THE VALIDITY OF 'BREEDS'
The 'validity' of certain 'breeds' is often disputed, so I would like to add background information on an impartial basis i.e. observations of someone not allied to any registry or fancy. I myself am interested in all new breeds, regardless of origin (mutation, hybrid, exotic cat hybrid) and of nature of the new breed (colour, conformation, fur type etc). My opinions on the breed (whether or not I approve of it) are immaterial.
American readers might be intrigued, or shocked, to learn that some of their familiar breeds are not recognised in the UK - some are even banned by the major UK cat registry (GCCF) although they might be lucky enough to be FIFe, TICA or by minor cat registries and cat clubs. For example, the Scottish Fold was recognised by the now-defunct Cat Association (CA) but GCCF retracted recognition because the mutation was considered detrimental to the cat (in view of problems with skeletal thickening). The Manx, however, is recognised by GCCF despite problems of spina bifida, imperforate anus etc (a stance seen as inconsistent by Scottish Fold breeders); this position is defended because the Manx is 'an historic breed' and if the Manx mutation had only come about in more recent years it would not be recognised.
DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, DIFFERENT RULES
The American Curl has been shown in non-competitive status within the CA, but is unlikely to be recognised by GCCF as it is a physical change to the cat. The Rex-coated variants of Maine Coons are also considered undesirable, even if kept totally apart from the traditional colours of Maine Coon. This is partly breed association politics and also because the registering body's administration system apparently can't cope new breeds developing from existing breeds. Polydactyl Maine Coons won't stand a chance under inflexible British cat fancy rules - polydactyls are simply not allowed.
The Japanese Bobtail is beginning to be seen and as there are no known side-effects of the mutation appears acceptable, but the American Bobtail and PixieBob may have problems due to doubts about their ancestry (unproven claims of Bobcat ancestry). The GCCF recognised the Bengal, but stated that other cats derived from hybridization with wild species would not in future be recognised. By the time this article was revised in 2011, the PixieBob - genetically shown to be a wholly domestic cat and not a hybrid - was established in Britain. By then, the Cat Association had ceased to exist, but Felix Britannia, FIFe and TICA were recognising breeds that were rejected by the GCCF. This included the Savannah, a breed derived from serval hybrids.
In Britain, new colour variations are more acceptable than new body types or new fur mutations. In America the converse tends to be true. Some US registries keep tabby/tortie point Siamese separate, do not recognise the extended colour range of Burmese and may register lilac/chocolate Persians separately. This is the "genotype" approach and the registries, which are in the minority, consider any new colours to be indicative ouf outcrossing and therefore impure bloodlines. In the UK these additional colours are recognised as Siamese, Burmese and Persian Longhair respectively while the American Himalayan is merely the Colourpoint Persian. An exception exists, a white cat of Somali type has been bred under the name 'Suqutranese' - a UK Somali society issued a proclamations saying white 'Somali type' cats are basically fraudulent even though the term Somali was used to describe type and is not the breed name! Cats described as Russian Whites/Russian Blacks are recognised in Australia, parts of Europe and by minor UK registries but for decades were dismissed as mongrels in the USA. Eventually Blue, White, Black and several other colours were classed as divisions of the Russian Shorthair. When this article was first written, I received hate-mail from American cat breeders and fanciers who refused to so much as acknowledge the existence of white and black cats of Russian type - even though the had breed status outside of the USA! Those breeders failed to understand that there are breeds and registries beyond the shores of their own countries. The internet has done a great deal to widen the horizons of cat fanciers.
The Munchkin was virtually 'banned' by UK cat fancies before any had reached UK shores. With the GCCF no longer having a monopoly, Munchkins are now bred under the auspices of other cat fancies represented in the UK. The Egyptian Mau is not considered 'sufficently different' by the GCCF from the more recent Ocicat to warrant breed recognition. Other breeds have not gained recognition due to insufficient numbers, which may indicate the breed is not viable. Although curly-haired cats are popular and the Selkirk Rex and LaPerm reached British shores, the American Wirehair remains absent. The Bohemian Rex is a minority breed in the Czech Republic and was denied recognition by the international registry FIFe, although it has its adherents. Similarly the Poodle Cat was denied recognition even in its home country (Germany) although it too has its fans. The Ragdoll (not the IRCA variety) is recognised in the UK, but it was originally stated that the RagaMuffin would not be recognised as it is identical to the Ragdoll. UK fancies refused to even acknowledge the existence of IRCA type Ragdoll, period.
In Australia, some registries are considering refusing to recognise the Bengal due to possible 'temperament problems' while breeders in New Zealand have been chastised for developing new colours of various breeds without ensuring that the colours are well-defined or the body-type is maintained. The Savannah, however valid a breed, was banned under Australian laws to protect wildlife. In Australia the Ragamuffin is not recognised and Ragdoll (non-IRCA) breeders have issued statements in cat magazines to the effect that it is nothing more than a Maine Coon-Ragdoll hybrid.
The fact that different fancies and registries around the globe recognise different breeds and refuse recognition of breeds recognised elsewhere does not mean that a particular breed lacks validity. It reflects the attitudes of registries, breeders and also a certain amount of snobbery where one breed is considered superior to another. The fact that the Scottish Fold is not recognised by the main UK registry does not mean that it is not a breed worthy of recognition; it is obviously a valid breed since other fancies in other places view it as such. However the attitudes of the prevailing cat registry for an area will undoubtedly influence the opinions of others who breed and show cats under that registry's rules.
The fact that different breeds are enjoyed in different areas adds to the diversity and interest within the global cat-loving community. Many of the locally unrecognised breeds have their merits which may in time be proven to sceptical registries should there be sufficient local interest in a previously unrecognised variety. In this way, pressure of numbers has forced the Ultra-type Persians to be recognised in the UK even though they were originally frowned upon. Where certain registries are adamant in their refusal to accept a particular breed, another registry may take the initiative, or a new registry may even be born to fill the void.
For my own part I feel that only time and numbers determine which breeds 'make it' and which fall by the wayside. No single registry is right, since there are numerous registries worldwide and the Internet is a global community. US correspondents who berated me about the Russian White had never heard of GCCF, RASCC or other 'foreign' registries, let alone which breeds those registries do and don't recognise! Breeds which achieve number one position in some countries may never be recognised in other countries due to opposition or simple lack of interest; others will be embraced wholeheartedly.
MINORITY AND EMERGENT BREEDS
In considering 'minority breeds' the definition of breed is not tied to its acceptance by any particular registry or even by any registry at all since there are experimental breeds around which are still working to gain recognition. A "minority breed" or "unrecognised breed" is a type of cat which is being pursued by a group of people, which is bred to conform to a standard (albeit an experimental standard) and which has the potential to be recognised, whether in its home country or (as in the case of the Scottish Fold) abroad.
Others question whether a breed should be based on phenotype or genotype. If a breed produces visibly different variants does this mean it is not actually a 'breed' - in Australia the Tonkinese is regarded by some as a cross-bred and not a purebred because it does not breed true for color, even if it breeds true for type. Yet ... the Manx does not breed true for type (and without the variants the breed would meet a sudden end due to lethal genes) but is considered a breed. Some variants of some breeds are not accepted for exhibition because they differ in type from the show standard. If the basis for breed was purely about the phenotype then would it be true to say that any breed which produces variants (prick-eared Scottish Folds, tailed Manxes etc) is not strictly a breed according to this definition? If we go purely by genotype, this eliminates some of the color variants produced by outcrossing, even though the outcross was so long ago that only the color remains as proof that it happened at all - besides which, judges judge cats based on adherence to a breed standard and not on DNA samples!
It is sometimes necessary to take a step back, to look at a breed recognised locally or abroad and accept that the breed exists, has its fans and is perpetuated whether or not one's home registry recognises it. All too often a member of fancy X claims that breed Y is invalid simply because fancy X does not recognise it. A breed is a group of cats being deliberately bred to meet a specific standard (which may allow for variant individuals which cannot be shown but which may or may not be used for breeding to keep the gene pool healthy). Many 'breeds' remain on an informal footing until such exist that they can be put forward for official recognition. Even breeds which are denied recognition may not simply disappear so long as there are people interested in that type of cat.
This is a very general look at what constitutes a breed and not an attempt to say that a particular method of breed definition is right or wrong or that a particular breed is valid or otherwise.
2002 POSTSCRIPT TO THE VALIDITY OF BREEDS
In the six years since the above was written, many things have changed thanks to the spread and global nature of the Internet. There is a greater awareness, if not always tolerance, of the different breeds and different breed standards found around the world.
Some breeders still refuse to accept that "Breed X is bred in different colours in other countries", but their numbers are declining. They remain rooted in the past and seem continually distressed that breed standards are localised and that theirs is not the only valid standard for Breed X. Six years on, cats which do not conform to one country's version of a breed standard can no longer simply be discounted as badly bred - it is realised, grudgingly at times, that they represent another registry's standard and a different gene pool.
I still sometimes receive emails claiming "Registry X doesn't recognise Breed Y, therefore that breed does not exist or is fraudulent". My response has always been "just because it isn't recognised in your country doesn't mean it doesn't exist ... oh, and by the way, your Registry X isn't recognised in my country". Many were stunned that their registry had no following outside of its home country! These days I am far more likely to receive emails asking for more information on Breed Y and whether anyone is breeding it in Canada (or wherever).
Where one breed is found on different continents, its looks may differ substantially due to years of separation. In essence it has diverged into two equally valid breeds. Instead of being dismissed by some American Burmese lovers as being "too foreign looking", the "European Burmese" is now bred in the USA along with the "Asian" (European Burmese in patterned coats). Though it may still be anathema to Russian Blue purists, other Russian Shorthairs are also being bred - not just in black or white (colours long established in Australia and parts of Europe), but also in tabby. Meanwhile, Korats occur in pointed and lilac versions, not because of shoddy breeding practices but because "Korats" imported from their homeland have bred naturally with different colour cats.
There are also name clashes. The term "Javanese" means different things depending on whether you are American (lynx/tortie point Balinese), a New Zealander (self/spotted Balinese) or European (British "Angora" i.e. longhaired Orientals). Depending on where you are from, Thai Siamese has been variously used to describe colour-pointed Korats or the traditionally styled Siamese. It doesn't make one country's use of the name any more valid than another - it just means they have chosen different names or that the names mean something else in another country. This has led some breeders to trademark their breed names.
Conversely, the exchange of information and of breeding stock can align breed standards and naming conventions and eliminate confusion. This must only happen if both parties want it and not through pressure from one registry to force its standards upon a registry on the other side of the world. It is more likely in minority breeds where exchange of breeding stock is needed to keep the gene pool healthy. The ease of communication has contributed to new breeds being "discovered", imported, exported and generally accepted around the world. New Russian breeds (Don Sphynx and Peterbald) are now in America. The Bengal has overcome opposition in Australian.
Misinformation or prejudice from breeders protecting their own market can be quickly debunked thanks to Internet search engines. I once read a statement from Australia that Ragamuffins were no more than Maine Coon/Ragdoll hybrids. Some Australian Ragdoll breeders also refused to believe that the IRCA Ragdoll existed in parallel to their own breed and insisted that there was only "one Ragdoll breed" (i.e. their Ragdoll breed), only to find themselves faced with evidence to the contrary. Being "in denial" is no longer an option. Something may not be recognised in your own country, but it still exists!
In the USA there appear to be dozens of registries, including specialist registries e.g. for wild/domestic hybrids and for "traditional style" versions of ultra-typed breeds. The more progressive registries practically fall over themselves to accept new, experimental and overseas breeds. If one registry declares a breed not valid, breeders can shop around. In Europe, it seems that breeders of new varieties are at the mercy of a few major registries (not to mention registry politics) even though progressive cat clubs may recognise and encourage the new developments.
In general, American cat fancies are far more liberal in the recognition of new breeds though some believe them too liberal in recognising deformities. TICA recognise five following categories of new breed which caters for most, if not all, ways in which a new breed can arise and which also tries to avoid name clashes with breeds already recognised in other parts of the world. A "Transfer New Breed" is a breed which has been established in another association and is now being considered for recognition as a new breed in TICA. A "Variant New Breed" is one developed by introduction of a trait recognized in other breeds into a breed in which the trait in question is not an established characteristic. For example introduction of a new colour or pattern. A "Hybrid New Breed" is one developed from a deliberate cross between two existing breeds, incorporating characteristics of both parental breeds into the new breed. Granted many such breeds begin life as an accidental cross which is then repeated in a controlled and deliberate manner!
A "Native New Breed" is one which arises naturally in the cat population indigenous to a particular geographic region. The cats must have some distinguishing feature which sets them apart from other breeds. There are currently many native new breeds coming out of Russia (having existed for decades but never been formally recognised) and also from cat populations in areas of the US. A "Mutation New Breed" arises through natural mutations in the domestic cat population or by deliberate hybridization with wild species. There are special concerns - a mutation affecting colour or hair type is minor and generally acceptable. A mutation which changes skeletal structure poses concerns for health and welfare and is treated cautiously.
If a new breed is not accepted by any of the dozens of available registries in the USA, there is always the option of founding a new registry or even of trademarking the breed, thus bypassing the usual rules of recognition. There are registries for "Traditional" variants of breeds which have now become ultra-typed, for "Wild Heritage" cats bred through hybridization with wild species and for others which are out of scope of TICA e.g. because they are too similar to an existing breed, but where the breeder still believes there is some merit in having them as new breeds. There may also be a tendency to reinvent the wheel i.e. to develop a new breed from scratch when a cat with those looks already exists elsewhere in the world. Perhaps there is more kudos in creating from first principles, or simply a lack of awareness of what breeds are found elsewhere.
Some registries remain inflexible and often inconsistent with rules harking back to the 1900s. British registries seem especially afraid to change in case they are seen to have an "American-style anything goes" approach. Some need to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the 1900s and into the 21st Century - adapt or die. The Egyptian Mau and the Chartreux are "not different enough" and I recently heard the Australian Mist (which hasn't yet arrived in the UK) dismissed as being "much the same as the Asian". However new breeds are arriving in the UK from overseas and if the current registries won't accept them, new registries will probably spring up.
In the UK, mutant individuals of a recognised breed are simply a new division of the existing breed. While this system can probably cope with new colours, it cannot cope with mutations such as bobtail or curled fur. Breeders working with mutations are at a disadvantage if other breeders regard it as undesirable in the breed - there is no way to register it as a separate breed and isolate it from the parent breed. This system is archaic and inflexible, possibly the only way to accept a whole new breed is to get it recognised overseas and then re-import it!
Inflexible UK registry rules mean that Rexed Maine Coons cannot be a New Breed because they are 100% pedigree Maine Coons and can therefore only be classified as a Maine Coon New Variety. In other words, to be a valid new breed, the cats must have come out of nowhere and not be a mutation of an existing breed. Such out-of-date rules need to be updated to cope with instances of spontaneous mutation. A variety is not invalid simply because one particular registry can't cope with the paperwork. New breeds can - and do - arise by spontaneous mutation/recessive genes in existing breeds and, like it or not, may be recognised by other registries after the first choice registry has refused recognition.
Never mind preventing the worst excesses of breeding found in the dog world, such a system holds back the development of new breeds from mutations within existing breeds because there is no way to register them. It also does not guard against harmful ultra-typing of popular breeds. British registries also show inconsistency over "defects". The Manx is acceptable despite detrimental effects associated with the gene (spinal defects) and the gene being lethal in the homozygous state. The Scottish Fold is no more problematical but was rejected. Polydactyly is a harmless natural variation but is deemed an unacceptable deformity. It is a crazy and inconsistent system which seems long overdue for revision.
In Germany, there are rulings (or threatened rulings) against perpetuation of harmful defects. The Manx and Scottish Fold are both harmful defects, though careful breeding can ensure that no crippled cats occur in either breed. More surprisingly, blue-eyed white cats fall foul of the ruling because of associated deafness. Blue-eyed whites occur naturally in the cat population as a whole. At least there is consistency in the case of the Manx and the Fold, unlike the UK!
Many breed description web-sites were once restricted to the subset of breeds found in Britain or in the USA and it seems that some would still prefer that other countries do not develop breeds without their express permission. Since this article was first written in 1996, many webmasters are more aware of their global audience and include summaries of overseas breeds. Since not all readers around the world are familiar with a particular breed, some must be described by comparing them with better known breeds. Though it irritates some enthusiasts to see their breed described as "similar to X, but with a more wedge-shaped head and no woolly undercoat", the description does not cast doubt on a breed's validity.
Apart from a diminishing number of vociferous purists, there is growing acceptance that "Breed X in Colour Y" exists and though it may not be recognised by Registry Z, it is nevertheless recognised as a valid breed by Registry A. There is also acceptance, sometimes grudging, from some quarters that their perception of how Breed X should look is not the be-all-and-end-all. Or in Internet acronyms: YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary i.e. your experiences/opinions may differ).
Note: Themessybeast.com breed list was one of the first lists to give equal recognition to breeds regardless of country of origin or registering body; it is not a referral service nor is it an advertisement service. It simply lists historic and current breeds from all around the world with a brief description of each breed.