Felines on the Catwalk

October 11, 2015


With doe-eyed ‘stud boys’ and hissing ‘breeding queens’ ruling the roost, SimmonsCourt could have rivalled the George Nightclub this weekend when it hosted the inaugural TICA Magnifikatz cat show. A record number of feline’s strutted their stuff in the hopes of catching the eye of six international judges, with over 117 moggies and their mom-ager owners descending on the RDS. Most were armed with ostentatious cages a Russian trophy wife could settle down in, and so much kibble and back scratches was dispensed it felt like I was at the tabby world’s answer to the Fianna Fail Tent at the Galway Races.

There was even a prize for best dressed, an array of breeds held aloft looking like furry, abased drag queens, scowling, whiskered heads peeking out from velour, denim, sequins and frills.

Most of the cats had endured a few days grooming before the event. From a wash and blow dry, to getting their nails did (so they didn’t fillet the judges), certain breeds had their coat sprayed and talced to luster their natural color.

As I arrived the DSPCA are querying why one long haired cat was being blasted with a hair dryer (it turns out it’d just been bathed following an unfortunate attack of the trots), while Mandy Rainbow, whose travelled over night from Northampton with her cat, Sensei Ginger Ninja, tells me it’s routine for some cats to take herbal remedy early in the day, to help them relax. “But if it’s actually drugged, that would be caught during vetting”-the process of getting each cat checked early in the day by a vet to ensure it has no fleas, ear mites, or any other health problems that could cause trouble for other cats.

Most of these cats eat better than me. Tracy Baker has travelled over from Epsom, in Surrey, with two of her twenty cats. “I feed them mainly a raw diet. Raw chicken, raw hearts, day old chicks with feathers still attached for roughage.” Her cats have their own freezer and their own washer/dryer and she has even bought them special cat exercise equipment. “It’s like a giant hamster wheel that’s good for building up muscle tone.”

She scoffs at those who claim that it’s cruel to put cats through this. “Go to a show and you will see how happy they are. They show themselves off. Some cats roll around, some plant kisses, others clown about. They love playing with the judges.”

But not all cats are show cats, as Orlaith Rossiter discovered when her cat, Poo Bear, scratched and bit a judge at a previous event. “I just show his brother, Piglet, now.” Piglet is the Michelle Smith DeBruin of Cat Fancy, coming out of nowhere to beat competitors that were European champions. “As soon as he started, he was a winner. He can’t win any more domestic titles,” she says.

Is she tempted to purchase another? “If I did my husband would divorce me. As it was I had to buy Piglet while he was on a stag.”

Occasionally a cry of “CAT LOOSE” will be emitted. A hush descends, doors are closed and rustling can be heard, as exhibitors scale heights or under tables to retrieve their frightened cats. While if cats seem overly perturbed by proceedings, judges might gently suggest that they be brought home.

During the competition exotic breeds like Persian, Burmese, Sphinx, Toigers and Maine Coons purred up the points as judges gave detailed, positive commentary on all entrants, while scrappy rescue cats proved that humble beginnings were no barrier to success, with at least two going from rags to riches, beating off their pedigree chums to take home top honors.

Miriam Walsh, from Middleton County Cork, won Best Cage and Best Outfit with her ginger kitten Cally, whom she rescued after she was thrown from a car. “I got into this to show that rescue cats are as good as any other cat. She won Best Long Haired Household Kitten and finished second five times today. I’d love it if more people with rescue cats brought them to the shows as it would be a good way to raise awareness.”

Some owners attend for the craic, others are here for the cash, promoting the high quality of their litters by putting their kitties on display, for them to be poked, prodded and extolled by a panel of judges that had travelled from as far away as Oregon and Argentina.

“The majority of people here would be breeders,” Aisling Harmon, the show manager, says. “It’s an opportunity for them to show their cats off to the public, to converse with those interested in purchasing a pedigree cat, and to make contacts, so that when your cat next has kittens, you can invite potential buyers down to see the litter.”

“The good side of all this is that you promote health and well-being, good practices in breeding, midwifery and husbandry, and you can educate the public about what to look out for, so they’re not ripped off by people claiming to sell pedigree cats.”

Cat Fancy is not the cheapest of hobbies. While most of the equipment can be rented at the shows, those who regularly attend will invest in their own gear. A sturdy pen will set you back €110. Many I spoke to spent upwards of €60 procuring curtains to insure their cats privacy. And since there’s an award for the best cage at shows, further money is spent kitting it out to theme. This event was ABBA themed, so disco balls, beds made from holographic sequins and guitar shaped scratchers abounded. One moggie reclined in an “Arabian Night’s’ style tent, while another preferred the comforts of lime green leopard print.

Then there are the cats themselves, who need to be microchiped and vaccinated. Just importing a rare breed from abroad can cost upward of €800, the price of flying them to compete in Europe is extortionate (since they are not allowed into airplane cabins in the UK and Ireland), while screening for HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) a disease that can kill pedigree cats before they are three years of age, costs €300 per animal.

“I was so surprised,” says Magali Marti Leonard, an airhostess with Air France who moved to Kilcock, Co Kildare a few years ago. “This is so important for breeders to have done. You need it, but breeders rarely have just one cat. Are they going to spend €300 per cat?”

She attended this show to promote the fact that she and a group of other breeders are flying a vet over from France later in the year to test as many cats as they can, at a greatly reduced rate. “We’ll do it once a year, for €85. We hope to do 20 cats a day.”

Sometimes it’s the owners who sharpen their claws on the scratching post of human flesh. Pamela Barrett, an American judge with 28 years experience, recalls that her own son never returned to a cat show after being subjected to crude innuendo by one of her competitors as a ten year old, while many other competitors speak of how frosty and beady eyed some people can become if you’re mugger’s on a winning streak.

But as Mandy Rainbow says, it’s really a big community. She can count on one hand the amount of people at this show she doesn’t know. “Recently, a regular exhibitor went through a bad break up and everyone got involved finding them somewhere to stay and helping them rehouse their cats.

““Most cats are born in the bedroom and they are handled from that moment, to the moment they are given up,” says Barrett. “Breeders form attachments and clearly love cats to begin with. They’re not going to risk it being neglected later on.”

The next TICA Cat Fancy takes place in April and is Mad Hatter themed.

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