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Good Felines : Show Brings Out Pet Lovers Who Are Happy to Be a Different Breed of Cat

Times Staff Writer

Debbi Brown and Ann Hoehn of Waco, Tex., loaded up two husbands and 30 cats in a van last week and drove 28 hours to Anaheim for the annual West Coast International Cat Show. At an Anaheim motel they are spending the weekend in a single room together, along with both husbands, and all of the cats--save for a dozen or so they’ve sold at the show.

“This is living,” Debbi Brown said, laughing. “You have to be best friends when you travel like we do.”

The stated purpose of the three-day cat show, which ends at 6 p.m. today at the Anaheim Convention Center, is to give exhibitors a chance to have their cats judged, and maybe serve as a showcase for them to make a sale or two.

But what it’s really all about for most of them is having fun and being surrounded by a lot of great-looking cats.

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And there are plenty of them to gush over--a flea’s haven for row after row in the mammoth exhibit hall. There were Cornish rexes and Devon rexes, Siamese, Burmese and Birmans. Persians and Maine coons grabbed up many of the prizes. The Abyssinians and American shorthairs were in for a lot of finger-pointing from people not familiar with them. There were 600 cats in all, up nearly a hundred over last year’s exhibit figure.

They also included a motley group of just plain-old mixed breeds--spruced up, of course, to look like champions.

Take Desi, a long-whiskered mixed breed with a variety of dark colors who came close to receiving the ax at an animal shelter.

Carolyn Booth of Lehigh, Utah, learned that her best friend was getting a divorce, and had taken all her cats and kittens to the pound.

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“I ran down there fast to see how many I could get,” Booth said.

She ended up with two 8-week-old kittens. Her mother named them for her: Desi, the male, and for the female, Lucy, of course. They are now 2 years old and have racked up more than 40 trophies and top ribbons between them.

Lucy stayed home this weekend. Booth decided to enter Desi in the Supercat Contest, the competition for non-pedigreeds.

With his long whiskers, Desi was a shoo-in, with voting done by audience applause.

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‘So Much Fun’

“This is so much fun,” a slightly delirious Booth said as a large crowd gathered around Desi’s cage afterward.

Booth had come to the show because her husband, Dave, is a construction worker on a job in the area. Booth is not in the cat business, but she was an exception at the show. Most of the exhibitors owned catteries or sold cats at the show.

Armando and Jeane Camerena of Azusa, for example, brought 19 cats to the show. Their specialty is American curls. But the one walking away with the top prizes, a blue-tortie-and-white named Kaliope, was not for sale. She sleeps each night with her real owner, the Camerenas’ 15-year-old daughter, Stephanie.

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“Stephanie almost flew over the cat cages when she came back to tell us Kaliope had won first place (in a household pets category),” her mother said.

There was good reason for Kaliope’s victory, according to Linda Lindsey of Arlington, Tex., a judge for that category.

“She was clean, well-groomed, easy to handle, very healthy. She was just a delightful cat,” said Lindsey.

Lindsey has been breeding cats for 17 years and spends several weekends a month judging cat shows. She does it, she said, because she just loves cats.

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Family Affair

“But this has to be a family affair or it doesn’t work,” she said. “There is a high divorce rate in the cat business.”

Not everyone working at the show had a cat. All the major cat food companies had booths. The most popular booth at the convention center, in fact, was run by one cat food company that had its television commercial cat, S.H. III, on display in an actor’s chair. But the line didn’t go around the corner just for a glance at the celebrity cat, who slept through it all. The company was also giving out free crystal goblets.

There were cat buttons, cat pillows, cat T-shirts and cat knickknacks for sale. There were the standard Elvis Presley postcards, sold at every cat show. Elvis was a cat lover, is the explanation given. There were 14 new kinds of kitty litter and a dozen times that many new cat toys.

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The most daring salesperson had to be Jeanine Canceo of Los Angeles, who dressed up in a cat costume and painted whiskers on her face just to sell kitty litter.

Lorie Viner of Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles sold 150 cat fishing poles with a little rabbit’s foot on the end. Not just any fishing pole, her brother-in-law, Michael Viner, barked to passers-by, but “a space-age, acrylic, synthetic pole, 100% washable, with no sharp points.”

Different Language

Most of the exhibitors, even those not selling anything, enjoyed sharing all the details of their menagerie. Sometimes, of course, it was language that could only be understood by cat lovers: “I wanted to breed her to the blue spotted,” one exhibitor explained. “He had fantastic ears and good hair. His body was a little thick, but it would have made a nice breed. Problem was she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. So I had to breed her with his daddy. That was OK, though. He’s got a beautiful coat and I loved his boning.”

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There were losers, of course. But it may have been that Bruno got robbed in the Supercat Contest. It was made up of several mini-contests, such as for best eyes, best coat, best whiskers and best tail. Bruno’s problem was that there was no category for John Carradine faces.

“Look at that expression,” one of the judges said.

Bruno’s white face had black splotches dribbling down the chin that looked like they were spray painted on from a squirt gun. He belongs to Sandra Virgil, a school bus driver for Anaheim city schools, who is not a cat show regular.

But she told her daughter when she heard about the show, “You know, our cat is cute too. Why don’t we take him?”

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Bruno and two other kittens had been dumped in an alley by someone who didn’t know what to do with them. Virgil did. She took them home and loved them.

Sometimes the love of a cat is even more important than the love of money.

Not that Debbie Brown and Alice Hoehn didn’t want to make a few bucks. Montego, a 5-month-old white-colored Birman, for example, was sold even before he got a chance to pick up his cageful of first place awards in the best-kitty category.

Not Burmese

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He is called Montego, Debbie Brown explained, because every year Birman people follow tradition in naming their cats by a letter of the alphabet, and this year’s letter is M . To save time on questions, Brown and Hoehn have a sign that says Birmans are not Burmese, and that you can tell them by their round faces and Roman noses.

Brown sold Montego to a man for $700. Actually, the man had wanted Hoehn’s 4-month-old, gray-footed Birman, Miata. He offered her $1,000. Hoehn looked at him as if he’d asked for her firstborn.

No way, she said. Some cats are just too precious to sell. And besides, Miata is due for another show in New Jersey next week.

But later, she grinned and said, “I was tempted by that thousand dollars, let me tell you.”

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