Pet show: Feline groovy

2014-07-11 12:00

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We don’t give cats enough credit for their spirituality, a feline believer tells Malibongwe Tyilo and Sandiso Ngubane at a Cape Town beauty parade with a difference

She feels the whiskers, slides her fingers through the fur and gently tugs at the cat’s tail. For this particular feline, her judgement is that its “whisker pads” are “not prominent enough”.

Ngaio Crawley, president of the SA Cat Council, is set to perform this ritual over and over for the better part of the day at a cat show in Kraaifontein just outside Cape Town.

The shows are like a beauty pageant but, instead of beautiful women lining up for the prize, the hall at Laerskool Aristea is filled with rows of cages containing cats of various breeds.

The shows culminate in a prestigious annual national event that is attended by international judges where the Cat of the Year is crowned.

At this regional show, pet owners mill around the cages combing their own cats or admiring the feline friends of other contestants.

Others spend the day awaiting the result by sitting outside chatting and drinking wine with other owners, while some prefer to sit inside knitting or even reading a book as they wait for the important announcement.

Some attend simply for their love of cats, like Anne McGregor, who says she has retired from the show circuit but still attends for the love of it all.

Anne McGregor, quintessential cat lady, says her cat has had three lives with her and was a horse in another

She says her relationship with cats began as a child when her dad brought home a ginger cat, which she would dress up in doll clothes and push around in a pram.

In 1973 she got her first Siamese cat from a veterinarian. Throughout her 76 years, McGregor says cats have often come into her life by accident.

Twice, cats have randomly walked into her home and stayed.

Eventually, she started breeding and showing her own cats, the most memorable of which was Silver Cloud, a white-haired Chinchilla Persian.

“Cloud did the most amazing work. He reached thousands of people. I really mean that. He was very spiritual. We don’t give them credit enough for their spirituality,” says McGregor.

“I got the message from animal communicator Anna Breytenbach that he needed to do work with paraplegics, quadriplegics and people who can’t speak?...?She came to my home and did a reading, during which Cloud told her that he’d been with me three times through three incarnations,” explains McGregor.

“He told Anna he was the first ginger cat I had and he was also the Siamese I had. She also told me that he had been a horse in a previous life. However, he doesn’t intend coming back now for a long time. I was very privileged to have bred him.”

Not everyone in “the community” is the cat’s whiskers.

Breeder Carol Middleton holds up one of her Maine Coon cats

“The community is fabulous, but you also get the odd swine. I can name them if you like,” breeder Carol Middleton laughs.

“It’s still very competitive. People often say: ‘You know, I’m not

really competitive.’ I say: ‘Of course, you are, otherwise you wouldn’t enter.’”

Middleton, who breeds Maine Coons, has been at it for six years.

“It was an absolute darling of a cat?–?a show-off,” she says of her first Maine Coon.

“I got hooked instantly. All it takes is one cat in the cage and you’re hooked. I started breeding then and I’ve done a pretty good job, even if I say so myself.”

Getting into cat breeding is not a cheap or easy exercise. Breeder after breeder speaks of the difficulties of getting the right cats to start off what is apparently an expensive hobby.

For example, 10 years after she started breeding Russians, Leanne Hewitt says she makes, give or take, R1?000 from each kitten.

In this decade, she estimates that she has bred about 200. In any business, this would translate to about R200?000 in profit?–?but not in the cat-breeding world.

At last count, Hewitt reckons she was running at a loss of about R300?000.

“It shouldn’t be about the money,” she says.

“For me it’s about the love, passion and commitment. Why do people play a sport? To a breeder, this is about perfecting something that is imperfect. It’s about achieving something that is often unachievable. It’s about making something that is your own. It’s an elusive thing, like running after a unicorn?–?trying to perfect a breed?– and if you’re not doing it for the love and passion and to perfect a breed, then why are you doing it?”

The scene and its pageantry may come across to many as a world filled with privileged, predominantly white women who have very little to do with their time apart from admiring cats.

But Hewitt says that many people outside this organised world at least have a connection to it.

This is because of what the breeders say is a lucrative market for cats.

It has seen many a feline fancier falling victim to scams on sites like Gumtree by paying a small fortune for a less than pedigreed pet.

“I’ve got people sitting on my waiting list, sometimes for years, waiting for the cats they want,” she says. “If that person really wants a Russian, then they will wait. When people enquire, I tell them if they are not prepared to support ethical breeders, they should adopt a cat from a shelter.”

The scams mean that reputable breeders often get complaints from people who say they’ve paid thousands of rands for cats that never arrive.

Contact details that got them in touch with supposed breeders suddenly don’t work and neither their money nor a cat is seen again.

“When they trace us through Google, they speak of breeds that the particular breeder doesn’t even deal in.”

Hewitt’s advice is that if you love cats and want to own one, look up legitimate breeders on the cat council’s register or perhaps spend some time on the cat-show scene where you can meet like-minded people and find a fluffy feline that you can call your own.

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