"That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm, quiet interchange of sentiments." These words of Samuel Johnson, an 18th century English writer, easily capture the spirit of the 1995 World Congress of Cat Associations (WCCA), held in the beautiful medieval town of Midwoud in The Netherlands on June 10, 11, and 12. Born in Venice only last year as an initiative of the Federazione Felina Italiana, the WCCA has already inspired a cordial dialogue amongst the heads of some of the world's major cat associations, a dialogue that was strengthened considerably at this year's meeting.
The WCCA started Saturday afternoon with an open seminar in which some of the more serious problems facing the cat fancy, primarily in Europe but eventually as a whole, were discussed. Among the major topics of discussion were the microchip identification and the pet legislation being proposed by the Council of Europe. The representatives of the various associations - Anneliese Hackmann, president of the WCF; Lesley Morgan, the official liaison officer for the Australian Cat Fanciers; Craig Rothermel, the new president of the CFA; and Alva Uddin, the president of the FIFe - were on hand to answer question from the audience.
The first item on the agenda was a presentation by Monica Emmenegger, the marketing manager of the Swiss firm Datamars, one of the companies producing the microchips. Ms Emmenegger told the audience about the decision of the International Standards Organization (ISO) concerning the microchip that will be used in small-animal identification. She described the microchip and presented slides of it as well. It is a small, biocompatible glass capsule, 12 mm long x 2 mm thick, which contains a miniaturized transponder consisting of a microchip and an antenna. A special reader that activates the transponder is required to read the unique, indelible identification code programmed into the microchip. A veterinarian using a syringe inserts the capsule under the skin of an animal. The procedure is said to be painless. The capsule is guaranteed to remain in place for the lifetime of the animal. Ms Emmenegger was accompanied by a veterinary surgeon who answered questions about how easily the chip could be removed, the recommended age for implantation in a kitten, and other matter.
The next two items on the agenda probably aroused the most controversy: deafness in white cats and proposed legislation from the Council of Europe concerning defects in domestic animals. Patrizia de Ferrari, an Italian veterinary surgeon and FIFe judge of Persian and exotic cats, delivered a paper that she had written concerning research on the problem of deafness in white cats. A paper from Roy Robinson, the well-known British cat geneticist, was also available for the participants. Mrs De Ferrari concluded that there is little data available regarding deafness in blue-eyed white cats (and what data there is, is conflicting and inconclusive). She recommended that a considerable amount of research was necessary before there could be any hope of addressing the problem seriously.
Mrs De Ferrari's presentation was followed by a lively discussion, with questions from the floor. The primary concern of the audience was whether it was possible to reduce the incidence of deafness by selective breeding. Mrs De Ferrari said that this should be the short-term goal for which breeders of white cats should strive. She said there was no conclusive evidence that is was possible to breed the problem out, but if breeders would document their work toward this goal, their efforts would add considerably to the information presently available. Craig Rothermel, president of the CFA, pointed out that in the United States the Robert Wynn Foundation had been established to do research on cat-related health problems and that perhaps something similar was needed in Europe. The FIFe's president, Alva Uddin, said she was glad that breeders were finally starting to wake up to what was going on in the legislative halls of Europe and that, hopefully, it was not too late to have some say about any decisions. Jetta Madsen of Denmark said that everybody had been very scared by the developments in the Council of Europe. She hoped there would be more warning about such things in the future. On that note, the seminar moved to the next item on the agenda, the Council of Europe.
Alva Uddin began this presentation with an attempt to clear up some confusion about the council. She pointed out, for example, that the members of the council were not confined to council countries. Therefore, the potential problems that the proposed small-animal protection legislation would impose on breeders would have a more far-reaching impact than most people realized. She also emphasized that so far the resolution regarding cats is the product of a Council of Europe working party. This working party does not have any legislative power of its own. It will pass the resolution on to a committee within the council. There the resolution could become part of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, at which point, various countries that have signed the convention would theoretically be obliged to make the resolution law.
Mrs Uddin went on to say that there are a number of so-called defective breeds under discussion by this working party: blue-eyed white cats, Manx, Scottish Folds, and Japanese Bobtails, to name a few. The working party was also looking at various abnormalities such as entropion, which is a congenital abnormality of eyelids. The FIFe had already entropion as a fault (effective January 1, 1996). Before opening the discussion to general questions from the floor, Mrs Uddin again stressed that the working party of the Council of Europe, and for that matter, the Council of Europe itself, do not have the power to decide anything. They can only hope that the countries that have signed or will sign the convention will use the convention as a basis for their own legislation. She warned, however, that this does not mean these matters were to be taken lightly, only that there was still time for cat associations and breeders to have a voice in any eventual legislation regarding cats. She then opened her presentation to questions and comments from the floor.
Jetta Madsen (DK) said she was surprised that in light of the thinking in the Council of Europe, the Cat Association of Britain's proposal at that year's FIFe general assembly had not passed. A Dutch cat fancier noted that the revised Persian standard that had been proposed in 1994 had not passed either.
Mimi Sluiter (NL) asked where data would have to be sent. She was told that the Council of Europe working party meets every fifth year, so it will be a year and a half before the matter of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals came up again. It was again pointed out that an amendment to the resolution passed by the Council of Europe working party would be possible if enough data were available to back up such an amendment.
A question was directed to Craig Rothermel about the role, if any, that the CFA took concerning animal rights legislation being considered in the United States that would affect cat breeders. He explained that the CFA has appointed a legislative liaison to address these matters and that when necessary the CFA challenges laws in court.
Mia Christensen (DK) pointed out the importance of individuals working at a national level with their own authorities as one means of having some say in the Council of Europe's decisions. She added that in the end each country could make its own legislation concerning the council's proposals and that countries had three options: accepting the rules as the council had written them, modifying them, or ignoring them.
Mimi Sluiter said that the representatives on the council had only looked at bad specimens of the breeds in question and not at the ones responsible breeders were producing.
Some people raised questions regarding the steps the FIFe was taking to get all European clubs together. Others stressed the need to arrive at a solution rather quickly to avoid data being fragmented.
Mimi Sluiter praised Holland for its exemplary pet regulations. Holland had rules for all pet animals, among those rules were regulations for neutering males and rules for breeding, showing, animal health, etc., which are covered in "starter notes."
When one person asked if a working group could be set up immediately, Alva Uddin suggested that those willing to work in such a group as part of a working party should sign a paper that was then circulated. She said she would see what could be done. Craig Rothermel offered $1 as a symbolic start. His gesture was greeted with applause. He then offered research assistance through the Wynn Foundation. Mr Rothermel also said that the main object was to show up and to give backing.
A number of Sphynx breeders expressed concern about whether there would be support for their breed, which was not recognized. Alva Uddin assured them there would be support.
By the time the seminar closed a lot of misunderstandings had been ironed out. Several people who attended had arrived in an angry frame of mind, blaming the FIFe for what had happened in the Council of Europe. After attending the seminar, they not only understood the council's actions but were also in a better position to work to change them. The following day, politics and problems were set aside so that everyone could enjoy the cats present at Felicat's international show.
On Monday representatives of the various associations - Alva Uddin, president of the FIFe and the chairperson for this meeting; Craig Rothermel, president of the CFA; Lesley Morgan, international liaison officer for the ACF; Anneliese Hackmann, president of the WCF; Fabrice Calmès, vice-president of the FIFe; Penny Bydlinski, general secretary of the FIFe; and Heinz Kellner, secretary of the WCF - met in a closed session to discuss common problems and areas of interest to all associations.
Alva Uddin opened the meeting and welcomed the participants. The first cat business on the agenda concerned an issue raised the year before in Venice: a world-wide association and unification of breed standards. Participants in the WCCA in Venice agreed that each organization would submit comments on this proposal, but so far none had been received. After discussion on the subject, participants agreed that the basic standard for each breed should be the same in all organizations. The standards need not have the same wording in all organizations, but the breeds should have the same appearance. Because the WCF's standards were still a work in progress and the ACF's were virtually the same as FIFe's, members decided that the standards of the CFA and the FIFe would be compared by Craig Rothermel and Alva Uddin, working independently. Any proposals for bringing them more in line with each other would be discussed before presenting such proposals to each association's general assembly.
Lesley Morgan suggested that standards for new breeds should be based on the standards developed in the country or association where the breeds originated. Those standards should be sent to each of the other organizations, and if the new breed is eventually recognized by any of the other associations, the standard of the country of origin should be adopted. Craig Rothermel observed that such new-breed standards could be subsequently amended.
Some breeds are known by different names in different organizations. For example, the European was called the Celtic shorthair in the WCF; seal, blue, chocolate, and lilac were the only Siamese colours in the CFA, the others were called Colourpoint shorthairs, etc. Issues such as these would have to be addressed in an attempt to unify breed standards. Members agreed that each organization needed to be aware of these differences and that Alva Uddin would circulate this information to each of the organizations.
The next item on the agenda was the need for the exchange of information among the associations in areas of common interest. To this end an agreement was reached. The goal is to create a better understanding among the organizations regarding the ways in which they each operate, share information about problems that may effect the others, and make their resources available to other groups. For example, each organization will furnish the others with a copy of its list of approved judges and recognized breeds and a copy of its breed codes, to help in cross-referencing pedigrees. Some people have claimed to be judges of a particular organization when they were not, and some people have claimed that breeds are recognized by certain associations when they are not. Participants also decided that organizations should share information about suspensions and expulsions of members. This was felt to be necessary to help avoid recurrences of some of the unpleasant situations that have occurred in the past. Someone suggested that perhaps it would be advisable to pass this type of information on to the organizations not represented at this meeting. Craig Rothermel offered to do this with the ACFA and TICA in the United States. He also promised that each of the organizations present would receive a first-class mail subscription to the monthly CFA Almanac, which contains a lot of information, including minutes of board meetings, records of disciplinary actions, etc. In that way all the organizations would have up-to-date information.
Alva Uddin said that although the FIFe could make the minutes of the board meetings and the general assembly available, she could not speak for the members of the FIFe because each member is independent.
The Council of Europe was the next item on the agenda. Alva Uddin pointed out that the existence of The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which had been opened for signatures by member countries in 1987 and came into force in 1992, only came to the attention of the European cat associations very recently. As a result, the Council of Europe had gotten rather far along with their proposed legislation regarding cats before any of the associations were able to do anything. The FIFe, the WCF, and the GCCF were invited to attend the Council of Europe's Multilateral Consultation to the Convention only in 1994.
After discussing their views and describing their efforts with regards to the Council of Europe to date, the heads of the organizations agreed that it was necessary to co-ordinate the activities of all the organizations in order to present a coherent, united front in dealing with the council. They also agreed that it was necessary to gather and to circulate as much information as possible among the cat organizations.
The meeting then moved on to another idea that had been initiated at the previous WCCA in Venice: open shows or the possibility for members of one organization to exhibit cats in shows sanctioned by the others. In 1995 a few open shows had been held to see how this idea worked. In 1996 the concept of open shows would be tested fully, and members of the FIFe, the ACF, the CFA, and the WCF would be able to participate in shows organized by any of the other cat organisations. A review of the open shows concept would be held at the end of the year.
Members agreed that in order to obtain a title from one organization, a cat would have to be registered with one of the other organizations. Titles awarded by the other organizations would be entered on pedigrees with the organization's identity, for example, CFA grand champion, etc., but titles awarded in other organizations would not count toward the requirements for FIFe titles. In the case of the WCF, which awards the title world champion to qualifying cats that have been shown on at least two continents, Anneliese Hackmann indicated that the WCF would accept ACF, CFA, and FIFe titles as qualifications for the world champion title.
The next item on the agenda was the exchange of judges between the organizations. This idea was accepted in principle, and the organizations pledged to obtain support for any rule changes that might be needed to make it a reality. For example, Craig Rothermel reported that under CFA rules judges may not judge for a non-CFA organization in a country where a CFA club is in existence. It was decided, however, that judges must ask permission from their own organizations before accepting assignments with other organizations.
A few miscellaneous items were discussed in the final part of the meeting. The first concerned a report of progress toward the goal of setting up a central clearing house for cattery names. A number of problems that had been blocking the way were discussed, and it was decided that more study was needed to arrive at a method that would be suitable for all organizations.
Five-generation pedigrees were the second miscellaneous topic discussed. Craig Rothermel asked if other organizations could issue these pedigrees, which are required in order to register cats in the CFA. Alva Uddin, Lesley Morgan, and Anneliese Hackmann said that five-generation pedigrees could be provided to their associations' members.
Before the meeting was adjourned, Lesley Morgan proposed that the GCCF and TICA should again be invited to the 1996 meeting. Her proposal was unanimously accepted.
Alva Uddin closed the meeting by thanking everyone for attending and giving their time at what she felt had been a very positive meeting.
The suggested dates for next year's meeting were May 4-6. Venice is a possible venue. The location would be announced after it had been determined. Suggested dates for the 1997 meeting were March 15-17. These dates would give participating organizations time to bring any proposals to their annual general meetings.