Show is a different breed

Cats: Purebreds and household types -- and sometimes the judges -- take center stage at the Novacats Cat Club's event.

January 06, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Cats are well-known for going their own way. They don't often fetch tennis balls. They don't herd.

"There are no search-and- rescue cats, guard cats, ... bomb-detecting cats, drug-sniffing cats," notes animal expert Stephen Budiansky in his 2002 book, The Character of Cats.

But cats do entertain, especially when 200 of them appear in a single hotel conference room with their owners.

These weren't just any felines on display yesterday at the weekend-long Novacats Cat Club show at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center on O'Donnell Street. There were elegant Siamese, plush Persians, exotic Abyssinians, wild-looking Bengals, and chunky Chartreux.

"He's a baked potato on toothpicks," said judge Pamela Barrett of Deer Island, Ore., as she inspected a gray-blue Chartreux, a short-legged French breed.

But the cats were only part of the show. For entertainment, it was hard to top the judges, many of whom travel around the world to appear at shows sanctioned by the International Cat Association.

The judges pick up the cats, scrutinize the animals' bodies, tails and jaws, and look in their eyes. Mostly, their training and skill allow judges to accomplish their tasks without suffering scratches or bites.

"Hey, hey, no swatting," judge Mark Coleman of Hellertown, Pa., said firmly to a cat that decided his hand was prey of a sort.

Some judges are workmanlike, others are showy and some -- like Barrett -- manage to be both at once.

A former white-collar fraud investigator for the state of Alaska, Barrett said she judges about 36 shows a year, mostly on weekends. She has a kitten's playfulness.

Assigned to one of six judging stations called "rings," Barrett picks up a mixed-breed kitten and moves it up and down like a marionette. She likens a tiny white patch on the underside of its otherwise dark body to lingerie. "A little `Victoria's Secret,'" she says, to the laughter of a dozen onlookers at her ring.

The selections of Barrett and the other judges led to the awarding of dozens of ribbons in various classes encompassing adult cats, kittens, pedigreed breeds and ordinary household mixed breeds. Neutered and spayed cats are welcomed, too.

While some of the cats bear standard names -- "Chubby" was one -- many of the purebreds came with titles sounding like royalty. "Four Roses Premium" is the name of a cat belonging to show manager Teri Matzkin of Arlington, Va. Viola Wetreich, a cat owner from Milton, Del., said she was gratified that common household pets aren't excluded.

One of her mixed-breed cats appeared as a stray in the 1996 film Bullet with Mickey Rourke.

Among Wetreich's show cats yesterday was Brunhilda, a friendly, tortoise-shell-colored kitten found by the side of a road when it was about 8 weeks old.

"People will ooh and aah at the purebreds," Wetreich said. "But they need to know that mixed-breed cats are important, too. I happen to think that her markings are beautiful."

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