Two things -
Why does this remind me of working on the playa?
Now I think I have to go to a damn cat show!http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/19/sport ... odayspaper
Photo 3 is quite good.
It is a sport in which the contestants sometimes lie down in the middle of the field, unmotivated and bemused.
Feline agility competitions, in which cats run through a miniature obstacle course full of hurdles and tunnels, have become fixtures on the cat show scene. Modeled after canine agility competitions, the tournaments feature a ring in which cat owners — some of whom have trained their pets from kittenhood — brandish a feather or sparkly wand to try to coax a cat to climb stairs, weave around poles and leap through hoops in as little time as possible.
Some cats tear through the course in seconds. Others make it clear to the eager onlookers that they could not care less.
“You have to get the cat to focus on the toy,” said Anthony Hutcherson, who raises Bengal cats in Port Tobacco, Md., and whose oldest cat, Justin, has run the course in nine seconds. “Cats will pretty much chase a feather on a string anywhere.”
This weekend the two major organizations for cat lovers — the International Cat Association and the Cat Fanciers’ Association — are holding their annual cat shows, one in New York City and the other in Indianapolis. At both events, any cat registered at the show can partake in the agility event while the pedigreed cats are being judged.
Most people send their cats into the ring cold, where they often get spooked by the crowds and unfamiliar setting. But others train their cats — usually with a regimen of kibbles, praise and neck rubs — and find that they will do tricks, albeit on their own terms.
“They have to do all 10 obstacles, in order, counterclockwise, with no mistakes,” said Jill Archibald, agility coordinator for the Cat Fanciers’ Association, who will be the ringmaster in Indianapolis.
Archibald, a retired physical education teacher from Freehold Township, N.J., has posted a series of online videos about how to train your cat. She also has built her own 20-foot-by-30-foot agility ring, which she drives from one cat show to the next. She made the obstacles herself, including jumps and hoops, because the only ones sold commercially are meant for dogs, and are too large.
About 30 percent of the cats finish the course in the allotted four and a half minutes, said Russell E. Reimer, a ringmaster in Mesa, Ariz. “Most of them have a hard time with the weave poles,” he said. “The tunnels, the steps, the hurdles are no problem.”
Under the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s rules, which differ from those of the International Cat Association, a cat is awarded 15 points for each obstacle it navigates successfully, Reimer said.
But is it the cat’s own work ethic or its training regimen — nature or nurture — that makes an agility champion?
“I think it’s more the personality of the cat,” said Reimer, who breeds Burmese. “There are some Maine Coons that won’t do anything in there, and there are others that’ll tear the course to shreds. The same with the Abyssinians.”
He once had an Abyssinian kitten named Twink that was a real natural. “All you had to do was wave a wand at her to get her started, and she would stop at the weave poles to wait for me to catch up,” Reimer recalled. “The fastest time for Twink was seven seconds — she was that fast.”
Feline agility got started about a decade ago when two couples who met on the cat show circuit went out to dinner and started talking about the tricks their cats did. They modified some dog agility obstacles and showed them to their cats; from there, a group called International Cat Agility Tournaments — or ICAT — was born.
“When we first started it, everybody said, ‘Train a cat? Impossible!’ ” said Shirley Piper, one of the four founding members.
She and her partner, Kathy Krysta, live in Riverside, Calif., with their 20 cats, which they train regularly, using toys and a system of taps. Some of their cats are so well trained that they will run an agility course on their own, with no feathers or other incentives.
“The spectators don’t care about records and organized running,” said Piper, who will serve as ringmaster at the Meet the Breeds show at the Javits Center in New York this weekend. “They just want to see a cat perform by itself.”
As best anyone can remember, agility competitions started popping up at cat shows around 2004, and scores have been kept sporadically. Occasionally there is some prize money, but more often a ribbon or small trophy is given.
Twyla Mooner, a Bengal from Reston, Va., is considered one of the greatest agility champions and will compete in Indianapolis this weekend. “She is all about speed,” said her owner, Lisa Maria Padilla. “There is not a whole lot of finesse and style, but she burns through the course, and she is good for about two runs a day.”
Most owners are not so lucky. Cat agility videos on YouTube show more bloopers than triumphs.
“There are people there shaking a feather for what seems like an eternity, and the cat just looks at the person and says, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” said Hutcherson, the breeder in Maryland.
Cat agility has not caught on quite as rapidly as its founders had hoped — and not, they insist, because it so often results in cat futility. The main problem is financial: most cat shows barely break even, and it is more lucrative to lease space in the show hall to vendors than to install an agility ring.
Vickie Shields, one of the founders of ICAT, is hoping to invigorate the sport. She and her partner, Adriana Kajon, experiment with new obstacles in their living room in Albuquerque, where their cats get up every morning and sit expectantly by the drawer where the hoops are kept.
“We think of new things — ball pits, a tiny inflatable swimming pool,” Shields said.
The latter was a flop. “We tried to get the cats to jump over it, but they would run up to it and stop or take a drink,” she said.
Veterinarians are in favor of this kind of play. “I think we let cats’ brains rot, and I think it’s really sad,” said Cynthia M. Otto, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
She herself has trained her cat to ride a skateboard, and her dog to push it. “If you start doing this, it really changes your relationship with your animal and enhances your bond,” Otto said.