Wain Harding, 48, of Berkeley, Calif., has logged almost three decades in the cat fancy under the Bastis name, making his mark first in Abyssinians and more recently in Persians; he has bred Egyptian Maus and Oriental shorthairs as well. In 1981, he moved to the other side of the judgeís table, and is a CFA Allbreed judge. He also works as an art conservator with the University of California-Berkeley.
Darrell Newkirk, 46, of Fairview Heights, Ill., has been judging in CFA since February 1996, after marking six years as an ACFA judge. He and his wife, Beth, have been breeding and showing Abys under the Purssynian cattery name since 1985; they also have worked with Somalis, Maine Coon Cats, Cornish Rex, Scottish Folds, Persians and Birmans. Outside the show hall, he is a certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
Ann Pevey, of Bellaire, Texas, has been in the cat fancy since 1965, primarily in Persians, but has also had Manx, three Orientals and one Aby neuter with the Wynden name. A housewife, she became a CFA judge in 1989.
Gary Powell, 45, of Burnsville, Minn., is a flight attendant who has been judging in CFA since 1985. Under the cattery name Red Sky, his primary breed remains Persians, but he has worked with Manx as well.
Wayne Trevathan, 49, an artist in West Palm Beach, Fla., also has almost three decades of experience in the cat fancy, breeding Burmese, Siamese, Persians and European Burmese. A CFA judge since 1980, he currently is director of CFAís Southern Region.
Q. When an Abyssinian is brought into your ring for judging, what do you look for first?
Harding: I like for the cats to arrive in a timely manner. This gives me time to look over the entire class before I begin to handle them. I want a healthy, happy, alert and clean group of cats.
Newkirk: 1) Intensity of color; 2) ear size, shape and placement; and 3) attitude. When put together, this yields "expression" or "the look" of the Aby.
Pevey: The essence of the breed. I want a bright, eager animal, prancing around the table, curious, and interested in everything.
Powell: I want my eye to be captured by the overall appearance. Itís a striking pose that really shows the essence of the cat: regal and colorful. Iím not sure I can describe what look Iím looking for; if the cat has "it," itís pleasing to my eye.
Trevathan: When first approaching the cage, I try to make eye contact and check on expression. I look for a wild, "eat sh**!" expression in the eyes. Upon taking the cat from the cage to the judging table, I check the body tone, then stand the cat on all four legs and give the cat the freedom to strut or pose at its own will. It is at this time I check the balance of the total cat. Then, the cat goes up on its hind legs to check coat resilience, ticking and color. While in this mode, I check profile and chin; then I turn the cat towards me to check eye shape, ear set and the finer points of the head. After this, itís back down on all fours and time for a little fun with a toy, then back to the cage. I maintain a set routine with the Aby - the aim is to let the cat feel it has the freedom it wishes on the table, yet be fairly in control over it. If an exhibit is difficult to handle, the key is to keep the cat off balance and never let the cat be in control. The Aby is one of the smartest of all breeds, and the key is to keep one step ahead of it.
Q. How much of judging the Abyssinian is based on feel, rather than look?
Harding: A lot of judging can be done between the cage and the judging table. I am a hands-on judge, but I canít separate look and feel - they go hand in hand.
Newkirk: The overall visual impression of the individual exhibit is extremely important, but the feel of the cat - including coat, bone and muscle tone - adds the finishing touch to the cat. A cat that has that special combination of "look" and "feel" will most likely be the exhibit that receives the brown ribbon.
Pevey: Along with the Aby "look," I feel it is also very important to have that lithe, hard body. A mushy, fat or too-thin body is an immediate turn-off. One can also feel the condition of the coat - clean and resilient, or greasy and sticky.
Powell: In reference to the above question, Iím immediately disappointed when the cat looks good but feels thin, the coat is sparse or falling out. Iím very in tune with condition. I wonít use a cat if the condition is poor, even if the type is superb.
Trevathan: The body, shape and body tone is naturally judged by feel - also checking for whisker pinches along the wedge. Otherwise, I would say the rest of the cat is judged the eye: 20 percent feel, 80 percent eye.
Q. In some breeds - Persians most prominently - grooming and ring presentation may play a major role in how the cat will do in competition. What kind of grooming or other preparations do you expect a top show Aby to have when it comes to your ring?
Harding: Of course, all judges want a clean, well-groomed animal. A bath with a proper shampoo, to enhance the Abyís coat, is important. A small amount of trimming on the insides of the ears can make for a neater appearance.
Newkirk: I think the coat MUST be clean and have a healthy, vibrant appearance. It should be resilient and snap back into place when stroked back on the sides and back. It must be in condition and have a healthy sheen. A shining, clean, sparkling coat combined with really good color is awe-inspiring. A dirty, out of condition coat is a definite turn-off. You wouldn't send your daughter to the prom in a wrinkled dress - do no less for your show Abyssinians!
Pevey: Condition is the name of the game in all breeds. Cleanliness is so important. I am surprised at the number of shorthaired cats with dirty eyes and ears; some even smell bad. Proper conditioning starts from the inside out, resulting in gleaming coats and bright, clear eyes.
Powell: I expect the coat to lay correctly. I check the coat length when Iím checking out its resilience. I donít know if a "fluffy" Aby coat can be corrected by grooming but I imagine it can. I also like to feel some nice, solid muscle tone underneath the coat.
Trevathan: I expect a top show Aby to have a sheen to its coat, with plenty of resilience to it. Good grooming, to me, enhances the cat no matter what the breed. When the eye is drawn to one feature of the cat that it normally shouldnít be, then I term that as poor grooming.
Q. Conversely, what do you NOT want to see in a show Aby?
Harding: I do NOT want to see an Aby with bald inner ears - leave that to the angular Siamese/Oriental breeds. I am seeing more and more colored chalk under the chin; everyone should go back and read show rule 3.07.
Newkirk: 1) A greasy, out of condition coat; 2) cut out or plucked lockets, necklaces and leg bars; 3) excessive trimming or stripping of hair inside the ear and the jaw line; 4) bad attitudes - some cats aren't destined for the show ring.
Pevey: Please, no red powder on white hair or spots. Plucking is easy to discern and shaved ears are not pretty.
Powell: Iíve heard about sandpaper jobs on Aby coat. I donít know if Iíd notice that. Iím all for everything to be natural - although, do you tip the hair on the top of the ears? If so, I do like that look as opposed to tufts of hair sticking up above the skin line.
Trevathan: I hate a dry coat with dandruff. To me, this indicates poor presentation. Also, the ears are so important on the Aby - they have to be large, well-cupped and especially be wide at the base.
Q. What have you seen in Abys over the years in terms of improper grooming - obvious "dye" jobs, for example? Is it usually easy to tell?
Harding: Again, back to show rule 3.07. Yes, I have seen a few dye jobs (fortunately, a very few). I work with color in my "real life" job, so it may be easier for me to tell.
Newkirk: Using chalk and other products to cover color faults. I don't ever recall seeing a dye job, but I could have been fooled.
Pevey: Itís easier for me to spot a black dye job than a red one! As far as I know, I havenít seen any in the ring. But I have seen the items from the above question.
Powell: I canít tell, and because Iíve never bred Abys, Iíd be hard-pressed to prove it.
Trevathan: I think back to when I first came into the fancy in the 70s and remember that when an Aby had good color it was to have been dyed or rinsed in cold tea. This may or may not have been true - most likely sour grapes from the competition. Lockets are said to be corrected by all sorts of concealing factors - this canít be checked in the ring unless such substances come off in the judgeís hands. I like to believe that breeders have integrity in what they produce in show. The only improper grooming I have noticed in recent years is the cleaning out of the ears to make them look larger - this happens also in the Siamese/Oriental breeds. If done correctly, the eye will not be immediately drawn to this feature - if done improperly, the eye is captured by this one feature of the cat.
Q. Is there anything that has developed in the Abyssinian, as a breed, that has disturbed you as a judge? For example, has Aby behavior grown better or worse in the years you've been judging?
Harding: Overall, Aby behavior has improved over the years. This is something that we must keep a careful watch on.
Newkirk: Most Abys today seem to have a good attitude. Most even enjoy the shows. Those that don't should be left at home. I think after two to three shows, you should know if the bad attitude has been overcome. Otherwise, the growling, hissing cats that don't enjoy the shows should remain at home on the weekends. It does the breed no justice to continue to show cats with bad attitudes - much less the reputation the breed will get if they continue to put ill-behaved animals in the rings for evaluation.
Pevey: Aby Behavior seems to be improving. Sometimes one hears a little "trash talking" from some females, but most males are loving and affectionate. Abys are very communicative and they usually let you know right away how they feel. For the most part, the Aby class is always a pleasure to judge.
Powell: I think pretty much the behavior has gotten better. Certainly with my reputation of not tolerating bad behavior, maybe these bad actors donít make it up to my ring!!!
Trevathan: When I first came into the fancy, the Aby was a breed that was feared by many judges, but over the years and much perseverance by the breeders, I have witnessed the temperament of the breed much improved.
Q. Do you think the Abyssinian today has a consistent "look"? Should it?
Harding: The Abyssinian today has a consistent enough look. The whole breed should not look like they came out of cookie cutters. There is room in the standard for a breeder to develop his or her own look and style.
Newkirk: Other than being ticked, NO, there is not a consistent look to the Aby. We see a range from the very moderate to an almost caricature of the Aby on todayís show bench. I think our standard describes a MODERATE cat, being medium in most instances. However, I find myself leaning toward pushing the envelope as far as type is concerned. I do not like an oriental profile, especially combined with flaring low set ears. If you are into that kind of "type," why not breed one of the oriental breeds?
Pevey: I find that there are different "looks" in many of the major breeds as breeders stress various things, i.e. head type over body type, or color, coat, etc.. In the Abys, there are sometimes different looks in different parts of the country, extreme vs. moderate.
Powell: Pretty much. I know what I look for. Iíve always been one to build the cat first, then paint it. I think consistency is fine with recognition that subtle differences occur in all our breeds. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Trevathan: As with many breeds, the Aby does not have a consistent look. I think the standard is open to interpretation, to accommodate the different looks. I know that I myself go for a particular look in an Aby and I donít think that is wrong, as long as one is consistent in what one is looking for. Most breeders know coming into my ring whether or not I will like their cat. Consistency on the part of the judge is, to me, very important.
Q. The Abyssinian is the second-most registered shorthair breed, and frequently has some of the largest classes in shows. Yet some breeders complain they are under-represented in finals. Do you believe this is true? If yes, then why?
Harding: I feel the Abys are well-represented in finals. Because there is a large class at a show doesnít mean there are a lot of top-quality cats in the class. On the other hand, Oregon Cat Fanciers had a fairly small Aby class this year but I had three in the top five of my championship final.
Newkirk: I have been to several shows where the Aby count was very large in proportion to total shorthairs entered. Occasionally, there are two or more in the finals, as many as three in an allbreed final. Many times it appears they don't receive the recognition deserved based on the proportion of abys entered to total entries. It is really difficult to say whether this is fair or not, as the competition is different at every show. I think you have to take into consideration what is being exhibited at that show. I have had three Abys in the finals, four once, and occasionally I have had no Abys in my finals. Each show is very different.
Pevey: I donít believe this is true. It depends upon the competition and the show. There are many times when I will have several Abys in a final.
Powell: I hear complaints that most breeds on any given weekend with large classes are under-represented. However, there are 30 some breeds and 10 slots. Quantity doesnít mean anything to me.
Trevathan: I donít believe this for a minute - quality does not correspond to numbers.
Q. In an informal discussion, one group of judges recently told an Aby breeder they could find some fault with every Aby they handled, and that's why the breed wasn't in finals as much. Do you find that Abys today have more faults than other breeds?
Newkirk: I don't think the Aby has exclusivity to that rule. I don't think there is a cat that has been exhibited that would score 100 points. There seems to be many items to evaluate and score on the Aby. It appears to be a very difficult breed for many judges to evaluate on the judging table. Maybe it would be better said that the Aby is a breed that many judges will openly admit it a difficult breed to master, if one ever truly does.
Pevey: Not at all. The Aby standard is a complicated one, and there are many things to look for. Again, itís all a matter of competition - there is no perfect cat! They all have faults to some degree.
Powell: No - and I am sick and tired of listening to some of the reasons my co-judges feel compelled to use when they could just say, "I just didnít care for the cat, or that group of cats." Quite often, I find their excuses pure HOGWASH. There is something wrong with every cat.
Trevathan: Not at all. I think the Aby standard is one of the best-written standards we have. In as much as it is so clear and detailed, it is easier for the judge to find faults, but I definitely disagree that Abys have more faults than the other breeds.
Q. How about Aby exhibitors - do they, as a group, behave better or worse than those showing other breeds?
Harding: My first inclination was to answer yes (they behave worse) to this question, but Iím an Aby breeder and we probably know too much about each other. All breeds have good and bad exhibitors.
Newkirk: I have always felt like the Aby breeders stand behind and support one another. When I am an exhibitor, I notice that many of the Aby exhibitors are in the rings during the finals, cheering on the winning Abys. There is usually a spirit of camaraderie among the Aby breeders, especially if an Aby is about to grand.
Pevey: I plead the Fifth on this!
Powell: I think they are consistently better. They are always around to cheer on their breed and they are also real hip to the fact that best of breed could be - and usually is - different in every ring.
Trevathan: I find the Aby breeders to be a congenial group who on the whole "root" for their breed whether it their cat or not. Some of my closest friends in the fancy are Aby breeders.
Q. Is there something breeders could or should do to better create a top show Abyssinian?
Harding: Yes. Work on coats - length and texture. The Abys are outstanding all over the country, but we must preserve our coats.
Newkirk: Breed the best you can afford, taking into consideration health then type. Present those cats in their best condition and to their best potential. The rest is up to the competition in the show and the judge's ability to fairly and adequately evaluate the Aby entries.
Pevey: Breeding, type, condition, personality - the answer for any top show cat.
Powell: Just continue to support and inspire your co-breeders. Frankly, I think you are a very warm and civil group. I applaud your ability to go with the flow
Trevathan: Like all breeds, be cognizant of the standard and then strive for perfection. When I first got into the fancy, I was given advice from then a well-respected judge and have never forgotten it: "Anyone can breed a mediocre cat, but few can produce a cat that is to the extreme of its standard consistently!"