Dog shows are a familiar, if odd, facet of American culture. Perfectly groomed, well-behaved dogs trot, fetch, sit, stay, and do just about anything else on command – and they typically seem pretty good-humored throughout.
Cats are a different breed altogether, as anyone can see within just a few moments of the Cat Fanciers’ Association cat show, going on this weekend at Earl Warren Showgrounds.
For one thing, cats do not perform to strangers – there’s a reason “herding cats” is a byword for futility. Looking disdainful and a touch grouchy, the cats at cat shows nap, eat, or glare in their enclosures, and when they’re moved to the judging area the air fills with plaintive mewing. One doesn’t need to speak cat to know they’re saying something along the lines of “Why are all these big apes watching me? And when can we go home?”
Not to imply, however, that the show felines are generally unhappy. In fact, you’d have to search far and wide to find a better cared for, better fed, or more beloved group of pets. They may spend a few hours a month being groomed, displayed, and examined, but overall they’re as pampered as cats can be – and they know it.
One breeder, who specializes in Norwegian Forest Cats, told me that cat fanciers can wait for years before being able to acquire the type of kitten they want. With that kind of effort, it’s no wonder that the cats are so well taken care of – not only are they lovely animals, but they’re valuable as well. The Norwegian Forest Cats in particular are difficult to get, partly because they’re so desirable as pets. Unlike many purebreds, the Norwegians haven’t been overbred, and are intelligent, mellow, healthy, and the show cats are more or less the same as the free-roaming Norwegian cats that evolved on their own.
Norwegians are, as their name might suggest, native to Norway, and are now that nation’s official cat. Viking ships took them aboard to keep the boats free of rats and mice, and supposedly Norwegians came to America with Leif Ericson, some remaining to breed with native cats and becoming the ancestors of the Maine Coon. The Viking Cat Club, an English group dedicated to the Norwegian, keeps the legend alive.
The Santa Barbara cat show features several Norwegian Forest Cats, one Maine Coon, and a dizzying variety of other breeds. Some, such as the American Curl, are known primarily for their physical features. Others, like the Turkish Van, are better known for their odd habits – the Turkish Van enjoys playing in water, and one breeder mentioned wiffle balls floating in a bathtub as one of her cats’ favorite activities.
One of the cat show’s big draws is, of course, the opportunity to see the variety of breeds out there, and simply to ooh and aah over the cuteness of the whole display. According to Bruce Eisenberg, one of the organizers of the event, Santa Barbara is one of the best places to put on a cat show as it’s a “good venue, very alive, and with great turnout.” Apparently, weird as it is, Santa Barbarans love a large room full of cats.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association cat show is Saturday and Sunday, October 11 and 12, at Earl Warren Showgrounds, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. For more information, visit cfasouthwest.org.