The 2009 World Cat Congress Meeting took place from Saturday 11 to Tuesday 15 April in Arnhem in the Netherlands. The event was organized by the FIFe member club, Mundikat.
Traditionally, the first day of this annual meeting is a day of seminars and discussions, open to everyone (Open Meeting). Saturday April 11 saw addresses from FIFe judges as well as training seminars. The following two days were devoted to an international cat show at which the World Cat Congress delegates judged. On the final day, a working meeting with all the WCC delegates took place. Known as the Business Meeting, this took the form of a working group made up of the delegates of the nine members.
The seminar day was held in the theatre at the Olympus College, a superb venue which offered all the delegates a great opportunity for exchange and debate. Huge, beautifully decorated with colourful frescoes and with enormous bay windows overlooking gardens, the room provided an enormous central space for theatre style seating, surrounded by areas for chatting, eating and drinking, providing a view over the entire space.
At the start, delegates were welcomed by the Royal Canin Netherlands team, the official partners for the World Cat Congress. A branded bag for each delegate contained the seminar welcome material, conference materials (on recycled paper of course) and paper and pens for note taking throughout.
Representatives of the nine World Cat Congress members were welcomed: Lesley Morgan-Blythe, representing the Australian Cat Federation (ACF), Cheryle U’ren, from the Co-Ordinating Cat Council of Australia (CCC of A) and vice president of the WCC, Pam Delabar, representing the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) and WCC president, Eric Reijers, delegate and General Secretary of the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe), John Hansson Chairman and delegate of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), Chris Lowe representing the New Zealand Cat Fancy (NZCF), Jan van Rooyen Chairman and delegate of the Southern African Cat Council (SACC), Vickie Fisher, President and delegate of The International Cat Association (TICA) and Otrun Wagner, General Secretary and delegate of the World Cat Federation (WCF).
The Congress was declared open by Paula van de Wijngaart, president of Mundikat. After her opening words, she welcomed Penny Bydlinski, secretary and treasurer of the World Cat Congress. Mrs Bydlinski reminded everyone that the WCC’s raison d’etre is to promote harmony in the cat world without seeking to regulate it, and look for mutual enrichment while still respecting the diversity of the organisation’s members. She then introduced each delegate who each gave a brief presentation of their respective organisations.
Madame Laira Boissevain, Dutch lawyer, opened the first day’s conference program with the theme “European rules and legislation concerning cats and their breeders”. In her opening remarks she underlined the importance of clearly distinguishing between the rules applying to Europe and those applying to the Anglo-Saxon countries and particularly the USA. The rules for commercial organisations and “hobby” breeders can be very different. She also emphasised the fact that breeders have to conform to a wide range of different laws, including those relating to animal protection, environmental protection and business practice.
Europe itself contained a great many disparities, with examples including the fact that in France as soon as two litters are sold per year the breeder’s status and obligations change. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a permit is obligatory for the import of 20 kittens each year. Generally, the various civil laws treat the animal as an object, and this puts just as much obligation on the vendor as it does the buyer. There is also the breeder’s responsibility in the months following the sale. Mme Boissevain stressed that all transactions involving an animal should be the basis of a clear contract which stipulated the names of all parties involved, the nature of the contract, and the terms of payment. This evidence, which is all too easily forgotten, can be used to clarify matters.
Without “promising the world” it is very useful to be precise about what the breeder has done to ensure the kitten’s good health, and to list all known limitations (for example a morphological fault) at the date of sale. It should also confirm who is responsible if anything should happen during transport of the animal, particularly if this is by a third party who is neither the breeder nor the buyer, or what happens if the buyer does not provide full payment. In the case of transnational sales, which country’s legislation should be referred to in the case of any litigation? Always look out for clauses which are one-sided or excessive! Shared ownership, ban on reproduction… the best-known issues are the same throughout Europe!
In conclusion, Madame Boissevain reminded delegates that the breeding and sale of cats must meet a certain number of laws and that the contract should be perceived as a way to “professionalise” the activity and prevent litigation.
After a short coffee break, the programme continued with a presentation by Dr. Leslie A. Lyons from the research laboratory into feline genetics at Davis University California. The first part of her presentation examined the subject of genetic diversity. A study carried out on cats living naturally (not to be confused with stray or feral cats) in the different regions of the world allowed the identification of several groups. If the population studied is divided in two, South East Asia is clearly genetically distinguished from the rest of the world.
Dividing the sample into three groups enables the Mediterranean countries to be separated (apart from Tunisia) from the rest of the world. East Africa constitutes a fourth group. The study is still ongoing with samples from India where there are many spotted and ticked cats.
A study into the genetic diversity between breeds and within each breed has commenced, with 38 markers and a minimum of 30 cats per breed, registered from various American federations. Of the 22 breeds studied, most can be clearly distinguished, the exceptions being the Exotic/Persian, Burmese/Singapura, Havana Brown/Siamese. The low level of genetic diversity is clear in certain breeds (Burmese, Egyptian Mau, Turkish Van) which have a high level of inbreeding, compared to others such as the Korat, whose breeders, due to the low numbers of the breed, are actively looking towards other areas of the world for their breeding programmes.
The second part of Dr. Lyons’ presentation looked at the latest genetic tests. Firstly she discussed the genes identified as carrying coat colour and those for which tests exist, such as the recent one for the amber colour in the Norwegian, and those in progress, such as the glove markings or the different mutations seen in the Ragdoll and Sacred Birman, as well as the coat length issue, controlled by a major gene of which four mutations have already been identified.
On screening tests for genetic disease, Dr. Lyons primarily spoke about the test for PKD, emphasizing the importance of ultrasound as a complement to the test and the necessity to eradicate this disease which affects around 38% of Persians, a significant figure on the world scale. She also pointed out the need to select a laboratory carefully when carrying out the genetic test to determine blood group where several mutations have been identified.
In terms of polydactylism in Maine Coons and Pixie Bobs, it is known that the mutation appears identical but is different to that found in non-pedigree cats. On feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Dr. Lyons reminded the audience that the high prevalence of this disease in certain breeds such as the Ragdoll, Birman, Bengal and Rex did not exclude the risk of it in other breeds. Research seems to indicate that there are genetic, therefore hereditary, sensitivities involved, although the exact cause is not known.
However, the environment still remains the most decisive factor.
In conclusion, Dr. Lyons said that research into feline health was advancing along with that of human health, citing many diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy, immunodeficiency, and cardiac disease as just a few similarities. Hence the importance of the Cat Phenotype and Health Information Registry (Cat PHIR) research programme, carried out at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Cat PHIR, based on not-for-profit data including DNA samples and other information on the phenotype, pedigree and health of cats is a valuable tool for all the research currently in progress.
After the lunch break, the seminar reopened with a presentation by Dr. Eric Gruys, animal pathology specialist and member of the World Association of Animal Pathology (WAAP). With a touch of humour, Dr. Gruys advised his audience that because of his speciality what he was about to present might be difficult to look at, and delegates could leave the room or close their eyes if they chose ! In fact, his conference began with a recap, accompanied by medical photos, of the different types of disease affecting the cat: acquired illness, such as tumours or FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease); congenital illness such as “flat chest” and hereditary disease such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), feline myocardiopathic hypertrophy (HCM), lyosomal storage disease, kinked tails, deafness in white cats etc.
Dr. Gruys particularly referred to a 2004 study on “flat chest” carried out by Sandra Engelgeer on 3250 kittens, of which 51 were born with a flat chest (1.57%), with a prevalence of 2.93% in the Burmese and 2.13% in the Maine Coon. Among the probable causes, stress occurred 8 times, low maternal weight 5 times and maternal illness 3 times.
On feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Dr. Gruys cited the publication of a Belgian colleague, Dr. Hanna Dewerchin, who studied the difference of reactions between cats. This difference can have a genetic origin. To finish this grand tour of feline disease, Dr. Gruys described the three major types of amyloidosis. Finally, addressing himself very directly to breeders, his recommendations were clear: a cat which gets good results in shows is not necessarily the one on which to build the future of your breeding, and therefore it is essential to carry out as many medical and genetic tests as possible. In summary, Dr. Gruys believes that stress is the origin of most of the problems encountered in cat breeding, and therefore insists on its prevention: no overpopulation, no showing! Certainly a very radical message but an explicit one, which bears out the words: “start with the animal welfare and future welfare of your cat as basic law”.
With the title “Stripes, spots and butterfly wings”, the next presentation by Mrs Stephe Bruin and Mr Ad de Bruijn, both FiFe judges, was on the theme of the tabby cat, the possessors of the original feline coat. Speaking first, Mrs Bruin reminded everyone that the cat’s stripes came from the agouti A gene, giving her a very sophisticated camouflage to help her survive in the wild. In red or cream cats, the gene can express itself, whether agouti or not, sometimes making it difficult to identify a non-agouti cat. As a result, she recommended relying on a genetic test or parental pedigree to avoid error. With spotted cats, she commented that it was sometimes difficult for a judge to classify a coat as spotted or mackerel tabby, with the true mackerel tabby being rare. This was the opportunity for Mr de Bruijn to present to the audience a magnificent British Shorthair black silver spotted tabby walking around the room. In terms of the ticked tabby, Mrs Bruin explained the phrase “trout spotted”, used by some judges to describe the coat pattern of ticked cats with spots on the base of the flanks and under the belly.
Mr de Bruijn then displayed a Burmilla, of which some people asked whether it was tipped or ticked, demonstrating perfectly the interrogation sometimes undergone by the judges.
The blotched or “classic” tabby marbling contains the classic motifs of an oyster shell or a butterfly wing, but with long horizontal stripes. A second British Shorthair black silver blotched tabby demonstrated the coat.
Mr de Bruijn’s conclusion was that there were still a great many things to understand about the agouti gene, but that the genetic and research advances making this scientific knowledge available to breeders was a real opportunity.
After a 30 minute coffee break, Dr. Leslie Lyons, Prof Eric Gruys, and M. de Bruijn took part in a debate on current issues in the feline world, joined by leading breeder Mrs Catherine Bastide and geneticist Dr. Ed Gubbels.
Under the chairmanship of Mundikat club president Paula van de Wijngaart, different —sometimes provocative!—topics were discussed. Are the large breeds like the Maine Coon, Norwegian or Siberian natural? A cat show is just a beauty competition, not about breeding. Every breed should have a hairless variety. Should we breed as much as we can? Kittens should be 4 months old before being allowed to be shown. Judges have too great an influence on breeding decisions. Savannahs should be in the wild or in a zoo. If the cat world won’t limit breeders to a certain number of cats, governments should do it…
Another break was followed by M. Eric Reijers, vice president of FIFe who thanked World Cat Congress sponsors Royal Canin, and particularly international marketing representative Sarah Rivière, who commented on how this sharing of knowledge was at the heart of the company’s activities every single day. She also announced, to great applause, that the partnership between the World Cat Congress and Royal Canin would continue for a further five years.
Discussion between all the delegates and participants continued, on a number of widely varied themes. Everything was discussed, from how much or how little each member organization knew about polydactylism in the Maine Coon, the WCC’s position on animal protection and particularly its opposition to the sales of cats and dogs from pet s hops, the breeder’s individual responsibility, to the position of the judge accused of too much leniency or severity. The debate was also the opportunity to demonstrate how much the WCC members believe in this congress, a clear symbol of their strong will to promote and encourage the feline world through exchange and mutual respect between organisations.
The two international shows that followed on the Sunday and Monday were very busy with about 500 cats entered on each day. It was an interesting experience for the visiting judges as well as for the exhibitors. As always, this annual Easter show is very popular and attended by large numbers of visitors as well as exhibitors. There were some beautiful cats which will remain in the minds of the participants for a long time to come.
The business meeting on the Tuesday was also attended by some interested observers. It was a stimulating meeting and gave rise to ideas on the need for the World Cat Congress to find means of promoting the cat fancy and to market the concept of pedigree cats. Other issues were discussed, including Artificial Insemination, polydactyl Maine Coons and Ragamuffins.
The full minutes may be found in the Library section of this site.