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Cat ‘beauty contest’ has a new competitor

Cat lovers wowed at a new breed this weekend at the San Diego Cat Show, where Bengals made a debut appearance in the competition.  

Cat lovers marveled at a new breed this past weekend at the San Diego Cat Show, where Bengals made a debut appearance in the competition.

The annual two-day feline festival, in its 26th year, was hosted by San Diego Cat Fanciers at the fairgrounds in Del Mar. The event featured breed-specific contests that culminated in the selection of a grand champion. It also had a cat agility course, educational sessions and a host of kitty-themed vendors at its “Meow Mall.”

“This is one of the premier shows in the U.S.,” said Douglas Myers, one of the judges.

In the competition, trained judges evaluated cats for things like bone structure, eye shape, color, pattern and personality. Breeders for the different kinds of competing kitties set standards for what judges should look for, allocating 100 points among different criteria based on what they think is most important for the breed.

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For some breeds, coat quality is one of the most important traits. For others, it’s body shape. For a hairless cat breed, wrinkles are desirable and worth points.

For Bengals, making their debut in this competition, a lot of the points go for pattern and color.

The Bengal breed began in the ‘60s when a domestic cat was crossed with a feral breed, the Asian Leopard cat. While other cat organizations already include Bengals in competition, the Cat Fanciers’ Association allowed Bengals for the first time this year.

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Vicki Nye, who judged the Bengal category, said she admires their coats, which have striking spots and markings that resemble their wild relatives.

“That’s the essence of the breed,” said Nye, who has 30 years’ experience as a cat show judge. “They should look like they just walked out of the jungle.”

Bengals were not allowed to compete for the championship prize — they were considered a miscellaneous category. A meeting with the Cat Fanciers’ Association in the coming weeks may change that before the cat show returns to San Diego County next year.

Nye said the breed will be very competitive once it’s allowed to go for the top prize.

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She took each of the six Bengal entries out of cages one at a time and placed them on the judge’s table. She twirled a feather in front of their faces and stroked their intricately-patterened coats.

The first Bengal she evaluated was not happy about the experience. It began to hiss and lunge at Nye. She quickly whisked it back to its crate and pulled its neighbor out instead.

A 10-month-old Bengal named Vanna, whose eyes impressed Nye, took first place in the category.

“She has a super temperament,” Nye said while she held Vanna. “She’s a great example to show off the breed.”

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Sami Kerr, who owns Vanna, breeds Bengals at her Ohio-based cattery.

“I like the idea of having something that looks wild but is just as friendly as a domestic,” Kerr said.

A show-quality Bengal can be sold for between $3,500 and $6,000, Kerr said.

She starts showing her cats when they’re 4-month-old kittens to help them get used to the noises and people.

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“Any cat has to be acclimated to the show environment,” Kerr said.

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