Siamese Reflections

By Betty White

Besides being the most beautiful of pedigreed cat breeds, the Siamese is arguable the oldest. It was present at that first Crystal Palace show in London in the last quarter of the 19th century.  However, compared to the world’s age, the subsequent arrival of human beings in the world, the even later domestication of cats themselves, the existence of cat breeds is a very recent thing. Put this way, our Siamese are quite literally – newcomers – yet old-timers in a very young cat fancy!

That said, the Siamese has advanced rapidly on the path set by its Standard of Perfection. This has much to do with feline reproduction that allows generations of a certain type to be selectively multiplied by breeders at a rate far in excess of what Mother Nature might permit. Let’s be realistic here; Mother Nature favors reversion to the mean. Our breed has been further blessed by talented breeders encouraged by a pet-buying public eager for our gorgeous pets. Dedication to breeding is difficult to maintain when finding homes for kittens becomes problematical.

We Siamese breeders are trying for that elusive thing called perfection - a cat of breathtaking beauty that will win honors at cat shows - and we have been pursuing that ideal since the late 19th century. There are those who say that we have gone too far. We all know that there is a whole other group of breeders in this country who would have the world believe that the Siamese is only a color pattern on a coarse body structure. This is a misconception borne of a time when the American population literally fell in love with our breed, a period while it was in transition from what it was to what it has largely become in our own time. People were so blinded by the intriguing color restriction and gorgeous blue eyes that they failed to notice the real difference in body structure of the better specimens.

The interesting thing about this road to perfection is that it has been a good deal longer for some breeds than it has for ours. By this I mean that while we Siamese breeders are maligned in many quarters for the so-called changing of our breed, there is at least one other old breed that has changed far more than ours. One does not have to do much research in old photographs to notice how different the Persian show cat of today differs from the Persian show cat of 50 years ago. We Siamese breeders have done good work, but we have not had to travel that far! So, why do we get all the bad publicity? It’s because of all that love I just mentioned….

So far I’ve been “talking to the choir,” so to speak. Most of you have heard all this before and only wish everyone outside this room would appreciate the truth of it.  

Now let’s consider something else. We actually are finally arriving at the ideal Siamese that the standard describes. We’ve come to this point in fits and starts. We fiddled around with the Siamese head, trying to see how long we could make it until we nearly lost the wedge. We did lose our big ears, and then nearly made bats out of our cats trying to get them back. There was a time when I wondered if all these fads would ever stop, and now and again I still see a Siamese head out of balance. However, we’ve mostly left that to the Europeans and a few Oriental breeders. Thank you very much, all of you. There is a growing consistency of excellence that is great to see. I don’t mean that we see a large number of perfect Siamese; of course we don’t. (We don’t see a lot of perfection in anything in this life.) This living art we’re producing is never going to be absolutely perfect. It is enough to approach the ideal. 

Color remains a challenge, particularly in the seals, the hardest color of all to breed. It is the nature of the color to defy clarity. One troubling recent development is pigment on the insides of the ears. They should be clear and pinkish. I think it needs to be addressed. It makes those big ears look dirty; it is ugly. (Solution?  Select away from it.)   

With chocolates, the problem is evenness of point color that is directly associated with the genetic reason for color restriction in the first place. Show me a chocolate with front paws matching the rest, and I’ll want to be sure that the cardiovascular system is sound. 

Anyone who has ever tried to colorbreed blue points will tell you of the frustration involved. For lack of a better explanation, blue tends to be a “running color.”  

Comparatively speaking, when it comes to color, lilacs are easy and judges are forgiving. 

I suppose what I really hope to convey to you today is to “forget about the barn,” a phrase I dislike but I know you’ve all heard. You’ve built it; you are breeding cats of exquisite type. And, the best Siamese shown today are much like the best Siamese of 5 or 6, even 10 years ago. You won’t get a show-stopper in every litter, but that’s the nature of the game. Continue to work on balance, hard bodies, and your paint job. You’ve created a lovely example of living art.  

Finally, it would be very remiss of me not to share knowledge with you gained in my work on the Winn Feline Foundation Board of Directors. An increasing number of breeds are encountering genetic problems directly related to gene mutations. These mutations occur naturally throughout nature, and they can be good or they can be bad. Where gene pools are limited, the chances for disaster are significant. We already suspect that the increased incidence of mammary cancer in our breed is family-related in the same way that it is in human beings. Be ever vigilant for any health problem and seek answers when dealing with litter loss, decreased litter size, a recurring illness or predisposition to the same illness in related cats, and early death. It does not matter one whit how beautiful any Siamese may be if it is not robust and live a long life. We are not just breeding these cats for ourselves; we are breeding them to share their lives as lovely pets with the world out there. Our goal is not the show ring. Our ultimate goal is still to preserve and protect this wonderful cat, this beautiful Siamese for all time.

Presented June 25, 2011 at the Siamese Breakfast, Reston, VA.



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