You want to show off your pampered purebred, the most beautiful, intelligent, personable cat on the planet. At least, you think so, and you can't help thinking others will, too. You are ready to enter the exciting but often confusing world of the cat fancy. Here's how to get started.
Does Your Cat Qualify?
To compete, your kitty must be a pedigreed (with proper documentation) member of a breed accepted by the association sponsoring the show. He or she must be healthy, vaccinated, and free of fungus, parasites, and infectious diseases. In some associations, your cat cannot be declawed. And she must meet the conditions of the category in which she'll be shown. For a complete list of the competition classes, see Let's Go to a Cat Show!.
The HHP Category
Is your feline friend not pedigreed? No problem. You can still show her in the non-championship household pet (HHP) category. In this category, cats without papers and random-bred domestics are judged on their beauty, personality, demeanor and grooming rather than on a breed standard. The same basic rules apply, but HHPs must be altered. The Happy Household Pet Cat Club, an organization for HHP exhibitors, offers a wealth of HHP show information at www.hhpcc.org.
The Breed Standard
First, obtain and study your breed's standard. Some cat associations post their standards online, and others will mail them for a small fee. This "standard of perfection" is a guideline that describes the breed's ideal characteristics and assigns those traits a number of points according to their importance, totaling 100 points. The cat's "condition," meaning her grooming and overall health and balance, is also taken into consideration. Undesirable traits, called objections, faults or penalties, are also noted in the standard. The standards can vary from one association to another, so it's important to be familiar with the standard of the association in which you'll be showing.
Generally, the standard covers four areas: head, body, coat and color. Although judges don't give each cat a point score when determining the winner, the points can be used as a guide to determine each trait's importance. For example, let's say you're showing Curly, your Cornish Rex. CFA's standard allots the head 25 points, the body 30 points, the coat 40 points and the color 5 points. Therefore, Curly's coat is his most important trait and his color is the least. So even if Curly has the best color in the galaxy, he won't win if his coat isn't up to par.
Finding a Show
Check the "Show and Go" calendar in Cats Magazine (www.catsmag.com) for upcoming shows. Show information is also available at association websites and by mail. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) is the largest association that sponsors cat shows, but it's not the only one. Cat fanciers have nine from which to choose:
Before the Show
Visit a few shows to get a feel for the process before you enter your cat. The associations have written rules dictating how shows will be run and what you must do to compete. These rules vary from one association to another, so obtain and read the show rules of the association in which you'll be showing. Some associations have rules, standards, and forms available on their Web sites.
Registering and Entering
To be shown, your cat must be registered with the association sponsoring the show. Your breeder will have provided a certificate of pedigree and a registration form for the association or associations of which he or she is a member. Fill out the registration form and send it and the appropriate fee to your chosen association. When the proper forms and fees are received, your cat is eligible to enter that association's shows. If you wish to show her in more than one association, you'll have to register her with each.
To enter a show, obtain and fill out the entry form and send it and the appropriate fee to the entry clerk. Such forms can be obtained from the entry clerk or sometimes from the association website. The closing date for entering is usually a month or more before the show, so allow time for paperwork processing.
Preparing Your Cat
If your cat has never been shown, prepare her for the commotion of the show hall. Her mental readiness is just as important as her grooming. Get your cat used to being kept in a benching cage by caging her for short periods, always inside your home and always under supervision, of course. Pet supply stores carry such cages. Also, accustom her to being handled by strangers. While cats are not judged on obedience as dogs are, a cat that struggles wildly, cowers in terror, or claws the judge to pieces won't make a good impression. Well before the show, have friends come over and pretend to judge your kitty. Have them take her out of the cage, carry her to a "judging table," hold her up, stretch her out, run a hand through her fur, and wave a feather in front of her. Always offer praise and a special treat afterward so she will associate rewards with the experience.
Grooming the Show Cat
Immaculate grooming is a must for the show cat, so you should begin training your cat to tolerate grooming at three to four months of age. How much grooming is required depends upon her breed and hair length. The Persian, for example, requires extensive grooming, while a Siamese requires much less. Still, most exhibitors spend a good deal of time bathing and grooming their cats before the show. Your breeder may be willing to offer grooming tips; after all, her cattery will gain status if your cat wins. After combing, bathing and drying your cat, clean the eyes, ears and face with cotton balls, swabs and warm water. Make sure the anus and feet are clean, too, and clip her claws.
When you get to the show, check in and get your cage number assignment and show schedule. Equip the benching cage with a litter pan, water, food and a cat bed. Bring any toys or decorations that will make your cat feel at home. When you've settled in, give your cat a final grooming.
Each cat's number will be called over the address system when it's time for judging. Listen carefully; it's easy to miss the number in all the noise and excitement. Take your cat to the judging ring and place her in the cage marked with her number. Take a seat in the gallery chairs in front of the judging area.
The judge removes each cat from the cage, places her on the judging table, and examines her briefly. After all the cats have been judged, the judge hangs ribbons or other markers on the cages of winning cats, and the cats can be taken back to their benching cages. When all the cats in a category are judged, the finals begin, where the cats judged to be the best examples are presented.
A Final Note
Perhaps your kitty will do well and you'll come home with a winning rosette. And maybe she'll be passed over. Taking rejection is doubly hard when it's aimed at your beloved pet. How could anyone look into those big, trusting eyes and think anything else? It's natural to want to express your disappointment and frustration – but don't. At least, don't do it in front of the judges and exhibitors. Even if she doesn't win, she is still your loyal companion and always will be best of show in your household. In the end, that's what's important.