SOME ALGORITHMS OF JUDGES' DECISIONS
from the point of view of a geneticist
by INNA SHUSTROVA
Representatives of mass media and television, now and again showing up at the shows, like to ask experts one and the same question: "How do they judge cats?" (thankfully not "why are they judged?"...). One has to boringly explain, that every breed has its official standard, which describes all traits of a cat: what kind of head it has, what kind of ears, how long and what coloring its hair is and so on. And every animal is evaluated from the point of view of matching up every trait with the standard. Theoretically such answer is kind of correct and satisfies everyone but the expert, who knows that in reality the process of judging turns out to be more complicated and disputable.
From a "breed image" to the standard and back
A breed standard is an official document but, unfortunately, it is not always single-valued. The standard:
- can be not sufficiently detailed and strict in describing separate points, that leaves highly extensive possibilities for its interpretation (and finally leads to wide variety of types within a breed);
- can be unfinished and inconsistent in itself (e.g. " A head in the shape of the equilateral triangular with low cheek-bones" physically can be combined in no way with "a medial length face");
- Can describe such an ideal combination of traits, which is genetically unstable (e.g. disadvantageous at the pre-zygote level) and, therefore, very rarely occurs in reality (Persian breed, Bengal).
In similar cases an expert has to rely in many respects on the clause of the standard called "over-all impression" - that entire image which has to be formed when looking at a representative of the breed. For example, if the standard does not describe in detail lines of the cranium vault, forehead and profile of the Scottish Fold, then they, formally speaking, can be of any kind. But the over-all impression from a Fold's head - evenly round, smooth - by no means can be created by a flat skull, a retreating forehead or by abrupt, angular transition to the nose.
Generally speaking, any judgment starts exactly from examining a "breed image" in the presented cat. It's quite another matter if the conformity to the "breed image" will play a major role in the judge's final decision. Sometimes during the subsequent "trait be trait" examination of an animal's qualities a "bred image" and evaluation of separate traits may contradict each other. None, even the most detailed standard, specifies the penalty size for every separate defect. For example, how many points to deduct for too big ears of the British or for its too soft, "downy" hair. There is, of course, the scale of the correlative significance of traits. The ears of the British (size, set, form) according to the scale are given 5 points and the hair (length with texture and density) - 15 points. (CFA). One would think that equally expressed defects concerning the hair texture have to be evaluated 3 times as strict than the defects of the ears structure. However… if spoken about the over-all visual impression, then the image of such a roundish, wide, massive and heavy cat, as the British is, can be to a far greater degree destroyed by absurdly sticking up out of the round head ears than by too soft, not sufficiently elastic hair. Besides, one cannot forget that the hair texture is far more exposed to seasonal changes; it can reflect both wrong grooming and the quality of management. But the ears will not become smaller with any management… As a result the "value" of these defects turns out to be equal at best.
Morphology of defects
When scoring penalty points for that or other defect judges do not always think about its morphological or anatomical nature. Meanwhile, the defect reflected in the scoring sheet or in oral comment as a "weak chin" may have
quite various origin. It can be a true brachygnathia (a reduction of the lower jaw); narrowing of the lower jaw (it is usually accompanied by a scissors-like and not pincers-like bite); a result of missing some teeth (so the lower jaw "closes" to the upper one) or, finally, can be an exclusively visual effect due to the overhanging vibrissae pads. Sure, irrespective of the reason of its origin a "weak chin" does not adorn a cat, and from the point of view of aesthetic impression the penalty for this defect should be the same. If you approach the show exclusively as a beauty contest, then so it is. But let's ponder over it: what for, as a matter of fact, are cat shows, more precisely, rating cat shows, held? Sure, not only to entertain the respectable audience, to satisfy or encourage owners' ambitions but also (for all that!) to define the present day status of a breed and the further direction of its development. And a judge defines with his evaluation not only the exterior of an animal, but its pedigree perspective as well.
Accordingly, penalty points to various breeds for externally similar, but anatomically different defects, should not necessarily be equal at all. The brachygnathia, typical of Sphinxes, is, apparently, a side effect of a mutation. With the Persians, Exotic, Orientals the brachygnathia is most often the result of the outbreeding disgenesis (incompatibility of parental genomes) and extremely rarely presents itself as a simple monogenic trait with dominant inheritance. With the majority of breeds narrowing of the low jaw is usually persistent during inheritance and is inclined to be inherited as a dominant trait. With the Persians and Scottish Folds it may more rarely be the result of disgenesis. Lack of teeth is a trait determined by polygenes, its manifestation depends on management conditions and so on. It is usually not a hard labor for breeders "to remove" in the subsequent generations such trait as overdeveloped vibrissae pads.
"Defects in harmony"
If the standard doesn't contain any evident or more often hidden inconsistencies or incompleteness', then the animal meeting all its requirements cannot be inharmonious. But, as is generally known, an ideal conformity to a well-written standard is an extremely rare phenomenon. The cases, when defects of those or other traits cause disharmony in a cat's appearance, as a rule, are quite evident: penalty points are deducted for exactly these defects. The complicated situations are when a few small defects are mutually compensated so that the cat looks quite harmonious and balanced and, what is more, "fits" into the bounds of the breed image. When judging such animal those two different approaches to judging, based on psychological features of a judge's personality and described by Paul Murman, can be visually seen. A holistic judge, who sees the animal "as a whole", will undoubtedly evaluate such cat considerably higher than the expert inclined to meticulously examine all traits taken separately and evaluate them according to the letter of the standard. Englishmen may have found the most interesting way out of the situation - GCCF standards have allotted separate 5 points for "balance", i.e. harmony in a cat's appearance. The standards of other organizations do not have such a loophole, that's why every expert finds his own way out of the situation. Most often a balanced animal is nonetheless penalized for defects… but considerably less than a disharmonious one.
The problem of "balanced defects" is especially vividly displayed in the so-called breeds of extreme appearance - the Persian and the Exotic. Exactly within these breeds an animal can be balanced, charming, spectacular and at the same time irregularly built up from the point of view of anatomy and morphology of a breed. For example, the standard dictates the Persian to have a short nose and a short muzzle. However the effect of nose leather located along the line of the middle of the eye can be achieved not only at the expense of shortening the nose, but also as a result of deepening the break and/or "lifting" it to the level of upper eyelids and higher. As a result of it the nose length of such Persian makes up a good centimeter, however, the due superficial impression has been observed. Such individuals usually "sin" by low retreating foreheads, though, but this situation can be corrected at the expense of the high cranial vault, so as a whole such animal's profile "lies down" on the prescribed vertical line. One can detect a flat area or a hollow only by palpating the cranial seam. The same refers to the muzzle (especially in the Exotic breed) - it is not always really reduced, it would be often more correct to call it a "depressed" muzzle of even a medium length. Deep furrows running down from the nose to the lower jaw usually testify to such breeding policy, but with a wide head they are successfully diminished by filled out cheeks and "covered" by vibrissae pads. As a result - the incorrect structure does not catch your eyes and such cat quite successfully follows its show career. Breeders are the ones who will have to pay for judging morphologically incorrect animals, when during attempts of improving crosses noses and muzzles will display their real length in the offsprings…
Price of the extreme - who gives more?
It is not a very rare case when judging breeds of extreme appearance a judge finds himself facing the option: should he give preference to a balanced but not expressive animal or to a not quite balanced but interesting cat with pronounced valuable traits? Let's imagine two young Persians - both are compact, with good hair but distinctly different in head structure. One of them displays a not high skull, a poorly salient forehead, a shallow break and a short enough nose, a smooth outline of cheekbones and a small muzzle with a slightly reduced jaw, wide-open, shallowly set eyes. The other is distinguished by powerful skull structures: a high dome; an emphatically salient, heavy forehead; good correlation of the depth of the break and the length of the nose, a wide short face and a massive slightly jutted jaw. The eyes, though large, do not look naively open on account of the massive forehead. All structures are so strong that seem angular, "protruding". In other words the skull structure is correct in principle, but has not reached the balanced perfection. The second cat notably looses to the first one in balance and probably in "breed image" - violating the requirement of "smoothly-jutted openness" prescribed to the Persian. Nonetheless, it is evident to any breeder, that the second cat is more interesting as a producer just because of its strengthened cranial structures. Since the animal is young we may count on this "reserve" and hope that growth processes won't cease and will smooth over the angles by expanding the scull and spreading out the jaw arcs. Whereas the first cat will remain with the low skull, and luckily not with the flat forehead. But this is a breeder's point of view, moreover it is meant for the animal's future development, which may not follow the desired direction or stop "halfway". Two decisions about the first place are equally probable in this situation - an expert may give preference to the first cat motivating his judgment by the fact that he is scoring the competitors at present moment and has no right of making assumptions about the perspectives of the animal's development. Formally speaking, he will be quite right. But it is similarly probable that preference will be given to the second cat - in this case the expert's motivation will be the necessity to preserve individuals with powerful reserves of cranium growth within the Persian breed. Such pedigree material, though not quite harmoniously realized, can be improved in the next generation, and with no genetic bases there will be nothing to improve.
In case a judge is satisfied with both the modern breed standard and the overall level of animals presented at the show, he will most likely give preference to morphologically correct and harmoniously built up cats. Similar judging is highly probable in cases if the selection of animals presented at the show is not uniform; animals are of different types, none of the presented types possessing any completeness.
However, the majority of breed standards are to a certain extent oriented at expressing separate animals traits to the maximum. It refers not only to the breeds with extreme morphological structure (Persians, Exotics, Orientals, Siamese), but to many mutagenous breeds as well (Scottish Fold, Cornish-rex, Munchkin), and even to aboriginals (Mainkoon). Thus, the biased judging is most probable in these breeds, when an expert will attach priority importance to two or three traits specific for the breed. Most often such a situation occurs when these very traits are not sufficiently expressed in the greater part of presented cats. For example, if the majority of the displayed Orientals differs in small, narrow and highly placed ears, a judge may give preference to those individuals, whose ears are big and low placed (at times even too low), "forgiving" them, for instance, an excessive width of the head or an imperfect line of the profile. On the other hand, if the bulk of presented cats does not make a brilliant display of long bodies, wedges and tails, an expert, when choosing the best cats, may be guided by just these valuable traits without focusing his attention on the quality of chins and the notorious width of ears. Thus a judge usually points out to the necessity of developing and improving these very traits within a breed population.
Tendencies of developing … schizophrenia
Giving preference to the definite inner-breed type is the other variety of
the biased judging. Until this very type with its merits and defects precisely fits into the breed standard at the level of "others equal", there are no special problems with such preference. But during the periods of active development of the breed the issue of "typological preferences" come up with all its acuteness in front of an expert. Diversified variants of "modernized" inner-breed types show up at this boisterous time (in the majority of cases not stable yet), and the part of "classical" variants decreases. Such "explosive" development is more typical of evolutionary young breeds: when their genetic fund unfolds in all spectrum of its diversity, the breed as if "outruns" its own standard. Sometimes this process "is launched" by a mass importation of animals to "renew the blood" from catteries belonging to other felinological systems, - with their own breed standards and breed types. At times the similar situation arises because of the decision of a considerable part of breeders to change the pattern of a breed rearing (crossing Folds with the British), to use active infusion of other breeds' blood (Persian to British, for example) or, on the contrary, to ban such infusion (Devon-rexes to Canadian Sphinxes). Finally, too hasty or not clear-cut alterations introduced to the standard of the existing breed lead to the similar development of the situation. A judge, following the judge's ethics, should evaluate cats in compliance with the standard. But if he sees that the standard is outdated, then is it ethical, from ordinary point of view, to impede the progress (or what seems to him a progress) of the breed? Or, for example, a judge is inclined to consider that alterations made to the standard are not in favor but only to the detriment of the breed making it (from his point of view) inexpressive or depriving it of genetic stability. Should he judge according to the "wrong" standard and at the same time apply to breeders' audience and the breed committee with protest propositions? Or is it better for him to consult a psychiatrist at once? The majority of experts do not suffer the split personality, though, and for all that they give preference to a desirable breed type and not to a doubtful standard.
Type versus coloring
If in the first half of the XX-th century a feline breed was characterized first of all by the hair length, its quality and coloring, and "type" was a secondary notion, then in the post-war years more attention was paid to the peculiarities of the morphological structure. The 70-th of the last century brought about to felinologists not only the first extreme-Persians and the modern standard of the Siamese, but also principally new conception of feline breeds in general. A breed in modern understanding seems to represent by itself a duly built-up skeleton with respective muscles, covered with skin and hair of the due length, structure and texture and …some color (or a few colors) - because one won't have the heart to call "colorings" obscure colors. Almost the basic statement of modern felinology "type is more important than coloring" allowed them to get spread. Not numerous monochrome breeds like Russian blue and the Bengalese are an exception for the time being - probably because the type of the wild Bengal ancestor fails to be consolidated (because of the strange pattern of the breed rearing approved by felinologists: through the series of assimilated crossings with a domestic cat). Even to Abyssinians - a breed first of all developed owing to its unique coloring! - "good judges" more often forgive trace elements of a "necklace" and incomplete ticking for the sake of a refined morphology.
Generally the felinologists, who introduced the statement "type is more important than coloring", counted on it as a temporary measure. They said they would just improve breed types, reach due heights of extremity - and would come back to breeding by colorings, would bring up their quality to the pre-war level. Because everything in a cat should be beautiful - a head, coloring, body and show temperament. But, as is generally known, there is nothing more constant than temporary measures. Improvement of morphological types turned out not that long but simply endless: as is generally known, there is no limit to perfection.
Is the end to opposition close?
Today strict judging with respect to coloring is more an exception than a rule. Such approach is more characteristic of experts of the old European school. Yet, a doubt as to the effectiveness of the magic formula "type is more important than coloring" gradually creeps into the minds of the younger generation of judges. The doubt creeps into the minds, probably, because the faith in the possibility of an independent improvement of coloring and type is lost. There comes the understanding that a purebred animal represents not merely a definite morphological-anatomical type, tinted with some (no matter what exactly) color, but the type displayed and existing in strictly defined coloring.
The fact that there is a rigid enough genetic interrelation between type and coloring by now has become quite evident both for experienced judges and for observant breeders. This interrelation can be accomplished, firstly, at the expense of cohesion of genes at the citosceleton level and, secondly, at the expense of the gametic selection - when sex cells with a definite allelic set (both of coloring genes and of genes of other morphological traits) gain an advantage in the process of fertilization. The influence of the implementation of genetic information about coloring on the development of a breed type is possible at a level of the hypothalamic system of an embryo or even a growing kitten. The hormone, stimulating pigmentary cells to produce melanin, is generated in nerve cells of a hypothalamus - same way as somatostatin and somatoliberin hormones, forming the basis of growth processes, and as releasing factors, activating a number of hormones of the hypophysis and the thyroid gland. The synthesis of all active substances of a hypothalamus is in a complicated interdependency, so that "overproduction" of one of them may at some moment turn into the analogous surplus or, vice versa, the deficiency of the other.
Another aspect of judging related to colors can be formulated in the following way: perception of coloring influences the impression of the breed type of an animal. Colorings "working for the breed image" and colorings "working against it" can be singled out for many breeds. Even with the same quality of animals an expert will be in favor of awarding the first place to a tiger-black Siberian cat and not to a blue-with-white Harlequin. Just because the "wild" coloring works for the image of "the wild cat from the Siberian taiga". Exactly in the same way a white Angora cat will take advantage of a tiger-black one of the same quality, and a Somali-sorrel cat will be superior to a silver-blue one. However, the majority of breeds existing in plural color variations and especially breeds of the "extreme appearance" have already managed to become free from such "image-like" influence of coloring.