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Cat-tastic: A Trip to the Glendale Cat Show

Unlike dog shows, where the animals perform, cat shows are pure beauty contests.

A poster with a drawing of a fluffy white cat surfing a big wave greets me as I walk into the Glendale Civic Auditorium, where the Cat Fanciers’ Association Southwest Region 5 cat show is being held. The ticket takers hand me a plastic stick with a sparkly pompom on the end, free with admission, for playing with the furry denizens within. The auditorium is set up with rows of tables, organized by category. Each breed has its own section, but there are also sections for kittens and household cats. The tables hold cat carriers — either cages or ventilated cases with large plastic windows; they resemble altar spaces, decorated to the nines with cat-themed kitsch and ads for catteries. Some are draped with fabrics, velvets and shiny lamé. A beautiful Devon rex kitten looks especially regal in its ancient Egyptian–themed habitat. There are a few booths at the front end selling goods: cat toys, premium cat food, and shirts emblazoned with “Crazy Cat Lady.” On the auditorium stage are photographer Richard Chanan and his setup — he snaps feline portraits, as if for a high school yearbook. At the hall’s far end, judging takes place all day long in a series of rings, determining the winners of categories like Best of Breed, Best Color, and, for the finale, Best in Show. Judgment is wholly subjective, but the competition is still taken seriously. I find out later that there’s even a cat show fantasy league online.

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Payton, 10 years old with turquoise braces, is here from Whittier with her cat Gypsy to compete. I ask if this is her first cat show, and she laughs. She’s been in the game for two years already. She got into cat shows with her mom, after their family’s rescue cat gave birth to a beautiful black and white kitten. Unlike dog shows, where the animals perform, cat shows are pure beauty contests. That said, to my mind, patiently not freaking out around a crowd all day is a hell of a talent for a cat! The cats don’t go nuts, I’m told, because they are bred for temperament. It’s supposed to be apparent very early on which cats can handle the stress of competition.

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Barbara’s bright red hair resembles the gingery coat of her Abyssinian, Kitty Hawk, a 6-month-old kitten who’s just won a blue ribbon. The cutoff for the kitten category, I learn, is 8 months. Barbara says Kitty Hawk is very young and just starting her competitive career — Barbara doesn’t expect to win yet. “If she shows up and goes in the ring, I’m happy,” Barbara says. Sheila, another owner, is there with Raine, a household cat whose mother was found in a field. Sheila adopted the mom from the organization Hope to Home for Cats. I meet a cat named “W,” too (after George W. Bush), a polydactyl cat originally rescued by a homeless Vietnam vet. “W came up to us at the rescue, so we’re very blessed,” W’s owner says.

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Stephanie of MyDearhearts Cattery, who’s from Encino, is at the show with her mom. She holds an incomprehensibly fluffy and calm white cat named Prince Charming, who, she tells me, is the same breed as the cat from the Fancy Feast commercials, the one who noms gourmet cat food out of a glass dish. Prince Charming won Best of Color and first place in Best Longhair Kitten. She thinks it’s due to his blue-green eyes and heart-shaped nose.

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I meet Candy and her cat Duke. Duke is a rescue cat; he was found “wandering the streets of Escondido.” Duke, a red mackerel tabby, is the second-oldest cat in the show. Candy owns the oldest cat as well — 17-year-old Sweet Pea. Candy and Duke live in San Diego, where the cat is “one of only two cats who are invited cats to SeaWorld.” I ask what that means, and she says that Duke “plays with the dolphins. He upstages Shamu!” I meet a couple of other cats and their owners in the same row — a mackerel tabby from Orange County named Mazi (short for “Ivy Cat Baby I’m Amazed”) and a Norwegian long-haired forest kitten named Capella. Norwegian forest cats are bred to withstand tough and snowy winter conditions; they have big feet and tufts of fur between their toes.

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Isabel is a member of the Malibu Cat Club. I ask her whether there is any tension between the breeders and the rescue cats. “Absolutely not!” Isabel says. Most people start out with rescue cats, and the show promotes pet adoption — there’s a table of adoptable cats in the lobby. Isabel is judging the rescue cat ring. She says, “This is a beauty contest. It’s healthy, beauty.” Where a cat comes from doesn’t matter. “The only thing we don’t allow is declawed,” Isabel explains — the procedure is considered barbaric.

The judging ceremonies are, frankly, incomprehensible to me as an outsider. It’s amusing enough to see the judges lift the cats into the air and stretch them out for length, and it’s always amazing that the cats don’t claw the judges’ eyes out. I leave before Best in Show is announced, but it hardly even matters. Everyone at the cat show is a winner to me.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Stephanie’s cattery. It is MyDearhearts Cattery.