by syaffolee

Be Pretty, Stay In Jail

Cat shows, one would assume, would be one of those frilly affairs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Actually they, or at least the one I went to last weekend, are a mess of contradictions both plebeian and haughty, gaudy and faux-aristocratic–not to mention the pungent animal smell that greets the visitor despite the bottles of hairspray and shampoo and disinfectant on every grooming platform.

Most of the room where the show was being held was filled with rows of tables draped with white paper tablecloths. On top of the tablecloths were cages covered in fancy satins and silks and velvets, but the fabric could not disguise the fact that these were metal cages with bars equipped with little more than a dish of food, a dish of water, and a litterbox. If the feline prisoner was lucky, he or she would also have a toy.

On the cage were typically two signs: one with the name and one with the breed. Sometimes there would be other signs like “Do not touch.” Some cages had cat pictures in little frames propped on top. All had cat grooming paraphernalia beside them. And it was somewhat amusing to think that these pampered felines have more cosmetics than the average female human.

The first cat I saw was a Persian in one of the velvet cages. The gray-white puffball stared out from the metal bars with an angry look on his face. I would be angry too if I were trapped in a cage with a litterbox and for a brief moment, I contemplated unlatching the door.

The rest of the room were dedicated to six judging rings. In each ring, cages–all white except for one side which was a door of metal bars–ringed the perimeter in a semicircle. In front of the cage was a table for the judge which contained a small podium to place the cat, a spraybottle of disinfectant, a book for notetaking, and a tray of ribbons. There was a placard below the podium with the Cat Fancier’s Association logo, and the judge’s name. Another table jutted out into the audience at a ninety degree angle. An organizer sat at this table taking notes with a stack of numbered cards in front of him. A young girl sat beside the organizer with a stack of paper towels and a large bottle of disinfectant. She would clean the cages after each round of judging.

First, the organizer would place the numbered cards onto holders on top of the cages. 080, 081, 082, 083,… Each card would be either colored blue or pink depending on the cat’s gender. The owners would place their cats in the corresponding cages and the judge would wipe his or her hands and the podium with disinfectant before taking out the first cat. Tails would be fluffed and fur ruffled. Balance would be tested and a toy would be dangled to catch the cat’s attention to check other nebulous qualities. Some judges were more vocal than others in telling the audience what they were looking for, but in the end, the cat would be stuffed back into the white cage whether they liked it or not, the judge would place a ribbon on the cage and disinfect everything, and the whole cycle would begin again.

Cat behavior in those little white cages is quite amusing. The older cats are used to the crazed show-and-tell of the circuit and just curl up in the corner and go to sleep. Others stand alert, posed and staring out at the audience, seemingly aware that at that moment, they are being judged. And the younger ones go completely bonkers, yowling their displeasure and attempting to chew the metal bars to freedom. Cat owner behavior is probably very similar to that of parents parading their kids in beauty pageants. Away from the ring, some of them are animated and eager to have photos taken of their cats. Others brush onlookers away in a snobby air. But once those cats are being poked and proded by the judge, they sit at the front row frowning or chewing their nails and flipping through a white booklet listing all the felines and their stats (not unlike obssessed RPGers) entered into the competition.

And what is a cat show without the commercial stands selling flashy toys and grooming products and scratching posts covered in good quality carpet? I wasn’t too surprised that they were selling fancy coverings for the cages but I did find the cat-sitting video rather ridiculous. Do people think that cats are like four-year-old children easily mesmerized by the television? Of course, there were also kittens for sale, and although no prices were listed, I had no doubt that these purebreds cost a whole lot more than one at an animal shelter.

As a visitor and an observer, I find the whole ritual of a “cat show” rather strange and bizarre due to its fixation. An owner could easily spend a lot of money raising a show cat and the pastime/livelihood turns the owner into a particular “type.” I’m not saying that the owners all look the same–they just have a particular attitude. The attitude of an obsessed fanatic could easily be found in other places such as trekkie conventions and political conventions and even a high school science fair, but its peculiarity in this case is emphasized by changing normal animal companionship to objectification.

I don’t think I would ever be a person who could ever do this sort of thing. Maybe I’m too soft in the head, but I would always think of the angry Persian in the velvet cage.

[originally posted on 11:45 AM]