Being 3 years old, Abbie Jago is younger--though not much bigger--than Ivan, a prize-winning Burmese cat. But that didn't stop the Providence Speech and Hearing Center student from wrapping the feline in her arms Thursday and giving him a tight squeeze.
"He's sweet," she whispered as she and 30 of her classmates, ages 2 through 6, played with 15 cats, all contestants in the International Cat Show next weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. Asked if she noticed anything else about 4-year-old Ivan, Abbie, who lives in Garden Grove, grinned and replied, "He's got sharp claws."
Dori Fitch, the center's spokeswoman, said that many of the children are extremely shy because of their speech or hearing impediments and that having the cats visit "helps bring them out of their shell."
"They can go around and pet the animals, play with them and see their uniqueness, and the therapists can use the experience when they work with the children," Fitch said.
Elinor Silverman, a spokeswoman for the cat show, said the cats' handlers usually take a group of the felines to a children's hospital or center wherever a show is held. It is the second consecutive year they have come to the Providence center.
Silverman said that while many cats might be too skittish to be placed in a room with a group of children, show cats "have to enjoy the spotlight and don't mind being around people."
"It's wonderful to see these shy children warm up to the animals, and within an hour you'll see them all on the floor frolicking," she said.
In one corner, 2-year-old Faith Cook was frolicking with Max, a 4-month-old Abyssinian. The reddish-brown kitten was incredibly patient as Faith hugged him and grabbed his head and tail.
"She just loves cats," said Heather Cook, Faith's mother. She said that the family has a cat at its Yorba Linda home and that cats have become part of Faith's speech therapy: "She loves them so much that to get her to do a good job in therapy, the therapists promise that they'll put (ink-pad) cat stamps on her hands."