THE NOBLE ART OF COLOUR DETERMINATION
Colour determination in the circumstances in which it takes place at shows is often nothing more than a comic act. Exhibitors wave with pedigree papers of the parents of the cat and tell the judges what they expect them to say, not prepared to accept anything else than to hear the judges confirm their own ideas, often with the vocal moral support of several friends, who have carefully seen to it that they are not handicapped by even the most basic knowledge of feline genetics. Two, three, four judges are involved in heated arguments, each having a different opinion.
The light conditions more often than not are abominable, with lights of different colours, or blue white fluorescent tube light mixed with yellow bulb light, and with little or no daylight because the sports halls in which most shows take place have no windows. Nothing worthwhile can possibly come out of this procedure that nevertheless takes place show weekend after show weekend before our bewildered eyes.
Without proper light conditions colour determination makes no sense and any serious judge should flatly refuse to do the job if not in front of a window without glass curtains and in normal daylight.
It's between you and the cat
My advice, don't even begin contemplating colour determi-nation if the exhibitor and supporters are present. Out and away with them. If you feel that this cannot be done, at least don't listen, like you don't listen to muzak in supermarkets and shopping malls. Well, one should not generalize, there are exceptions of course, but changes are that you know them and will be happy to have the opportunity to learn from them. But sadly, nowadays they are just that: exceptions. As far as all others are concerned, you find yourself in the mush area of a jamming station…
Don't pay any attention to the pedigree either, too many are not worth the paper on which they are printed and are more a hindrance than help. Too often they are the result of the very same nonsensical procedure that you refuse to take part in and the fact that this result is written down on an official paper does not make it any more credible. It's between you and the cat.
It is a job that requires concentration and is best done alone in quiet silence, at most with a steward helping to handle the cat and who must keep his mouth shut. If you have no sound knowledge of feline genetics, leave the colour determination to someone else. Even if the other person doesn't know what he or she is talking about either, at least your reputation will not be damaged.
No pedigrees, no veterinary statements
Colour determination is done on the basis of what you see, and nothing else. Not on the basis of pedigrees, and not on the basis of written statements of vets either. (Becoming a vet in The Netherlands takes five to six years of university studies. In those six years one afternoon in the last semester of the last year but one is dedicated to feline breeds and their varieties.) So, statements like "I, Dr. X, veterinary surgeon, herewith declare that Loverboy of The Breeding Paradise is not a Smoke but the contrast in the coat is caused by the prescription of Prosexuol" are best discarded.
As far as pedigrees are concerned one must not forget that there are almost as many pedigree secretariats on the European continent as there are cat clubs, so several hundreds. The genetic knowledge of those, who work there is often poor or entirely non-existent. The service they render is voluntary or poorly remunerated and therefore a good part of the pedigrees that I have seen in my life swarms with errors, faults and mistakes. And from time to time - yes, that happens also - one detects intentional lies by a dishonest breeder made all the more easy because in practice cattery and litter control never take place. Also, sometimes, there is an exception between the vets, who, although exercising a liberal profession, thinks a little too readily that a little white lie at the demand of somebody who represents for him a clientele of twenty or thirty cats is not a deadly sin…
As with all difficult and complicated tasks, always follow the same routine. First A, then B, then C; not first C, then A en then B, because then, however experienced you may be, you are bound to forget or overlook something.
Varieties are divided into several groups. Before looking at any specific colour, first find the group or groups to which the cat belongs:
- Self or solid. All hairs of the coat have the same colour from the root to the tip.
- Agouti. Alternating darker and lighter bands on each individual hair.
- Tabby. On the agouti coat lies a striped, spotted or blotched pattern.
- Silver. Each individual hair has a darker coloured tip. The rest of the hair is white or in any case considerably lighter coloured.
- Colourpoint or Siamese pattern (Himalayan in American English). The cat has darker coloured ears, muzzle (mask), legs & tail. Although always priggishly left unmentioned, the male scrotum is in fact also a point. The rest of the body is lighter coloured.
- Tortie. Any cat showing a combination of O and o colours, so Oo cats. Together with the self coloured cats (group 1.) they are called "classic colours".
- Particolours. All preceding groups with white (group 1. until 6. included + white). A subgroup is formed by the Bicolours, any self colour with white (group 1. + white). It is confusing that some authors refer to torties as particolours.
A cat may show a coat colour or pattern that belongs to more than one of the abovementioned groups. This is connected with the fact that not all genes influence each other indiscriminately but generally speaking only the genes within the same group, called series
, although there sometimes is a connection between genes of different series (e.g. a colourpointed coat that is invariably connected with blue irises; the connection between a white coat, blue irises and hereditary (partial) deafness; the connection between homozygous folded ears and hereditary osseous malforma-tions, etc.)
So, if you find that a certain cat belongs to the groups 2,3 & 6, you have before you a tortietabby. Then you determine the pattern. Blotched? Mackerel? Spotted? (When in doubt be-tween the last two, look at both flanks of the cat, from the tail up to the head). Kittens may show a mixed pattern. In that case, choose for spotted rather than mackerel, as the pattern tends to "open" further towards adulthood.
Only then you start to look at the colour proper. You don't see black but blue, so a bluetortietabby. Ready? Not yet. Check the other groups. Is it really a tortietabby, i.e. red tabby as well as black tabby, not a bad tortie (red tabby markings with black self patches)? If the noseleather falls in an area with a colour from the black series, check for mascara rim. Any sign of Silver? Any white? Especially look at the breast, the lower belly between the thighs, the toes. No? Good, a bluetortie-tabby it shall be.
A complicating factor with colour determination is that it is mostly requested for kittens. Almost always, almost every-thing with them is future. Here you must be familiar with the breed in all its stages of development. You cannot have bred all the breeds you judge, but you can have taken the trouble to visit breeders at home and discuss their kittens with them. I will be forever grateful to all the breeders who opened their cattery doors for me over the years and in most cases judged their own lifework before me with a honesty and severity that deserves the utmost respect.
If you have no time to visit catteries, you can certainly stay a little longer at shows and ask exhibitors/breeders to show and discuss their exhibits with you, although in my opinion nothing can replace the full confidence of a discussion at home.
With kittens the eye colour and points colour is not yet developed, they show distinct ghost markings, black selfs sometimes only show a grayish smoke, whites extended coloured spots on the top of their heads. We could sing a song about it. Is it a silver? Is it a tabby? Is it a self? Is it a lilac? Is it a blue? Here experience, knowledge and talent have to come together, here colour determination is at its most demanding, here colour determination is a true noble art.
Red Tabby and Tortie Tabby
A judge who looks for a white thumbprint at the back of the ears of a red cat, a light cream/white chin and a white tail tip in order to establish whether or not this red is an agouti cat (a "real" tabby) tells us only one thing: "I am an ignoramus". Whether a red is agouti or non-agouti can only be established with test matings with a partner from the black series. In show practice a red tabby is a cat that convincingly looks like a red tabby, aa or not aa.
This is the place to mention a frequent error with the determi-nation of torties and tortie tabbies. A tortie shows black self patches and two shades of red, light and dark, and sometimes even, although this is not considered as desirable, more or less clear tabby markings. Therefore, tabby markings in the red parts only is not in any case sufficient reason to determine a female as a tortie tabby. A tortie tabby is not only red tabby but also black (brown) tabby and consequently shows a tabby pattern not only in the red parts but also in the non-red parts of the coat.
With Silvers, the length of the tipping and the intensity of the contrast between the tip of the hair and the rest of the hair shaft is determined by polygenes. Consequently there are big gradations: Chinchillas that are too dark, Shaded Silvers that are too light or on the contrary too dark, Smokes with insufficiently long tipping, or on the contrary almost without silver contrast.
Apart from the influence of polygenes, the full production of pigment only takes place at the tip of the hair, so at the moment that the hair grows out of the skin. Therefore, new short hairs do not show their contrast at all, or only on a very limited part of the total hair length at that moment. This is the reason why with Shorthairs no difference is being made between Chinchilla and Shaded Silver; they are taken together and are called: "tipped".
In the practice of judging Longhairs, these dilemmas are solved by applying the following criteria. When it concerns the question whether a cat is a Chinchilla that is too dark or a Shaded Silver that is too light: if the back of the hind legs from the hock down is white, then the cat is a Chinchilla. If that part is not white, but gray, it is a Shaded Silver.
When it concerns the question whether a cat is a Shaded Silver that is too dark or a Smoke that is too light: if the cat shows an agouti nose leather, then it is judged as a Shaded Silver; if not, then as a Smoke. If the question is whether a cat is a Smoke with insufficient Silver contrast, or a non-silver cat that shows an uneven coat colour: if the cat shows white ear tufts (not on top of, but in the ear), then it is judged as a Smoke, if not, then it is not considered to be a Silver.
Of course, with the Red Silvers even these criteria are not always clear. Only call red (and cream) Chinchillas and Shaded Silvers Cameo: Shell Cameo and Shaded Cameo. Don't talk of Cameo Smoke and Cameo Tabby, it may be American but it is confusing, rather speak of Red (or Cream) Smoke and Red (or Cream) Silver Tabby.
Familiarize yourself with the technical terms of the colours of different breeds. What "Snow" means with Bengals, you can read in this issue. A Tabby Point in Europe is a Lynx Point in America, a Red Point here is a Flame Point over there. A European lilac point Siamese is a frost point in the States. A Persian may be lilac but in such a case an Oriental is called lavender. Know what the difference is between Foreign White and Oriental White (the former has blue eyes, the latter green eyes).
Learn that with "Mink" Tonkinese (cbcs) colours are meant: Natural Mink = seal brown, Honey Mink = chocolate or chestnut, Champagne Mink = lilac.
An American Burmese is a breed that is entirely different from the European Burmese. Its colours are: sable (seal-brown), champagne (chocolate) and platinum (lilac or lavender). But, careful, a Champagne Mink Tonkinese is lilac; a chocolate Tonkinese is called Honey Mink.
Know that Blue Cream and Blue Tortie, and Brown Tabby and Black Tabby mean the same thing and that a Tabby with brown markings consequently is no Brown Tabby. "Classic Tabby" is the same as Blotched Tabby. But a tbtb Bengal is not blotched but marbled.
An American ruddy Abyssinian is a European usual Abys-sinian. A European red Abyssinian is a sex-linked red with the colour of boiled carrots, whereas an American Red Abys-sinian is called Sorrel (agouti cinnamon) in Europe. Non-sex-linked cream is fawn or beige, both colours of the black series.
Chartreux is any shade of blue-gray, from ash to slate. A tawny Ocicat is a black tabby spotted. Ebony with Orientals is black self.
As in solving any problem, use as many clues as you can get. Observe not only the coat but also eye colour, colour of eye rims, nose leather, lips, look at the colour of the hairs between the toes, the paw pads and the tail tip. Don't perform colour determination from a distance on sight only. Handle the cat, look at the undercoat whilst going with your fingers through it to see the hair roots, the tummy, the inner side of the legs. If you think you have found the right answer, control if nothing contradicts your verdict. A cat with a Siamese (colourpoint, Himalayan) coat pattern cannot have any other eye colour than blue. A blue silver tabby cannot have black lips and paw pads. A cat with a dark mascara rim around the nose leather cannot be a self. A cat with a colour of the black series without a mascara rim around the nose leather cannot be a tabby. If you hesitate between blue tabby and blue tortie tabby, do not only look under the tail for its sex, also look for pink patches on the paw pads. A tortie tabby cannot show black self patches.
Then write your verdict down and if necessary explain why you came to your opinion. Realize that colour determination is often an ungrateful job. Don't go into discussions, it is useless. Think of a court judge, and say: "This is my verdict, case closed." If the exhibitor can't accept it, he must go to another court with another judge.