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REFINEMENT & the show cat
by Betty White
An interesting word, refinement. As a noun, it indicates the state or quality of being refined. We know what this means if we are talking about oil, sugar, flour or a metal. We know what this means if we are considering an artistic concept or even a human being (think exquisite Audrey Hepburn - or someone still among us, Nicole Kidman). Are we communicating with one another equally as well when we speak of refined show cats? Furthermore, does refinement, whatever the breed, mean the same thing? Yes and no.
Refinement has little to do with size, in Persians or Maine Coons; it has everything to do with polish. Refinement in Siamese. Balinese, Colorpoints, Javanese and Orientals has much to do with size and everything to do with elegance. It is just as easy to compare a refined Oriental with a refined Maine Coon, if we fully understand both the importance and relevance of the term to what the respective breeds are about. To take that which is coarse and refine it into something with purity and style, is the whole point of breeding a show animal. Unsupervised Mother Nature left with the matter of pedigreed cats is a contradiction in terms. One obviates the other. Because this is so, it is really the refining of the various breeds that removes what, for our purposes, we deem coarse or impure.
A refined Persian is a study in roundness covering heavy boning, peering out with beautifully expressive, round eyes; the refined Burmese is likewise a composite of roundness, sweet expression and large eyes, but on a distinctive compact body. In the Siamese and Balinese Standard, the perfect cat is defined by length, grace and a spectacular paint job (if one wants brevity, that sentence says it). The refined Maine Coon, while maintaining the proportions and coat of its working ancestor, exhibits an additional bit of "spit and polish" that distinguishes the aristocrat.
The trick in the refining process is to do it all at the same time, on the same cat. The suggestion, then, is that the outstanding cat exhibits superior refinement. To put it another way, the refined show cat mirrors its standard and has few discernible faults. Close, maybe, but not quite right.
Persian refinement is challenged when the overall impression of roundness is lacking or the sweet expression is lost. Oriental refinement suffers the same fate when the cat no longer appears elegant; relative size is not always a consideration here. A fine- boned Oriental of small proportions will certainly lack refinement unless the length of boning is sufficient, just as a larger cat with heavy boning is likewise coarse. In a Devon Rex, anything that detracts from the elfin appearance is fatal to refinement. We could ' say that refinement is the essence of a breed. But, there is more.
All attributes must be harmoniously balanced. Balance is proportion that spells the total perception of any breed. As the ultimate goal, however, "balance" can be a colossal phony without refinement (a cobby Persian with a round head and short legs or tail certainly sounds balanced; but refinement is out the window without heavy boning, a glorious coat and a soft, sweet expression. A short Siamese head does balance a short body - it is perhaps a pretty cat but certainly not a good Siamese exuding refinement.). A cat of clean lines and slender structure with finely chiseled features, certainly suggests a refined Japanese Bobtail. But, what if the characteristic eye slant is missing or the cat is carrying too much weight (in fact, excess weight plays havoc with refinement on every single breed but is especially lethal on those with finer boning)?
This is really the crux of the matter: there is no substitute for a clear understanding and appreciation of what the various breeds are supposed to be. In the case of the Siamese and its related breeds, it is not a long body and head, never mind coat or color; in the Persian, it is not a drop-dead head and coat, never mind long legs with "ankles;" in the Ocicat, it is not perfectly shaped and placed spots with marvelous contrast, never mind a short, soft torso; in the Abyssinian, it is not heart-stopping type, never mind the so-so color and a slick coat; in the American Shorthair, it is not a body like a truck and sparkling pattern, never mind jaws neither long nor strong enough to successfully grasp prey! One breeds for everything, ideally with every litter. Balance is ultimately achieved when a cat reflects its standard in such a personified. The refined Japanese Bobtail is Oriental art that breaths. The slender grace of line and gentle contours, juxtaposed with straight ones, all create an effect that - to us Westerners - appears exotic. In the Siamese and its relatives, refinement has to do with elegance of line. If a prima ballerina is elegant, much of it has to do with the simplicity of a long, graceful, slim, uncluttered visual line. The best Siamese convey this same elegant length of line, length repeated in appendages and accentuated by parallel lines of a slim, tubular body, covered with a coat so short it does not mar the effect - a dancer, if you will, made feline and executed in porcelain.
Originally, this working breed was meant to withstand harsh weather conditions; the Maine Coon is still defined as a rugged cat. No delicate boning here! Refinement in the Maine Coon capitalizes on the subtleties of its expressive eyes, pleasing and balanced head, silky coat and a relaxed, captivating personality that makes its size quite beside the point, whether you know the breed well or not. The best Maine Coons, the refined Maine Coons, are well-bred ladies and gentlemen with their own definition of "presence!" fashion that the entire cat strikes us as a thing of beauty. It is the sum total of the feline in our vision that breathes the magical word "refinement."
In this process of "refining" and our thinking about refinement, we are left with our own personal grasp of what makes a great cat "speak" to us. Notions of beauty tend to be highly personal and difficult to verbalize, yet we breeders inevitably respond with great unanimity about certain cats in our collective experience. These individuals always have that ineffable ingredient in our understanding of refinement, as it pertains to their breeds.
If one were to choose a word that describes the outstanding Abyssinian, that word would be "regal." That this word is contained in the Abyssinian Standard is singularly significant. There is not only the perfect balance of features and temperament called for but also a further "presence" that is brought to mind. Abyssinians are as totally self-assured and in charge of the occasion, as any king who ever reigned. They are refinement
Finally, there is the refined Persian. Elegance and beauty produced by features defined as "massive," "cobby," "round" and "short," would seem to be contradictory, given the usual connotation of these words. We cat fanciers know better. What is more perfect than a circle, more "elegant" in mathematical terms? Softened by a long, thick coat - and this is important - the beautifully refined Persian captures our hearts with large eyes, exuding a sweet expression as soft as its coat.
Approached in different directions by breeders of diverse breeds, refinement is but the finishing touch to the outstanding show cat. More than anything else, it says, "A human being had something to do with this."
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