Once upon a time I went to my first cat show. I had an enormous black-and-white barn-turned-lap-cat who looked like a cow and had never been anywhere in his life but the vet maybe twice. His name was Tucker. My Mom went with me for moral support and I remember feeling completely overwhelmed because I'd never even heard of a cat show till a few months before. But, I knew I wanted to raise Ragdolls, and to do it right, that would mean I'd have to learn to love cat shows. So, before I ever bought my first Ragdoll, Dusty, I went to this cat show with Tucker, and showed him in Household Pet.
Imagine me, the night before, bathing a cat who hates water, with no idea how to actually go about bathing a cat...I bathed him three times because when I took him in to the vet for his vaccinations the day before, the alcohol they used to clean his fur caused blue dye to transfer from his collar to his coat and it w o u l d. n o t. c o m e. o u t. I was panicking. Looking back now, I laugh, because it's Household Pet, and at the time there were no points or awards for that class, so it's not like he would get disqualified or anything. But! Being a perfectionist...it was a big deal. He won a lot of ribbons, seemed to have a pretty good time, and I learned a lot. So for a trial run, it was mission accomplished. I'm still great friends with some of the folks I met at that first show!
Flash forward several years and now I am hooked. Cowboy and I love to take our Ragdolls to shows, even when they misbehave, because we've made some really solid friends in the show world, and they're all pretty great people. I've never had anyone be rude to me, even when Dusty had a meltdown in the ring and tried to bite a judge (this has happened multiple times...another reason she'll be spayed soon. Aspen does the same thing now that his hormones have kicked in.) I remember being absolutely mortified the first time this happened, trying to hide my tears of embarrassment, expecting the other exhibitors to look down on me for it. Turns out, this has happened to just about everyone at least once. So people are actually really nice, and give really good tips on calming down your cat, and when to make the decision to pull them out of the show. Because if it's not fun for the cat, they probably shouldn't be there. And if it's not fun for you, you may not want to keep showing. So it's okay to say, I'm done for now, try again next time, and hopefully the next cat you bring will love to show!
Konah and Remi LOVE to show. They just love people all the way around. (I take no credit for this. THANK YOU CAROL!!! These things make you really appreciate the hard work that goes into years of breeding for both structure AND personality.)
So, why show cats? People may think it's a waste of money, a weird hobby, an oddity. Most folks don't even know there's such a thing as cat shows. I totally, 100% recommend showing in Household Pet class as a great family activity or weekend recreation. It's fun, rewarding, and you get to hang out with other people who love cats! But for breeders, showing should be a critical aspect of the job. Participating in cat shows requires an understanding of the set standard for one's breed. This understanding can only help to improve one's breeding program. If you don't have a standard, what are you breeding for? A standard is a set collection of traits that have been agreed upon by a committee representing a particular breed. It describes the ideal specimen of the breed, both male and female (sometimes the traits will be different for each gender, particularly size). By using this standard as a guide, breeders are able to better determine which combinations of genes will produce the desired result. It takes many, many years to refine a breeding program, weeding out unwanted traits and accenting others. The average new breeder lasts less than two years. This is largely due to the fact that they go into breeding thinking they're going to make money. You don't make money. Sorry, it's pretty true. There is so much expense to responsibly breeding, that there are VERY FEW breeders who can manage to only breed and not work a second job. Even then, the amount of WORK that goes into breeding enough for that, would be insane. Like, nonstop cleaning, feeding, vet trips, advertising, transporting cats, answering emails and phone calls, traveling to and participating in shows.....it's a lot even with a small cattery, but with a large cattery, it's all-consuming.
Showing, that's a part of breeding that cannot be overlooked. Breeders who do not or will not participate in shows are largely frowned upon by those who do. Showing is not a frivolous popularity contest. It truly serves a purpose - that of educating and providing a high level of expectation for the quality of the cats one is producing. It helps you learn when your cats aren't good enough and it's time to move on. It helps prevent sentimentality from taking over, which is what causes SO MANY 'breeders' to continue breeding cats who clearly do not reach the standard of the breed, just because they are sweet and they are too attached to the cat to see their flaws. Yes, this IS important. If you're charging someone money for a product, you better not be falsely advertising the product. Unfortunately, this is what many 'breeders' end up doing if they do not take the time to learn the standard, find a solid, experienced, ethical mentor, and go to shows so they can continue to improve their product and make sure it actually is what they are advertising. Having registration papers proving that your breeding cats "are Ragdolls" does NOT automatically make them a good representation of the breed. Your buyers will read the breed standard and they will expect to get what they read about. It's all too easy to undersell due to lack of knowledge. This is why going to shows and especially listening to what the judges have to say, is vital to a successful breeding program and being responsible with your breeding decisions. Some judges are more willing than others to explain and educate, but look for those who are willing and take the time to ask for their opinions. Their opinions are valuable! Not only do they have their judge's training, but most have many years of both breeding and showing experience to draw from to help you out. Use this experience to help you re-evaluate your cats. You may be surprised to find that your "star stud" would be disqualified from the show ring for something as simple as a tail kink! (Tail kinks are hereditary and recessive, so I never recommend breeding cats with even such a seemingly minor flaw, because it can pop up a few generations later and make an otherwise awesome show-prospect a DQ. Bummer!)
Next week we'll talk about Cat Clubs! I'm excited because right now we're starting a club right here in Wyoming, and hope to have an annual show in Cheyenne in the future!