It's a cat's life Fancy felines slink into competition as proud and sleek as they please

October 10, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

After Clowny, a blue-cream Persian with a long, flowing coat and marvelous copper eyes, earned her "grand premiership" at a recent cat show in Leesburg, Va., her owner Bob Pease was overcome with emotion.

"I wept. I cried. I bought her one dozen red roses," he says. "The thing is, she knew it."

Reigning supreme in her Harford County home, Clowny, (known professionally as RO-PA's Send in the Clowns of Pease), does have the air of a top cat. As a grand premier -- an altered cat who has defeated 75 other altered cats in competition -- she now faces only other cats similarly up to fluff.

Clothed in a lacy collar, so as not to soil her ruff while she eats, Clowny trains for her next beauty contest by dozing or submitting to bear hugs and baby talk from her owners, Bob and his wife Brenda.

Today and tomorrow at the Southern Regional Qualifying Competition for the 1992 Purina Cat Chow/CFA (Cat Fanciers' Association Inc.) Invitational Cat Show at the Pikesville Armory, Clowny will compete against scores of other cats for an invitation next month's Purina Cat Chow/CFA Invitational -- billed as the "Super Bowl" of cat shows -- in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Peases, like other couples with show cats, frankly admit they are a little nutty in their consuming passion for felines. "They've allowed us to live in their home," Ms. Pease says of her assortment of pedigreed Persians and two rescued strays. A plaque on the Pease mantelpiece says, "This house is maintained entirely for the comfort and convenience of our cats!"

As devoted cat fanciers, the Peases are not alone. About 1.3 million felines worldwide are registered with the CFA. Last year, 89,507 cats and kittens competed in CFA-sanctioned events.

It can be an expensive hobby. A top show cat can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000, according to Michael Brim, CFA's public relations director. Annually, individuals can spend up to $20,000 in travel and lodging expenses "campaigning" a show cat for a national award, Mr. Brim says. And that figure does not cover the constant grooming and health care kitty receives at home, he says.

(A recent national survey shows a growing feline fascination that transcends the refined world of pedigreed cats. The Pet Food Institute reports that cats -- about 63 million of them -- eclipse dogs by about 9 million as the country's most popular household pet.)

Around the Pease home, various Persians strike statuesque poses, and warily take measure of a visitor. "We love cats," Ms. Pease says. "I never was able to have children and these are my children. I'm flipped out nutso cuckoo about my animals."

Indeed, she divorced her first husband because he asked her to choose between him and her cat. "No one would take away my love of cats," says Ms. Pease. Neither does she let her allergy to cats interfere with her feline passion.

For the past two and half years, the Peases, members of the Chesapeake Cat Club, have devoted most of their waking hours to raising and showing pedigreed Persians, an ancient, longhair breed. Ms. Pease is retired from her job with a tour bus sales company and Mr. Pease works part time as a heating oil consultant to offset some of the expenses they incur in their hobby.

Nearly every weekend, the Peases are on the road, traveling to cat shows where Clowny lounges between curtain calls in a cage draped with a $500 red velvet, lace and sequined cover. During the week, the couple spends countless hours tending their cattery. There are cages to disinfect, litter boxes to dump, medications and vitamins to administer and hours of grooming and tender loving care to give.

It is a hobby that exacts "time, energy, sweat, tears and heartaches," Mr. Pease says. Take Clowny. Purchased as a kitten from Pam Swanson, another area cat breeder, Clowny began her show career in the open class, where she competed against other cats of the same breed, sex and color.

Although Clowny was doing well, she weighed too little and didn't have the substantive coat of a potential grand champion. (Championship and grand championship are competitive categories for non-altered cats.) The Peases decided to breed her. But Clowny came down with a disease that caused her to lose her litter and endangered her life. She pulled through and the Peases had her neutered.

After she was altered, Clowny underwent a glorious transformation. "She started beefing up and got more relaxed," Mr. Pease says. "She started to grow a big coat and grew from 5 pounds to 7 1/4 pounds."

Since re-entering competition in May, Clowny, age 2 years and 3 months, started taking ribbons in premiership. With her tiny ears, snub nose, short, full tail and boxy body, she meets the strict Persian breed standard.

Although their hardy, shaggy, long-lived Maine Coon cats are easierto care for than Persians, Tom and Linda Getz of White Marsh and Jennifer and Ray Hawkins of Towson are equally dedicated to their pets.

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