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'Jet Sets of Cats' : For a Legion of Feline Fanciers, Show Circuit Is the Cat's Meow

March 01, 1987|KAY BARTLETT | Associated Press

NEW YORK — There are hairless cats, others with folded ears, some with fur like a velvet lamb's coat, another with ears bigger than Dumbo's, and even cats that would have made Ogden Nash rewrite the witticism: "The trouble with a kitten is that eventually it becomes a cat."

There is one here, a singapura, that almost doesn't. "The little lion of love" as one breeder calls it, is almost a miniature cat, with females weighing about four pounds, the males six.

There are two California spangled cats, granted instant fame although not recognition as a cat-show breed when Neiman-Marcus listed this little leopard-looking cat as the ultimate Christmas gift for a mere $1,400.

There is a whole supermarket section--elaborate houses that go up to $2,200, a last will and testament your cat can sign, equally inane toys and cat wardrobes, including a little GI camouflage suit that the entrepreneurs have the nerve or the wit, depending upon your point of view, to describe as the ideal outfit for the "serious mouser."

Karate Cat

That's not to mention the karate cat outfit, black belted, of course.

And if you are one of those folks who think you have got the world's smartest cat, forget it. Go watch Marlene, a 5-year-old alley cat who will jump through a hoop on command, sit up like a tiger in a circus performance and then turn in a circle in that position.

It's all part of the world of cat shows, a world with its own vocabulary and an enormously interested public, since there are an estimated 57 million cats in the United States. One expert said there are 2,000 shows a year. Another said there is at least one show a weekend large enough to command more than 250 entrants.

Some exhibitors ride the circuit, like rodeo riders, presenting their little darlings 30, 40 or 50 times a year as they go for the big titles: things like Supreme Grand Champion, Best of Breed, Best of Best, etc. For those who "campaign" a cat, it's a way of life.

It's also almost always a money-losing proposition for the fancier.

"I've known of people who have spent $50,000 a year campaigning a cat," said Michael Brim, editor of Cat Magazine, a monthly based in Daytona Beach, Fla., with a circulation of 175,000. "You can't sell enough kittens to make that back."

This particular show, held Super Bowl Sunday in the hometown of the winning team, was, in many ways, the epitome of cat shows. Sponsored by The International Cat Assn. (TICA) in Madison Square Garden, it was enormous, despite the football game, a blizzard and a strike by the Long Island Railroad.

Sixteen judging rings were in operation all three days. More than 30,000 visitors braved the storm to show up, and more than 700 cats competed.

Cats were not only flown across the Atlantic for this one, they came from all corners of the United States--California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Oregon.

"What you are seeing here are the jet sets of cats," proclaimed Ellie Silverman, a non-cat owner who handled the publicity. "This is the Olympics of cat shows."

"The Cat Fancier's Assn. (CFA) has much better cats in their shows," was the contrasting opinion of Linda B. Jones of Manhattan, a member of the CFA.

You see, not only do the cats compete, so do the associations. They argue over what constitutes a new breed, when and if it should be recognized, whether a de-clawed feline may compete and sometimes over the precise standards of the breed.

There are half a dozen large associations. The CFA is the largest and most conservative, and TICA is probably the second largest and puts more of an emphasis on genetics and introducing new breeds. The third largest, which is actually the oldest, is the American Cat Assn.

It is partly a world of stage mothers, the kind who simply bask in the glories their baby is winning in the show ring. There are the addicts, cat people who are similar to the young couple who will compulsively drive six or seven hours every single weekend to ski, or the family who spends more on their sailboat than they can afford.

"I've seen people who can afford it and people who can't," said Allene Sergi, administrative assistant of the CFA, a woman who, incidentally, is allergic to cats. "For most of them, it's just an expensive hobby. For others, it is bordering on an obsession."

Vicky Markstein, an IBM scientist when she is not breeding cats, said that to her it's a way of creating living sculpture. "And," she adds, "I'm competitive and I love animals." She also has shown horses and dogs.

"I went all the way to Holland this year to find the right stud for one of my cats," said Markstein, whose husband, Peter, shares her avocation. He, too, is an IBM scientist. Both are based in Austin, Tex.

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