Tammy Swift, Published May 08 2009
Cat show crazy: Debutants to annual Minn-Kota event learn ins, outs of showing
The milk-white domestic longhair cat is as handsome, charismatic and lion-maned as a 1984-era David Lee Roth.
Which is why roommates Nicole Thistlewood and Sara Descrans wanted to enter him in this year’s Minn-Kota Feline Club Cat Show.
But, like any hot young commodity, Louis has a few, um, “issues.” Like a tendency to run around their apartment after bathtime, wet and livid. Or his fondness for attacking, shredding and biting everything, and everyone, in his path.
Before long, the roommates realized you could take the cat out of the alley, but you couldn’t take the alley out of the cat.
And that’s when Walter Matthau came off the bench to save the day.
Walter is an American Shorthair with gorgeous golden eyes and the type of tabby markings that make show judges drool: two perfect bull’s eye patterns on each side of his stocky body, and straight stripes down his spine.
Even more remarkable is his face, which bears the imposing jowls and perpetual scowl of his curmudgeonly namesake. When his owner, Lisa Ferguson, observes, “Look, Wally’s smiling!,” it’s hard for anyone not attuned to Walter’s flat features to tell. He just looks slightly less grumpy.
Fortunately, Walter’s mug is worse than his bite. Disposition-wise, he is a pussy cat. When Thistlewood and Descrans still nurtured dreams of turning Louis into a blue-ribbon cat, Lisa and husband Stan Ferguson sent Walter to stay with them, in hopes that Walter’s mellow vibe would rub off on their kamikaze kitty.
But no dice. Louis attacked poor Walter so enthusiastically and so frequently Mr. Matthau lost weight and holed up in Thistlewood’s bedroom.
Now Walter is back in the Louis-free safety of the Ferguson home, being groomed to compete against other American Shorthairs in this weekend’s competition.
Descrans and Thistlewood will still be able to show him. They’ll simply act as “agents” for the Fergusons, who will also be showing Maine Coons from their Fargo cattery.
Although Walter has done well in previous shows, it’s hard to predict how he’ll do this time, Lisa says.
Purebreds are judged by their breed standard, along with less tangible things such as personality and a judge’s preference.
Bath time for kitty
As cat show newbies, Descrans and Thistlewood have much to learn about the fine art of grooming and showing a feline.
Fortunately, they aren’t starting from ground zero. Both vet-tech students, they pet-sit for the Fergusons whenever they’re out of town.
And Lisa has lots of experience about teaching new skills to greenhorns. She was the two girls’ English-Spanish teacher at Moorhead High.
Next on today’s lesson plan: How to give a cat a bath.
As a show cat, Walter has had his share. “They never learn to love it, but they do become resigned to it,” says Lisa, from the Fergusons’ specially appointed cat-bathing room.
Thistlewood is cradling Walter, who knows something is up. His eyes are narrowed to a Garfield slant and he’s shedding so furiously that her T-shirt is plastered with his brown fur.
“He’s going to let out a couple of big yells,” Ferguson warns.
Indeed, once the skin-temperature bath water hits Walter, he meows. And reows. And HROWLS. At one point, there are six different arms in the oversized laundry sink, all holding and shampooing and rinsing and squeezing.
Walter looks miserable. Even more miserable than usual.
Forever the teacher, Lisa shares show tips in between lathering and rinsing. Hang onto him because he could get loose in the show hall. When you get to the hall, do a walk-about so he gets used to all the sights and smells. Remember to bring teasers and toys to keep him entertained.
After the bath and a rub-down, Walter burrows his head in humiliation into the crook of Descrans’ arm. When she rests him on the floor, he flattens himself like an insecure platypus. Finally, he clamors aboard a 6-foot-tall wire kennel, where he can distance himself from the dangers of grasping hands and bathwater.
Lisa, meanwhile, is still sharing bits of wisdom about the cat show.
“After the ring, no matter how he does, treat him like you know in your heart that you have brought the best cat in the show,” she says. “You’ve got to have fun with this or else it can get ugly.”
But what about Louis, the not-ready-for-cat-shows-cat?
“We found the perfect owner for him,” Thistlewood says. “There’s a friend of ours he loves. They’re exactly like each other.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525
If you go
- What: Minn-Kota Feline Club Cat Show’s “Mamma Meow”
- When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
- Where: Ag Building, Red River Valley Fairgrounds, West Fargo
- Info: Admission: $5, adults; $3, children 7-12; free, 6 and younger; a portion of proceeds goes toward an NDSU vet-tech program scholarship