Friday, August 23, 2013

Non-Standard Colors/Patterns - Does It Really Matter?

The aim of my breeding program is of course to produce cats closest to the Breed Standard for the Savannah breed. The reality of breeding is that not all cats turn out as expected, and things like recessive genes can result in kittens being born that are not of the color or pattern we might be aiming for. Generally speaking, Savannah breeders aim to produce cats that resemble the African Serval, and most Servals are of the Brown Spotted Tabby variety. They also occasionally are seen in the melanistic (solid black) and white form, and very recently a picture showed a very tiny spotted (Servaline) Serval kitten in the wild. The Savannah breed standard includes the Brown Spotted Tabby to represent the majority of Servals, but also the solid black to represent the black Serval. Years back when the first breed standard was presented to TICA, the breeders that were around then made a decision not to ask for the seal lynxpoint (colorpoint) tabby to represent the white Serval. They felt that a highly developed silver spotted tabby would be a better representation. Because of the way TICA (the International Cat Association, the cat registry) runs, by asking for solid (nonagouti) black AND silver then they also had to accept the solid version of the silver spotted tabby which is the black smoke.

Anyone that breeds more than a couple litters is likely to have a kitten that pops out that is not one of those four colors/patterns. Because of the domestic outcrosses used (the permissible ones during breed development were the Egyptian Mau, Ocicat, Oriental Shorthair and Domestic Shorthair, and then also Bengal was used quite some too), many of our Savannahs carry recessive colors/patterns: marble (classic), colorpoint (snow), chocolate, cinnamon and the dilute versions (blue, lilac and fawn). Additionally, the Orange gene can occur in Savannahs (red and tortie/torbie) and White, if cats were used along the way with those genes.

So in reality, there are many Savannahs out there that are not falling within the accepted colors/patterns of our Standard. What does this mean? Does this mean they are not Savannahs? Of course not, they have the same genetics as a BST except for coloring. Does this mean they cannot be used in a breeding program? That is a more serious question and truly depends on the comfort levels of the people running that breeding program. Some would say absolutely not. But then some would say if the cat is exceptional in type, it may be worth working with. TICA will register the Savannah no matter the color.

So what does it truly affect? Most obviously, it affects the ability to be shown. You cannot show a Savannah without it being one of the four accepted colors/patterns. So if your aim is to show, you need to purchase a Savannah that is BST, SST, black or smoke. If your aim is to produce show-worthy Savannahs then you also might need to consider this.

Personally, I have seen some very dramatic Savannahs in unusual colors or patterns that it is still clear what breed they are. So if I were a pet owner, I wouldn't overlook them as options. But I have never used a nonstandard Savannah in my program...I celebrate the ones born, like the picture above of Miss Trouble who is still one of my favorite kittens produced and was a lovely dramatic marble.

So what if you absolutely think that seal lynxpoint Savannahs (Snow Savannahs) should be accepted for show? TICA does have a process.... there are steps to follow to add a color or pattern to any breed. It takes effort, time and patience. A number of people have to show a number of cats in "New Traits", a special class at cat shows that allows your cat to be evaluated by judges against the Savannah breed standard. It's a thankless task, much like what many of us went through when showing the Savannahs through the new breed program for all those years leading up to acceptance into Championship. Once that criteria is fulfilled then the application can be made and the Savannah Breed Section will be polled to see if the majority agree that this should be added to the breed standard. And finally the TICA Board of Directors will vote on the issue. This process is the same for all breeds.

Why wouldn't everyone agree to adding a color or pattern? It seems obvious in the case discussed here that Snow Savannahs (Seal Lynxpoint Tabbies) come closer to representing the White Serval than the silver spotted tabbies do. So why wouldn't it be easy to justify adding it to our breed standard? Because it just isn't that simple. The way that TICA does things, if we applied to add the colorpoint gene then we would also be accepting all genetic combinations. As mentioned earlier, by accepting the solid black and the silver spotted tabby we thence also had to accept the black smoke as that is produced from the solid (nonagouti) gene with the silver (inhibitor) gene. So adding the colorpoint gene would mean not only accepting the seal lynxpoint tabby (which people generally like) but also the solid colorpoint (Siamese coloring), seal silver lynxpoint and smoke colorpoint. And many do not like the idea of allowing solid colorpoint Savannahs.

Interestingly, the Bengal breed faces a similar but reversed problem. There are some that would like to add the solid black Bengal to the breed standard, they love the black pantheresque look. BUT, adding solid black while they already accept the seal lynxpoint means that they also would be accepting the solid colorpoint Bengal, and nobody likes that idea. They'd also add smoke Bengals.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nina update

I noticed that my last post on the blog was two years ago, when I'd just traveled home from North Carolina with our Nina... so thought an update was appropriate.

Nina is an amazing F1, she's huge (well very tall, I don't think weighs more than 17lbs) and she's so very exotic looking but she's not at all what people expect when they think "wild", she's malleable. I've taken her to many shows in her couple years of life, and people are amazed when I just haul her out of the show cage and hold her there. She may give little mews of protest about it, but she tolerates it. She's been plonked on judges' tables (during lunch times) and been examined and admired and behaved perfectly. It is my fault though that because I dragged her to so many shows, she really tries to avoid people when they visit our home. She's sick of being on display I think :-(

What surprises people is that Nina is NOT a dominant personality, that is reserved for the more petite Savannahs in my household. Nina hisses, she definitely got the Servally propensity to hiss but also the second part of the "hiss and run" characteristic of the Serval. She's not assertive, with cats nor people.

Nina is not the one in the house that demands a raw diet either, because that is another assumption people make about F1s. She eats canned food as happily as raw meat, and she is the only one that tries to steal cooked human food here. The others lose interest with any meat once we start cooking it.

Nina is often quite ridiculous, when happy she not only gets the fluffy tail of happiness but she wags it about like a dog will. She will wriggle with glee flipping the tail about and she just makes us laugh. She will do this if she has a reasonable expectation of me picking up her favorite wand toy and playing with her. Especially if there are no other kitties to dominate play...because as I say, she is not assertive and so will always sit back if someone wants to play.

And for those asking about kittens from her, yes we want her to have babies, but no we've not managed it yet. I can't wait to see her babies, I know they will be as exciting as she is :-)

How best to ask about an available kitten

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to be more regular updating my website (even if I don't have kittens to offer) and also this blog... I spend a lot of time online in my roles with Savannah Rescue and as Savannah Breed Chair, and generally educating on forums and yahoogroups. Thought maybe putting some thoughts on a blog might also be valuable.

One of the things that I notice is that people don't always know how to contact a breeder. And the reality of that is that different approaches will meet with success depending on the breeder. Some breeders simply want to know you want a kitten and they will sell it to you. Some are more selective, and a terse email such as "Do you have kittens and how much are they?" will get you an automatic no. You might think to yourself that the easier type of breeder is the first scenario, trouble-free purchase. But think further on this, if they don't bother with any interviewing or discussion before taking your money, what makes you think that after they have your money they will at all help you with any problems you have with that kitten. Frustratingly, I often get contacted afterwards by those buyers who tell me how much they regret rushing into the easy purchase...and yes they expect me to offer advice to them about someone else's kitten. Which I do, because I want the kitten to be happy.

If you are serious about wanting the best possible pet, you should want a conscientious breeder, the type that wants to know who you are and what your home is like before entrusting you with a kitten. That they are interested in this means that they want to make sure their kitten is right for you and that it has a good chance of working out. Being communicative with you before the sale means there is a better chance they will respond to you after the sale. If they gave you the third degree interviewing you, there's a good chance they also will want to hear from you afterwards, they will make sure that the kitten is settling in well, and be willing to offer advice with any integration issues you might have.

You should want a breeder that can answer the hundreds of questions you might have. That way you know exactly what you are getting, you can get information about the kitten's personality rather than try to guess from the picture(s) you are sent. That way you aren't making assumptions about how the kitten is raised, only to be disappointed by what you find out later. Not all breeders are super-chatty, and I don't mean you have to be BFFs with them, but a good amount of communication before you make your decision is a very sensible thing to insist on. I often hear how people rush to put a deposit on the kitten to make sure they get it, and then ask the questions or see the actual contract.

So how to write your first email to a breeder? Err on the side of verbosity if you need to. Tell them about your household and why you want a Savannah. Tell them what you are looking for in that Savannah, and if there is a range of generations etc that you would consider include that. It may take a bit to write, and there is no harm in cutting and pasting it in multiple emails to many breeders once you've gotten it all down. Make your timetable clear too, do you want a kitten NOW or are you willing to wait for the right kitten?

Be aware that if you send out an email that is openly addressed to a lot of breeders, most don't feel obliged to reply. They figure someone will, especially if they don't have any kittens available. I always try to respond (even to the ones that seem obvious scams), even if just to say I don't anticipate having the kitten for them anytime soon.

If you've obviously spent some time trying to communicate with that initial email, I in turn are more likely to put myself to the effort of working out who do I know that might have a kitten that is right for you, and directing you there. When you've included enough information to know what you want, then I can help you more easily. And many of us breeders like to help and are happy to recommend each other, this is not simply a "business" for us, it is a hobby and we are a friendly community rather than direct competitors.

What about phone calls? It's great if the breeder picks up the phone, they may even have time to chat...but for me, I often screen my calls simply because I don't have an hour right then to sit and talk to someone. Emails can sit until later in the evening or when I have a moment to type some of a reply and go back to it later. Emails are often more convenient for both sides of the equation, because you don't have to choose a polite time in the breeder's timezone either! Nor worry if you will wake them up, disturb their dinner etc.  And if someone leaves me a voice mail saying they are calling to see if I have any kittens, I often don't pick up the phone to call them back just to say "no, I don't". So if you leave a number of voice mails for breeders and don't hear back, the likelihood is that they don't have any available.