The New Zealand Cat Fanciers Inc. once again hosted the WCC weekend. Ten years ago it had been held in Christchurch and there were five organisations represented, this time the venue was Auckland and eight out of the nine member organisations were present. It was a well-organized and friendly weekend and despite some anxiety over the erratic Auckland weather, the sun shone for most of the time.
The delegates were welcomed on the 26th April with an afternoon reception at the Best Western Ellerslie International, which was not far from the show hall and would also be the venue for the seminar and the business meeting.
Nearly all the delegates, as well as the President and the Secretary, were judging at the show the following day, which was much appreciated, as this is rarely possible. The show coincided with the Anzac Day centenary celebrations and this was commemorated by a memorial prior to the opening of the show. The show was a busy one with some beautiful exhibits, including some breeds such as the Cashmere, which is a long haired Bengal, that were new to most of the delegates. The day was enjoyed immensely by the judges and was amazingly well attended by the public. In the evening the delegates were taken to the NZCF Annual Awards Dinner at a neighbouring hotel.
The Seminar and Open Day was held on the Sunday in a hall adjoining the hotel. This was very well attended by keen cat lovers and the programme was an interesting one. After being welcomed by the NZCF chairperson, Zena Pigden and the introduction of the delegates by the WCC President, Eric Reijers, the programme commenced with a most interesting presentation by veterinarian and animal behaviour specialist, Elsa Flint. This lecture explained a lot about the behaviour of the cat and showed how this understanding could lead to a better relationship with it.
The next speaker was Steve Crow, the Chairman of the GCCF UK. The theme of his presentation was the challenges to today’s cat fancy and he presented it largely from the point of view of the GCCF and the UK. He spoke of the changes within the cat fancy and questioned how to meet the requirements of today’s breeders, exhibitors and cat owners. The financial crisis that had affected most of the world had led to a reduction in both registrations and show entries. The GCCF had formed itself into a non-profit making company in 2011 and had devised long term plans. They had also updated their IT system and conducted their day-to-day business via the internet. Commercial partnerships had been established to reduce financial pressure as decreasing club membership and show entries impacted on revenue.
The GCCF was responding to scientific advances by using information on genetic diversity in breeds. With greater knowledge about how health and welfare can be compromised by closed gene pools, they were looking at out-cross programmes in those breeds adversely affected by a small gene pool. DNA testing was being used where available to eradicate certain genetic diseases.
Mr Crow pointed out how attitudes had changed in recent years. There was criticism of the way cats were bred and genetic health problems associated with certain breeds of dogs had been exposed and magnified by the media and by animal rights and welfare organisations. The GCCF decided to act before the press turned its attention to an in-depth investigation of cats. Their General Breeding Policy had been updated with the addition of an Outcrossing Guide. This reflected the concern felt by the degree of inbreeding and the shrinking gene pools. DNA testing was also promoted.
The Aims of the Breeding Policy, which had been endorsed by key academics and researchers was to promote the breeding of healthy pedigree cats and to recognise only breeds that are able to live a healthy, contented and “normal” life. It was fundamental that the organization should safeguard the genetic health and integrity of all breeds and the policy aimed to inform, educate, advise and guide breeders, keeping them up to date with the latest scientific advances.
The GCCF felt that a different approach was needed in order to respond to criticism with confidence by demonstrating that it is working towards a solution. It was necessary to work with animal and cat charities. Above all, the health of the animal must be the first priority and the work that is being done in that respect should be promoted. This required marketing and PR to educate the public as well as emphasising the role the cat fancy plays in breed rescue and charity work.
He finished by suggesting that the international cat fancy needed to promote the cat fancy word wide. He suggested the creation of an “International Cat Fancy Day” which all associations could use to promote pedigree cats and the good work being done to ensure healthy breeding and welfare. He felt that a suitable date would be the 5th May, which was the birth date of Harrison Weir, who was generally accepted as the founding father of the cat fancy.
The next item on the agenda was presented by Laureline Malineau, the representative of WCC’s partner, Royal Canin. She showed a presentation from Royal Canin users the world over. It emphasized the fact that breeders really appreciated the specialized approach by Royal Canin to the needs of their cats. Laureline stressed the fact that they had a two-way relationship with the breeders and this was a source of pride to those of them working in this arena.
She then showed an example of the Encyclopedia project, which they were doing with WCC. She stressed the importance of educating people about cat ownership. The encyclopedia illustrated the various aspects of the cat’s temperament and the needs of different breeds. She explained that the Members of the WCC had supplied much of the information and the WCC Secretary had done a lot of work in collating and checking the information. She showed also the printed version and what its contents would be. An addition to the digital version was a type of ‘cat finder’ with stress on the needs of each breed and the fact that owning a cat was a long-term commitment. This feature covered all the physical facts of the cat: colour, size, coat length etc. but also dealt with its character and an in-depth explanation of what was involved with, for example, an affectionate cat, which she explained, did not just mean the cat was happy to sit on a knee, but could also mean it followed its owner around and demanded attention. Although this was a serious tool, all cats are individuals and it could only be regarded as a guide. Stressing the need for promoting responsible ownership as a project with WCC, emphasis was put on the fact that owning a cat was a life-time commitment.
A Royal Canin Consultant then spoke on nutrition for growing kittens from birth onwards. She explained in detail the feeding process, and the amount and composition of the milk, represented by Royal Canin milk replacement – baby cat milk. She went on to explain fully the Royal Canin food that covered all nutritional needs, explaining the development of the intestinal tract and the different elements required at different times.
This was followed by George Sofronidis, of Orivet Genetic Pet Care based in Australia, who spoke about genetic testing. He presented his laboratories and their staff, including specialized feline veterinarians. Orivet also had an office in Japan and the USA.
He demonstrated the extent of the genetic tests that could be carried out, giving examples of tests he had run on himself; this gave rise to much amusement.
He went on to describe the tests that could be carried out by their firm on cats and dogs. There was focus on hereditary diseases in different breeds. These were not only genetic diseases but also physical conditions. He spoke of the numbers of registered breeds in dogs. With dogs he observed that colours were driving popularity. He found it more difficult to get registration figures for cats.
DNA and the testing processes were improving constantly. He spoke of the different things that could be tested. Having illustrated the processes and the components, he moved on to explain the basic business of swabbing the cat as a first step to getting the sample to be analysed. He illustrated the results of the testing. In a very humorous manner Mr Sofronidis gave advice on this service and how to use it. This also covered the aspects of conditions that were documented by respected laboratories.
The tests available were multiple and dealt with not only dominant but also recessive genes. The laboratory had found that dog breeders were more interested in doing DNA profiles than cat breeders, the latter testing mainly for diseases.
In closing, he spoke generally about the attitudes of exhibitors and judges and their impact on the cat fancy. The presentation was very well received, not least because of the humorous approach to a fairly complicated subject.
Following lunch the Seminar continued and the NZCF Chairman, Ms Zena Pigden took the opportunity to thank Royal Canin and the Companion Animal Trust for their sponsorship and support. She also thanked the lady who had organized and worked on the whole weekend, that was Janice Davey.
She then introduced the next speaker who was the ever popular Dr Leslie Lyons. She was to update the audience on the developments since she last spoke at a WCC meeting in the UK in 2013. In the meantime she had also moved to the University of Missouri. Some of her original staff had moved with her. She mentioned the support of Royal Canin, who supplied the food for their cats.
She spoke of the 99 Lives (Genome) project and asked the audience to pick up the lapel buttons that she had supplied on the entrance table and, hopefully, promote the project.
New developments included Charcoal in Bengals, the Scottish Fold mutation had been found, myotonia congenita had been identified, blindness in Bengals and Persian cats, they had picked out the A and B blood types in Ragdoll cats, dominant white had been found and, most importantly, spasticity.
It had been reported that PKD was on the decline, which was good news but Leslie reported that as new conditions came along, a slow response on the part of the breeders was noted. She spoke of Persian PRA. She also commented that more people asked her about silver than about, for example amyloidosis.
She commented that the word ‘unique variant’ is now preferred to the term ‘mutation’ that had negative connotations.
Referring to fur and colour, she said that a brown or chocolate cat had black pigment but to a lesser degree. Progress was being made in this field. Most of the curly coats had been identified, they were currently working on La Perm and they needed more samples for Peterbald. Devons, Cornish and Selkirk Rex were all different and genetic tests were available.
Charcoal is often combined with silver. In the Bengal there is the Leopard Cat gene and also agouti combined with the non-agouti mutant gene from the domestic cat. These combined give the charcoal. There are those cats that have two Leopard Cat alleles and they stand out because of their clear pattern. She pointed out the genetic tests had not been developed for native cats such as the Leopard Cat and as all Bengals have those genes, there is a need to be careful when testing Bengals.
White spotting had recently been published as well as the gene for the Birman. It was the same gene, called KIT. It causes the white paws of Birmans but mitted Ragdolls were not the same. The mutation for dominant white had also been identified. However, the eye colour with these mutations had not yet been explored nor is its relevance known. The causes of deafness with dominant white have yet to be identified.
Feline blood groups. She referred to the Swedish government, which had decided that no type B cats or cats carrying type B were allowed. This is a cause for concern. The mutation causing type B had been identified. In the course of testing it had become apparent that the rare AB type was mostly found in Ragdolls.
Myotonia congenita, sometimes referred to as ‘fainting goat disease’ has been identified in cats. She pointed out that one must be aware that mutations such as this could arise within a feral population. It is a recessive gene.
Inherited blindness in Abyssinian cats. One is automunal recessive and has slow progression. Even single traits such as this are affected by other things so although other breeds have the same gene, they are not affected in this way. Where the onset of blindness is very slow, it is often not detected in a pet cat because the cat is familiar with its surroundings and cat still function normally. Other forms can show symptoms as early as 8 weeks old. In Persian cats data will be collected so that populations can be established. All retina degeneration works in the same way in that the photoreceptors slowly die.
Work on phenotypes had also been carried out. One of these was the Scottish Fold mutation. It was now possible to determine whether a cat had one or two copies of the mutation. Dr Lyons showed pictures illustrating that the bone structure was affected even with only one copy of the mutation.
Turning to spasticity in Devon Rex, Dr Lyons said that the cats had generalized muscle weakness, their scapulas tended to stick up and they tend to sit in ‘chipmunk-like’ positions. She had found problems in collecting samples but did find that some Sphynx also had it. What was interesting was that this condition was still in the Devon Rex and Sphynx population.
Speaking of Japanese Bobtails, this was not the same mutation as that in the Manx. Seeking to get a clinical description of the Bobtail, it was found that a kink is caused by a missing vertebrae. This condition, however, poses no health problems.
Dwarfism is a condition which affects the long bones. It appears to be dominant. She showed slides illustrating different degrees of the foreshortening of the bones. Discussing the desirability of dwarf cats, Dr Lyons referred to a condition of the spine seen in a Dachshund. Whilst this was not yet a problem in the cat, the same risks that are encountered in short-legged dogs would be encountered in short-legged cats and they would probably develop arthritis at an earlier rate.
After speaking of different conditions that were currently being investigated, Dr Lyons turned to the 99 Lives project. In gene sequencing a cat many variants were found, most of which were good. It was necessary to sequence many cats in order to find a variant which was not good. Many diseases had only been discovered by genetic sequencing in the last year so this project was very important. It was a collaborative research effort with participation from universities and other organisations including National Geographic. It naturally required funding as each cat would cost about $7000 to sequence. The end result would help identify diseases and conditions.
The final speaker was John Smithson who presented a historical view of the cat fancy. He had a collection, which he described with illustrations. As a result of his research to as far back as the 1890s he had found that of the 1800 cats registered, approximately two thirds of the cats registered were long haired, 93% were imported cats not including cats which were bred from imported cats and the breeds represented were Persian, Russian Longhair and Chinese Longhair. The shorthairs were predominantly English but also included Siamese, Abyssinian, Russian shorthair, Manx and Japanese. Also wild or hybrid cats such as Indian Fisher cats and Syrian cats, which showed that the introduction of wild cats was not a new concept. He had also found that of the 1800 cats, 155 were either bred or owned by a Mrs McLaren Morrison, who had been a major figure in the cat fancy at that time. Of the imported cats, 29 also belonged to her. He showed illustrations of some of her cats taken from contemporary books. There was also a picture of a Mexican hairless cat, which posed the question as to how she obtained this cat when the only Mexican Hairless known at that time were in the United Stated.
He also spoke of his Harrison Weir collection, which had come about because he was planning to do a history of the early cat fancy and particularly the shows. Speaking of the first cat show at the Crystal Palace in 1871, although there had been only 150 exhibits, there had been 20,000 spectators over the two days. Harrison Weir had been the moving force behind this and Mr Smithson was fascinated by his motivations for doing this. There had actually been six shows in 1871, two at the Crystal Palace and private exhibitions staged by entrepreneurs who saw the possibilities shown by the first Crystal Palace show.
Thirty years later, at a show in Westminster cats were shown on leads in ring judging. In those years the cat fancy had grown exponentially and Harrison Weir had played a great part in its growth. The cat fanciers appreciated the role he played and had presented him with a silver bowl. In describing Harrison Weir, Mr Smithson said he was far more than the father of the cat fancy. He was a naturalist, an exceptional poultry man and poultry judge, a horticulturist, an ornithologist, a cage-bird judge, an illustrator for the Illustrated London News, a journalist, an author, a poet and, above all things, a champion of animal rights. Born on 5th May 1824. Mr Smithson listed his various activities up to his death in 1906. He also showed many illustrations, by Harrison Weir showing the different aspects of his work and interests. He also showed other memorabilia which he had collected. This was a very interesting presentation with great visual impact.
Mr Smithson closed his presentation by proposing that the date of 13th July, 2021 or a close date to that as being the 150th anniversary of the Crystal Palace Show, registries should be encouraged to put on celebratory shows and to make the 5th May 1924 founders day. 2024 would be the bi-centenary and there would be plenty of time for something to be organized.
After the break Ms Pigden made a special announcement as she wished to take the opportunity of honouring Avon Aspden, who was not present. She was a provisional registrar of NZCF and had been a stalwart worker for the cat fancy for over 21 years. She has been involved in breed programmes and in experimental breeding and assisting breeders in their programmes. NZCF was presenting her with a long service medal in recognition of her 21 years of service. This was greeted by applause.
The specialist speakers were assembled to answer any questions from the audience. The first question was to Dr Lyons and came from a Birman breeder who had cats who were type AB. The cats are A carrying B. Dr Lyons said that serology tests were necessary to get exact results. Test cards were not reliable but a blood sample was needed in order to do the serology. There was more discussion about obtaining blood samples and also of the terminology, which could be confusing.
There was a discussion on possible research projects for Dr Lyons and she expressed willingness to go into anything provided that funding could be found. Her laboratory already had an enormous amount of information, which could be used as the need arose.
A question was put regarding registering red tabby/red self cats. It was felt that if a red self showing tabby marking was always registered as a red tabby when it was in face a red self, this would be bad for the breed. There is now a genetic test available to establish whether or not the cat was a tabby. Mr Crow said that the GCCF’s policy was that if one of the parents was a tabby, then the kittens would be registered as tabby unless a DNA test proved otherwise. The same procedure applied in NZCF. Mr Reijers then asked what was done when solid kittens came out of two ‘tabbies.’ He could understand the dilemma of the questioner because if a red cat with ghost markings came to the judge, that judge said it was a tabby because that was what was seen. FIFe did things differently in that if a red cat was registered genetically as a red, it might have its phenotype of red tabby in brackets if it appeared to be tabby, it could then be shown as a tabby. He did not see that it was logical to register kittens as tabby just because one parent was a tabby. The questioner responded that if a red self was to be regarded by the judges as a red tabby, there was no incentive for the breeders to try and clear the coat. Mr Reijers said that at previous WCC seminars one of the speakers had pointed out that it was impossible to see whether the cat was a red self or a red tabby and as judges could only go on what they could see, it was better for the cat to be judged by its phenotype. Mr Crow had spoken of the fact that the Burmese breeders had cleared the tabby markings from the Burmese many years ago and Mr Reijers agreed but said that to do that they had introduced the ticked gene, that possibility was not open to Persian breeders as they did not have ticked tabbies in their lines.
Elsa Flint answered a question concerning how to work with rescued cats that were FIP positive. She said that they should not be in a multi cat household but there was no reason to put them down although one needed to be aware that they could become ill from the infection.
A question was put to Mr Crow enquiring why the GCCF had adopted a stance against ever accepting polydactyl Maine Coons. Mr Crow said this had been debated with their Genetics Committee and their Veterinary Advisory Committee and the latter reported that the condition was a mutation, which was random and they had serious concerns as to whether the condition might thicken the bone in the leg and about the number of toes that could develop on one food and about how a foot might split and their strong opinion is that we should not allow polydactylism in any breeds. Ms Pigden said that before accepting polydactyl Maine Coons, a lot of research had been done and they found no evidence of such conditions. Mr Crow then added that none of the GCCF breeders had any desire to have polydactylism in their breed.
Mr Reijers said that there was a different situation in FIFe as poly or oligodactylism was a disqualification in all breeds. It had been possible to register these cats with a note regarding the fact that they were polydactyl, so breeders would be aware of it, but a proposal had been brought to the General Assembly to remove the condition as a disqualifier. Unfortunately, this had led to strong reaction against polydactylism with the result that they were no longer accepted. Countries within the EU also had to be aware of the European Government’s stand on abnormalities in pet animals, at present aimed mainly at dogs. These things have been exacerbated by the attitude of breeders who have sold animals with genetic defects, for which they could have tested. In many European countries it was forbidden to breed, for example, Scottish Folds. Also embedded in the law is the fact that if a breeder sells a puppy or a kitten and five years later it dies of a condition which would have shown up in a test the breeder is responsible to refund not only the price of the animal but also the veterinary care to the end of its life together with a sum for emotional damage, which would be established by a judge. The best advice is to concentrate on doing the best for the health of the cats. This was generally accepted and agreed.
Mr Möbius spoke about the situation in Germany, which was much more serious. The German veterinary authorities were very strong and there was a lot of feeling about breeders and breeding cats that they considered to have abnormalities.
Mr Crow thought that limits had to be set and each registry had to decide for itself. Ms Pigden said that she thought the discussion had been helpful and all organisations had to take some responsibility and concentrate on ensuring the health of their cats.
A breeder of British asked how much work had been done on the dilute modifier. Dr Lyons said that it was not at the top of their list. She said that all these strange coat colours would benefit from defining silver. In order to go further a complete genetic study would have to be made before a correct decision could be made about a colour. A funding source would also have to be found.
There was discussion over making some tests mandatory. Ms Pigden suggested that a proposal should be sent in for consideration.
One of the suggestions for the WCC meeting the following day was the validity of approved catteries and the requirements for qualification. It was also suggested that the meeting should discuss how to encourage people to buy from registered breeders rather than pet shops or back yard breeders.
Ms Pigden wound up the day and thanked all participants. Janice Davey said that she would also like to thank the club, the speakers and the delegates for giving their time. The Seminar ended on a very happy note to enthusiastic applause.
The Business Meeting took place the following day and the Minutes of that meeting appear elsewhere on this site.
The New Zealand Cat Fanciers did a splendid job, the weekend was enjoyed by all who participated and the WCC members will remember its return to New Zealand with affection.