On Saturday, 8th March the participants in the World Congress gathered for the Seminar which had been very well planned and organised by Felikat.
The first item on the Agenda was a discussion on the interpretation of the standard for Abysinnians and Somalis which was presented by Mrs Penny Bydlinski on behalf of the Dutch Abyssinian and Somali Club. It gave rise to a lively discussion, the point being made that it is not the standard which needs changing rather the education of the judges to assist in its interpretation.
After a short break Professor J. Bouw took the floor to present ‘Breeding in small colonies with limited gene pools’. The Professor, a veterinary surgeon of some standing, explained that his expertise lay mainly in the field of horses and dogs but the same principles would apply in cat breeding. He spoke of ‘in-breeding’ depression which is indicated by a lack of vitality in the animals and often reduction in size and ability to withstand disease. He pointed out that in the natural state many animals breed in closed populations, he took the example of wolves, where a dominant male appears within a particular group, with the onset of lowed vigour the colony is open to other groups and a new dominant male from another group will take over; in this way the colony receives renewed vitality with the introduction of the new genes. In the pedigree breeding situation, this is not the case; the breeder chooses the male to be used on the females and this will often be a top winning stud who is much in demand with the result that his genes are widely distributed. There can be no self-regulation.
This situation became very apparent in animals being bred either for meat or eggs with the result that the farmers have deliberately practiced cross-breeding in order to preserve vitality and production. In purebred cats this cannot be overcome in this way since it is necessary to preserve a ‘breed’, that is to say outcrossing to other breeds is not usually allowed nor is it desirable. The only way open to the breeder is to get stock from another colony, but this must be far enough away to be really different in its gene pool and this usually means importing from another country. He spoke of some of the national breeds, that is to say some breeds that were only bred in one particular country and pointed out that they have no way of getting fresh blood when in-breeding depression arises unless they can use animals from other organisations which have been using totally different animals. This gave rise to discussion on the need to co-operate with other organisations so that the gene pools could be mixed to the benefit of the cat in general.
Attempts were made to define ‘a breed’ and it was suggested that it could be regarded as a population of breeding animals with a common gene pool which continued to breed together over several generations and were not selected out.
There was discussion as to how far a breeder should go in weeding out undesirable traits and the Professor said that if one went too far one could lose too much; in getting rid of an undesirable trait one might introduce other bad ones. The problem remains that because we are breeding for a particular phenotype we must employ line breeding which reduces the gene pool and we are not at liberty to introduce animals of completely different phenotype.
The next speaker was Dr. Knol who was a geneticist from Utrecht University. He spoke of the influence of judges on the health and well-being of cats.
He spoke of the growing concern over problems within pure-bred cats where he felt some of the breed standards led to problems. These he called ‘harmful breed characteristics (HBC)’ which were genetic diseases of organs and their systems. He pointed out the role of organisations and judges in eradicating these harmful breed characteristics. He said it was obvious from the discussions that had arisen with the previous speaker that the cat breeders were deeply concerned over the health of their animals but felt that dog breeders had already addressed the problems.
With reference to the effect of the breed standards he pointed out that some conditions arose from breeding to those standards, e.g. the short nose of the Persian creates a problem for the animal as does the short back of the Manx.
He felt that judges should be very concerned about harmful breed characteristics and should not select as winners those animals which display such characteristics since these animals will spread their genes to succeeding generations far more than those who do not have success on the show bench.
He asked why these characteristics are not recognised as harmful within the fancy. His answer was that breeders consider cats as an object of beauty, a sort of ‘art’ object and overlook the fact that they are subject to biologicval laws and cannot conform to a design. Dr Knol showed slides of some very sad looking pure-bred cats which most of the breeders present would be ashamed to own and who protested that such extremes were not desirable by anybody in the fancy; it was felt that there was a tendency to bring such examples out and suggest that these were the norm in breeding, which was not in fact true.
Other conditions which were seen to be genetic diseases were covered, e.g. dwarfism, flat-chested kittens, sternum defects, lack of a soft palate, multiple cysts on the kidneys, cryptorchidism etc. Dr Knol maintained it was not difficult to eliminate such diseases, it was simply a matter of selection. He also suggested that promotion of health insurance for cats was useful in this cause since the insurance companies will only insure healthy and registered animals. He also spoke for enlarged genetic variations, i.e. ‘Open’ populations to reduce in-breeding.
Referring to breed standards, he suggested that care should be taken in the formulation of the words, for example it was better to say ‘no longer or no shorter than...’ rather than simply ‘short’ or ‘long’. The judges’ interpretation of the standard was critical in this matter and a different maxim should be adhered to, ‘perfect health and as beautiful as possible’ should be preferred to ‘perfectly beautiful and as healthy as possible.’
Mrs Morgan from Australia spoke of the need to share information, she referred to the drastic reduction in the spasticity problems of the Devon Rex which came about because of knowledge and co-operation on the part of the breeders. She asked if a sternum defect did effect the health of an animal and the Dr replied that it impaired the heart function.
Referring to the slides that had been shown, Mrs Knäpper (D) pointed out that judges do indeed penalise cats with wry mouths, flat chests etc. She believes that judges and breeders are working together for health as well as beauty.
Mr Rothermel (USA) spoke about Persians, which he has been breeding for thirty years, and the many changes he has seen in that breed. He said that at one point the nose break had been above the eye level and the judges had realised it could be injurious and the position of the nose had been moderated; he believed this had helped the cat. He added that in the last fifteen years the breathing and tear duct problems had been much reduced but acknowledged that there were still serious jaw problems. Dr Knol felt that data was lacking. There was a long discussion on various aspects of the Persian nose length, the position of the nose, the size of the nostrils and the narrowness of jaws - all of which aspects were being addressed by the modern breeder.
At the close of a very successful meeting, Mrs van Zuilen, the President of Felikat, thanked everybody and the speakers received a delicious box of chocolates.
The FIFe would also like to thank Mrs van Zuilen who is retiring as President of Felikat and who, during her term of office, has done a lot for the FIFe by hosting such meetings and taking a very active interest, particularly through her own club the Dutch Somali and Abyssinian Club.