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Felines judged as annual competition is back at State Fairgrounds

All-breed show is the cat’s meow by Grant Lancaster | February 19, 2023 at 8:45 a.m.
Jan Rogers, a judge for the Cat Fanciers’ Association, watches Kleora Avalon of Jobara, a six-month-old Devon Rex, as she climbs a scratching post Saturday during the 2nd Annual All-Breed Cat Show, New Cats in the Rock, at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. See more photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Felines and their owners flocked to the Arkansas State Fairground's Hall of Industry on Saturday, which could mean only one thing -- the annual all-breed cat show was back in town.

Six small bays lined the back of the hall, set off from one another by black curtains and cages where the feline competitors on deck lounged or gazed curiously at a dozen or more spectators.

When their turn came, a judge lifted them onto a raised table to assess their breed characteristics, health, grooming and other factors. Some cats took the treatment docilely, as if they can tell all eyes are on them.

Others, like one energetic Japanese bobtail, were more of a handful, biting at the toys used by the judge to get their attention and attempting to scale the scratching posts on either side of the judge's table. The judge pointed out with a laugh how well the display demonstrated the feline's fitness.

Out on the floor of the hall, tens of rows of tables bore dozens of large enclosures, most with a mesh or transparent plastic front so the feline competitor inside could peer out. Most seemed content to doze, however.

For the owners, it's a serious hobby, but also one that lets them enjoy their interest in cats. Many have been bringing their cats to competitions for decades.

 Gallery: All-Breed Cat Show

Kate Sain, the show's committee chair, started showing cats in 2020, largely based on the cherished memories she had of going to Little Rock cat shows when she was a child growing up in the city.

The problem was, the Arkansas Feline Fanciers Club had been dormant for roughly 20 years when she joined the competition scene.

Harder times in the 1990s and early 2000s made cat shows, which can cost thousands of dollars to organize, less viable, said Kathy Black, who was a judge at Saturday's show and has been judging cat shows for nearly 23 years.

The Arkansas club, founded in 1982, hadn't put on a show since 2001, Sain said, but she worked to track down active members in the state, and they worked together to bring two cat shows to the state last year. The result of the revitalization has been very positive, she said.

"I think we really found an itch that needed to be scratched," Sain said.

The effort to bring cat shows to Little Rock was aided by the fact that a club in Memphis recently lost access to their traditional venue, Black said, and they were happy to have another show close by.

None of the six judges at Saturday's competition -- this year dubbed "New Cats in the Rock" -- were from Arkansas. Black traveled to the event from her home in Oklahoma.

Different show categories emphasize different qualities, she said. For example, the pedigree cats assessed on Saturday were held to a different standard than the mixed breed felines in the household pet division. But all of them have the chance at awards.

In addition to the competitive side of cat shows, they offer a chance to educate the public, Black said. Most people don't know how influential the genes for color are in cats, she said.

"Not only is it something that effects the genetics of the cat, it affects the health," Black said.

In some cases, the genetics can cause not just changes in fur color but also deafness or eye color changes, depending on how a cat has been bred.

When it comes to very niche breeds, cat breeders can actually help preserve incredibly uncommon types of cat, Black said. Some identified breeds have as few as 50 to 100 members, she said.

Persians are far and away the most popular breed category in the Cat Fancier Association's North American shows, said Carissa Altschyl, a Texan who has been competing alongside her dad Mike since her youth and is the group's Persian breed council secretary.

There's so much interest in showing Persians that they're split into seven separate categories, she said.

Her dad started competing in cat shows in 1971, when he was 19, and aside from a break from the late '90s until 2015, has kept in the hobby. Like his daughter and Sain, he primarily shows Persians, and likes the challenge of the popular category.

"I'm competitive. I'm damn competitive, are you kidding me?" Mike Altschyl said.

On Saturday, he was showing a silver mackerel tabby Persian named Supernatural Shenanigans -- although he usually just affectionately calls her "my girl," he said. He wore a shirt with Shenanigans' name printed on it.

His daughter was hesitant to brag on her Persian, Feckless, but at goading from her dad, said that the cat is in the running to be one of the association's grand champions this year.

A lifelong owner of Persian cats, Sain entered the highly competitive category and tries to go to at least one show a month, she said.

One of Sain's Persians, Teddy, is in the running for a national title. Cats earn points cumulatively at different shows during a competition season to compete for the top 25 spots in their category, she said.

"And my boy is number 10," Sain said.

Sain also hopes that Zascandil, a cat that she traveled all the way to Madrid to buy from a breeder there, can make grand champion this year. Zascandil was sidelined all last year with health issues related to his eyes, and Sain spent the time nursing the cat back to health.


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