If you are merely purchasing a beautiful pedigree kitten to keep as a pet, then all the bureaucratic paraphernalia surrounding pedigrees is unnecessary. However, if you have even the slightest intention of showing the animal, it is necessary to complete all the formalities and these are usually very well known by the breeder who will guide you through the labyrinth of rules and regulations.
Having decided that you are going to enter your kitten in a show, it is wise to talk to somebody who has had the experience of preparing an animal so that it will look its best and be in top condition. This is not something that happens overnight; it requires long and careful preparation. Excellence of condition depends upon many factors, including regular and patient grooming, adequate exercise, a complete and balanced diet and attention to health. Particularly the elimination of parasites.
Another factor which may make all the difference at the show is the tractability of the cat. Unlike clogs, which the owner shows personally by-walking round the show-ring, cats are judged in the absence of the owner. They are put in an unfamiliar cage with a small litter tray in which, in their customary perverse way, many cats will sit glaring malevolently at the people passing by. Depending upon the show regulations, large fluffy blankets or simple sheets of newspaper are used as bedding. Psychologically, therefore, the cat is at its worst, since it has no reassurance through the presence of its owner, and is aware of other strange cats around it. Added to this, it is suddenly taken out of its cage by a strange handler or steward and then pushed about by some well-meaning judge, possibly held up in the air, stared at, turned around, prodded and perhaps given a reassuring pat before being returned to its cage. A cat that is unhappy, nervous or frankly spiteful under these conditions is obviously less likely to appeal to a judge than one which accepts all this indignity with pleasure and purring. A quiet temperament is not something that can be introduced into a cat born slightly apprehensive and nervous but regular handling, especially by different people, can overcome some of the cat’s natural reluctance to enjoy the company of strangers.
The daily grooming routine is less important in short-hairs than in long-hairs, but is nevertheless an essential part of coat health and texture. The lie of the coat will also be encouraged as brushing settles the hair in its follicle in the skin and ensures that all hairs are sitting tight together in a smooth line.
In the long-hair the fur must be brushed according to the appearance of the show specimen of the breed; this means that the ruff around the neck should have a parting where the coat is brushed backwards over the body but forwards around the head to frame the face. It is normal practice to sprinkle a good quality talcum powder into the coat by brushing the hair against the grain while the powder is being applied. This allows the powder to get well down to the skin and roots of the hair so that it can absorb excess oil and debris. It should then be brushed out well and the coat thoroughly combed through. This is also the time to ensure that the coat is completely smooth with no tangles or knots, especially in the groin, armpits or along the abdomen. If matting is encountered it should be gently teazed out if small enough, or very carefully cut away, provided that the hair underneath has grown long enough to permit curved scissors to be used between the base of the tangle and the surface of the skin. Obviously this should never be necessary in a cat which is groomed daily and cut hair will not endear the animal to a show judge.
Although the use of talcum powder is usually an adequate cleansing method, it may be necessary, particularly in light-coloured long-hair cats, to consider bathing the animal one or two days before the show. Cats do not normally enjoy being bathed and many owners of light-coloured animals make a routine of bathing them from kittenhood in order to get them used to a procedure which can be traumatic for cat and owner.
Shampooing in this way should be carried out in a basin or sink to which one to two inches of tepid water have been added. The coat is damped down by ladling water over the back with the right hand while the left hand is held reassuringly around the front and flank of the cat. (Sometimes, of course, it is necessary to have an assistant, particularly if the cat continually struggles to get out of the bath.) Once the coat is completely wet, a good quality shampoo. Human or animal, should be used to wash the coat through thoroughly. The cat should then be transferred to another bowl in which there is plenty of clean water, the ladling procedure being used again to rinse the fur and eliminate traces of shampoo. The cat must then be dried thoroughly with a soft towel and brushed vigorously. Some people use a hair-dryer to speed up the drying process but most cats resent this and resist strongly. If the coat is shampooed two or three days before the show, it will give the skin time to replace the natural oils which help to form a sheen along the hair shaft and give the coat its normal glow and shine.
Another tip-to remember is that black-coated animals can turn brown if they are continually exposed to bright, strong sunshine or clamp. Keeping the cat indoors for a few clays before the show is not good enough and it may be necessary to restrict its exposure to sunlight completely to ensure that the coat hairs do not change colour.
Final preparations before a show usually take place after the animal has arrived there in its cat box or basket, often having travelled long distances. Different owners have different techniques. Long-haired cats are not usually fed until they return home in order to minimize the risk of them soiling their coat when using the litter box between the time the owner has been banished from the show and the judges go round. Some owners offer a little milk and most cats are provided with some water. It is likely that after a long journey they will be thirsty and slightly dehydrated. After this meal the cat should be brushed thoroughly and finished off with hard stroking of the hand or polishing with a chamois leather which gives it the final shine to attract the judge’s eve.
Of course the cat must be in perfect health, free from infection and infestation. This is particularly important with regard to ears which should be regularly examined to make sure they are clean and free from ear mites. One must also assume that a carefully looked after cat is free of fleas, but these ubiquitous little insects have a nasty habit of appearing almost out of nowhere. The use of a good, safe flea powder in the clays of the run-up to the show can usually take care of this risk.
At most shows owners and cats arrive early in the morning to join a long queue moving forward for the veterinary examination. This includes observation of the state of health of the animal and, in the case of torn cats, assurance that both testicles are present and descended. Ears are examined to ensure freedom from infection and ear mites, and mouths are opened to ensure that there are no ulcers on the mouth, lips, gums or tongue. The coat is examined to ensure that it is free from fleas, ticks or other parasites, and, most important, the eyes and nose are observed carefully to ensure that there is no discharge which could denote cat flu. At the same time the trained veterinary eye will observe the quality of the animal’s expression, the brightness of the eye and, occasionally, the presence of bad breath, all of which might be indicative of a lack of peak health which may persuade the veterinarian to take the cat’s temperature.
It is very much in everybody’s interest that cats which are likely to be infected, and therefore a source of infection to all other cats in the show, are eliminated at this stage despite the disappointment it will cause the owner who may have been anticipating the event for weeks, or even months. Cat shows are obviously a potent source of infection for there is no other place where the concentration of cats is higher. The strict veterinary control is therefore an insurance to reduce the risks of cross infection to a minimum.
All this presupposes that the show in question is a large one. However, it is usually best for the novice exhibitor to start small and take the advice of the breeder who will know the sort of show where experience can be gained without so much formality and pressure. Smaller shows attract smaller crowds and therefore the upset and stress on the animal is minimized. It is usually wise to plan your show season in advance by contacting the managers of each of the shows in which you are interested, who will send you a schedule and entry form well in advance. You must be in a position to demonstrate that the cat is registered with the appropriate governing body and if the registration was by the breeder then a transfer of ownership certificate must be available to prove that you are the rightful owner.
The schedule and entry form will give you a guide as to the appropriate classes in which your own animal can be entered. Some people prefer to enter several classes to increase the chances of a win or a place. It is wise to send the entry form back as soon as possible in case there is competition for space in a small show when priority may be given on a first come, first served basis. Before the show the organizer will send the exhibitor a numbered tally and vettin^-in card. The tallv number coincides with the number on the case reserved for your cat. The vetting-in card is handed to the vet when you reach the front of the long line of exhibitors at the show gate. It is, of course, essential that the box or basket carrying your cat is sturdy and cat-proof. Animals under strange conditions and stress will struggle violently even in die arms of their owners, and no risks should be taken by leaving basket ties open or boxes only half shut.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a queen cat which has accidentally mated just before a show, it is wise to withdraw your entry and, although there is usually no regulation against it, it is also normally best to withdraw a queen cat that is calling. She is unlikely to show herself to her best advantage as she will probably roll in her litter tray and ruin the appearance of her coat while in her cage – added to this, she will certainly cause considerable con-sternation among the male cats and risk accident or damage as a result.
Once you are in the show and have found your cage, you may substitute the litter provided by the show organizers with a proprietary brand of your own which your cat may prefer or which may be less likely to cling to the coat and spoil your cat’s appearance. Some people substitute torn up newspaper so that the tray can act as a litter tray or as a bed. Some owners, aware of the high risk of picking up infection, may wipe out the cage with a mild and safe solution of disinfectant before putting the cat in it. Unfortunately, infection is usually spread in the air, so that this is only a modest precaution, particularly against cat flu.
Some pleasure-loving cats will settle more comfortably in their strange surroundings if provided with a hot-water bottle placed under a blanket or towel. This must be anonymous as it is axiomatic in a cat show that the judge must not know the name of the owner or the origin of the cat being judged. For this reason, everything is done by numbers and owners are not permitted to be present when the judging takes place. After the judging, many top breeders decorate the cage of their animal, particularly if there are a number of winning cards to tuck between the bars, but no identification or decoration is permitted before or during judging. The final grooming in the exhibition hall should not include powder as this, if left in the coat, can disqualify the cat. After the last whisk of the brush, the tally, attached to a piece of white tape, should be tied around the cat’s neck. This should be neither too loose nor too tight as many cats resent this new object and try to pull it off with their claws.
It is important to purchase a catalogue as early as possible and check that your cat or cats are entered in the classes intended by you when you returned your entry form. If there are any mistakes then these can be remedied by a quick appeal to the judge’s table. Judges normally mark the good and bad points of each animal they are judging in a special book and against the appropriate number of the cat. Once the organizers have been told of the judges’ decision, the cards denoting first prize or runner-up prizes are placed on the cages by the organizers’, stewards.
After judging is completed, it is permitted to talk to the judge and perhaps discuss the good and bad points of your own cat. This can be particularly useful as it may enable the novice exhibitor to rectify some of the faults, such as bad preparation and poor coat quality, in time for the next show.
The above description of a typical cat show applies essentially to those held in Britain. In America the position is different since the judges do not go round the cages and exhibitors are permitted to decorate them in any way they wish, particularly with winning rosettes or ribbons from previous shows. The owners stay with their cats at all times and take them up to the judging ring when called. The cat is then put in a cage close to the judge who removes it when ready and places it on a table for complete examination.
European cat shows vary, some adopting the American method and others the British. If the American method is used, some judges work behind a screen to protect them from the hypnotic glare of the proud owner watching his or her every move. In some cases, the owner leaves the job of taking the cat to the judge to an official steward at the show. Official bodies in countries such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand organize their own shows on similar lines to those held in Britain.
In Canada and America, there are a number of bodies which have independent cat clubs affiliated to them. The major bodies include the Canadian Cat Association, the American Cat Association and the American Cat Fancier’s Association which looks after the interests of nearly four hundred clubs. Although each association has its own recognized standards, these tend naturally to coincide with one another, otherwise the job of the judges would be almost impossible.
Individual clubs in most countries represent particular breeds, so that if you have purchased a kitten and propose to become an exhibitor, the breeder of that kitten will undoubtedly be a member of the breed club and arrange for you to be entered as a member also.
The type of show may vary from country to country, as may the prizes and the structure of prizes leading up to championship class. In Britain, for example, there are three types of official show – the exemption show which is usually small, the sanction show, and the championship show. The sanction show provides a bridge between the small exemption show, which is usually the preferred point of entry for novices, and the championship show where top prizes are open for competition. Rules at exemption shows are not so strict as those for sanction shows which are similar to those of the championship show.
At a championship show challenge certificates can be won by adult cats winning an open breed class. The award of a certificate is not automatic, however, and is at the discretion of the judge who must decide whether the cat concerned matches up to the required standard to justify one. The cat must win three independent challenge certificates under three different judges at three separate shows before it can justify the claim to be titled Champion.
Perhaps to most people, the pinnacle of cat-show excitement is at the world’s biggest, held annually just before Christmas at Olympia in London. This is the National Cat Club Show which attracts an enormous entry of about two thousand cats and kittens under one roof in one day, including, of course, both pet cats and pedigree cats. The pet cats are given quite different prizes but the classes are there to encourage owners of mongrel cats – particularly children – to take a pride in them and to enjoy the excitement of being judged and winning prizes.
Madison Square Garden is probably best known around the world for its major show-business events, but every March it is the scene of the largest cat show in America. Often American and Canadian shows are jointly organized and administered by different groups. The organizing club controls what is known as the All-Breed Show which all cats must enter. A speciality club, such as the short-hair or long-hair club, will administer the show7 for that particular variety. Although this may sound confusing, it is usually possible to be guided by an experienced breeder through the maze of options available for entry.
Basically, all shows provide classes for variety, colour and breed and within these options there are kitten and adult sections. The division also distinguishes between male and female classes. Open classes are available for cats which have already had at least one win, but for the newcomer there is a novice class for animals which have not won any prizes as an adult. For the aristocrats who have already won sufficient challenge certificates to be called Champion, there is the Grand Champion class. In Europe and elsewhere, of course, it is possible to have International Grand Champions with animals which have won championship classes in different countries competing. All these different classes cater for uncloctoreci animals; there is, however, a separate section of classes for neutered cats.
Apart from the fun and excitement of entering a show, there is always the enormous benefit to be gained from talking to different owners. Much new information can be picked up and lessons learned for the future, for those who spend a lifetime showing cats accumulate a vast wealth of experience which can be passed on to the newcomers.
Showing creates a standard and a s^oal to aim for. It certainlv contributes to the healthy development of the breed and to the continued success of those breeders whose animals win prizes and become much coveted by other breeders, either to purchase or for stud purposes. Exhausting, frustrating and occasionally infuriating though cat shows may sometimes be, they are part of the world of cats and contribute considerably’ to it.