To hold or withhold, that's the question
Decision making in cat judging
Peter Paul Moormann
Just as the famous British writer Shakespeare was puzzled by 'To be or not to be, that's the question' a cat judge may be puzzled by 'To hold or withhold, that's the question'. In the cat fancy the puzzle concerns the judge's decision whether a cat will or will not get its title or another prize winning award, such as best in breed or best in show. Three living beings are involved in this event: the cat as the ultimate center of attention, the cat owner and the judge. The cat doesn't care what the outcome will be, as longs as its needs are not violated too much. If we despite its warnings do dare to cross the barriers of its personal life space the animal will not hesitate to show us its secret weapons hidden under a cover of softness, e.g. sharp claws and dangerous teeth. Eventually, if felt threatened too much, it will even attack us. Therefore the cat should be treated with respect and dignity. If a well-mannered cat is treated as such the judge can handle it very well and many cats seize the chance to show their beauty. Cats can act as real mannequins. It is as if they want to seduce the judge. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. From the judge's point of view we may expect that beauty is perceived through what is written in the standard. From the exhibitor's point of view we may expect that the owner may be captured in the dazzling beauty of the show cat. We may say that the owner is in love with the cat, is proud of the cat. That's a good thing. However we all know that love can be blind. That makes it difficult to admit weak points. Exhibitors may differ in the way they are able to assess the strong and weak parts of their own cat. Experience with cat shows and a thorough knowledge of the standard of points is a crucial factor. Personality is another. Some exhibitors are willing to accept the judge opinion under all circumstances, others only do as long as the judge acts according to their standards and expectations, e.g. as long as their cat gets the title and becomes a winner. It seems as if losing does not exist in their vocabulary. This article deals with the topic of withholding prize awards. At the end five anecdotic cases will be presented on the effect of losing and individual reactions to disappointments.
Withholding faults
First an investigation will be made on the way different ways cat associations approach the topic of withholding faults (physical defects, type deficits, color aberrations, lack of grooming, aggressiveness, etc.).
Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF)
The British have a Standard List of Withholding Faults for all breeds, which is very precise and elaborated. The first category concerns size and condition. A judge has to withhold when the cat is not in excellent physical condition or is undersized. Furthermore a list of physical defects is applied to all breeds: folded ears (therefore they don't recognize the Scottish Fold) - any depressions or protrusions of the skull - entropion - permanent squint - reduced nostril aperture - exaggerated depression of the nasal bridge (stop) - abnormal position of the nose leather - noticeably undershot or overshot jaw - abnormal angulation of canine teeth - deformity of rib cage - fixed deviation of the sternum (breast bone) or xiphisterum - fixed deviation (kink) of the spine or tail at any point - luxating patella in adults (slipping kneecap) - abnormal number of toes - hernia - monorchid or cryptorchid adult males.
This list of faults is clearly aimed at protecting the health of the cat and can be seen as an attempt to discourage breeders to continue with cats possessing genetic aberrations. Particularly the physical defects of overtyped Persians and Siamese cats have contributed to the development of this list.
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. (CFA)
The Americans are rather vague. The CFA is less explicit than the GCCF and leans heavily on the overall impression of the cat. The exhibit should: - be in prime physical condition - be faultlessly clean and well groomed - be well balanced temperamentally - demonstrate general health and vigor, reflected by clear eyes, shining coat, and alert appearance. As the judge handles an exhibit his hands record the size and shape of the bone structure, the muscle tone, and the basic conformation of the cat. It is stressed that the total cat is equal to the sum of its parts. This is strange and in contradiction which what is stated in the preface, written by Jeanne Singer:" If the various parts of a cat are harmoniously balanced and complement each other well, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. The total will be a beautiful cat". Her statement seems to be derived from ideas of the British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and anticipated an important principle of Gestalt psychology, which is often quoted in the catch phrase 'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts', and has already been written in a much older version of the CFA show standards dating back to 1974. Later revisions apparently overlooked or didn't understand the full meaning of the laws of Gestalt psychology, Singer cleverly applied to cat judging. A cat may have some details that are less convincing, but the overall impression remains outstanding.
Societe Centrale Feline de France (SCFF)
The French are more like the British in having a precise description of physical defects, how a cat should be groomed, and how it should behave (they even mention that the use of tranquilizers shall be penalized). Declawing is another fault. A maximum of 2 mm is the limit for an overshot or undershot jaw. Deafness is not permitted (think of white cats with blue eyes). They are more explicit about grooming, no artificial coloring of the coat is allowed and no cosmetics may be used to hide problems or to enhance color richness. In respect to that point the French concern about grooming is shared by the Canadians, laid down in a show standard of the Canadian Cat Association from 1972 (remember that part of the Canadians is French speaking as well): "Judges must withhold winners on any cat showing evidence of intent to deceive, as for example the presence of powder or chalk remaining in the coat after normal grooming, or the use of tints, color, rinses, or other artificial coloring or concealment media; sanding or shaving (think of the Rex breeds). A new and highly relevant aspect concerns the lack of features characteristic of that specific breed. A Birman for instance should have the characteristic white gloves and gauntlets, and the Maine Coon should have the squareness of muzzle, otherwise there is a legitimate reason to withhold. Furthermore for each breed it is mentioned which crossings with related breeds are allowed and which are not. A problem with the French list concerns its testability. How can you prove a cat is deaf without the help of a laboratory setting or how can you prove coat color has been artificially obtained by the use of cosmetics? However the French are clear in what they are aiming at: A beautiful, healthy, well-groomed, still naturally looking cat without any genetic defects.
The International Cat Association Inc. (TICA)
In article 16 - judging procedures - TICA which has its origins in Texas reserves one paragraph for withholding awards and another one for disqualifications. Awards can be withheld for an overall lack of merit ("WW"). No further notation is required. Regarding disqualifications they have a different approach to physical defects or deformities than the Europeans. For instance cats that have been declawed shall not be penalized! Furthermore part of the tails missing, shall be disqualified, except in alters and household pets or as authorized by a Board approved standard (such as in Bobtails). More or less the same rule applies to cats having less than five toes on each front foot and four on each back foot. They shall be disqualified unless proved to be the result of an injury or as authorized by a Board approved standard. Hence TICA is less explicit and less strict, particularly in regard to altered cats and neuters, which cannot reproduce genetic faults. However male cats in the adult championship class, which do not have two descended testicles shall be penalized. Article 216.10 is highly interesting: "Judges shall disqualify any cat showing evidence of intent to deceive the judge by artificial means. Should judges suspect fraud in any classes previously judged, they may reopen and rejudge such classes." The term 'suspect' is a dangerous one in the hands of judges with a more or less paranoid personality disposition!
The Dutch Guild of Independent Judges (NOK)
The Dutch have a more eclectic approach. They pick out the useful parts and combine these in such a way that it works. From a historical point of view they strongly rely on the GCCF and they still use the British standards for most breeds recognized by the GCCF. For the remaining breeds the Dutch use the standard from the country of origin of that particular breed. Regarding type of cats the Siamese and Oriental breeders still are British oriented. However the Dutch have always been open-minded. They are more inclined to recognize new colors and breeds than the British. This attitude has led to much experimentation with new colors, especially in Persians and Siamese. In Holland everything was possible on the show bench, already at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies: a silver mackerel tortie-tabby and white, silver tabbies with orange eyes, and other color mixes, at that time rarities on the show bench in other countries, were common exhibits in Holland. Even at that time nobody was shocked. A positive outcome has been an enlarged genetic and phenotypic knowledge. This gave Holland a special status in the cat fancy. A negative outcome concerns the loss of pure breed color lines (obtained by generations of selective breeding), and loss of good eye color in Color Points and Silvers. Coat colors became so mixed up, particularly in the cream division that a thorough investigation was needed to distinguish a solid cream from a cream tabby, a cream smoke, or a cream shaded cameo. The old color lines were gone. In the Siamese division a good seal point with dark seal points and a pale body color became almost extinct. However all the others were there: lilac, chocolate, fawn, etc., with or without tabby and with or without silver. There was a complete color anarchy going on. Furthermore exhibitors were keen on improving type. Weak chins became stronger, often at the expense of a level bite. A judge who dared to open the cat's mouth to see its bite was accused of judging horses instead of cats.
Since the eighties Abyssinian, Persian and Maine Coon breeders became more and more influenced by CFA show standards. The American Abyssinians had a fantastic coat color and lovely large ears. The American Persians had more type than the British Persians and had handsome looks. However there was already a tendency to overshoot, to exaggerate. Some Persian were overtyped and lost their sweet, pretty expression. The same holds for Siamese. Some of them looked like rats. Nevertheless many cats from the US were imported. They had 'the type', it was argued. However, lots of them were second order quality. The Americans wisely kept the best cats at home and the Europeans were not always willing to pay the high price for a top cat. They were satisfied with a cheaper one. The result of this more or less careless breeding with inferior US import cats became visible in many overtyped Persians with crooked faces and physical defects. They looked like beasts. They were ugly. This had to be stopped. The NOK adopted the Standard List of Withholding Faults from the GCCF.
Similar developments could be observed in other Western European countries and somewhat later in Eastern European countries as well. Serious physical defects and deformations, some genetically determined, were the outcome of careless breeding without a vision. Something had to be done.
Beauty and the Beast
Even the Americans came to the conclusion that their Persians were losing their attractive open baby-like expression and were turning into moody, mean looking teenagers. It was time to create a Persian, still very well typed, but sweet looking, and without obvious defects, such as running eyes, very small nose leathers which hamper normal breathing, a stop which is too far set back, deformations of bite, etc. The solution was a broader head, a broader nose, and eyes set wider apart.
The European solution: focus on defects and penalize them. This entails stricter attention to physical defects and penalizing cats with obvious deformities. It can be called 'the battle against the beast'. It is an approach where the negative aspects of the cat are emphasized. In their pursuit to abolish the 'beast' the Europeans have become much more explicit in describing the physical defects and deformities that may lead to withholding titles and prize awards.
The American solution is different: focus on beauty and reward it. This can be called 'in the realm of beauty.' Use vague, poetic descriptions of how an exceptionally beautiful cat should look like. Only a very, very beautiful exhibit will be rewarded with a prize. The cat must be a stunning beauty. A cat with physical defects (asymmetrical face for instance) or bite deformities (so called Dracula teeth for instance) looks like a beast and shall never win. Don't focus on details (deep stop, short nose, strong chin, small ears, etc.). Instead focus on an image, on a concept. The Persian is like a baby (round), the Maine Coon is wild, rough and huge (square), the Siamese is like a woman from Asia (oval, elegant, seductive), the British is like a well-fed bear, the Devon rex is like ET, etc. In contrast with the Europeans the Americans demonstrated a more positive attitude to tackle the problem.
Who has won? That's hard to say. The Americans succeeded in restoring what appeals in a Persian. They created a very typed, but still open, round and sweet expression. The Europeans acted as safeguards for the cat's health. Breeding lines with type, but with obvious physical defects as well, were penalized. In the end Beauty conquered the Beast.
Five anecdotic stories on withholding
Withholding titles or prize awards is inherently related to the job of a cat judge. Above we have seen that the reasons for withholding may vary on a scale from highly subjective (an overall lack of merit for instance) to highly objective (monorchid for instance). During my career as a cat judge several times I have been confronted with exhibitors who were not amused at all after my decision, even when a highly objective defect could be demonstrated. More subjective decisions are harder to understand for an exhibitor and require a more elaborate explanation. Sadly most of the exhibitors involved seem to forget that this decision is meant to improve the quality of that specific breed. It is not a personal attack (your cat is no good, so you are no good). However exceptions confirm the rule. Now I'll present five cases on withholding.
1. The 'Maurice' case
At a big Neocat show in Utrecht (Netherlands) years ago I got a lovely shaded silver Persian male on the judging table for CACIB. Well typed, well groomed and sweet tempered. I was really enchanted by the beauty of that cat: a pure white coat with a regular black tipping, dark heels, a brick red nose leather with a dark rim, and fantastic eyes. Large and round with the required dark eye liner and a deep bluish green color without any trace of yellow. After this first impression I usually go through a more or less fixed routine, e.g. checking the tail, bite and the testicles in full males. I felt really sad when I noticed the male was monorchid. He only had one testicle. Another thing I always do in such cases is asking a colleague to verify what I noticed. This other judge agreed with me. Therefore I couldn't give the CACIB, which I explained in the judging report. I felt very sorry because of the cat's beauty. Furthermore I advised the owner to have the cat neutered, because of the hereditary nature of the defect. It should be noted that this cat was already in the IB class. Hence all the other judges must have overlooked or denied this obvious physical defect. At that time a steward still brought the cats to the judging table. Hence I didn't yet know who was the owner. Well, I soon did and I felt somewhat embarrassed when I discovered that this monorchid male cat belonged to a human transsexual male, who had the physique of a truck driver. He was dressed as a woman but his voice and secondary sex characteristics left no doubt that we were dealing with a man. Later I was told that he already took hormones and had undergone a sex change operation. Well I don't mind. If an individual feels happier in a body that is more in agreement with his or her true gender identity I don't think there is any reason not to accept it. However the transsexual exhibitor was furious and could not understand why I withheld the title. All the other judges had given the title without any hesitation. Maurice already had 3 CAC's and one IB. It was a lovely cat. I was a bad judge. I had no feeling for silver, etc. And most significant of all: Who cares about only one testicle?
2. The 'Frau Jung' case
Frau Jung was a former German president of the Maine Coon Cat Club, middle aged, tall, dyed, blond hair, dressed in animal prints, leggings and wearing high heels. A tough, strong-willed lady, whose presence could not be overseen. At a show in Leeuwarden (The Netherlands), long ago, I refused to give the prize for the best MC, because in my opinion none of them was good enough. Frau Jung was furious, as a lioness. I replied that I would give the prize if she would pass the test I would administer to her. I presented 6 semi-longhairs, all black, all different breeds, in the judge's room. I asked her: " If you can tell me which one, is the Turkish Angora, Maine Coon, Persian with a weak type, Norwegian Forest Cat, Deutsche Longhair, or non-pedigree semi-longhair cat for determination, I'll change my point of view and give the prize for the Best Maine Coon. I give you this chance. No problem, she replied I'll do it. Well, she could not. She could not distinguish the breeds from each other. Neither could I. She became so frustrated she lost the bet that she ran out of the judge's room, screaming: "Der Moormann soll kastriert werden", which meant that I ought to be neutered. I had judged on several of her shows, but after this event I never got another invitation.
Here we are dealing with a less objective decision in judging. In this case the French approach seems fruitful, in which it is stated that if the characteristics of the breed are not there a judge shall withhold a prize award. The characteristic features on the Maine Coon are: A big, long cat with wild looks, squareness of muzzle, a break in the profile with a long nose, large, high set ears, large round eyes, set well apart, a long coat without a woolly undercoat, and a long full tail. Some breeders (Frau Jung was one of them) argue there are two types. One type, having a shorter head and a shorter nose (the old type), and another genuine type that fits my description. Well, this is nonsense. The MC is an American breed and has an American standard. The 'old type' doesn't exist and cannot be distinguished from a Persian with a weak type or from longhaired house cats with Persian backgrounds (determination class). The same holds for the Deutsche Langhaar. Its standard is so poorly defined that the result looks like an old-fashioned Persian without a type. I guess that's the reason it disappeared from the show bench. And what should be the difference with the remaining breeds, with the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Turkish Angora? The Turkish and Norwegian have several features in common: a rather long triangular head, high set large ears, oval, slanting eyes in Turkish and almost round eyes in an oblique setting in Norwegians (which also gives the impression of oval eyes), and a long tail. However there are some obvious differences. The Turkish should have a slight dip in the profile, while the Norwegian should have a straight profile (just as Oriental long hairs). Furthermore the Norwegian has a slightly broader top of the head, while the Turkish has a smaller top of the head with ears set closer together. Furthermore the Turkish has an elegant, aristocratic, somewhat arrogant expression, while the Norwegian is a Forest cat, which should look wild, rough, less civilized, and last but not least, the coat texture is completely different. The Norwegian has a thick woolly undercoat, while the trademark of Turkish is an extremely soft and silky coat, without a woolly undercoat. Finally differences in tail shape should be there: the Turkish tail begins wide at the tail base and tapers towards the tail end. The Norwegians lack this feature. What's the moral of this anecdotic story? If exhibits are lacking features typical for that specific breed we cannot distinguish between the breeds. Therefore the judge should withhold prize-winning awards. One of the tasks of a judge is helping exhibitors in their pursuit to create an outstanding specimen of that particular breed. If an exhibitor doesn't get the feedback of what is good and what isn't good the whole enterprise becomes fruitless. Negative feedback isn't always nice, but it is the first step in the direction of improvement. About thirty years later the results are evident: nowadays it has become much easier to pick out which cat is the Main Coon, or Turkish Angora, or Norwegian Forest Cat.
3. The 'Mme la Comtessa de Mondini' case
Some decennia ago Madame la Comtessa de Mondini, an aristocratic woman who was the president of a cat club in France, invited me for one of her shows in Toulouse. At that time the shows in France lasted two days. On the Saturday the judging started always late, usually only after lunch. At the end of the morning there is the vin d'honneur with some delicious sweets or snacks: a nice French tradition. Everybody participates in this event: exhibitors, members of the club, the president, the organizing committee, the judges, and an official delegate of the village or city, quite often the 'maire' himself. Speeches are held. It is a lovely social event, and a good opportunity to learn to know the local cat fancy. Next there was lunch in a chic restaurant with several dishes and beautiful wines. The life of a cat judge can be a true delight! Finally about two o' clock in the afternoon the judging commenced. Then fate struck. I got a lovely blue Persian male on my judging desk: a lovely type of head with deep copper colored eyes, a cobby body and an excellent pale blue coat without any shading. He was super, but I discovered he only had one testicle, so I had to withhold the CACIB. It is always a sad thing when a beautiful cat turns out to have a serious defect. During the banquet, late in the evening my pupil judge confessed me that this blue male was the cat of Mme la presidente. She was not amused at all about my decision. In fact she felt very sad and disappointed, and could not understand why I withheld the title for a cat already in the CACIB class. I was more shocked by the fact that a monorchid male had become a champion. Had the other judges overlooked the defect or had they simply denied or ignored it for matters of convenience? My pupil judge advised me to have a fresh look at the blue male Sunday morning. Well it didn't help. One testicle still had not descended. It never would. There was no doubt about that. My pupil judge partly agreed. It was not there at the moment, but couldn't it be because the cat was too nervous? I asked another judge to verify my observation. The result was positive as well: monorchid. Hence I didn't change my decision. Well I couldn't otherwise I would have lost my credibility as a judge. Despite the confirmation by a colleague judge I felt a bit uneasy. My pupil judge clearly was very upset. What to tell madame la presidente? During lunch the atmosphere became tenser. Mme la Comtessa was a bad actress. She couldn't hide her irritation. She acted in a cold and distant manner. After the Best in Show I received the money for the expenses I had made and I got my judging present. However I had to pay a price for my persistency: I was never invited again for a show of Mme la Comtessa.
4. The case of the 'Battle between two Dutch shorthair judges'
Recently a Dutch exhibitor, who also is a cat judge presented a lilac silver tabby point. The judge on duty withheld the CAC because the silver was not visible. The exhibitor admitted that the silver indeed was not visible, but that the cat genetically was silver. In that sense the exhibitor was right, because the variable expression of the I-gen is an important point to be taken into consideration and manifests itself in the mere fact that some silvers have more silver in the coat than others. According to Alstede (2002) some silvers, particularly the ones with paler basic colors such as blue (genotype: A-B-dd I-) or lavender (genotype: A-bbdd I-), can only be identified by highly experienced breeders. Although they genetically transmit silver they have to be shown as non-silvers, because judges are supposed to look at the phenotype of the cat. On the pedigree it is advised to write the genotype and to describe the phenotype as non-silver. The exhibitor however still wanted the cat to be judged as silver. When the judge on duty was not willing to reconsider her decision and the cat didn't get the CAC as a lilac silver tabby Oriental the exhibitor was so furious that she overtly tore the judging report into pieces and withdrew the cat. It became a scandal in which many other judges were involved, each ventilating his or her point of view. The exhibitor wrote an official protest letter to the Dutch Guild of Independent Judges (NOK) in which she accused her colleague judge of being unfair and lacking the expertise required for a good judge. A hearing was organized in which both parties were asked to explain their point of view. I was asked to be the president of this hearing. The complainer insisted that the cat ought to be judged according to its genotype, although she admitted that the silver was not present in the coat. Her complaint was not amended: a cat shall be judged according to its phenotype. Accusing the other judges of being a bad judge was not amended either, because both judges passed their theoretical examination under NOK conditions and both practical exams turned out to be signed by the same senior judge.
5. The 'Red Tabby Persian' case
The last case I present took place in the beginning of my judging career. Just after the show many exhibitors have a chance to ask the judge to comment their cat: sometimes to complain, but more often just to say hello or to ask for advice about their cat. I still have a vivid image of a young, handsome couple approaching me with a red Persian male. They were very polite and friendly, but a little disappointed as well, because I had withhold the CAC. Why exactly? It was their first Persian, with a good pedigree, and they thought he had a lovely red coat color. They didn't understand my comments, because the cat had markings. However I had written that I could not see whether their male was a red self or a red tabby. Well, I explained that at the very moment the cat makes its appearance it must be clear for the judge whether we he is dealing with a self or a tabby. An extremely long coat can make the pattern more diffuse, that's true, but the pattern should be there when the coat is flattened. Regarding their male I had problems. He had quite a nice type and a lovely eye color, but he had too many markings for a self and the pattern was incomplete for a tabby (hardly any markings on the back and flanks). Furthermore I told them that a red self is a very difficult color. It takes generations of selective breeding to get rid of the tabby markings (genetically a self is the same as a tabby). A few markings on the legs and head are permitted, but faint markings on the body are not allowed. The deeper the coat color (which is preferable) the harder it is to have a self. On the other hand it is just as difficult to get a true tabby (mackerel, blotched, or spotted). Again it is a matter of selective breeding. A lot of Persian breeders focus too much on type and sometimes seem to forget that coat color shall not be ignored. Then I made a drawing of the pattern of a blotched tabby with the butterflies, the stripes on the back, the oysters, the necklaces, buttons on the stomach, etc. That made sense to the couple. They instantly understood what my critique was. We shook hands, and the thanked me for the clear explanation. In contrast with the other cases this anecdote had a happy ending. The curiosity of the male part of the couple was triggered. He wanted to know all about cats, particularly judging. He took up stewarding and soon became a pupil-judge. He passed his exams easily, and became highly respected for both his extensive knowledge of cat standards and genetics and his excellent judging skills. He is famous now, judged all around the world, and wrote excellent books and articles from which many cat lovers, my person included, still benefit. You all know him. His name? Jean-Paul Maas, a very special person, and a dear friend of mine. I wanted to conclude this article with Jean-Paul, because he is an exception to the rule. Many persons feel offended when you withhold a challenge certificate. He didn't, instead it triggered his hunger for knowledge. But more importantly the red tabby case became the start of a lifelong friendship. I want to thank him for all he has done for the cat fancy. Unfortunately he had to retire too soon, because of health problems, but our friendship will remain.
  • Alstede, H. (2002). Oosterse kortharen: Smoke, tabby- & shaded-patronen (Oriental shorthairs: smoke, tabby and shaded patterns). Mundicat, 4, 11-13.
  • CAT (1972). Show rules, classifications, and standards. Canada.
  • CFA (1974). Show standards. Red Bank, New Jersey.
  • CFA (2000). Show standards. Manasquan, New Jersey.
  • Chaplin, J.C., &* Krawiec, T.S. (1970). Systems and theories of psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • GCCF (1999). The official standard of points. Bridgwater.
  • NOK (2002). Standaarden. Nederland.
  • SCFF (978/987). Standards. Paris.
  • TICA (2001). Standards. Harlingen, Texas.
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