By Lexi Cutmore and Alaina Jonathan:
Cat lovers from all over the United States gathered at the Brockport-Sweden Community Center to show their beloved furry felines.
The 67th annual cat show was hosted by the ACFA or the American Cat Fanciers Association. There, household cats, purebreds and kittens competed for regional and national titles. The weekend long exotic cat show featured dozens of breeds, from the Maine Coon to the Scottish fold. The judges look for specific attributes in the feline such as bone structure, coat color and personality.
“There are three categories, kitten, four-to-eight months, championship (able to breed), four to eight months premiership (spaded and neutered), household pets four and up, and just domestic cats. You have to remember, there is never a perfect cat, but you can get close,” said Teresa Sweeney, an all-breed judge who has been breeding and showing cats for over 25 years. Sweeney has been passionate about cats and showing since she got into it over a quarter of a decade ago.
“I started showing household pets in 1992, so I started a long time ago. And then I got a Maine Coon. I really enjoyed showing them, so I started breeding. I’ve been breeding them for 20 years and during that time frame I thought ‘eh, I want to be a judge’,” Sweeney said.
Sweeny is the proud owner of Tony, a brown tabby Maine Coon, 2009’s Best National Winner in the AFCA. She spent time reflecting on what she had to do to become a certified cat judge.
“In order to be a judge, it takes 15 years of training. It’s quite intensive. You have to show different types of cats; you have to breed for 10 years just in order to apply. You have to accumulate so many awards,” Sweeney said. “You must be really good at your trade. Then its 5 years of training with other judges before you can do it on your own.”
Switching gears to a more relaxed yet still competitive division, Aldon and Dawn Froelick were showing cats in the household pet division. Aldon Froelick, a long-time cat lover is relatively new to the world of showing cats.
“My wife works as a vet tech in an all cat hospital and she was showing cats with the people she works with, and they were showing Birman’s which are these big fluffy, beyond fluffy white cats, and then one day she mentioned it and I said ‘oh my god I totally want to go’,” Froelick said.
The couple volunteers with Greece Residents Assisting Stray Pets or GRASP. They currently foster 54 cats and seven dogs, all of which are available for adoption. Some of the cats that end up at GRASP never leave, whether it is because they couldn’t part with them or because they are not suitable for a domestic home.
“Osie, he’s lovable as hell. I’ll be laying on the couch and he’ll lay on my stomach and he loves to rub his head on my beard, cutest little cat, happiest can be. Then the next thing you know he bit me on the face. I threw him off me and said, ‘You run cat!’ a couple days later, totally fine, he’s purring then on the drop of a dime (hissing noise) that’s the problem for no reason whatsoever he’ll change, you can’t trust him,” Froelick said.
On the other side of the competition there is a seasoned cat showing contestant. Cindy and her husband Wayne Rogers have been breeding cats for shows and for households together for the last five years. Cindy met her husband Wayne five years ago, while he was still her veterinarian and the couple became a breeding powerhouse duo.
“I’ve been showing nonstop since 2004,” Cindy said.
Wayne was a vet for 42 years and was Cindy’s vet for most of that time. When they got married five years ago, that’s when the breeding really took off.
“She’s the brains behind the operation,” Wayne said.
Cindy has had cats all her life, but the Maine Coon is what really drew her to showing and breeding.
“I fell in love with the breed with a pet I had but sadly he passed away when he was just shy of 10 years old,” Cindy said. “So, my vet who is now my husband, directed me to a lady that was breeding and showing Maine Coons in the area, so we connected, and we just became instant friends.”
Her friend and also mentor was who introduced her into breeding and showing Maine Coons. She let Cindy have a boy and breed it with one of her girls, and once she started, she fell in love.
“Once that first litter had babies, it was all over,” Cindy said.
Competition is fierce in the cat showing business. It’s not easy nor simple thing to start doing. Proving yourself to other competitors and being accepted is a struggle that many breeders find.
“Without bragging I can say that I worked very hard,” Cindy said, “I had to prove myself and once I did, I got accepted into the group.”
This past year has treated the Wayne’s well. Their last show cat Simba, who is now a father to other potential show cats, placed first as the number one Maine Coon. This is the case for many of the Wayne’s kittens that they breed.
“99 percent of the ones you raise you sell to pet homes,” Cindy said. “If you have one that stands out that you want to show, or you have someone in your breeding group that wants something that’s when you save the kitten.”
Not every cat will want to show, however. It depends on the personality of the cat itself and the willingness to want to compete.
“Once in a blue moon you just get one that does super. They [the cat] has to be willing to do it, some just won’t show,” Cindy said. “They’re afraid, or they’ll spit and hiss. We never try to make any cat show that doesn’t want to show.”
Sometimes it’s fear that keeps a cat from competing and other times it has to do with the hormones that the cat is experiencing, depending on the age.
“Once the cats have the hormones going crazy when they reach adolescence, they’ll act a little teenager and won’t put up with it [showing],” Cindy said.
Cindy, Wayne, and her group of cat showing enthusiast friends are preparing for the national award banquet that is coming up in Syracuse. This is one of the biggest events in the cat showing business and people from all around the country will be attending to show their cats. Together, they have about three tables set up for her and her group to display the cats and hopefully bring home some big awards.
“You can’t do it by yourself,” Cindy said.
Whether you enjoy cats or not, the 67th Annual ACFA is a great place to enjoy yourself and look at some beautiful animals. For four dollars, you can go and watch cats be judged from all over the country, while enjoying the atmosphere in a place full of furry little friends.