Judges look for purr-fection at Placer cat contest

They weren’t your average tabbies.

About 130 pedigreed and household cats and the people who adore them came to the Placer County fairground in Roseville for a cat show Saturday.

There were huge Maine coon cats, billowing Persians, an exotic Russian blue and a furless Sphynx cat – all primped and ready for judging.

It was a high-stakes day for cat breeders and owners, who traveled from as far as Washington state and Arizona to present their pets at the show hosted by the Poppy State Cat Club – a local chapter of the global Cat Fanciers’ Association, which has overseen cat shows for more than a century.

Many of the owners at the local competition confessed that the cat-show world is a bit out there, though they said the phrase “crazy cat lady” doesn’t do justice to the amount of time and attention they put into showing off their felines.

“When you’re deeply involved in this, people think you’re really weird,” said Nancy Dodd of Arizona, a judge at the show. “Breeders work very hard to make their cats able to be handled. Some of them are natural stars, the tops of their classes.”

The cat contestants, many rare and all beautifully groomed, lounged in cat hammocks and bedazzled beds as they awaited judging.

The event has something of the feel of the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but the cats don’t do much in the way of agility.

Their main job is to stay calm while judges pick them up by the belly and meticulously inspect them for the proper size, bone structure, dental health, ear and eye placement and temperament that each breed’s standards demand.

“Judges frown upon cats that bite or swipe at them,” said show manager Julie Averill of Citrus Heights. “They want to see the cat’s natural expression. It’s nice if they stand and show themselves off, but if they don’t, it’s not held against them.”

Humans enter their felines in one of four classes – kittens, premiership (neutered or spayed), championship (unaltered) and household. Judges also hand out awards for specific categories such as breed and color.

Roseville breeder Lynda Peace was intensely focused on her eye-catching Singapuras, a small breed with big eyes that originates from Singapore.

Peace’s show cats – Alex and Majur – live in a temperature-controlled home but still get chilly, she said. They eat a diet of mostly raw meat to keep their weight in the 3- to 4-pound range.

Peace trains the cats from a young age to adapt to dynamic environments. She uses television programs such as those on Animal Planet to expose them to a variety of sounds at loud and soft volumes so that they won’t become anxious at exhibitions.

Alex and Majur seemed unfazed Saturday as they raked in the ribbons.

“It’s absolutely exciting,” Peace said. “When they’re my own litter that I’ve bred, it validates my program and validates the parents I’ve chosen to breed from.”

For spectators, the cat show brings wonder and sometimes bafflement.

Kathleen McConnell and Charley Brown, a pair of middle-aged cat lovers from Rocklin, said they felt bad for the show cats being penned up, prodded and ogled. Their own cats, all rescues, roam free and catch mice.

“I feel like this is ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ for kitties,” McConnell said, referencing the reality TV series about child beauty pageants.

But some owners, including Elizabeth Hamill of Walnut Creek, insisted the contest is as much fun for the cats as it is for the humans.

“Alex is just a showman; he adores it,” she said of her nationally prized 6-year-old silver tabby. “If he could talk he’d say, ‘My first purpose is to sit around the house. My second purpose is to bring awareness to well-taken-care-of animals.’

Leanna Bartrum, a 17-year-old cat fanatic, wore a T-shirt that said, “Meow’s it goin?” She said a trip to the cat show was the perfect birthday present. Her family had traveled from Winston, Ore., so she could buy a purebred kitten with $750 she had saved up.

“Household pets are pretty,” she said, “but I think they’re second class to pedigree cats.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola