Summer and I spent the last two weekends in January at the biggest cat shows on the West Coast: the CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) show in San Diego, where Summer was a Pet Me Cat, and the Portland International Cat Show, held by TICA (The International Cat Association), where she competed with some of the top cats in the United States. These shows draw many thousands of visitors over the course of the weekends they are held, and some attendees are longtime cat fanciers while many others are first time show visitors.
As I looked over the social media shares from the latter — and the comments from their non-attending friends — I realized that there are a lot of misconceptions about cat shows. Most people only vaguely understand that there’s a judging process going on for the cats, and they don’t realize the shows have something to offer to people who don’t own or want pedigreed cats. I’ll address some of the most common misconceptions below.
1. There are only pedigreed cats at a cat show.
Nearly every cat show I’ve been to — and I attend them with or without exhibiting my Somali, Summer, at least twice a month – has a space for one or more cat rescues offering adoptions. The local cat clubs that put on these shows are very supportive of their rescue community, and want to see all cats have happy homes.
The show itself also includes a competitive category for Household pets – non-pedigreed cats that show off their composure, personality and good looks to the very same judges who also scrutinize the breed cats. In fact, the rings where the Household Pet judging goes on are often lots more fun than the breed rings. The breeders are usually sitting in their own rings, watching seriously as the judge looks for their cat’s faults. Household Pet rings are fun — there’s no standard to fit and there are often show favorites. You can usually find the Household Pet finals by the loud cheering.
2. The cats have to all be stressed out in this hectic, unnatural atmosphere.
Cats are more adaptable than people give them credit for, and the breed cats that compete in shows have been trained from a very young age to face the travel, noise, grooming, and being handled by a variety of strangers. Some cats really grow to love the shows and enjoy showing off in front of a crowd. A stressed out or scared cat won’t sit still on a judging table while the judge picks him up, stretches him out and looks him over — and most cats at cat shows deal with all of this very calmly. In fact, some cats, like Summer’s half-brother, Tajhara Chill Factor, make a game of the whole thing.
That doesn’t mean there are no stressed out cats at cat shows. Every so often, a judge will bring a cat to a judging ring and he’s a ball of fear, or he acts aggressively. The breeders who own these cats will cut their show career short and keep them at home or “pet them out” — neuter or spay them and sell them to a family looking for a cat of that particular breed. Most breeders have a waiting list of families wanting a cat from them.
3. If you’re not looking to add a cat to your family, there’s nothing at a cat show for you.
While the main attraction of the cat show is looking at all the breeds and the judging rings, you don’t have to actually want to buy a cat or have one entered to enjoy the goings on. There are vendors at cat shows that have some of most unique cat toys, cat trees and cat beds that you will find anywhere — and maybe some items you never even dreamed existed. You’ll find lots of handmade, well-crafted items. You’ll also find show specials on some brands of cat food and litter. One company, Dr. Elsey’s, was a sponsor at the Portland show, and was offering the attendees a free box of litter! Cat shows are great places to shop for things for your cat — and often cat art or cat themed clothes for yourself or a friend.
4.The breeders and judges are making loads of money.
Say that in front of any breeder or judge and they will fall down laughing. Responsible breeders — the type that exhibit their cats at shows, not the kitten mills — consider it a hobby, and the fees they charge for their kittens and cats only partly offset their expenses. Think about all the costs that go into these cats – the care and feeding, of course, but also the vet bills. Kittens get all their shots before going home, and most breeders these days spay and neuter them too. And if anybody gets sick, or a pregnant cat has complications, of course it costs even more money. Then there’s the expense of showing cats – the entry fee for each cat, plus travel and hotel costs. Breeding cats is a labor of love and a money pit. Breeders, without exception, have day jobs, or are living on a great retirement plan from the day job they used to have (most are from the generation that benefitted from that).
And the judges? They get paid the princely sum of about a dollar for each cat judged — and they often donate the money they make. They do get their travel expenses paid for, but it’s not like they’re getting a free vacation — after a day of judging cats, they often grab flights home as soon as the show is over because most of them have day jobs too.
5. Cat shows are stinky.
When you have several dozen unneutered male cats in one big room, you’d think a cat show would smell to high heaven, but you’ll find most of the rows of cats clean and surprisingly non-stinky. Most exhibitors scoop their cats’ litter boxes quickly, just out of courtesy to the other exhibitors benched near them. And it’s not easy finding large halls that will agree to rent out to a cat show — so the cat clubs work hard to keep the ones that do happy, and that includes staging a clean show. This goes double if the show is being held at a hotel conference center. Hotels are extremely particular about cleanliness and if rules are broken, either in the hall or by any of the exhibitors staying as guests, the show won’t be invited back. Granted, there will be rows here and there where that won’t completely be free of that cat pee smell — and some breeds are more odiferous than others — but for the most part, it’ll smell less than if you went to visit a friend who owns several cats, even if that friend is pretty good at cleaning house.
So what are you waiting for? Next time you see a cat show advertised near your home, stop by, visit the kitties, go shopping, and support your local rescue!