The smell at the fourth annual Iams Cat Championship hits you before the cuteness does. Held in the Expo room in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, the show — sponsored by the century-old Cat Fanciers Association — featured felines representing 41 certified breeds, booths advertising “world’s best kitty litter,” charcoal drawings of cats drinking out of toilets, and presentations like “The Secret Sex Lives of Dogs & Cats.” (Can’t some things stay secret?)
Sunday was time for the Best of the Best awards, the kitty equivalent of Best in Show. (It came after the trained-cat show and the feline agility competition.) The judging took place in the front of the room, before dozens of people on folding chairs, on a stage with a small, pink-beribboned table. The judge, Walter Hutzler, brought out each cat and held it aloft, stretching it out vertically or horizontally into a sort of Superman pose, before setting it down briefly on the table. The crowd oohed and aahed constantly. Two gray-haired announcers — Kent Highhouse, in a tux, and Gail Frew, in a black pantsuit — sat to the left of the stage, keeping up a running commentary.
“Now you’re going to see the kitty that looks like it’s naked,” Highhouse said, as a handler brought out one of those creepy hairless cats, which Frew described as feeling like “a heated shammy.” “Look at those ears!” Frew said of another cat. “If there was a wind in here, they’d fly right off!”
As the evaluations wore on (“This is the cat we told you met Colin Powell,” Frew intoned as a shiny black kitten was introduced), an observer could wander among the rows of kitties. The room was lined with cages, all of them decorated by their owners with bits of lace, or sequin fabric, or Hello Kitty dolls. There were feather toys everywhere.
“I have allergies, but I don’t care,” a woman said, as she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a spotted Abyssinian to pose for a photo; even the world’s best-trained cats are bad models. Another woman was negotiating for the purchase of a fluffy Persian. “She matches my apartment — beige and white!” the woman crowed. She was allowed to hold the kitten. “She loves me so much,” she said, cuddling. The Persian tried to bolt. “Like my last husband,” the woman sighed, and handed the cat back.
At half past five, there was a rumor that a Russian Blue had escaped (“is it in the arena?” a woman asked in panicky voice). The judging was winding down; the cats were cranky. Losers were packing up their animals and wheeling them out on hand trucks. In the front, Hutzler, the judge, geared up for his big award. First, he gave a little speech. This, he said, was really “a people show, not a cat show. Cats hate this.”
“You can’t judge the difference between oranges and bananas,” Hutzler continued, if a bit nonsensically. With that, he declared a winner: A calico Manx from Trenton named Cali. Her chief qualification — aside from the required shiny, tail-less body — seemed to be that, when Hutzler set her down on the judging table, she sat still on her own, unmoved to purr or meow or hiss by the crowd and the flashing cameras. She won 68 pounds of Iams cat food.
A photo was arranged, with Cali flanked by Hutzler and her owner, her paw outstretched to rest artfully on the giant pink winner’s ribbon. Her expression, Highhouse noted, remained the same throughout. “She doesn’t seem impressed,” he said. The Russian Blue turned up this morning.
— Melena Ryzik