A Tale of Faults

BY CAROL W. JOHNSON
Melodygarden American Shorthairs

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This morning I got a frantic call from an exhibitor fairly new to showing.

The Incident

While showing a kitten this weekend, a judge took the tail in both hands and flexed it back and forth vigorously, generally 'working' the tail.

When the exhibitor took the kitten out of the judging cage, the distressed feline leapt into its owner's waiting arms, obviously frightened. In the next ring, the kitten shied when its tail was touched. The third judge of the day called the exhibitor up after the class and explained that a ribbon could not be hung on the kitten because it had a tail fault.

The exhibitor was very upset, because the exhibitor had never felt the kink before. Because the exhibitor was relatively new to the fancy, she called me in distress and asked why a judge would hurt the kitten in such a way.

I explained that when some judges find a kink, they move the tail back and forth to see if it a nervous kink that relaxes when manipulated. I pointed out that tail faults often can not be detected until the kittens are six months to a year old. I also told the exhibitor that I felt that it was unlikely that the judge hurt the tail, but if there was any doubt to get the tail X-rayed by a vet. The exhibitor said that they were currently en route to a vet.

The Veterinary Examination

To my surprise, twenty minutes later, I got another call and talked to the vet who informed me that the last vertebra of the tail was indeed fractured through the vertebral body, and half was out of alignment. The fracture was a recent one, with no sign of healing and therefore not more than a couple of days old. There was no sign of a spur or curved vertebral body indicative of a tail fault. The bone was set and put in a splint, but it is not clear if it will heal well enough to allow the kitten to be shown again.

While it is possible that the injury occurred elsewhere, unfortunately, it is highly likely that the tail was broken in the show ring.

Tails Kinks & Breed Standards

Some standards are very rigid concerning disqualifying for tail faults using such terms in their standards as "any abnormality of the tail". This really opens the door for interpretation and judges can and have disqualified cats for spacing of vertebrae that is less than perfect, slight swelling in areas of the tail, as well as the so-called calcium deposit at the end of a tail which is not an actual kink.

In many of the cat breeds a tail kink is a disqualifying fault (DQ).

In some breeds, such as Bengals, Siamese and Orientals,
only a visible tail kink is a DQ.

In the Ragdoll, only a directional kink in the tail is a disqualification.

What Is Relevant

The judge who may have caused or at least exacerbated the damage to this particular kitten's tail was not a new or inexperienced judge nor was the damage likely intentional. The name of the specific judge, exhibitor, or show are not relevant. What is relevant is that this practice of over-manipulation of cats' tails during judging is not uncommon... and it is possible and perhaps even probable that judges may be causing/creating tail kinks through inappropriate handling of the tail.

The Tail

The individual joints of the tail are normally not particularly flexible even in adult cats and if the joint is irritated, such manipulation is likely to hasten or cause arthritis and a subsequent deformity similar to a genetic-based kink.

In kittens, much of the tail is cartilage and even more prone to bending and breaking and prone to damage of the growth plate which can then lead to an acquired tail fault, or in this case a fracture.

The snapping back and forth of a 'nervous' kink is more likely to be a result of hyperflexibility rather than a true fault, though hyperflexive joints are more likely to develop arthritis than normal ones. But the normal tail joint can't take that much motion and fracture is a possibility, especially in kittens where the bone is still partially cartilage and the growth plate is still active.

Proper Handling of The Tail During Judging

CFA Judge, David Mare, describes the proper way to handle the tail for evaluation in the show ring:

"I pass my hand down the cat's tail twice. I use three fingers (thumb, index and middle finger) and GENTLY surround the tail at the base and drawing my hand down to and off the end. The second pass is with the thumb and the index finger in a different plane. Neither stroke puts pressure on the cats tail at all -- no more so than one would use by petting or stroking the cat affectionately. It is unnecessary to twist any part of any cat in the judging."

Reasonable Evaluation For Tail Kinks

All standards should strive for perfection, however, going out on "a hunt" to really find a tail fault is over-zealous. If a judge cannot feel an abnormality after two gentle passes of the cat's tail, then the judge ought to leave it alone.

Stroking the tail in several directions or gently rolling between finger and thumb is unlikely to cause a problem, and should allow for a thorough examination of the tail for genetic based tail faults without causing an acquired tail fault.

Over manipulation, twisting the tail back and forth repeatedly or bending the tail unnaturally is simply inappropriate and not necessary to a true evaluation of the tail.

Checking the tail on any breed should be done while the cat has all four feet on the floor. It's easier on the cat's spine

Conclusion

Most tail faults are not caused by judges. Most tail faults are genetic based.

The purpose of this article is to simply call the judges' attention to a handling practice that could hurt cats and damage the tails of the cats they are examining.

Perhaps the judging community could hold a workshop on the subject. It is too late to save this particular kitten for showing in this case. The cat had undergone unnecessary pain, the exhibitor has had an unnecessary vet bill, and it will take a long time before the exhibitor trusts that judge enough to put a cat in his/her ring. However, hopefully this kitten's example can be used to spur a movement to promote proper handling of our cats' tails in the show ring in the future.

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