The Pursuit Of Excellence

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The Passion

It is the passionate, perhaps obsessive, desire to produce the ideal of the breed that drives a cat breeder to pursue excellence.

To this end, the successful breeder chooses cats of outstanding type and quality in their program, constantly seeking to better the quality of their progeny with each successive generation.

While perfection may remain unattainable, each generation should be an improvement on the previous one in the pursuit of excellence.

The Choice

The goal of producing the perfect cat begins with the selection of the male and female for breeding. The proposed mating between the stud cat and queen should have qualities that will benefit the breed. Choosing the male and female to breed together requires the informed breeder to make an objective assessment of the virtues and faults of both the proposed sire and dam.

Where does a breeder begin in evaluating the sire and dam?

Breed Type

Breed type is defined as "the characteristic qualities that distinguish a breed" — the embodiment of a standard's essentials. Type is the overall look that distinguishes one breed from another. While it is defined in each breed's written standard, type can be an almost intangible. Recognizing type is a talent and, like all talents, it must be developed. Being able to recognize type is often referred to as having the "eye". Some breeders acquire the eye early in their career. Other individuals breed for years and never develop an eye for a good cat.

In the pursuit of excellence, type is a quality that cannot be overlooked.

The Head

The head is a major component of type in many breeds but is particularly important in those with distinctive head features like the Persian or Siamese or in breeds with distinctive features on the head like American Curl or Scottish Folds. Despite its importance, however, one cannot concentrate on on a single feature in evaluating type to the exclusion of all else.

The Expression

Expression is described as the unmistakable look in the face of a cat that identifies it as being a member of a particular breed. More than just a look, expression either adds to or takes away from the overall impression.

Without the foreshortened face, what would a Persian be? Without the triangular face and huge ears would a Devon look like a Devon?

Good Temperament

While exhibitors often define the best show cats in relation to their intrinsic "beauty", no one wants a cat — pet, show or breeder — which has a poor temperament.

How does a breeder define good temperament? There is a minimum level at which temperament is acceptable. A cat should be reasonably social with both humans and other pets and a cat should not have negative behaviors or characteristics.

The smart breeder tries to develop temperament above the minimum. Personality is genetic to a certain degree. It is possible to develop a bloodline with cats with similar personalities.

My personal goals in breeding temperament are to produce cats that are very people oriented — affectionate, playful, out—going without being over—active and easy to handle (bath, nail—clip, examined by the vet).

I know a cat has ideal temperament if when the cat makes eye contact with me, it starts to purr automatically :—).

Good Health

Beauty and breed type alone should non define excellence in a cat. The ideal cat must also be healthy and robust.

No breeder can guarantee that every kitten they produce will be absolutely free of health problems. It does behoove the good breeder to be aware of health issues within their chosen breed, to perform whatever medical tests are available to rule out problems, and to track and record health issues both of their own cats and any cats they sell.

To neglect general health issues of the bloodline in favor of beauty alone, is to be cavalier in the quality and goals of your breeding program.

The Balancing Act

Breeding good cats is a balancing act. The successful breeder keeps many balls in the air at all times — Type, Temperament and Health.

How a breeder prioritizes these three touchstones may change during the course of a breeding program. Sometimes one may take first priority — sometimes another. As qualities or faults develop in the bloodline, a breeder will place more or less importance on certain qualities. The Persian breeder whose cats have largish ears may insist on only bringing in new cats with tiny ears. Regardless of the positive qualities a cat may have, if it doesn't have small ears, the breeder will reject it.

Once the breeder starts to produce cats with smaller ears, the same breeder may decide to focus on improving eye color, and will consider a cat with slightly larger ears as long as the eye color is phenomenal.

It is all a constantly changing balancing act... and perhaps it is the challenge of that plus the ever elusive dream of producing the ideal cat that keeps the dedicated cat fancier involved in their breed for decades and generations to come. It is a constant and endless pursuit of excellence.

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