House Cats Win and Are Feline Fine

Times Staff Writer

When time came to photograph the king and queen of Orange County, the royal couple arrived in boxes.

There was a bit of hissing and spitting between them as they posed side by side, and at one point, the king struck the queen just above the ear. No damage was done--he had not used the royal claws--and soon both were back in their individual carrying cases, ready to go home and never see each other again.

Two days earlier, they had been just ordinary house cats with the humblest of beginnings.

Geste Beau, a 1 1/2-year-old, long-haired tabby who weighs 15 pounds, was living in Tustin as pet to Ginger Martin. Beau, a male, had been abandoned as a kitten, and Martin adopted him as companion to the pedigreed Maine Coon cats she raises.

Little Bits, an 8-year-old, 11 1/2-pound short-haired female with tortoise-shell and white markings, was living with 12-year-old Tanya Rasmussen in Placentia. Bits was a kitten when found with her mother, brothers and sisters living in a cardboard box beside a trash dumpster. She was about to be put to sleep, as they say, at the county animal shelter when Tanya's mother sneaked her into a coat pocket and smuggled her to safety.

But last Sunday, during a Southern California Cat Club show in Costa Mesa, Beau and Bits were elevated to feline aristocracy. They were judged the best male and female Orange County cats in the household pets division, and their ribbons, the size of small kites, flatly state they are the king and queen.

The household pets division, said its judge, Carolyn Bussey of Olympia, Wash., is "the most fun class of the entire show--and the most difficult, too." There are no guidelines for judges as there are for specific breeds, so judging is purely intuitive. And because the cats are pets, the owners have a stronger-than-usual emotional stake in the outcome, and feelings are easily hurt, Bussey said. When you examine the cats, commenting to the audience as you go, "you never say anything bad about them. You only talk about the good points."

What's more, household pets tend to be heavier. In a big show, a judge "literally has to lift a ton of cats," Bussey said.

But it is not easy for the cats, either. Being kept in a cage for hours, then being put onto a Formica table top to have your ear tufts publicly described, was an indignity tolerated in varying degrees.

Bits seemed not to mind at all, but she is very easygoing, Tanya said. "She spends more of her time in the upper bunk of my bed," she said.

Beau, however, obviously disliked his time on stage.

"It was his first show," explained Martin, Beau's owner. "He's really sweet--just an overall nice guy. He patrols my house, he takes care of the kittens, which is unusual for a male. And he thinks he's a stud cat. He doesn't know he's neutered."

So much for a prince of Orange County.

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