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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.

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