THE world of the cat show is rather more than the grooming and cuddles you might expect. Elsewhere in the country, Judges have been verbally abused in the past and cats maimed by competitors. And all because cats mean big business.
THE large white van parked outside Southampton Guildhall looked innocuous enough.
But the large sticker saying ‘BENGALS' in its back window revealed its purpose – a means of transporting cats to the 39th annual Three Counties Cat Society Championship Cat Show.
Inside the hall hundreds of cages were lined up in rows, each containing a pedigree cat (and a few moggies) in different states of repose – from flat out asleep or mildly disinterested, to looking wild-eyed and trying to claw their way out of the metal cage.
The noise of 350 cats mewing and yowling was almost deafening.
Owners were busily preparing their cats for their inspection by the judges.
These activities ranged from brushing the long-haired cats to polishing the short-haired cats with a strange duster-type glove.
Selkirk Rex breeder Ann Gregory said that she prepares this new breed of cat for showing by ‘shampooing them, and scrunch drying their fur as I blow dry them'.
Welcome to the world of the cat fancier.
Plenty of claws and teeth can be flashed on these occasions - and not from the cats either. Indeed, cattiness can be rife at these sorts of show as owners eye up other competitors and their beloved pussies.
In the event, the atmosphere at the Guildhall was simply one of pure excitement but show managers Ivor and Sheila Bigg have, believe it or not, been abused by angry owners in the past.“One year a woman started swearing and going at me, because she wanted something but I was sorting someone else out at the time,” said Sheila. “She got very aggressive and I told her that she was be kicked out if she didn't behave.”
Ivor added: “Winning means a lot for some owners. If their cat is made a Grand Champion it can raise the price of their kittens and make the demand for them increase.“Some of the owners take the event very seriously indeed, even going as far as to sabotage other cats.“At one cat show in Kent, the Persian we were showing had kept on winning, so someone threw acid over him when we weren't there. I only noticed when I discovered a big hole burnt through his blanket.“I have also heard of cats being poisoned by anti-freeze added to their water.”
The Guildhall event nonetheless passed without a hint of trouble with the owners leaving the hall for around three hours while the judging took place. The show uses 32 judges who each have a steward helping them.
Dr Bruce Bennett, who specialises in judging Siamese cats, travelled down to the show from his native Aberdeen.
Softly-spoken and obviously passionate about cats, Bruce spoke about the aesthetic quality of the impassive blue-point Siamese he was handling as an art critic would about a particularly fine sculpture.“Look at the angle of her face,” he enthused. “Elegant, she is very composed.”
Suddenly he drew breath sharply. “There is tinge of brown between her toes,” he said with a hint of dismay in his voice.
Each judge carries around a book produced by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy which describes the standard judges are looking at for each breed of cat.“Each cat is marked out of up to 100 points,” said Dr Bennett. “We are looking at the shape of its head, its colouring, eye shape and colour, body and tail length, the nature of the toes and their colour.“Each breed has its own standard, but are examined in the same way.“There are various classes that the cats are judged in and then there are the best in show exhibits and best of breed.”
Dr Bennett has been judging Siamese cats at shows up and down the country for five years.“It takes up to 10 years to become qualified to judge,” he said with a wry smile.“It was quicker for me to go through medical school.”
Meanwhile, Daphne Butters was judging the Maine Coon entrants.“I am looking for the overall demeanour of a hunting cat,” she said. “They were hunting cats in the north-eastern states of America, basically they were a farm mouser.“It needs to look good with a mouse in its mouth. It has to have a strong muzzle, long body and big feet.”
The life of a cat show judge is not always an easy one.“We don't get paid for what we do but we do get our expenses back,” she added. “Virtually every week I'll be somewhere in the country judging at a show.“I'll be judging around 40 cats today but at some shows I have 80 or 90 to look at.”
One of the winners of the day was Stephanie Haynes from Burley in the New Forest, whose black Persian called Bondor Cherished Love (but also known as Cherry Baby) won the black adult female Persian class.“I am so proud of her,” said Stephanie. “She has won three separate shows now, which means she has been made a champion.“It took me 45 minutes to groom her to get her ready, but it has been worth it.”