in small cages a couple of years back. The local rescue centre helped ensure a happy ending for some of these cats. The Tracylooe breeder prefix is still listed under the GCCF, and Ms Mayo is not any suspension list - temporary or permanent. (I do note that both temporary and permanent life suspensions seem to be awarded to those who are caught not paying moneys due/ withholding show earnings/ keeping inadequate financial records and not submitting all the required paperwork. It's good to know the GCCF has its business priorities right - can't cry over a few cats, can we?) 

How about Stacey Bogue of Startrax cattery, who when she heard the SPCA had been called out to her cattery, opened the doors and let the cats out into the snow, and fled to Canada? Neither the CFA nor TICA did anything to censure her. The conditions under which her cats were kept were horrendous, and the only reason it came to light was her husband who was having a custody battle and wanted to prove her an unfit parent. 

Posted at Thu, March 17, 2011 9:05:23 AM 

  “This is no news. This happened almost 2 years ago already, and unfortunately nobody could stop this evil person. CFA and TICA both did nothing against her. Stacey also had two males from me and I heard that one of them has died meanwhile (you see him on one picture, a red persian sitting on a blue towel), and the other one nobody knows where he is. People said that Stacey just let them run out in the cold winter, left to themselves, and maybe they have died from the hard winter in Canada... I swear if I ever meet this woman in person, I will do the same to her what she has done to all these cats. Lock her in the cellar and throw a few kibbles of food on the floor every 3-4 days...! No cleaning, no toilet, let her sleep in her own shit! This woman was a prospective cat judge and she sounded so nice! You never see behind the face of a person.... Pictures were taken by her (Ex-)husband but not to protect the cats, just to start a custody battle about their daughter...” 

While we're bumming around the US, how about Judith Lawson, a former cat breeder who was found to have housed 22 cats in filthy cages in her garage for more than 6 years? She "didn't mean to do it". I suppose at no time in that 6 years did it occur to her that she was doing wrong. See 22 cats living in filth . 

Investigators noted that this probably happened at a previous home she lived in, in Bellevue. When she moved out, walls and floors had to be ripped out because of the urine and faecal contamination. 

And it goes on and on. And the abuse lists can be easily found in the public domain. 

The culpability of the cat fancies for encouraging this behaviour is explored in more detail in a later blog. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Alzheimers at the Judging Table

G and I were pondering what it is about the cat fancy that makes people take the same cats to shows, week in, week out, year in and year out. On and on, ad infinitim.

When one thinks back to Harrison Weir (the father of the cat fancy), the original objective of cat showing was to create awareness and education in the public domain about these mysterious animals, and later for the judges to guide breeders in their programs, towards the elusive "perfect" specimen (not that anyone will ever succeed in breeding a perfect cat - whatever that may be).

The problem with showing cats however, is that except for fairly rapid changes through the kitten stages, the development is fairly gradual and therefore it makes little sense to be showing them every week - that is, assuming cat judges are consistent you're certainly not likely to get much of a different message, week on week.

But of course cat judges are not consistent and much of their message consists of trying to tell you diplomatically that the cat is a poor specimen, or perhaps that the cat is a great specimen (this depends on their mood, whether you've been a good and loyal subject lately, whether they want somebody else to do well at the show today to keep them coming back and paying fees & etc.) It seldom actually has much to do with the cat and what the judge has had for breakfast is as likely as anything to sway the decision.

So, for a while at least, you get a kaleidoscope of judge opinions, many the same, plus some outliers from a few upcountry judges who don't know you quite so well and are not particularly interested in hampering your chances unless you've been getting up their noses lately. But then it tends to settle down into the same old rigmarole/ ho hum been-there-seen-that type of report.

There was only one judge who was upfront enough to say to me "I don't know what else to say about him - I've written everything there is to say already - and that judge had only seen him 3 times before. But 3 times is more than enough when it comes to cat judging. At the 2nd time, the judge is still getting to know the cat - by 3 times the judge is saying "ah hello old chap, and how are we today?". And after that, it's just silly.

It makes it even worse when the cat fancy tries to pretend that judges don't know which exhibits are owned or bred by who. The point being here that 99% of the time, the owner of the cat is standing in front of the judge presenting the cat to him/her to be judged. Therefore for the cat fancy's assertion to be correct, I must presume that cat judges have either an exceptionally short term memory recall / short span of attention (or both), or Alzheimers (or all of these). Certainly, I'm leaning towards believing it in certain cases....

So now we get the situation where, in order to encourage people to bring their cats back to the show (and hence support the federations with entry fees), they create multiple titles, like "double supreme champion", "triple supreme champion" etc.) Which means with the current show system provided you are prepared to drive a few thousand extra kilometers per year, these extra awards can be obtained within about a year. Otherwise if you're a stay-at-home type, a couple of years extra showing of the cat. But what's the point if the judge has seen the cat multiple times already? And most of them have, because there are not that many judges in SA. By the time you get in that type of silliness, the judges are bored, you're bored and the cat is getting bored. In fact that cat would far rather be at home, stalking a juicy bird or lying in the garden in a tunnel, or sunning itself on its back.

But no - the same cats get trotted out year on year. And behold! Suddenly, there we have a picture of a cat judge standing next to a proud owner and their cat which is being touted as the best thing since sliced bread, and it's the same cat that has been judged by the same judge countless times. Silly smiles are plastered on their faces. What changed? Well nothing as far as the cat is concerned. However the owner is being patted for being persistent and loyal (for a moment, at least), until it's somebody else's turn.

And the years roll on, show after show, COTY after COTY.
"Same procedure as last year Miss Sophie?"
"Same procedure as every year, James"

I can see it all now in my mind. A Monty Python sketch lampooning the pathetic silliness of the cat fancy. John Cleese enters show hall with his too-short trousers showing a deal of ankle and mismatching sock, clutching a cat protectively under his arm and shielding it from the prying eyes of the other exhibitors who have seen it a million times.

"Same procedure as last year, Mrs Scum?"
"Same procedure as every year, Mr Gabbleblotchit"

"Right!" and he Nazi goose-steps towards the front of the hall, cat under left arm, right arm cocked with the feather from the cat teazer under his nose to indicate the moustache. He turns round at the front, holds the cat high in the air, and on his forehead is affixed an enormous rosette with tails down to his knees. It reads "FAITHFUL EXHIBITOR OF THE YEAR".

"No , no, no!!" The show manager screams "you do that at the end of the season. This is the beginning. You need to get into your cage!"

"Oh all right" Gabbleblotchit sighs reluctantly, curling his 6'5" frame double and contorting his body into a 50cmx50cm show cage. A passing steward obligingly slams the door shut and puts in the steel retaining pin.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Rosettes Make the World Go Round

I was vaguely amused (but not surprised) to note the following piece of drivel on one of the cat lists, after an annual Cat of the Year binge had taken place, and the masses were still in a mutual back patting mood :

"I am quite surprised that no one has put pics of the amazing CFSA Coty Rosettes up yet. So shoot me if you will. They were done by *(name deleted)*  and were even personalised - each Rosette had the Cat's placing as well as a separate ribbon with the Cat's Name on. These are undoubtedly the most beautiful Coty Rosette in our home."
(I won't bother to fix the prose to more closely resemble English)

(And then a picture of a board with a few rows of rosettes, basically similar, with the caption) :
"The armada of Rosettes that greeted us on the evening."

"Each Coty Qualifier got two Rosettes, the smaller one was on each cage and the larger, personalised one, we received in the evening."

I loved G's comment : NOW... Lets NOT forget the Rosettes folks!!!  How would we survive the cat-show without our rows of Rosettes to show off our wins?  UNTHINKABLE!!!!!!"

Poor human-beings - seems they have nothing better to do than exploit their cats so that they can  B R A G  and then feel good about themselves !!!

And that about sums up the stupidity of the cat fancy. It would be more worthwhile if the winning was at least based on the qualities of the cat, rather than the need to mollycoddle the masses in turn, to keep them coming back to the shows. But it's not. Drag the cats to the show and back home. Show and home. Show, home, show home showhomeshowhomeshowhomeshowhome etc.

Pity it does nothing for the cats. It would be nice if the money spent on ribbons, dinners and doodads could be donated to animal welfare, cat shelters and sterilization programs.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Back to the Garden

Our Garden
Felines: Apollo, Mojito, Tabitha Twitchit, Adagio
Photos : Mike
Poem by: David Switzer


Come with me
Back to the Garden
Where we have
No fears of
Who and what
We are

Back to the Garden
Where we see
The world with
Love in our
Eyes for each
Other and the
World we’re in

Back to the Garden
Where our souls
Are free of guilt
And are filled
With the pure
Joy of being

Back to the Garden
Of our soul’s Eden
The place where
All is love
And loving acceptance
Of who and
What we are.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

You Need to Put Your Foot Down!

I said "You need to put your foot down with these cats!" 

Thus saith a member of the family who recently came to visit. Just goes to show how little they know about cats!
You don't "put your foot down" with cats. They say cats are truly independent beings who manage to tolerate their host home merely because that's where all their food and comfort is. But that's not to say that cats are "stand-offish" beasties who never interact with their owners, but that they interact at a place and time of their own choosing. 

And do they interact! There is plenty of interaction from our cats - they herd along after us as soon as something really interesting is taking place - like moving the furniture, or eating outside in the garden, or evening playtime, or following us so they can sleep on the computer while we are trying to work. There is no question that cats are equally as interactive as dogs, and far more discriminating to ensure the object of their attention is truly worthy of it! 

But - you don't "lay down the law" to a cat. Have you ever tried to get a cat in at night when it's warm and balmy and the moon is shining away high in the sky? You can stand on your head and whistle La Marsellaise through any orifice you choose to, but you aint gonna get that cat! He/she will sit and wait patiently for you to get tantalisingly close - say around 2m away, and then they will frolic off whisking the tail in the air - a grand rude two-fingered gesture if you like (cat style).

Yeah right - I'm going to hop round the garden at 2am like a demented animated garden gnome in pursuit of a frolicking cat who's leading me on just because it can. Dream on - which is what I'm doing at 2am. If the cat decides it wants to stay out, there's not a lot I can do about it, apart from wishing it well and hoping morning arrives with it still in one piece. We have our property fully fenced, so cats getting out is not a problem - and none of them bother anyway. It's merely a matter of them wanting to get themselves a bit more "me space" and enjoying the night.

And most of the time we find that if you ignore them, the stragglers all come in anyway - go about your business, shower and last thing before the light goes out, check for the prodigal cat. In luck? Bring him in, otherwise leave him be. He's (in our household it's a "he") happy - and that's the main thing.

I'd love to see my family member standing outside in the middle of our back garden at 2am telling the cat "come in - NOW!!". Yeah - sure. Pigs might fly. But they better do it quietly, because I'll be asleep.

What I Hate About Cat Judges

Let me preface these remarks by first stating that the heading of this article is hyperbole – it is an attention-getter. It is also part of a larger exposition considering thoughts around why the cat fancy is getting smaller each year : this section deals specifically with judges and the perception of these people from the point of view of the exhibitor.

I neither “hate” nor do I “love” any cat judge. “Love” and “Hate” are too strong and emotive words to bring into the subject of cat judging. I do however have the greatest respect for a certain few judges who do a stirling and sometimes thankless task, and who stick to their guns through thick and thin. In fact cat judging seems to be an occupation which is fraught with danger from all sides – show management, breeders, exhibitors – the lot! The judges I respect are those who manage to courteously and firmly undertake the task assigned them, judges who manage time and again to accomplish their assignment with aplomb, AND although they may attain a reputation of being uncompromising and “as tough as nails”, they always maintain their reputation for integrity and consistency. You sometimes may not like the decision they make when it comes down to your cat, but in the cold hard light of day, you cannot in all conscience argue with it. These folk are never too busy to give a well-considered word of advice or encouragement when asked, and they obviously eat up any and all information dealing with their fancy – from history to present day, folklore and scientific. In short they are authorities, and it’s not hard to give them respect.

And then I have a measure of both distain and dislike for many other judges who by their conduct show themselves to be vacillating, ill-prepared and willing to “bend with the breeze” to accommodate certain people at cat shows, to the detriment of the other exhibitors, and who thereby fail in the task of imparting accurate input as to goodness of breed. These are the judges who one moment are fêting and fussing over a cat, giving it judges special awards and waxing lyrical – and the next they are ignoring the cat completely. These are the judges who are playing along to a separate song-sheet – one that is not primarily based on the goodness of the cat, but the expediency of ensuring so-and-so is promoted in their breeding program, and whatshername gets to qualify for cat of the year (again) – regardless of how many times it’s already happened, and regardless of who else may have a very good cat, but is good only for providing an endless stream of entry fees. These judges confide to you their thoughts about other exhibitors, and then go and do the same thing with everyone else. These are the judges who quickly lose the respect of all except the few in the gallery to whom they are playing – and they who cause many good folk who perceive the futility of trying to play on a tilted playing field, to close the door and turn out the light on the cat fancy. And then we wonder why the Fancy continues to shrink….

Let’s look at some of the likes and dislikes in a bit more detail.  

1. I love “hard and uncompromising, but consistent”. Ow! Sounds a little masochistic. It hurts when you don’t have a cat that is up to scratch (no pun intended) on the bench. But at least you know where you stand – and you know this every single time. When that judge takes your cat in hand you know you’re going to hear God’s Honest Truth, come hell or high water. And when that judge nominates your cat, you know you have finally got a good cat. You can look anyone straight in the eye and say “So and So gave this cat a nomination, and that means this is a VERY good cat” - undeniably. When your cat is faulted, you know you can ask why and immediately receive a factual object lesson straight as an arrow, given and received in a non-threatening and informative manner. You don’t mind in the long run, because this judge is straight down the line – their input is always factual, never biased and can always be trusted 100%. They have no need to mislead you – what they have said about your cat is the gospel truth. And you don’t waste time and money trying to win with a cat that’s never going to make it. Of course if you have a “good-to-mediocre” cat which needs to obtain titles and the cat is good enough do this, you are perfectly able to do so, but at least you know up front you’re never going to have a show winner. And there’s nothing wrong with that. No surprises.

2. When we came into the fancy, we were “befriended” by a local breeder from whom we received a few cats. For better or worse, we noted that when we were showing this breeder’s cats, they received awards including judge’s favourites, and sometimes nominations for finals etc. A particular cat of ours received multiple nominations almost as a routine. However at some later stage we were advised by the breeder to decline to have a certain local judge judging our cats (“because they don’t like our breeding, so there’s no point in letting them judge the cats”), and of course, being inexperienced in the fancy, this we did. And that was the last time any of our cats received nominations from any of the judge members of the local provincial panel of judges. We found out later that regardless of what the breeder said to others about the judge in question, on a personal basis she made sure she stayed on friendly terms with the judge – who is a leading light in the local fancy. The objective of course was to ensure that none of the other cats we subsequently put on show from other breeders, ever received nominations at local shows, and that our cats never out-competed this breeder’s own cats.

Of course from an ethical point of view, this type of incident should never occur, since judges should concern themselves only with the cat on the bench in front of them. The politics of the exhibitor and/or breeder (if different) should be irrelevant, but alas, they are not. It is also my prerogative not to like or want a particular judge judging my cat if I choose not to, as long as I remain civil this is as far as it should go. The issue here is professionalism. Judges are there to do a job of work – and they are getting paid for it – so they should be focusing only on the cats and not on the personalities in the room. The professional approach can accommodate the fact that they may indeed not like a particular exhibitor, but their call to duty is to ensure that they correctly and meticulously judge the cats before them. And only that.

3. Judge preference. This one irks me. “That judge doesn’t like bicolours, so they won’t nominate that cat”. Duh! Is a bicolour described in the SoP? If it is, then the task of the judge is to judge the cat unequivocally according to the SoP. Personal “likes” should be irrelevant! If this cat is a very good and pretty bicolour with the required amounts of white, and if it has all its other “bits&pieces” in the right places, then it should receive the same consideration as the selfs, vans, smokes etc. And it’s OK for the cat not to win – that’s not the issue here. The issue here is that personal colour (or whatever other) bias, should not be allowed to become a factor in the mind of the judge.

4.  The “regionality of the winning” is another interesting trend. This appears to be the cat fancy equivalent of the “home town advantage” in football games. Briefly it is the trend noted where certain cats owned and bred by certain breeders have a tendency to win specifically only in a certain province or club. Here, one looks to the relationship between the show managers, judges routinely invited to officiate and exhibitors, and “who owns who’s cat” / who is in a breeding program with who etc. Inspection reveals that most often the selfsame judges are officiating at these shows.  The name of the game here for judges should be “come without any encumbrances or hidden agendas. Do not carry baggage that will interfere with your integrity or freedom to act. And don’t set unfortunate precedents”. My message to judges here might be “personal integrity is hard-won and easily lost. Once gone, it’s gone forever. Don’t give yours away – cheaply or even at all”.

5. I cannot relate how irritating it is to have a judge deciding to withhold on my cat, and then hopping around from one foot to the other while they get 2nd (3rd, 4th) opinions from whichever judge they can find in the room, merely because they lack the courage of their convictions. Of course, this has the delightful consequence of alerting everyone in the room that your cat has been declined, and therefore all the other judges that are still to judge you (sorry - Freudian slip - should read "your cat") know what to fault you on. It was a matter of wonderment to me that the last time this happened, the judge withheld (in ring 1 mind you) and although the other judges "agreed" on the withhold, none of them saw fit to penalise the same fault. Maybe they were trying to be nice so I continued to support the shows... 

On a different occasion, a judge decided to withhold on one of our cats because of a pattern dispute. This judge also cast about the room looking for “some backup” for the decision. She got her backup, but it was really rather amusing and ironic. The one judge who agreed with the withhold for incorrect pattern, had written on a previous report on this cat “Excellent coat … pattern evident and correct”  and the 2nd judge called on to support the withhold had herself judged the same cat some 4 weeks before and had written a one-word judge report "outstanding"!  Of course she didn't remember the previous judging, but the inconsistency made me smile. How can one trust the judgement of such people to guide a breeding program?  You’d be better off asking a vet – at least they’d give you a sound assessment of the health of the animal, which should be more important than merely the outward appearance.

If you in your discretion decide that for whatever reason, you need to withhold, then do so, but be prepared to be able to look the exhibitor (and breeder) straight in the eye and tell them exactly why. And don’t change your mind next time.

6. As far as going to shows to get a heads-up on whether the breeding program is still on track and no cattery-blindness is creeping in, I applaud anyone who really is doing this nowadays - and there may well be one or two (or a few). Originally, if one looks back to people like Harrison Weir and Francis Simpson, it will be recalled that this was one of the most important reasons for showing cats. Knowledgeable judges gave guidance and input – “a nudge here and a tip there” to ensure the well-planned and executed breeding program stayed nicely on track – and to nip in the bud any nasty little extremes of type that tended to creep in from time to time, as well as to arrest the misguided novice in their tracks, if indeed they got off to a poor start.

It is perfectly true that a breeder will never give away their best bloodstock – they’d be silly to do so. Correctly, the best kitten should be retained to continue the line, and if they are truly as good as the breeder thinks, they will have their share of many awards. The corollary to this is “the show home will never get the best cat, and neither will another breeder”. And exactly because you cannot keep all the cats you breed, you will pass down the line kittens and sometimes studs and queens who are not up to scratch. This of course is not “bettering the breed” – how can you better the breed by passing on your own cast-offs? But it does mean that most start-up breeders, (unless they have sufficient capital and a very good eye for talent so they can import their own bloodlines), will not begin by breeding very good kittens. There could be the odd fluke, but generally speaking the “enthusiastic novice” is going to fail to score. And this is where the judge comes in, because those kittens are going to be on show, as well as subsequent breedings. And if judges are not playing their part to provide a voice of reason for new and inexperienced breeders (and there are many of these – it doesn’t take much skill to start “putting cats together”) – then the most important reason for the very existence of the cat show has been missed. 

Sadly nowadays, I think most of what goes on at cat shows is more to do with ego and awards to embellish the shop-window and pave the way for more sales (many of them international exports in nice strong currency). More awards and more wins = “more to put on my website and facebook” and more to attract buyers - after all the little devils just carry on popping out kittens, don't they, and we have to sell them somehow?

7. And then we come to ordinary old-fashioned good manners and decency. No - it is neither permissible nor is it professional for a judge to shout, raise their voice, or even to get upset with a breeder (or anyone else) because the cat in front of them has a fault. To what end is this even worth getting upset about? Surely it is more beneficial to quietly note the problem to the exhibitor and/or breeder, and if it is of a sufficiently serious nature and may appear that the breeder is missing a few tricks, that the judge then meet with the breeder discreetly to make their observations as to how the lines might be improved? After all, most of us agree at the outset that the real intent of the shows is to try to improve the breed. Or is it too threatening to have a judge tell you that you might actually not be hitting the mark? Do we all have to have our egos mollycoddled and stroked in order to feel good about ourselves, all the time?

In all walks of business we have the “rank and file” – the large clerical group of employees, and then we have the “middle and upper management” – those with an operational vision for the business who are positioned to be able to provide guidance and input to the troops, to conduct disciplinary and performance reviews, to remunerate and to coach and motivate. And then there are those few top administrators – the executive management with the strategic vision who conduct their affairs at a high level and who lead frequently hurried and stressed lives rushing from meeting to meeting. In the context of the cat fancy, perhaps the “rank and file” are the everyday breeders and exhibitors, the “mid to upper management” are maybe the show management, stewards and club committees, and the “executive management” are the governing council and the judges. Just about everyone on the governing council (and I’m not including club-representatives here, I’m referring to permanent GC membership) is a judge anyway. So let’s say “judges” are the Executive Management of the cat fancy. And why not? To be a (proper) judge you have a sense of history. You know the forerunners to current day bloodlines, you know what worked and what didn’t in the past, you know who did what, when and why, you have great insights into the legendary cats of the past and the heritages they spawned. And you know – or know of – the great breeders and judges of the past who have gone about their trade in a sober, unassuming way and have grown in stature and wisdom to become legends of the cat fancy. To be a “proper” judge – like any executive manager – you need to have helicopter vision and an eye for the strategic. You need to have a long term high level view, and you need to unerringly be able to choose the right path under all circumstances, in the interests of the long term health and prosperity of the cat fancy. The cat judge is (or rather, “should be”) someone special. “A leader” who understands the wisdom of keeping the mailed fist in the velvet glove and in maintaining calm control. Someone whose discretion is beyond reproach and who will never be party to cheap secondhand gossip.  A person in whose decision great store is placed – whose comments are always both sincere and accurate, and who strives to never deliver inconsistent judgments on a cat, especially when nominating and placing them.   

8. “Flip-flop Judges”. Have a look through any set of judge reports from the shows you have attended. Bet you a penny to a pound you will not take long to find a set where you wonder if the judges are looking at the same cat? And then, if or when my cat is nominated, do I have a good cat? One moment you get a judgement where a judge appears to love your cat, and the next they are withholding. Or you sense that they “kind-of love” your cat, but clearly they don’t love your cat enough to actually nominate it for best of group/ BIS etc. At this point you wonder if they are loving your cat merely enough to keep you supporting the shows? Take the judge who recently wrote in their judge report that a particular Maine Coon’s muzzle was too small. The cat went on to win a side-class at the same show for best muzzle. Huh? Are we on the same page here? Somebody speak with forked-tongue. (The same cat has been doing very well at a number of recent shows, even once winning best kitten).

There is a saying “There’s no such thing as a perfect cat”. This is of course perfectly true. But the unspoken part of this truism is “and we will ruthlessly point out the bits that are not perfect if we dislike you or your politics, or you don’t fit in with our little clique, or it’s not your turn to win”. Any judge can find anything they like wrong with your cat, if they have a mind to. Amusingly, occasionally this all comes home to roost when something is arbitrarily chosen as a fault and the cat is awarded for it nonetheless!

But what’s the problem? “We need to ensure certain cats do well at certain shows so their owners/breeders get to COTY this year again, and we will use the harmless side classes to make sure everyone else gets to feel good occasionally. Everyone gets a turn”.

We recently noted a comment from a judge, noting to the effect that they felt bad disappointing exhibitors. They needed to feel that they were being “nice” to people. Fair enough. I can understand that people can feel bad about crushing the world of an aspirant starry-eyed exhibitor. But is being nice better than telling the truth? In the realm of personal relationships we know that sometimes it can be downright cruel telling the hard truth to a friend or loved one – it’s just sometimes better for people’s feelings to not be told, or to give them a little palliative white lie. But when you come to the cat show arena, this is plainly not the forum to be playing around with amateur psychologist feelgood placebos. The judge is there to do a job of work, and do it they must, in as honest a manner as possible. No giving sideclass awards to make people feel better about missing out on the main prize. And no deliberate nominating of an inferior cat which the judge knows must lose in a final to a cat they themselves may be linked to.

It’s perfectly acceptable to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth as humanely, compassionately and empathetically as possible. The cat judge is only the messenger. They are not responsible for the goodness or otherwise of the cat in front of them (if they are, then they shouldn’t be judging it!).

And they shouldn’t feel guilty for the emotional reaction if there is one. After all, if the owner wants to believe their cat is the best in the world (and of course we all know our own cats are the best in the world don’t we?), they don’t have to bring them to cat shows, do they?  The problem in all of the above is of course credibility. Once credibility is sacrificed on the altar of expediency, it’s gone permanently. Is my cat good? Who knows – and I’m not about to find out at a cat show, am I? Unless I have a set of judges in the class I like, as in 1. above.

A judge should not merely be someone who stuck around the cat fancy for a few years and then decided to write the exams – or who “schmoozed” a person of power and influence in the cat fancy and became their sidekick judge. I cannot say to what extent judge exams in the different fancies are or are not difficult to pass, but I can observe some of the characters who assume the role of judge. And I can think to myself “if even university degree qualifications are becoming less demanding these days (and they are), I can suppose that everything else is too – including cat judging. And with the decline in difficulty, the doors swing wide to admit those who ordinarily should not be there.”  I might also be tempted to think this might not be the most difficult thing to accomplish for myself. But I have a sneaking suspicion I might not be getting too many judging assignments if I did….

And is showing worth it? Ah! Clearly this depends on everyone's personal outlook and how much the organisation makes it “fun” for them to continue coming to shows. For us, when it became manifestly obvious that there were few ethics, the rules such as they existed were not applied in any sense consistently, that the very people to whom complaints should be escalated were playing the same grimy little game, then neither was there a point in kidding oneself that anything meritorious had been achieved even if our cats "did well" (occasionally and inconsistently). That was the time to withdraw from showing completely, and we’re not about to change our minds any time soon.  

Battering the Breed

For some not-so-little time we've been having thoughts about a popular mantra which gets repeated ad-nauseam in the cat fancy : it concerns the tendency of cat breeders to motivate their reasons behind taking up the hobby (?) of cat breeding, with the words "I want to better the breed". It generally seems to be uttered by people who appear to have little idea of the implications of the enterprise upon which they are embarking.

I raised this topic on a chat list some time ago, and needless to say, the readership sat there with a mouthful of teeth and said nothing - a behaviour from cat fanciers to which I have become accustomed. Anyway, this is the blog version.

It seems to me to be impossible to be able to say you are "bettering the breed", if you are doing the following things :
  • not defining clearly upfront why you are trying to breed cats, what you are setting in the way of goals and objectives, and how you plan to go about achieving these - and then measuring and reviewing the results. 
  • which brings me to the 2nd point - not bothering to check back with all your pet homes (show and non-show) to see how a particular line is developing throughout its lifetime. Without this - you don't know your lines. Plain and simple.
  • not bothering to learn every aspect of the physiology, temperament and pathology of the cat, in a fair amount of detail - enough to hold your own in a sensible discussion with a medical professional.
  • not studying proper feline husbandry texts before making a decision to become a cat breeder
  • taking on cats from many different breeders - the more the merrier it seems, and from anyone who wants to make some space in their own cattery from some new bloodstock
  • totally disregarding vet professionals words of caution about the risks of overcrowding, since this elevates chronic stress and cortisol levels, which impair the immune response
  • refusing to discuss "touchy subjects" like stress, disease, overcrowding and the inappropriate reward systems in the cat fancy, which pay no heed to encouraging the right practices amongst breeders, but instead reward ever greater numbers of cats
  • selling off your studs and queens to other breeders when you are done with them - often because they are not giving you good enough kittens. So instead you sell them to other breeders who (of course) will not be able to "better the breed" with them either.
  • not early neutering/spaying kittens before they leave for their new homes
  • renting out your stud to other breeders, thus ensuring he comes back to you with communicable diseases,  other foreign pathogens and different corona-virus strains
  • not bothering to institute a testing regime in your cattery for viral and other pathogen loads
  • not bothering to do proper genetic testing. All the protocols are available and if not locally, these can easily be sent to UC Davis for analysis.   
  • making idiotic statements like "I just love to see what will come out", and other inanities. This indicates the brain inside the head from which this type of comment issues forth, is an unused brain with little practice in thinking or mental acuity. It is not a brain which can render its owner a proper breeder. 
  • putting cats together willy-nilly without bothering to do proper pedigree analysis beforehand. This is called "cat producing" and 99% of the cat fancy do it. Granted, there are one or 2 real scientific professionals, but they are very few and far between, and I don't know any of them. 
  • not bothering to play any part in furthering scientific study of your chosen breed, through co-operative partnering of vet studies and research. This can be easily done but no breeders do it, because their cats and cattery are all "perfect". Nothing bad ever happens in their catteries.
  • not having autopsies performed when their (or their pet owners') cats die. "What I don't know, I don't have to act on - so I can say the cat died of whatever I like, and nobody can call me a liar" - this is the majority mentality, and it is the mentality of a troll living under a dark rock. No possibility of bettering anything with that denialist mindset. But it's a mindset that is prevalent throughout the cat fancy.
So therefore, if the above list is at all representative of the way many- or most- breeders in the cat fancy operate, there seems to be little chance that the many domestic cat breeds are being "bettered" in any meaningful way at all. The evidence overwhelmingly to the contrary, is that the unnatural paths that these breeds have taken - thanks to the cat show scene and the inane judges who have encouraged breeding to extremes of ill-conceived characteristics - have resulted in "battering" breeds rather than bettering them.

Consider this list of some of the genetic deformities and inbred defects in the breeds. Note that it is often precisely a deleterous gene mutation that has been leapt on with delight by the cat fancy, and proclaimed "a new breed" - like hairless cats for example, or the Scottish Fold.
  • brachycephalia in persian and exotic breeds (flat faces)
  • the lethal head gene in the American Burmese (also as a result of the show scene deciding to shorten the face)
  • the Scottish Fold - the gene causing the folding ears is a naturally occurring genetic aberration which is autosomal dominant and which when paired with a similar gene results in osteochondrodysplasia
  • Tailessness - autosomal dominant gene with incomplete penetrance. Lethal in utero if the result of a tailless-tailless breeding. Hasn't deterred Manx Breeders who now breed Manx but not from tailless  - pairings. The problem is the incomplete penetrance - you could be breeding to an affected cat without knowing it. 
  • Ongoing polycystic kidney disease in Persians, British Blues, Exotics, Himalayans, Scottish Folds and persian outcrosses. The tests exist to eliminate this condition. Are you bettering the breed by not terminating it in entirety? 
  • Blood group incompatibility - one of the causes of "fading kitten syndrome"  - the kittens blood type being attacked by the mother's antibodies. Typical in the case of type B queens birthing type A kittens. Did anyone do any blood typing on the adults before mating? Nope. But we're bettering the breed. 
  • HCM - Genetic tests do not cover all gene variants of HCM. Are breeders using the known tests and are prospective buyers warned before outlaying the cash, and told to continue screening for the lifetime of the cat?
  • Hip dysplasia in cats - often in Maine Coons. Do all breeders screen for this, and again, are buyers warned? 
Because of our love for our Persian cats, Brachycephalia is close to our hearts. Consider the following piece:

"The Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) and International Society of Feline Medicine are calling on vets to speak out about the extremes of conformation in cats. In a recent paper in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS), Claudia Schlueter and colleagues use a variety of techniques to illustrate clearly and beautifully how distorted the cranial skull anatomy has become in extreme brachycephalic cats such as Persians and Exotics. Looking at several different degrees of brachycephalia they also show how the tear ducts have a diabolically tortuous path, and most tears do not drain into the nasal cavity at all.

Says Andy Sparkes, editor of JFMS. ‘While brachycephalia is not a ‘new problem’ the recent study has highlighted to what an appalling extent we have deformed the faces and skulls of these ‘extreme type’ Persian cats. It should not really have taken a study of this nature to make us all wake up to this problem, but when you see so clearly just how much damage we have done to these cats by distorting the normal facial anatomy, the magnitude of the problem simply cannot be ignored.’

It is time to take a firm stand against breeding of extreme types (not just Persians) where the health and welfare of the cat is compromised. The extreme flat-faced Persians are a great example of how we have got things terribly wrong – let us do something now to change this and to breed cats in an ethical way that genuinely has their welfare as our first priority!

Australian feline specialist Dr Richard Malik writes in an editorial for JFMS, ‘The basic design of the domestic cat is fundamentally sound. Why mess with it? It’s a design that evolved through functionality. Cats need to hunt, kill prey, in turn avoid being killed by predators, reproduce and lead a vigorous athletic life. The result is a fit, elegant, lithe animal that should, if fed and housed properly, have few health issues and live a long life. In contrast, severely brachycephalic cats are a bastardisation of all the things that make cats special. They have a nasolacrimal system that doesn’t work properly, so tears stream down the front of their face causing staining and secondary dermatitis. It doesn’t help that they often have excessive folds of skin that rub against the cornea. Their orbit is shallow, leading to exophthalmos, the tendency to exposure keratitis and growth of corneal sequestra. Their teeth erupt at such bizarre angles that they cannot masticate properly. But it doesn’t stop there. Stenotic nares, stenotic nasal cavities and a soft palate that is way too long for the length of the head cause upper airway obstruction, stridulous breathing and possibly obstructive sleep apnoea. The brain is crammed into the wrong-sized cranial vault, so conceivably we may soon be seeing Budd Chiari-like malformations and syringomyelia, just like in Cavalier King Charles spaniels.

‘There is more than enough diversity in coat colour, coat length, size and personality in domestic moggies and sound pedigree breeds. There is no need whatsoever to perpetuate the breeding of bizarre mutant cats that could not exist without veterinary interventions. We don’t want to go down the path of the canine world.’

Dr Andy Sparkes also added: ‘.....Let us hope that their hard work will not be in vain, and that we will see serious changes to breed standards as a result of this. We need to do it now, not next year’.

I loved the Blog About Cats : Criticising the CFA. I particularly enjoyed the observation  "The CFA breed standard for these cats is almost an act of criminal conspiracy to cause animal cruelty. I am a bit surprised that no none has considered prosecuting the esteemed Cat Fanciers' Association under animal welfare laws." 

Indeed! And the other registries worldwide too.

Here's 120 years of Persian cat development, egged on by the whims of the cat fancy show scene. It should be mandatory in law that every breed council in every cat or dog registry should have permanent standing membership of 2 to 3 scientific professionals with formal genetic and veterinary qualifications, to advise and provide guidance (and veto if necessary) in the case of any proposed change to the breed standards. Heaven knows - the cat fancy has displayed clearly by their lack of progress (and worsening of the breeds) that they cannot do it on their own.  

And as an excellent footnote to this posting, the erudite and well considered article by Fredric Cornell of Artyk Siberians. The issues apply identically to cats. See Your true interest in the Breed? 

Dismissing Breeder Nonsense

Every breeder of pedigreed animals seems to have a mantra ; when asked why they are commencing a career in breeding, they will invariably tell you that they are aiming to "better their chosen breed".

Three questions invite response from cat (or other animal) breeders who claim they are embarking on a career of this nature :

1. What qualifies you to believe that you are in a position to be able to improve a breed, when many other breeders before you clearly have failed?

2. What is it about your chosen breed(s) that you think needs improving and how exactly are you planning to go about effecting these improvements?

3. What makes you think any improvement is necessary from a health and physiological point of view in the first place? (how will your improvements assist the animal's quality of life?)

Of course, the vast majority of cat breeders will have no response to these questions, because they plainly have no formal qualifications whatsoever - and especially any that qualify them to conduct scientific breed studies. And a very large percentage will not even have a certificate from the institute of Toyland showing that they have a diploma in nosepicking or whatever they might think makes them special.

They cannot list anything in their chosen breed that actually needs improving, other than the fact that they want to breed a cat which gets a rosette or two, and maybe a nomination or a SHOW WIN. wow. yawn. But most of the most successful South African cat breeders have demonstrated that the easiest way to achieve a show win, is to import a cat from somebody else. Yep folks - it's easier to buy than breed. Why?

Because the majority of all South African breeders we have encountered have never bothered to analyse what they're trying to do and why (other than win ribbons and burnish the ego - neither of which count for anything). Let's face it - any breeder can achieve significant success by importing someone else's bloodlines, show them and allow the local fancy to buy the lines and breed from them, whilst joining committees, making happy noises and brown-nosing anyone and everyone in the heirarchy above them. Oh - and being a "loyal supporter" at shows.

Any answer to question 2. above, can be countered by pointing out that breeder X, Y or Z have already "been there done that" - bigger eyes, smaller ears, cobbier bodies, longer bodies, longer legs, bigger muzzle blah blah. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not just buy what already has been accomplished?

And of course question 3. above does not have any answer, since to show how you are planning to improve the breed while also sorting out all the health and genetic issues, is tantamount to showing that all the breed committees before you don't have the faintest idea of what they should have been doing. They don't of course. But that's not a great way to try and achieve show wins, is it? Particularly when your "elders and betters" in the cat fancy are judging your cat.

Follow me here - this is not brain surgery : in the 141 years since the first cat show organised by Harrison Weir we should already have completed our work of bettering the breed in every respect - conformation, coat, type and first and foremost - genetics and health. However all evidence is that we appear to have been going backwards - especially as far as the last 2 are concerned. Why is this?

Because the focus of the cat fancy is not the cat - it's the survival and growth of the cat fancy and therefore every initiative which boosts new breeds, kitten registration fees or gate income will be applauded, and anything which encourages moderation and concern for the cat, will be boo'ed.

The cat fancy should be renamed : "The Me Fancy". Look at me. Fawn over me. Gimme ribbons and titles. Put me on your committee. I'll make you feel good. I'll fawn and lick and brownnose. In turn, make me feel good. Good good good. The cat is merely your entry pass, to be checked in at the door. Makes you part of an "exclusive" cult.

Why don't they leave the cats at home, and just put each other in cages and judge one another? After all, that's the basis of the decision making these days, isn't it? The person standing holding the cat is nice/ a buddy/ the breeder of my cats / the person who is showing my breeding/ someone who I want to see at COTY this year/ a pain in the ass etc.

God help the cat - or more likely animal activists are going to have to help the cat, because God and the cat fancy won't.