The International Cat Care Cat Welfare Award is part of the Ceva Animal Welfare Awards which take place annually in Birmingham, UK.
Our Welfare Award recognises an individual who has made a significant contribution to the development of feline welfare, working on all levels, from hands-on welfare to collaborative work with governments and non-government organisations, to try and bring a cohesive approach to cat welfare.
The winner of the award is selected by International Cat Care and is not open to nominations.
It is easy to assume that all cats except unowned cats have good welfare, and it is easy to assume that pedigree cats, often thought of as ‘posh’ cats have no welfare problems.
However, the nature of humans is that they love to invent something now and they love to push to extremes, and this can easily manifest itself when it comes to breeding animals. Physical traits can become extreme and inherited disease problems can cause issues which have a huge effect on welfare.
Pedigree cats are bred to look very similar to each other, to a standard set out by breed clubs, registration and showing bodies, so they can be compared – as in cat shows. However, having a narrow bank of what is acceptable in colour, coat and body size and shape inevitably leads to cats being bred from a small number of cats which already have these traits – what we call a small gene pool, and that increases the risk of passing on diseases which are inherited.
So in the pedigree world making sure that breeds are not created from cats with genetic problems and that body size and shape is not pushed to extreme, as well as keeping vigilant to prevent inherited problems such as heart problems or other inherited conditions is vital.
The public are largely unaware of the increased health risks which can accompany breeding from a small gene pool or in pushing shapes to extremes – they expect health for their money! People expect a friendly, healthy and long-lived pet as well as a guaranteed ‘look’ from a pedigree animals.
Steve Crow – striving for good health and wellbeing in pedigree cats, as well as good looks
Our welfare winner this year is Steve Crow who says he had a watershed moment when he saw a programme on pedigree dogs and how they were being bred to extremes of conformation which caused many and severe welfare problems – Cavalier King Charles spaniels with skull problems and more recently, brachycephalic or flat faced breeds with breathing problems. It highlighted the need to look at cat breeding and ensure things did not get as bad as they are in dogs.
Having been involved in cat breeding (Burmese and Asian cats) for over 35 years and as a judge on a number of breed lists, he has been a member of the Board of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (the cat equivalent of the Kennel Club) for 20 years.
Steve feels strongly that breeding pedigree cats was not just about looks. Health is of equal importance, as is producing kittens which make good pets. Because pedigree kittens should be at least 13 weeks old when they leave their mother, responsibility for producing kittens which are confident and happy around people and in their environment lies totally with breeders and is even more important than the look of a cat in order to have a mutually reward relationship between owners and cats.
Historically information (and often myths) for people involved with breeding was passed along by word of mouth and people learned from each other – Steve felt that good breeding practises should be developed and available to breeders.
Steve developed a General Breeding Policy for the GCCF in 2010 to encapsulate health into breeding and to encourage different breeds to incorporate these principles into their own breed standards and registration policies, including encouraging testing for inherited diseases.
It can be very easy to alienate people in this process but Steve has always tried to be inclusive and bring people along with him, even when there has been strong opposition to these ideas.
He has achieved something which has not yet accepted in the breeding of pedigree dogs in the UK – the ability to outcross, or bring in either other breeds or even non-pedigree animals into a breed to increase genetic diversity and enlarge the gene pool – this can be resisted strongly – but it is now incorporated into all but one cat breed registered with the GCCF.
Steve joined the genetics committee, which he has now chaired for past 10 years – following up and searching for solutions for problems which arise, and developing breeding policies to solve problems or prevent them from occurring. The genetics committee introduced rules to prevent close matings and to let breeders know about new tests and where they could be done – eg, compulsory hearing tests for white cats which can often be deaf.
‘Patience is required’ says Steve, ‘but we have been successful in eliminating some genetic problems such as gangliosidosis in Korat cats, and greatly reducing polycystic disease in Persians’. He introduced rule changes to prevent close inbreeding and has working with the various Breed Advisory Committees to help each produce a tailored breeding policy for each pedigree breed. Steve has spoken across the world for the Annual Cat Congress, encouraging breeding for health.
Steve has gained agreement within the GCCF that it will not grant recognition to breeds of cats which are known to suffer because of their looks – for example the genetic abnormalities which result in the down turned ears of the Scottish Fold also affect cartilage in the cats’ joints which can become very painful early in life. Although one hairless breed of cat has been recognised, no more will follow, breeds based on polydactyl (having extra toes) will not be recognised or those with shortened limbs. Any new breeds will require evidence that the breed is healthy.
Working with other organisations
Steve feels that potential new owners need to understand about the health of a pedigree cat and the need to choose one which is relaxed and happy with people and not fearful – he has been involved in the Cat Group’s most recent publication – the Kitten Checklist which aims to help people looking for a kitten to avoid the pitfalls, helping them to choose a healthy, happy kitten, be it pedigree or moggie. He has also been working with other organisations in the Canine and Feline Sector Group, developing a guide to breeding and good practice.
Steve is also Chairman of the Cat Welfare Trust (GCCF’s own charity) and Trustee of the Burmese Cat Benevolent Fund (funds rescue and rehoming of Burmese)
Steve has tried to halt and reverse unhealthy practises in breeding pedigree cats, to provide education to champion responsible breeding practises which ensure long-term genetic health and welfare by ensuring each breed has sufficient genetic variability, that breeders avoid breeding for extreme phenotype, and that they use DNA and other tests as part of planned breeding programmes, all to reduce and eventually eradicate harmful genetic anomalies.
He feels that breeders have duty to sell a kitten which is health, vaccinated, weaned, litter trained and well socialised and breeders should pass on information on the importance of insurance and good health care to new owners.
Ian MacFarlaine, SPCA, Bermuda
International Cat Care was delighted to award Ian MacFarlaine with its Cat Animal Welfare Award for 2019.
Ian has volunteered or worked in animal welfare for 30 years (including previously two years with International Cat Care) and continues to strive to improve quality of life for unowned cats through TNR, improving homing practices or working with authorities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to bring a collaborative approach to improved cat welfare.
Claire Bessant, Chief Executive of International Cat Care said, ‘Ian’s enthusiasm to learn and to teach others remains undaunted by the size of the task, and his professionalism and knowledgeable approach is credible and practical in the many different situations in which he has worked, from well-off charities to small struggling NGOs. Congratulations to Ian and thank you from the cats you have helped directly or indirectly over the years and will continue to help for some time to come.’
Ian is a qualified veterinary nurse and has wide experience in animal welfare, from running shelters to training, inspectorate, neutering manager, animal welfare officer, community engagement, population management, TNR training, project management, dealing with hoarding cases, supporting local groups and building relationships with multiple stakeholders, including government ministries. He has contributed to conferences, workshops and training of students where his dry wit and humour make his lectures memorable.
Over the years he has worked with major charities both in and outside the UK including Cats Protection, Mayhew, Wood Green and PDSA and has established a joint municipal/NGO cat neutering facility in Portugal, and undertaken projects in the Sudan, Lithuania, Ireland, Tanzania and India.
Ian is currently working in Bermuda, but before that, he made major changes at the animal centre at the Malta SPCA which was suffering increasing poor rehoming rates – cat homing increased more than 100% under his management.
Maria Pinto Teixeira, Animais de Rua, Portugal
Maria Pinto Teixeira, founder and CEO of the animal welfare organisation Animais de Rua, in Portugal, received the iCatCare’s award. Maria has worked tirelessly to help cats (and dogs) in her home country of Portugal for the past decade. Her determination to improve the lives of cats through hands-on welfare work, training, sharing knowledge and informing regulations and legislation, made her the obvious choice for this year’s award.
Maria began her career as a lawyer. However, from an early age her passion had always been animal welfare. In 2005, Maria became especially focused on the plight of unowned cat colonies. Upon realising that the local authorities were not offering a solution to help these cats, Maria took it upon herself to go and train in the UK and the USA to be able to carry out Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) work, and brought this humane solution to overpopulation back to Portugal.
In 2008, Maria left her legal practice to found Associação Animais de Rua. What began as a TNR operation in Maria’s hometown of Oporto, soon grew to one of the most recognised and respected animal welfare organisations in Portugal.
Animais de Rua prides itself on its comprehensive work with local authorities, veterinarians, communities and NGOs to address Portugal’s cat and dog overpopulation problem. In addition to TNR work, Animais de Rua works closely with local and central governments in Portugal, offering legal and scientific input to companion animal regulations and legislation. Examples of the organisation’s influence include changes in the law to regulate the sale of companion animals both in shops and online, and on the rights of tenants who own companion animals; the regulation of the law that forbids the killing of companion animals for population control, and the establishment of TNR as the method to control feral cat colonies. The organisation collaborates with expertise overseas for advice and technical support, including International Cat Care.
International Cat Care is absolutely delighted to commend Maria’s astounding dedication to feline welfare. Congratulations to Maria, and to all the staff and volunteers at Animais de Rua who work so hard to help cats all over Portugal.
Pei Su, ACTAsia
Pei Su founded ACTAsia in 2006, a registered non-profit organisation with staff and volunteers working from offices in China and other parts of the world. Many of its staff, advisors and volunteers have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of animal welfare and humane education and benefit from training by leading international animal advocacy organisations.
Asia is vast and not understood by many western welfare organisations. In many places, animal welfare is in its infancy, but in others, it is growing fast. There are numerous issues which can be raised and attract much media attention, such as the dog and cat meat trade and bear bile farms. However, Pei Su, chief executive of ACTAsia understands that to make a lasting and widespread change, education is key. The challenge for an educational charity is to make its voice heard in among those that work directly in the field. However, in the short time that ACTAsia has been in existence, this small charity has introduced a ‘iCare’ programme which teaches children not just compassion for animals, but integrates the ethos into compassion and empathy for humans and the environment, making it more acceptable in schools and encouraging individuals in Asia to take action through compassionate lifestyle choices. The charity also has a ‘iCare’ programme which is raising standards in veterinary care in China through training, and teaching neutering to help vets control numbers of unwanted companion animals and also protecting against rabies. These programmes are well thought out and are laying the foundations for better welfare in Asia.
International Cat Care has supported some of ACTAsia’s veterinary training work in the past and also recognises the thought and determination required to get welfare included in some school curriculums. Congratulations to Pei and her team for the work of ACTAsia.