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Hundreds of cats ‘meow’ for top prize at Las Vegas show

A few hundred cats of all ages, coats, colors and stripes gathered at the Rio on Saturday for The International Cat Association’s 40th annual show, and a simile died.

Namely, that expression that likens organizing hard-to-organize stuff to herding cats, because, honestly, the show’s feline competitors seemed pretty laid-back about it all, even if there was an occasional announcement from the stage to close the room’s doors because a contestant apparently had decided to make a break for freedom.

The international show, organized by Jazzy Cats, a California-based TICA chapter, kicked off Friday with events devoted to Ragdoll and Bengal cats, followed by the first round of judging Saturday. Judging will conclude Sunday.

Like a kitten to a dancing laser point, the show drew more than 450 feline contestants from the United States and a roster of countries that includes Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. The competing cats represented more than 40 breeds and included both pedigree and non-pedigree cats.

Susanna Shon of Las Vegas has been breeding cats for 38 years. Last year, her Peterbald, Beatrice, won TICA international cat of the year honors. This season, another one of her cats, Emmeline, is competing.

Shon, who also is a TICA judge, said judges evaluate cats according to a set of defined standards. But, she said, a winning cat also has the personality to adapt to the environment of a show.

For instance, “traveling a long distance can be stressful for a cat in a show,” she said. So can being around a crowd of people and other cats.

So, Shon said, cats “either like it or they don’t. If they don’t, you don’t show that cat.”

What do her prize-winning cats do when they’re not winning prizes? “They live at home like (other) cats,” Shon said. “They’re always pets first.”

Judging took place at 14 rings, or booths. Judges at each ring evaluated groups of cats independently, without knowing how other judges are judging the same cats. By the show’s end, after each judge has judged each cat, their votes would be combined to select show winners.

Judges used old school methods — aka shiny objects — to distract cats during the judging process, talking softy to them the whole time. The cats mostly cooperated, hanging on to a scratching post, none the worse for the wear, in a process that took just a minute or so per cat.

Handling so many cats can’t be easy. Yet, judge Theresa Kempton of St. Petersburg, Florida, said bites and scratches don’t occur often “because (judges) really get a sense about it. You know when you pull it out if it’s tense or doesn’t want to be pulled out. So you ask the owner.”

Cat owner Marcia Baumann of Orange County, California, admitted that she used to find it emotionally stressful to watch her cats being judged.

“In the beginning, it was like, ‘Oh my god.’ My heart was up in my throat,” she said.

Now, “it is what it is,” Baumann said, laughing. “You hope to do well, but it doesn’t always happen.”

Pre-show preparation for Sweet Sue, Baumann’s prize-winning 7-month-old exotic, mostly means brushing the cat’s fur.

“You just clean them up the best you can,” she said. “It’s a beauty contest as well.”

Not everybody had a cat to show. Shannon Cameron of Henderson saw a notice for the show on a neighborhood website. She has a cat — a Persian named Izzie — and figured that “for a Saturday morning, sure, we’d come down and check it out.”

Cameron said her effort was rewarded by seeing “a lot of beautiful cats.” That group certainly includes Kibo, Irene Van Belzen’s cat, who last year was named TICA’s “best Bengal of the year.”

Van Belzen of the Netherlands has been showing cats since 1986, after a friend took her to a cat show. “I said, ‘I can do that,’ so the next year I showed my cats.”

For Van Belzen, the show’s appeal is “not only showing cats, but meeting your friends, also. The social things outside of the show, like having dinner and stuff, make it much more than entering a cat show.”

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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