by Jette Eva Madsen.

Of all the questions and comments I hear when I am out judging, the most frequent one goes something like this: "We just don't know anymore what our cats should look like. Last year the judges wanted long heads and slim cats; now suddenly they say our cats are too small. What's going on here?"

Let's take a look at some of the mechanisms that have influenced the development of this race.

To begin with, there have been a number of variations and changes in the NFO standard over the past ten years. Ten years ago, we did not have to take into account the Maine Coon or the Turkish Angora. At that time, more leeway was permitted among the Forest Cats, because things like triangular vs. square muzzles, long vs. short bodies, and sturdy vs. elegant legs were not yet criteria for separating one race from another. It was all Norwegian Forest Cat. Some cats were perhaps regarded as more typical of the breed than others, but there was never any doubt that one was looking at a Forest Cat. Today, however, the Maine Coon has bitten a chunk out of one side of the standard, and the Turkish Angora has nibbled from the other. Suddenly it has become very important that a Forest Cat not have a squared muzzle, as this characteristic is typical of the Maine Coon, and therefore, there are a number of cats today with so few distinctive attributes of their breed, that it is difficult, without seeing their pedigrees, to be sure whether they are Maine Coons or Forest Cats. Naturally this development has made it much more difficult to raise Forest Cats, because we are now faced with tighter principles about what we may or may not allow ourselves in breeding.

In addition the Forest Cat has been developing steadily. We have been strongly influenced by the Maine Coon, a breed which has passed through many big changes during the few years of its existence. In the beginning, there was a rough difference between the heads of the Maine Coon and the Forest Cat; specifically, the Maine Coon was not allowed the straight profile of the Norwegian. The Forest Cat had a much longer head, with a smaller, more triangular muzzle. With time, however, the Maine Coon has developed in such a way that good Maine Coons have longer heads than Forest Cats, together with profiles that are becoming ever straighter. Suddenly it is no longer necessary for the Norwegian Forest Cat to have a longer head in order to be different from the Maine Coon. In fact the contrary is now true, and this is apparently the reason we are getting back our "old-fashioned", straight-sided, triangular heads. Similarly, the placement of the ears has changed. Before, it was important for the Forest Cat to have its ears high on top of the head - so important, in fact, that one could almost forget the sentence in the standard which required the outer edges of the cars to follow the line of the cheeks down to the chin. That was during the period when the Maine Coon had very low-set ears. The new Maine Coon, however, should have high-set cars, and in order to counterbalance this new Maine Coon look, the NFO standard has been changed, and the sentence about high-placed cars eliminated. What we want now is a Forest Cat with cars set the way they were ten years ago.

Another relevant example is the Turkish Angora, which is supposed to have a sweet expression. In the past, especially in certain lines, many Forest Cats looked sweet as well, but the standard has been changed now to give more importance to a wild expression. Again, we observe a return to our origins, and a renewed emphasis on the style of cat recognised in 1976. This would probably have happened even without the introduction of the Maine Coon and the Turkish Angora. It is normal that there be small adjustments to a new standard, as several years of breeding are necessary to show how it is being used and interpreted.

The other decisive mechanism which determines the way a breed may change is the selection of breeding cats and the choices a breeder makes at any given time. Imagine a stock of big, strong Forest Cats, the average male weighing 6.5 kilos, with a good, strong coat. The body outline is blurred to some extent, as well as the length and height, and these cats have broad, medium -long heads. By contrast, a slimmer cat with a longer head and perhaps a shorter coat looks longer and more elegant, and will be more highly rewarded. Breeders will seek to breed cats that look like him. They will use him a lot in breeding. In the next generation they will continue this line, and the judges will say, " Bravo, what fine, long cats! ' The breeders will be extremely encouraged until the next generation, when suddenly the judges say, "These cats are too elegant and their beads too long in proportion to their width. The quality of their coats is all wrong and their fur is too short. A male should weigh more than five kilos! " For the breeders, who have worked several years to get longer heads, longer and more elegant cats, this is incomprehensible. The problem, however, is simply that there is a limit to everything. All judges carry in their minds the image of a good, well-rounded cat; as soon as this all-round type is exceeded and the breed characteristics disappear, there will be negative comment, no matter how long the head is.

So where do we stand today? During recent years, we have probably been trying to breed cats with long heads and bodies and big cars. We have wound up with a coat that is somewhat shorter than the one we started with, and the look has changed a lot as well. There is a tendency toward smaller and/or more almond-shaped eyes, and at the same time the heads have grown longer. This is a natural development, as there is not room enough in a long, narrow head for big eyes. All the same, after many years of owning and breeding forest cats, I can see that this is not the first time we have found ourselves at this point.

The development of the breed can be drawn as a circle. At any given time, we find ourselves somewhere on this circle. At present, the average Forest Cat is situated at the point where the cats are long, elegant, but a bit small. It is not the first time we have been here, but not many of us can remember when we were here last.

Looking back over the fifteen years we have had Forest Cats in Denmark, we see that we began with some strong, fairly rough-looking cats of medium length and with heavy coats. In the mid-'80's one began to see cats that were a bit more elegant, longer, and with shorter coats. They remained popular for a couple of years, and afterwards it was again the 'in" thing to have big, strong Forest Cats with lots of fur. Now it is 1995, and over the past few years we have seen more and more of the long, slim cats, but the trend is changing again, so that both breeders and judges prefer the big, strong cat with a heavy coat.

The breeders' frustration in the face of this constant change in the standard is understandable. However, by sticking to good, well-balanced cats, one makes oneself less vulnerable to the dictates of fashion. Don't change all your breeding stock just because the cats that are winning at the moment look different from those you have at home. It is important to define your goals and stick by them, even when the breed seems to be developing in a new direction. It is a fact that breeders who keep buying something new, because what they have is not good enough, usually have less success than those who decide to work slowly with what they have, bringing in new genetic material through outside matings and the occasional purchase. It is also a bad idea to acquire too many cats of drastically different genetic backgrounds. If you have too much going on at once, you do not have time to get to know your breeding material. In addition, cats of very different type and genetic background often produce litters of variable, generally poor quality.

Looking at the development over the years of the Norwegian Forest Cat in Denmark, we see that we have already been twice around the circle that represents the development in time. We started in 1980 with big, strong cats, and moved towards a longer type, only to realise in 1984 that it had become too elegant. Again in 1988 we had big, strong cats and tried to move towards longer, more elegant ones. Today we find ourselves approximately in the middle of one side of the circle, with good, all-round cats. Ideally, of course, we should try always to stay somewhere within this area, but as time and breeding have shown, it is more or less impossible to avoid bigger movements in the type.