Cats are competition for Illini Cat Club
When people think of cats, they generally view them as household pets. What many Americans don’t know is that there are up to eight competitive cat shows every weekend across the country.
The Illini Cat Club holds an annual cat show that attracts Cat Fancier’s Association exhibitors from across the country.
The club’s goal is to help cats, whether they are domestic or show animals. After every show, the club helps local shelters like the Humane Society and Hospice Hearts by donating their extra funds.
In a show, participants (and their cats) are trying to win the most points. People look for shows that will help them acquire the most points overall.
“Part of our job with the Illini Cat Club is to bring in a slate of judges that will entice exhibitors from across the country to come to our show,” said Robin Bryan, Illini Cat Club president.
There are different categories for showing a cat. From the ages of four months to eight months, the animal is considered a kitten. After the eight-month mark the cat is an adult. Adult cats are either championship or premiere. Championship cats are “whole” — not spayed or neutered — while premiere are “altered” — spayed or neutered. There is also a household pet category.
In addition to categories, there are different levels and accomplishments that participants can work toward.
Kittens can only achieve regional wins. Adults can gain a championship title, grand championship title or grand premiere title.
A cat can earn a regional or national win from points accumulated throughout the season.
“That takes a huge commitment, that means you’re out showing almost every weekend, if not every weekend,” Bryan said. “And those are the people that will really fly around the country because you want to go to the big shows so that you can accumulate more points.”
Points are decided based on how many cats are in attendance. An individual cat’s points are awarded based on how many cats it places above, or how many cats it beats.
Sheree Eyestone, member of Illini Cat Club, started showing cats a year ago. She said to prepare her Cornish Rex cats for a show, she bathes them about one week before. This allows time for the oils in their coats to come back. She also clips and cleans their nails and makes sure the insides of their ears are clean.
On show day, Eyestone gets her cats set up in their show cages with pillows, blankets and a litterbox.
There is a catalog with a number that determines when the cat’s class is. From there, Eyestone waits until it is her turn.
Eyestone said the next step is putting her cat in the judging cage. Then the judge takes out the cat and scores it. After scoring, participants must wait for the results.
Last year, Jim Wuersch helped volunteer at the cat show and decided to join the club because of his experience.
Wuersch was in charge of the vendors this year. At a show, the vendors sell handmade cat toys and furniture. There are also products at shows that cat owners look for, such as enzymes for litter boxes that control odor. Other vendors come and sell cat-related apparel as well.
To organize the vendors, Wuersch sent out the contacts, coordinated the space for each vendor and helped them get settled Friday afternoon before the show.
Wuersch did not show a cat, but he is hoping to start within the next year. He is in the process of adopting a purebred cat.
“It’s a long process to be able to get a purebred cat because most breeders are particular about who they give or sell purebred cats to,” Wuersch said. “So there’s a lot of having to know people, and sitting and talking and doing questionnaires — just showing the right kind of interest to get a breeder to even sell you a kitten.”
Breeders classify cats as a show cat or a household cat through a strict screening process. The formal terms used are pet-quality or show-quality. Each breed has written standard of 100 points determined by the breed council. Some breeds have more points on different parts of the cat, like head type or coat.
“When we have kittens, we are comparing each individual kitten to that standard, which is exactly what the judge does in the show ring. So we have to know our standard and make sure that this kitty is going to be the best example as possible of the breed,” Bryan said.
Not every kitten in a litter has enough points for shows, and those are classified as pet quality.
The breed standard plays a part in breeding programs. Breeders try to find cats that complement each other by looking at bloodlines and individual cat characteristics. If a cat is weak in one sector, a breeder can improve the kittens by finding a stronger mate.
“Say I have a little girl whose eye color isn’t quite what I want, it’s not as brilliant as it should be. I’m going to look for a male that has excellent eye color to compensate,” Bryan said.
Wuersch said breeders want to sell to people who show because if one receives a grand champion title it makes their next batch of kittens more valuable.
Wuersch is going to adopt a Havana Brown kitten, which he said is very hard to find.
“It’s an unusual looking cat, it’s got a long sleek shape like an oriental but is a rich, rich, rich brown with green eyes,” Wuersch said.
Wuersch plans to grand champion his cat two times. The cat can be championed as an intact cat. Then, the animal can be spayed or neutered and championed again.
“I have always loved cats. I went to my first cat show when I was in third grade. We lived in Florida at the time, and I begged my dad to take me to see the cats, and I knew someday I was going to do that,” Bryan said. “It was a childhood dream of mine.”