It’s been many years since the key organizer of the Mad Catter’s Tea Party cat show first began to breed Maine Coons and just one since she gave it up.
Lifelong animal lover Gillian Huber was breeding Scottish Deer Hounds at the time when the sight of what she considers the manliest of all feline varieties caught her eye at a show and sent her husbandry in a different direction.
That path led her to leading the now-defunct Island Cat Fanciers and eventually yielded a shimmering star of the cat show circuit, Ché Purrie’s El Bandito of Hu-King, or Bandit, who after 13 years as a show champion – supreme grand champion, to be exact – left this world and took with him Huber’s desire to continue working with the breed. She had already seen the best.
“He loved people,” says Huber, from behind the counter of Huber’s Lock and Safe, where she sells security products and prize ribbons, including an in-progress batch to be awarded at Mad Catter’s.
“He loved the whole show bit. He just did it. He embraced the whole thing.”
Huber dusts off a plaque bearing the image of a Maine Coon with its eyes squinted shut and its head cocked cheerfully to one side.
Even after he retired from show business, recognized for exemplifying both breed standards and charisma, the little guy in the photo wasn’t ready to leave the lifestyle behind.
“He used to put himself in my bag when I was packing to go to another show. ... He just kept doing it. He just kept winning shows. One time I picked up the carrier. There was supposed to be one cat in it and I couldn’t believe how heavy it was. I looked in and he was in there, too. He was my love.”
Huber’s voice quivers with emotion as she revisits some of Bandit’s career highlights.
Though she has lost the embodiment of her love, she’s far from lost her love for showing cats.
Aided by co-organizer Susan Marshall, Huber remains a driving force behind the show, set to take Mary Winspear Centre June 21 and 22.
About 125 cats of different breeds compete in their individual class against one another in five rings for judges’ honours, each accumulating points towards recognition that weekend and at year end regionals.
Just as with dog shows, particular protocols are in place and the competition can be fierce.
Unlike its canine counterpart, cat shows are also a place where judges are often seen chatting with curious spectators and cat lovers of all stripes are welcomed to (register) and compete in the household pet category.
“You see all sorts of everyday, normal pets: some with bent ears; domestic short hair; long hair, cross-breed,” Marshall says.
“Anybody that has a cat sitting around their house can show as a household pet. ... It’s a fun competition for people who want to go out with their kitty and think their kitty is the best kitty in the world.”
Considering taking that plunge? Bring the cat out young, and at least give it a bath. If there’s a chance Fluffy will bite a judge, maybe leave her at home, Huber says. Some of the breeders will bring enough tension regardless.
“You get people who are what we call ‘campaigners’ and they’re out for blood,” Marshall says.
“They want that win, but for the most part, we want to see new exhibitors come, have a good time, feel welcome, get their kids involved. We like to think of cat shows as a family event, something the entire family can get involved in, or at least come to and enjoy.”
The show runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for kids 12 and free for children up to 5. See marywinspear.ca for more information.