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Published April 06 2012

VIDEO: Longtime cat breeder, newfound judge dishes on winning kitties

If you go

What: Minn-Kota Feline Club’s ACFA Purebred and Household Pet Cat Show

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday

Where: Red River Valley Fairgrounds Ag Building, West Fargo

Info: adults, $6; children 6 to 12, $4, kids under 6, free.

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Talk about nine lives.

Show manager Lil Borg will be at the helm of the American Cat Fanciers Association Cat Show in West Fargo today and Sunday. She will bring four cats from her Valley City-based cattery, Catty Hills.

And after today’s show, she will go to see a specialist for a possible staph infection, her second one since she received back surgery in early March.

Serious health problems would stop most people from spearheading a cat show. But not Lil Borg, a longtime cat breeder and one of North Dakota’s only ACFA-certified cat show judges.

“I’m going to be at the show. I’m determined. I’ve already bathed four cats this morning,” Borg said Thursday. “The show will go on. I guarantee it.”

After all, Borg has dedicated a good part of her life to cats. More than 20 years ago, she first saw a beautiful Maine Coon on public television and decided she had to have one. Within a few years, the already busy rancher’s wife was breeding and showing Maine Coons and ragdoll cats.

Borg says it’s a great way to meet other cat fans, and it’s the perfect activity to do with kids.

“It’s a good way to get closer to your grandkids is to do something fun like this with them,” says Borg.

A few years ago, Borg decided to downsize her cattery. She made the switch from harder-to-groom long-haired breeds to American shorthairs and American bobtails.

Borg, who wears a blouse in a faux wild-cat print, admits she has a weakness for brown tabby cats.

All four of her entries this weekend will be tabbies. They will include two American bobtail tabbies and two silver tabby American shorthairs.

One of the shorthairs is a newbie to the show world. “Josie” is a green-eyed, round-faced kitten with a striking black-and-sterling coat and a dainty demeanor. When asked to sum up Josie’s show potential, Borg is almost at a loss for words.

“She has everything,” she says finally, pointing out the well-defined “bracelets” of black fur circling the cat’s legs, the butterfly-shaped marks on her shoulder blades and the striped “splines” that run the length of the petite cat’s body.

Like all silver tabbies, Josie was born black, but turned lighter as she matured. At 5 months old, her coat bloomed into a striking pattern that revealed huge show-cat potential, Borg says.

Yet some of the most beautiful cats will never have the disposition to be show felines, Borg says. Josie’s own father is “huge and gorgeous,” but loathes the show ring, she adds.

On the other hand, one of Borg’s best show cats

didn’t have a pedigreed bone in his body.

Borg found “Butch” as a giveaway kitten at a garage sale. He didn’t have a tail, so she sometimes wonders if he was fathered by a famously prolific, tail-less stray that was rumored to produce tail-free kittens all over the Valley City area.

Butch grew into a handsome, 18-pound brown tabby with a low-key attitude. He won many household pet awards in his career, including a highly coveted supreme grand champion honor.

“He almost had a presence about him,” Borg says. “He would come in the show ring and just sit down like he owned it. He just didn’t care.”

Nowadays, Butch is retired. Borg is winding down, too and has reduced the number of cats in her cradle.

But as a born doer, Borg wasn’t ready to park in front of the TV. So she decided to become a cat-show judge several years ago.

It’s a time-consuming process to become an ACFA-certified judge. To assess a range of diversity that runs from long-haired Maine Coons to a hairless Sphynx, they must learn the standards for 40 breeds.

They also must run an ACFA-registered cattery, have bred and exhibited purebred entries for at least five years and bred three litters.

On top of that, they need to show a winning tradition. Applicants have to exhibit five different cats to grand champion level in ACFA shows.

It took Borg two years to undergo the exhaustive judge-training process, which included tests, travel to cat shows around the country and practice-judging with training judges.

It’s a lot of work, but Borg says judging has given her a newfound respect for an animal she’s always loved.

She admits developing a real admiration for an angular breed that she

didn’t care for – until she saw and handled an incredible example of one as a judge.

“I look at cats a lot differently now than I did as a spectator. Now I’ll just look at a cat like that and go, ‘wow,’ ” she says. “Even if it isn’t a brown tabby.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525