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Frank Danzeisen won’t have cats in his wedding ceremony. A lot of folks in his circle are upset by that.
“They want us to get married at a cat show, too,” Danzeisen tells me.
Danzeisen met his fiancée at a cat show five years ago. He spent Saturday and Sunday at a cat show, the Capital Cat Fanciers annual summer production at Ritchie Coliseum in College Park. He spends pretty much every weekend at a cat show.
“We’ll do 45 to 48 shows this year,” he says.
He lives in an Alexandria town house along with his future bride, Dawn Shiley, and 16 cats. When he leaves the area, far more often than not, it’s for the cats. Danzeisen says Shiley usually accompanies him to the competitions.
Charlie, however, always goes.
Charlie, short for Charlie-in-the-Box (named after the defective toy character in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), is the star of Danzeisen’s kitty clique, or, in show parlance, cattery. Charlie is the top-ranked neutered cat in the nation, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), an internationally recognized sanctioning organization.
Cats accrue points by competing against one another at shows, which are basically just beauty pageants. The more cats you beat, the higher your rank.
According to the official show catalognobody calls it a programonly 225 purebreds were entered in the Capital Cat Fanciers event, making it a rather small point-gathering opportunity for Charlie. But at the end of the show season, a few points can cost Charlie a championship. The desire to keep his cat at the top of the CFA charts is what kept Danzeisen from taking the weekend offand what will send him packing every weekend for the rest of the summer.
For shows out of driving range, Danzeisen pays extra airfare (usually about $75 each way) to take Charlie onboard as a carry-on. In his collapsible cage that to other passengers looks just like a gym bag, the 2-year-old, brown-tabby Norwegian Forest cat fits cozily under a seat.
Compared with folks who use up their lives in search of the minutest Star Trek minutiae or the priciest beanbag, Danzeisen surely isn’t a blue-ribbon freak. A lot of folks love cats, right?
But the feline fixation Danzeisen shares with Shiley and with pretty much everybody else inside Ritchie Coliseum seems curious to anybody outside the pussycat-pageant subculture. And even to some of those trapped in its web.
“It’s an addictive, stupid hobby,” Diane Marcus told me at the show, nodding toward her caged Turkish Van. “I don’t know why I do it.” Along with running a cattery, Marcus, it should be noted, was in charge of publicity for the show.
The finances of cat pageantry are particularly hard to justify. Unlike the dog-show realm, cat shows don’t have much in the kitty.
Even for a cattery whose entrants are judged best in show, prize money doesn’t come close to covering expenses. Usually, owners of top cats receive nothing but rosettes, which are ribbons similar to those given out at county fairs.
And whereas owners of a Westminster Kennel Club prize pooch can fetch six figures for its pups, in cat breeding the demand for award-winning animals as studs or dams is minimal.
“I once got $1,000 for a champion cat,” says Douglas Myers, an interior decorator from Winston-Salem, N.C., who served as a judge for the College Park show. “If it was a champion dog, I could have gotten 100 times that. Sure that bothers us, the difference between cats and dogs. We’re hoping that changes.”
The cat crowd believes that their own Madison Square Garden extravaganza, scheduled to be thrown next March by New York’s Empire Cat Club, could get them some doglike publicity and eventually enhance the economics of running a cattery. They could use some enhancing.
“I spent $20,000 on shows last year,” says Marcus. “But 50 cents and this cat wouldn’t get me a cup of coffee.”
Ruth Taylor, who runs the Gimsin cattery in Hagerstown, says her brood of Siamese cats brought in about $2,100 in prize money and breeding fees last yearor about nine grand less than she spent showing them.
“The cats live better than we do in our house,” says her husband, Tom Taylor.
But cat shows, like any beauty contest, offer payoffs beyond the financial or material. Perhaps only a stage mother could truly understand how Ruth Taylor felt while hearing Myers slobber over her 6-month-old seal point Siamese, All That Glitters, in front of the audience.
“Look at the length of that body!” Myers enthused while holding the kitty aloft. “The magic points of color! Very straight profile. Beautiful, beautiful proportion! Lovely, lovely style! And to top it off, exquisite blue eyes. I’m proud to make her my best kitten!”
Patricia Taylor (no relation to Ruth Taylor), who owns a cattery in Virginia Beach, wasn’t awarded any big prize for her entrants. But she got quite a charge just by seeing folks’ reaction when they first glimpsed Buddy, her brown tabby Maine Coon. At 19 pounds, Buddy was the biggest, hairiest cat in the house.
“He’s got some more growing to do yet,” Taylor told me, asking if I’d like to hold her gentle giant.
Of course I do. Dave McKenna