Exotic breeds to shine at Wichita cat show

If a cat show could be compared to a beauty pageant, the Wichita Cat Fancy show this weekend at the Cotillion would be more like Miss Universe than Miss America.

About 200 cats are expected, representing exotic breeds such as the Birman, Bombay, Norwegian Forest cat, Persian, Siberian, Turkish Angora, Scottish fold, Havana brown, Japanese bobtail, Russian blue and Somali.

The American Cat Fanciers Association, with which the show is associated, recognizes 41 breeds, said Jan Rogers, a cat judge from Texas who will be at today's show.

The most popular cats in America right now are the Persian, Maine coon and exotic shorthair, said Rogers, who has been breeding and showing pedigreed cats since 1987 and judging them since 1999.

One of her favorites is the Birman, "the sacred temple cats of Myanmar, which used to be called Burma. They are said to have guarded Buddhist temples," Rogers said.

A Birman looks similar to a Siamese but has white feet, she said. "The tips of their feet look like they have stepped in a glass of milk or cream."

The Birman has navy blue eyes and semi-long fur that's soft and silky like rabbit fur but doesn't mat like the fur on a Persian cat. "It's truly an elegant cat," Rogers said.

A Birman, Rogers said, is a manmade breed — created by crossing natural breeds of cats "with the express purpose of developing a hybrid."

In the case of the Birman, the goal was to develop a short-haired Persian, she said, so "you didn't have to deal with all that coat."

Other manmade breeds include the ocicat, developed by crossing a chocolate point Siamese with an Abyssinian. "It looks like a spotted leopard," Rogers said.

Another breed, the Bombay, was created by a woman who wanted a cat that looked like a black panther, Rogers said.

Bombays are bottom-heavy cats that make Rogers think of bowling balls. Their black coats are "tight and shiny and polished, like patent leather," and "they have great big gold eyes that just take your breath away."

While a Bombay — a cross between an American shorthair and a Burmese — has nothing to do with India, other breeds do come from the countries their names suggest, Rogers said.

"The Turkish Angora does indeed come from Turkey," from Ankara, where they go back centuries, she said.

"The Turkish people would give visiting royalty a pair of these cats as gifts," Rogers said.

Another breed, Turkish Vans, come from Turkey as well, from the mountainous Van region, Rogers said.

While "Turkish Vans were more of an outside, free-roaming cat, Turkish Angoras were thought to be royalty," she said.

Rogers is one of eight judges who will be evaluating felines at this weekend's cat show, looking for cats that best match up to the standards for their breed.

"There's no such thing as a perfect cat," Rogers said, but "there's a standard written for the perfect cat. As a breeder, that's what we strive for. As a judge, that's what we look for."

Cats earn points for features such as their ears, eyes, coat and color, she said, and "it theoretically should add up to 100 if you had the perfect cat." But "the total balance of the cat" is what judges are looking at, she said.

While there will be plenty of purebred cats at the show, the household pet category "celebrates the beauty of the everyday cat."

In this category, "there's no standard at all," Rogers said. "They just have to be clean, neutered and declawed."

As a judge, Rogers will be looking for a cat that's "amenable to being handled" and is in good condition.

"I want to see a healthy, well-rounded cat, a happy cat. That's my basic criteria," she said.

A cat show is a great place to learn about different breeds, especially if you're looking to buy a purebred kitten, Rogers said.

Don't be afraid to ask questions of the breeders, she said. "Nobody's going to bite your head off. It's a learning experience."

Look for the cat show ambassadors wearing "Ask Me" badges, she said. "They will introduce you to people, tell you everything you need to know."

Pals Animal Rescue and Lifeline Animal Placement and Protection will have cats available for adoption at the show. Ten cats found new homes at last year's show, which drew about 900 people, said show secretary Mary Beth Wegerle.

Veterinarian Greg Reichenberger will answer cat owners' questions at an "Ask the Vet" booth from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. today, and Spay-Neuter Kansas will give away five vouchers for free surgeries for the pets of qualified low-income owners.

Vendors will also be selling toys, food, bedding and other items catering to cats and cat lovers.

Rogers, who owns dogs as well as cats, says she has always loved felines because they are unique and independent creatures.

"They have their own little world that they allow us to live in with them."

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