Last Saturday, I attended “The official International Cat Show”. I didn’t just attend, I planned in advance to go. I requested the day off work, hyped it up to my friends and colleagues, and made sure my camera battery was nice and charged. I was this excited about it because I actually went to this event last year. We went just for fun, not really knowing what it would be like or if it would even be enjoyable. It was more than enjoyable.
This year’s event was held at the Holiday Inn, out by the airport. It cost $4 plus two cans of cat food for admission. The cat food went towards needy cats. The event was also benefitting an Oregon Food Bank. This I didn’t know, or else I too would have brought bags of creamed corn like the others. As I purchased our tickets and pulled cat food out of my jacket pockets, the gentleman noticed my camera outfit, and cautioned me about using my flash inside the building. He didn’t want me to temporarily impair any of the cats’ visions or the judges’, as they both had serious work to do. We were given ballots to vote for our very favorite cat. The fan favorite would be receiving a $1,000 cash prize. A little girl standing behind me in line turned to her brother and said, “It smells like Grandma’s house in here.” I cast her a sympathetic gaze. She looked at me and explained, “I hate going to Grandma’s house. It stinks like cats.” Indeed, little girl.
Upon entry, I was overwhelmed with how much more popular the event was this year. Granted, last year’s cat show fell on Superbowl Sunday but I didn’t really think they would share the same audience.
So what goes on at a cat show? In the center, there are rows and rows of cats that are entered in the contest, their handlers, and their owners. On the perimeter, there are vendors selling cat-related wares. There is also a wall of judging areas. Throughout the day, cats are called to the judging areas where they are inspected for their appearance, perfection within their breed, agility, and friskyness. That’s my assessment, anyway. Spectators are invited to browse the cats and watch the judging process. Cats are kept in special corrals with clear plastic fronts so that they are seen but not touched. Don’t go to a cat show expecting to pet any. In fact, the people that own the cats honestly don’t even want you there. They merely tolerate you. I think they instilled the “fan favorite” angle just so the cat-owners would be slightly more personable to the spectators that actually fund the event.
There are two categories you can enter your cat in. One is for the purebred cats with breeds officially recognized by TICA, the other is the “housecat” category. Cats in this division are considered either long-hair or short-hair. That was pretty much all the info I could gather about the judging process. You had to have a cat entered in the show to get one of the offical programs outlining the rules. From looking over other’s shoulders, it looked like each of the purebred cats entered got to have a page all to themselves in which it showed a professional photo of the cat, and included his breeding lineage and his/her awards. I really wanted to get my hands on one, but there were none laying around unattended.
As you walk from booth to booth among the vendors, there are two types of merchandise being sold: products for cats, and products paying homage to cats. There were cat beds, cat toys, food, litter, and grooming products. There was also jewelry, clothing, art, and even air fresheners designed to rid your home of that cat-box smell (see, little girl! Your grandma problem, solved!) The most popular booth was one that sold “teasers”. Teasers are long feathers and long sticks with danglies on the end to play with both your cat at home and the cats in their cages here at the show. I could see why this booth was so popular. With the “no touching rule” in full effect, it was literally the only way you could interact with all the amazing cats.
For the most part, the cats are all held in their carriers for the entire day, except when they go up to be judged. The only time you get to see a kitty in person is when they’re coming back from the judging station. Again, there is strictly no touching. Its a “look with your eyes, not with your hands” deal. If you’re lucky, you can pretend you’re press and snap some pictures like I did.
The cat station is something unto itself. According to the online rules, each entered cat gets a “pen” of some sort, either cage or kennel not to exceed certain dimensions. Next to that, each entry gets a personal “grooming space” to brush and pamper the cat for judging circle readiness. After grooming, its customary for a cat to receive a special treat to arouse them, then to be played with using a teaser so that they will be perky and frisky for the judges.
So, I’m sure you’ve seen “Best in Show”. The movie shows different people and their journeys to get their dogs to the world’s largest dog show and what it takes to get there. I’m a huge fan of that movie, as you probably are as well. The cat show folk make that look like bush league. These people live and die by their cats, nay they ARE their cats. Cat people seem like they’re part of a secret club, only understood by others that are members. As I browsed the rows of cats, I would find owners and handlers simply staring deep into their cat’s eyes.
People who tour cat shows don’t really make their money from prizes. Nearly every cat entered has kittens for sale. This is where the big money comes from. You can buy kittens sired from an award-winning cat for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. Each cat owner has a glossy business card featuring their cat, awards listed, often with an entire website devoted to why you should purchase a “designer” kitten.
It was crowded. Lots of people brought their kids. For the record, this is no entertaining place for children. You can’t touch any of the kitties, too many people, nothing to do. At one point, a little girl ran past me, crying. “I just want to pet a cat!” Me too, mija. ME TOO.
The day was drawing to a close. I reached in my pocket, and realized I still had my ballot for “Fan Favorite”. How to choose? There were so many beautiful cats, making it hard to pick which was the best. In the corner, by the exit there was a humble booth featuring cats from a no-kill shelter. There was a kitty there, up for Fan Favorite that had a costly nasal surgery to save his life. He only had one nostril now, due to the removal of a life-threatening cyst in his breathing passage. The owner of the shelter let me know the prize money would go to helping all stray cats have food and shelter should the kitty win. I put my face up to his cage. He stood up and came towards me, sniffing my breath. Kitty, purred and brushed himself against his bars back and forth. Obviously, this kitty had my vote.
This is my fan favorite. He’s cuddling with his roommate.
I knew I wanted to buy a souvenir. I was torn between earrings featuring a siamese cat in a regal, Egyptian queen setting and one of the T-shirts hand-made by the “cat lady” herself. After going back and forth, I think I made the right decision.