This past weekend offered plenty of football, baseball, soccer, and ultimate fighting to satisfy even the most casual sports fan, but most of you probably missed one of the more competitive athletic events that took place in New York City on Saturday and Sunday —- the CFA Iams Cat Championship featuring the Feline Agility Competition. Luckily, David Blend, executive editor of Thrillist.com and devout Texas sports fan, took some time before watching Texas/Mizzou to attend and file this pusstastic report. The 6th Annual CFA Iams Cat Championship is a two-day extravaganza of exquisitely groomed genetic perfection: hundreds of competitors from 40+ certified breeds, appraised by judges so professional, their Code of Ethics numbers 15 points — more than twice as long as the USA Water Polo Referees'. The weekend's put on by the Cat Fanciers' Association (Inc.), founded in 1906, and now the "world's largest registry of pedigreed cats". If the CFAICC could talk, it would say, "I'm a pretty big deal".But what if you're not into cats? Does the CFAICC offer anything to pull you away from NCAA football, NFL football, or even CBS's NFL-blackout crown jewel, World's Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets, hosted by Hugh Downs? You bet your mildly allergic ass it does.
The CFAICC isn't just about small creatures having their genitals examined by exceptionally ethical judges. We'll start with the Feline Agility Competition. Held throughout the weekend in a net-enclosed Thunderdome, it's a mind-blowing nexus of 4 non-cat sports: 1) Decathlon: Ten obstacles arranged in a circle, including stairs, tunnels, poles (like in skiing), and a hoop. Some obstacles are repeated, which makes it not like a decathlon, but you don't hear Dan and Dave bitching. In fact, you don't hear them at all. 2) NASCAR: The scoring system, now standardized by Feline Agility Ringmaster Carol Osborne, who is totally nice, works like this: 170 pts for finishing, plus 15 bonus pts for each obstacle taken in order, minus seconds taken to finish. Each score a cat registers at shows around the country is added to its annual total, with the title going to the overall point winner. 3) Marathon: The cats have 270 seconds to finish. Dream Weaver, the Japanese Bobtail who was 2007's National Agility Winner, has completed the course in 9 seconds. Some cats expect to dominate, Kenyan-style; others just want their loved ones to keep them from collapsing when they stagger in two days after the starting gun.
4) Gymnastics: Breeds with strong hind legs (Abyssinians, Egyptian Maus…) fare better, but kittens in general all perform hyperactively well — if this were the Olympics, there'd be falsified birth certificates to cover for suspicious levels of Frisky.
Anyone who thinks cat shows are for sissies hasn't met Jerry: 6'5", with tattooed forearms, M.C. Gainey's mustache, and Giants-fan cred that goes beyond his jersey to an email handle shouting out LT — whose signature scream would've been "Let's play like a pack of wild cats!" if he wasn't afraid Phil McConkey'd brand him a communist. Jerry and his wife own a tabby, a Siamese, and a German shepherd, and Jerry is totally cool with that. Still pumped about meeting Jerry, I rabidly approach the only other attendee wearing NFL gear, an obviously mentally disabled guy in a Cowboys Starter jacket. The photo request is already out the door before my reservations about posting mentally-disabled-guy pics on the Web settle in. I tell the horrified social worker (who I just noticed) that she's right, it's not such a great idea. She agrees, and five others in her charge (who I also just noticed) stare at me with both childish excitement and mute confusion, much like my own face after reading the Boys Will Be Boys Charles Haley penis-stroking excerpts.
Dr. Ruth MacPete is a real veterinarian, and doesn't just play one at cat shows. She's here repping the Litter Maid, a self-cleaning box that detects a cat's presence through sensors, then once the cat leaves sets in motion a rake that escorts fecal matter into a sanitary disposal unit. Cat fiend or not, if you can't get excited about a sensor-triggered machine that dredges poo, you're not really alive.
The Iams Trained Cats expo brings together two things everyone can get behind: multi-disciplined athletes, and television. Just as the quality of TV actors has gone from the likes of Bruce Boxleitner to A-listers like the incandescent Christian Slater, TV cats have gone from sitting around being finicky, to…Zoe, who can walk tightropes, jump through fake flaming hoops and, most It's-Fantastically, dunk a basketball. Having arrived in the pros via the unconventional feral-cat route, Zoe brings a wild intensity to her game, with screaming open-mouth slams that rival KG's. Suck on that, Morris. (Other cats' feats included drilling a soccer ball, playing piano, searching the internet, and pushing a shopping cart full of Iams. Equally impressive: the two trainers introduced themselves as "from Hollywood" and "also from Hollywood".)
Because game shows are sweet, Iams set up a Wheel of Fortune with pie slices like "VoCATbulary" and "7 Signs of Healthy Vitality" (answer: fish oil). Mark, the guy spinning the wheel, says what I think is "I'm the black Vanna". 30,000 gabby people will walk through here over the weekend, and there're also blaring loudspeaker announcements like "Please don't touch cats without permission — you can't imagine the hours it takes to groom a Persian." So given the racket it was cool of Mark to respond to "Did you say you were the black Vanna?" by just smiling and saying, "No man, I'm Manna White."
If you like rock & roll, the CFAICC is for you. Procurl Harem (founded in '86 by the gypsy above) exclusively breeds American Curls — discovered in '81, when one jumped on a Cali woman's porch, instantly striking her with its coat and "spirituality". As Gypsy Lady explains that the groovy curled-back ears don't impair hearing, a terrible screeching erupts. A paying attendee's clutching her freaking-out pet, trying to maintain a smug "I'm one of you" façade as the pros bury her in scorn. "You can't bring a cat to a cat show" admonishes Gypsy Lady, which sounds absurd, but apparently untrained cats can't deal with clouds of strange-cat stank. So Gypsy's right, but she's got a vintage NYC attitude I'm sure she flashes even when she's wrong — an "I introduced Steven Tyler to scarf-wearing in '73, so I'm completely unimpressed that you're here with Didspan" thing. She asks if I know who Procol Harem is, and doesn't believe me when I say yes. This is also very rock & roll.
The CFAICC's biggest publicity coup's been its stab at political theater: attendees can cast ballots for either Barack Obama (breed: Bombay; affiliation: Democat) or John McCain (British Shorthair; Republicat), who stump from adjoining cages. The real fun: loitering around as you realize people are far more batshit about politics than they are about cats, with poor John McCain being the loser for it. Overheard from the surprisingly liberal crowd: "We don't want a Republicat!" "He's a British Shorthair. He's not even American." "Look at the Republican. Notice how he's a fat cat?"
John McCain is fat, with a bulging face and carpet-thick gray hair, which is why he was asked to play John McCain. The deal: Cat-Barack was bred for office. His owner, a former pilots' union rep and CFA ombudsman, has named all his cats after important black figures: Rosa Parks, Isaac Hayes, Sonja Sanchez, Jamaica Kincaid, and Barack's father, Colin Powell (on top of the cage is a pic of Real C. Powell holding the Joint Chief of Cat). Whereas Barack sports a USA bandana w/ Kennedy pin, McCain's unadorned, and his name's not really John McCain. His owner — who runs Rustling British Shorthairs and might even be a Democrat — brought him here by request, and she's tired of explaining that her cat isn't a warmonger. But "John McCain" does have a campaign-friendly back-story: his father, already advanced in years, was bought to keep an elderly Balinese company after the Balinese's longtime companion passed away (an anti-McCain move). The father was meant as a pet, but at a show a 30-year Oriental Shorthair vet studied him for 20 intense minutes and declared him the finest Brit Shorthair he'd ever seen — after which neutering plans gave way to unbridled sex (actually, highly selective breeding). Unfortunately, the voters don't take time to get to know "John McCain". If they did, they'd discover a supremely relaxed cat who'd never justify preemptive war based on flimsy evidence. They might also have learned that his owner can perform a cat C-section. And that's why everyone should go to a cat show. David Blend is executive editor at Thrillist.com