So how did this commingling come about?
A few years ago, the International Cat Association held a separate show at the Javits Center, in conjunction with the American Kennel Club, at the same time as the all-dog Meet the Breeds. That apparently stoked interest in a reprise.
“We decided to bring the cats back because people kept asking us, ‘Where are the cats?’” said Brandi Hunter, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.
Not just any cat is suitable for such an event, given the crowd noise, the masses of unwashed hands thrust their way and, of course, all the dogs in attendance.
But after seven hours together, this much was true: The dogs and the cats got along, and the world continued to spin on its axis.
“With the seriousness of the issues and the disagreements people have with friends and neighbors after the election, poking fun at cats and dogs being in one room together is a way to make fun of ourselves,” said Hutcherson, Ovation’s owner.
He said this while holding his cat in a booth with a safari scene as the backdrop: inflated monkeys, giraffes, elephants and lions. Some of the other Bengal owners and handlers in the booth were dressed in khaki.
Thousands of spectators mingled with breeders and snuggled and kissed members of the nearly 40 breeds of cat and 120 breeds of dog, each type in a booth decorated to represent its ancestry. All that separated the cats from the dogs was an aisle.
“Do they make leopard noises?” one spectator asked the Bengal breeder.
“No, they make kitty noises,” Hutcherson said.
Behind him was the cat agility ring. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
Cats pounced over the bubble jump (a bar sandwiched by balance-training balls), slinked through clear tunnels, hopped through hoops and mastered the mirror jump — which, as the name implies, is a bar stationed over a mirror.
“Dogs would never do that mirror jump,” the ringmaster, Vicki Shields, said as she riffled through a box full of shiny, feathery wands used to entice the cats through the obstacles.
“I made these myself,” she said.
Is there an official name?
“Cat toys,” she replied.
Shields held the first known cat agility contest, in Albuquerque in 2003. “Someone just told me I was on Wikipedia, which makes me feel so modern!” she said.
Bengals tend to excel at cat agility, Shields said, adding, “They’re the Border collies of cats.”
Dog handlers on the way to their own booths stopped and lingered, amazed by the sight of trained cats. A woman with a German shepherd leaned over and whispered to Shields, “I have three cats at home.”
Given that a typical house cat spends its life interacting almost exclusively with its fellow household inhabitants and their visitors, show or agility cats need to be socialized like dogs. Meet the Breeds would be a typical tabby’s worst nightmare.
At Saturday’s show, the cats did not seem to notice the chaos, whether it was small children tugging at them or the sight of a woman dressed up as Marie Antoinette holding a papillon. “It’s believed that she brought her papillon with her to the guillotine,” said Connie Barata, the woman in the costume. “Of course, she handed the dog off before she lost her head.”
“People own cats and dogs all the time,” said Hunter, the American Kennel Club spokeswoman. “Can they get along? They absolutely can.”
But inclusiveness has its limits. The cats may be welcome at more shows like Saturday’s, but fans should not expect to see them in the Westminster competition anytime soon.
“That’s really an American Kennel Club thing,” David Helming, the Westminster show chairman, said of Meet the Breeds. “Westminster had no problem with cats coming on Saturday.”
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