A Cat’s Fragile Temperament … And Her Person’s

Will unpleasant encounters make cats less sociable? Maybe pet parents are more sensitive to this than their cats.

Summer has a friendly, outgoing nature and she handles most situations well … but she’s not bulletproof. I had a reminder of that this past month – and a reminder to myself.

Last month, I took my plucky little cat on a three-hour drive up to Visalia for a big show, and she had a meltdown. Maybe not a meltdown per se, but she was definitely not acting like herself. In the second ring of a two-day, 12 ring show, she reacted badly to the pungent odor of an intact male that had sprayed earlier in one of cages, then she got mad at the quirky Norwegian Forest Cat in the cage next to her, even though it wasn’t his fault. She proceeded to hiss at the judge in that ring, and every ring after that, and was on guard every time she was called up to be judged. Keep in mind that Summer is a cheerful cat that is usually happy to meet everyone, and she knew most of the judges already. It was so totally unlike her.

When she didn’t calm down after a couple of rings, I was worried enough to pull her from the last ring of the day – something you don’t do lightly – and considered pulling her from the rest of the show completely. She was better back in her enclosure in the main part of the show hall and was nice to the people who came by to visit her, but I was worried that forcing her into the judging rings was going to permanently damage her temperament. Even though she was a regional winner in both major cat organizations, CFA and TICA, last season, my goal for her was never to be a show cat. I’ve been taking her to shows mainly to travel with her and get her out in public. Eventually I want to certify her as a therapy cat and apply for CFA’s Ambassador program and I didn’t want to force her into situations that would make her not want to be in public anymore.

The second day of the show she was better, but still hissy and a bit on edge – not like herself – and I wondered if I should keep showing her at all. Her breeder explained that this could be a one-time thing, and I needed to take her to one more show to see how she was. I had one coming up in August, and I knew this one would determine what I did with her in the future.

Waiting those three weeks was far more stressful for me than it was for Summer. I fretted about it while pushing her limits away from the show hall. I took her to our local pet store and when an elderly woman asked if she could pet Summer, I plopped her in the lady’s arms. Summer was fine. I’m currently taking care of my father’s cat, who is separated upstairs from my three, and I brought Summer up to visit. Smokey, my dad’s cat, hissed a few times, but Summer was perfectly cool and collected. I invested in calming treats and found some calming spray that I had sitting around the house. I had nightmares about taking Summer to cat shows.

Finally the show weekend came up and … Summer was much better. The first day she hissed a little at the intact males who were benched near us, but not at the judges when I brought her to the rings. The second day of the show she was her usual calm self. She even snagged a few ribbons in spite of stiff competition from a bigger, showier Somali male cat. I was relieved … but I also knew I had overreacted and that put Summer at risk.

Cats are emotional sponges and they will absorb whatever the humans closest to them are giving them. Even though I worked hard to stay calm around her, I was a wreck by the first morning of the show. I should have stopped and taken deep breaths more often, kept my busy brain away from my worries and looked at everything in perspective. If Summer didn’t want to compete in shows anymore – or if she ever decides in the future – there are so many other options to keep her in the public eye. I can even still bring her to shows, since she seems to enjoy greeting people from the comfort of her enclosure. I don’t need to put her in competition every time. Some people will push their cats because they want those finals and they want the wins, but that’s not the important part to me. I want Summer to continue being happy and outgoing so I just need to take two steps back and follow her lead. When I let Summer lead the way, she never steers me wrong.

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