Letting the Cat Show Out of the Bag

The cats were curled in a cage, brown and black stripes circling their bodies. They looked removed from the scene, as if they'd done this many times before and knew sooner or later they'd get to go home. I turned to Patsy and said, "These cats look like raccoons."

The lady sitting in front of the cage said, "That's because they're called Maine coon cats."

And so they are--looking as if Dr. Seuss or a Walt Disney artist had decided to draw an animal with the stripes of a raccoon and the face of a cat. They are long-haired and fluffy, and look as if they came with batteries.

We were at a cat show at the Glendale Armory, where we had been to a similar show a few months ago. There is no trend developing here. We aren't going to keep going to cat shows, but this time I had been invited to choose the winners in the household pet division. Obviously, they could tell that after Morris and Garfield, which I can recognize, my knowledge of cats is rudimentary.

I had no idea people spent hours on their cats, preparing them for shows. They groom them, talk to them, train them to be handled by the judges--if the cat wants to--and bedeck their cages in laces and satin ribbons until they have chambers worthy of Madame de Lavalliere.

There are cats I have never seen before. One is called, I think, a Scottish fold cat. The tips of its ears fold down, and it looks like a cardboard toy which should have printed on its ear, "Insert Tab A into Slot B."

Kerry Lawrence and his wife raise Oriental short hairs. This is a long, narrow, elegant cat that seems about two feet long and about three inches across its middle. Slender cat. Lawrence is secretary treasurer of the Orient Express Cat Club, a co-sponsor of this show along with the Pacifica Cat Club. Steve Hatfield is a pleasant and knowledgeable young man who, with his partner Carl De Frain, had organized the show, an excellent job that I didn't envy them.

First, some of the poor cats didn't want to spend Sunday afternoon in this great big room and some of the owners were stage mothers. However, most of them were nice.

There was a certain amount of disgruntled muttering about one woman who breeds and sells cats and then shows her cats against those she has sold for a great deal of money. At least it seemed a lot to me. It was more than my father paid for my first car.

Now, the woman is in training to be a judge, which seems to be a complicated drill involving first being a breeder of registered animals. Then they must show until a cat makes Grand Champion. After that there's Master Grand Champion. Most of them, a judge told me, are apprentices for about five years, working with accredited judges.

Of course, I fell in love with all the house pets I was supposed be judging. But one special beauty was a regal gentleman named Mel. He is a large cat, with a mahogany back and four white spats. His head is Egyptian and his mien is regal. His owner is a woman named Frances Collopy, and she got him from Save-A-Pet in Riverside. He showed up on a school playground one day and when he was still there the next morning, a teacher took him to Sav-A-Pet. That's when Collopy, a film research and TV account executive, and gorgeous Mel landed in a bowl of whipped cream and love. Now, he has a blue satin cape but, more importantly, he has Frances Collopy.

The female I selected was Flutter Toes, a smallish calico who looks as if she had been made from the feather bin in a millinery factory and then given a few extra toes. They don't make her look clumsy. Rather, they make her look like a cat with bows on her toes and a million parties to attend.

I am a terrible judge because I want them all to win. Darlene Ruhle has a cat from the pound named Crooner's Polka Dot. And Tom and Karen Dahlke have a charmer who was a stray they picked up clear back in Delaware. Beverly Dixon has a beautiful 10-year-old named Mildred. Dixon found her in a ditch.

A young woman named Kelly Kirkman works for a veterinarian, and she had a foundling named Two Spot. She said she is always looking for cats who are wanting a home and to call her office at (818) 980-1313.

All those waifs, and our grumpy Mrs. Goldfarb chews on Patsy's Achilles tendon because she wants her dinner faster and Peaches sleeps in a nest of pillows. Ungrateful wretches.

I'll never go to another cat show unless, of course, I could find a cat like Mel or Flutter Toes or Mildred or Polka Dot.

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