Saturday morning. A small crowd has gathered in Fremantle’s Italian Club for a cat show. It’s the kind of event I would have taken my sons to a few years ago but they’re sixteen now and reluctant to leave their rooms on weekends so I head in solo with the chance of meeting a colleague.
I can’t help admiring cats for their command of humans. Dogs win people over with goofy grins, couch cuddles or guarding their homes. Cats demand what they want when they want it and spend a lot of time pretending people don’t exist. There’s something appealing in that.
Like the feline couple in The Cure’s song Love Cats, these furbabies are “wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully pretty” and you can see their humans would do anything for them.
There’s a real sense of community here. Judges nurturing the knowledge and confidence of young enthusiasts and the way the group welcomes two strangers with cameras and questions.
There are families, couples and individuals among exhibitors, whose ages range from about six to sixty-ish.
“I like number nine,” a boy who looks about nine himself says as he goes outside with his family for a breather.
“I like the way it smells in here!” exclaims a younger child but not everyone’s as happy being here. An ungodly racket of yowling starts near the door accompanied by a clamour of flustered humans – a small grey and white streak is squirming to escape from what appears to be a novelty pillowcase. A team of three finally contain the streak and order is restored.
So to the hall for the ANCATS Swan Cats judging. An organiser explains ANCATS is Australia’s only nationwide feline organisation.
It’s the season – with shows each weekend at various locations from Claremont to Guildford. This show is smaller than usual. The previous event had more than a hundred entrants. Today there are just over a dedicated thirty but the cats are full of character and “cattitude”.
Buddy is a five month old Persian-Chinchilla Entire Male Kitten (that means he’s still got all of his bits) who becomes everyone’s new best friend by reaching out a paw to grasp unsuspecting victims then happily licking and nibbling any fingers he catches.
Fellow felines enjoy attention by way of pats and chats. Others are barely visible amongst their camouflage of blankets, plush satin and velvet in their colourfully decorated wire cubicles. Adele, a would-be escape artist, systematically checks bars and gaps for weakness or opportunity. She’s coveting an embroidered red cushion atop the neighbouring box, trying to hook it in through a gap in the wire.
Names are intriguing, arising from various inspirations. There’s Kobi, after the US basketball player despite the slightly different spelling, and Diesel, after the actor Vin. One irresistible girl is Magic or Baby at home and Orimeeza Majic Happens officially and there’s a magical bond between Baby and Liz, her human.
The five judges include Fremantle Community Forum administrator Mia Kriznic, who awards everybody’s fluffy mate Buddy her winning choice.
Judges are impressed and challenged by the quality of the entrants. One judge – Narelle Spencer – is a vet nurse with a side gig as an animal wrangler for TV and movies. “If you see an animal onscreen I’m likely to be the one offscreen making weird noises!” she tells the crowd. She’s an instant hit, chatting with the cats, encouraging the rare reluctant and exuding admiration and enthusiasm for all. Her main aim, she says, is to “make sure the cats have a good time”.
As entertaining as the entrants are, the judges’ comments add another layer. “Everything about this cat is round,” exclaims one over a well-formed feline. Another entrant earns the comment: “He purred, he hugged, he kissed – he’s my Best Companion Kitten.” And the quote of the day? “This cat was a push-button purr box!”
All the cats are delightful but one, despite his seeming indifference, ends up show favourite officially and generally. Herbert is a British Shorthair who has a fabulous densely-packed coat with the right amount of “cracking”. His owner Pamela explains this later. British Shorthairs have more hair per centimetre of skin than any other breed. When they move, parts of the hair come together in little peaks or sections, creating patterns or “cracks” in the coat.
Herbert’s other claims to fame are his wide flat head which can accommodate an overlaid hand between the ears with space to spare, and his small ears, which are difficult to achieve in the breed in optimum placing.
His luxurious ‘blue’ coat gets another compliment because when the judges rest their hands on him then lift them off, the hand imprints remain. “You are handsome,” says one, as the British Shorthair reclines, unimpressed.
Herbert takes home four ribbons, including the top prize.
No-one leaves empty handed. Even the ribbonless receive two bags of organic kitty litter, stacked on top of their cages. You get the sense everyone feels like a winner.
“I love coming to Western Australia,” one judge says. Another adds: “It’s a nice show, held in such lovely spirit.”
Story © Danielle Berryman 2021
Photography © Roger Garwood (RG) & Danielle Berryman (DB) 2021