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magazine «Droug» #5/2003 pg.12-13

By Elena Shevchenko

The sizes and range of discussion, expanded around the problem of “Neva-Masquerade cat”, personally for me, were surprising. From my point of view, each opinion has right to exist.

But let’s go back to our topic. A few years ago, when they were accepting one of the first standards for this breed, breeders of Siberians didn’t really imagine the outcomes of that decision. Alas, at that time I was already sharing my opinion, that more “exotic” appearance of “Nevas” will let them to develop faster and gain more popularity, in comparison to “modestly” coloured Siberians. Truly, it happened exactly this way – for a regular narrow-minded, unacquainted with standards and rules of breeding, Siberian cat – “regular, such run in the streets”, what for to buy their kittens if “one can catch them”. What about the exterior of Nevas – “one can see at once – it’s a race cat” in the opinion of the same regular visitors of the exhibitions. Besides that, it’s hard to believe that Maria Ivanovna or uncle Petr would believe that such a “refine, unusually looking cat” – coloured muzzle, paws, and blue eyes – is our national breed.

And happened what was supposed to happen – luxurious, big, fluffy cats of a rare colours with blue eyes became more popular, more stylish, than modest stripy, but truly national cats. I want to make a proviso, I love all cats – race and house cats, and think that any healthy, well-treated cat is beautiful. I’m not saying that I’m – against. I’m – for it! But I’m for – competent breeding, professional and intelligent breeding approach. One can create any breeds, but this process must be competent, so it doesn’t hurt other breeds.

Earlier I was very sceptical about Don Sphinxes – just by looking at the process of breeding in some clubs – all kinds of cats were bred with males of this experimental breed, with any type of boning, any form of head. Question: “Why?” probably was not posed. To the honour of competent clubs and breeders, condition of Don Sphinxes doesn’t impose such worry any more: pairing matches became more competent, type fixed, animals became more typically alike.

Unfortunately, we can’t say such things about Siberians – it’s time to register them in the Red Book (book for animals under threat of extermination in USSR) – the breed comes to its end. Open the catalogues of the past exhibitions – how many cats of Siberian breed were shown at that time! They were not only shown, they won BISes, they were advertised, and they were loved by judges and public. Now, alas, the breed is forgotten – very few enthusiasts still work with Siberians, most catteries with excellent producers stop working. I’m not looking for guilty ones in this situation, but a problem with Siberian breed is a fact. Especially unpleasant for me, as a Russian person, the fact that in polemics inside the country we forgot that something was necessary to do very long time ago: let all the felinological associations in the world know that only the standard of Russian clubs (the only question is which one) can be legal, legal in the whole world, at all the shows of all systems. In the west, only a lazy one doesn’t write standards for Siberians: Italians, Germans, French… “Siberians” with pedigrees of any clubs of Europe and any type are shown at the exhibitions but the foreign experts not always clearly imagine what standard and requirements Siberians have. But instead of showing to the breeders of the whole world, what is Russian national breed supposed to be like, teach them, introduce to our plan of breeding, our respectful breeders are proud of another thing – their catteries of Siberian cats are registered in AMERICA!!! Can you imagine yourself an American breeder of Maine Coon who, in order to sell kittens to Russia, will register cattery in Russia? Of course, not! Because they have self-esteem and national pride, but we don’t have it – alas! It’s okay, but when Siberian cats get names like Juliet and Jan Pier, it can be even cooler – pedigree of Siberian – in English language and on American paper. It’s a shame.

The process of formation of Siberian breed started with first exhibitions in Russia – firstly, there was a selection of cats with unknown origin, breeders and experts were trying to find something common in exterior, to make an approximate standard of Siberian breed on that base. But luckily for us, we were helped by experienced breeders from Europe, who excellently knew and have been judging other aboriginal semi long haired breeds for a long time – for example, Jan Paul Maas from Holland (his judging experience in this group is more than 25 years). Expert of the world class, journalist, specialist in genetics of cats, he explained us the difference between “aboriginals” and “cultivated” breeds. First form on the base of population, formed in particular country, place, the cultivated breeds are made “artificially”, with crossing of other breeds, colours, types and so on. To the pity, this principal status is still not kept in mind of some breeders and experts.

I’ll repeat that I didn’t expect such scope of discussion around this problem, and it was not a topic of my article. Nevertheless, comments started to come – not talking about discussion on the Internet, letters and articles, just talks, and phone calls. My dear opponents, to say the truth, were mostly establishing the guilt of my non-patriotism (“lifted a hand on the sacred!”), but instead of arguments explaining their position – only emotions.

Probably, it’s a specific of breeders of particularly aboriginal breeds – their high sensitivity and emotionality. In many of my articles I did not only once criticized (alas, it’s a problem of expert!) Persians for their deformations of the skull, and oriental group for a medium type, and Scottish Folds for incorrect ears and inflexible tails. Breeders of those races, even if they were not agree with me, we sharing their arguments, their opinion; and they understood that the judge is criticizing not the breed as a whole, but points out the overlooks of the breeding, tries to make it so that breeders start to pay attention to the problems and found ways for their solution.

That is why, let me remind one more time, the talk is not about, “like – don’t like”, “bad – good” breed. In my opinion, the problem is in the differences between Siberians and Nevas, and crossing them is not making future generations better.

Differences in origin of aboriginal and cultivated breeds is portrayed in the principals of their selection breeding: for aboriginals most important is – to save the original look of the animal, not breed into it something that is not characteristic for it. Not without a reason, analogues of our Siberians – Maine Coons and Norwegians neither have colour-pointed colours, nor lilac, chocolate, or ticked. One can experiment with cultivated breeds – crossbreeding with Persians gave to British Shorthair coloured colours, crossbreeding with Rexes gave to Orientals scheme of bicolour, mixing of Burma and Chinchilla gave Burmilla and so on. Nevertheless, tendencies of development of pointed colours in cultivated breeds are – to separate pointed coloured from basic colours: in the Persian breed breeders try not to breed Persians with colour-pointed ones, in USA, according to the rules of Cat Fanciers Association (biggest American association of cat lovers) Persians of colour-pointed colours are separated into a different breed – Himalayan. There are, with exactly the same standard (except the colour) Siamese and Orientals – two different breeds.

Concerning the spreading of Siamese gene on the territory of Russia before the import of Thai cats (famous cats of Obraztsov), it’s almost impossible. Except Pallas, so often referred to, (who saw a cat of such colour in Russia in the 17th century), looks like, nobody else have seen that cat or didn’t notice. There is no information of such cats neither in literature, nor in folklore, nor in paintings, nor in memoirs of that time. Only stripy, grey, white, three coloured and so on. I don’t want to subject to doubt the words of such a respected scientist, I’ll risk to assume, that he just got really lucky – he saw a really rare colour, not typical for Russia. (There is an understanding of such thing as “number analysis” in science and one can hardly make conclusions according to a very few factors: what if Pallas saw an elephant walking on a street in Russia, one could assume that Russia is a homeland…)

And so, from our point of view, there are differences in the origin of Siberian and Neva cats (Siberians received from the aboriginal population, Nevas – with crossing to the population of old type Persians of colour pointed colours in some cases, in other cases with Thai cats). Differences in the origin give differences in type between these cats (fur structure, boning, form of the head, form of the eyes and so on). Breeders also specified those differences in their articles, so I will not repeat them.

What for the separation of these two breeds is needed – here is the question, which I hear quite often. As it appears to me, separation of Siberian and Neva cats will allow to the breeders to open the potential better, present in both of them. Two quite different types of animals won’t be mixed with each other, which is not making better neither ones nor the others. Breeders of Siberians will be able to improve type of their cats; their separation will give them wider possibility of participations in BIS. On another hand, breeders of Neva cats will decide for themselves what they want to see in their breed – what type of fur, and so on.

On the 25th of May of this year, International Felinological Association had an exhibition of new format – Best In Show was held not in 4 groups of breeds, but in every breed shown at the exhibition separately. (More information on the site of IFA ) We were very glad that there were excellent cats of Siberian breed at the show and they won. IFA will continue to organize exhibitions with such rules, and in spring 2003 we hope to see a bigger number of our dear Siberians, which no doubt, will decorate any exhibition. We also invite breeders of Neva cats – according to the rules of IFA they will represent as a different breed with separated from Siberians Best in Show. It’s a great opportunity for the breeders to show all beauty and charm of their cats.