Mysticats Show in Ansonia, CT. I normally wax nostalgic at this last show, especially since the emotional events of this show in 2004.
2004 was the year I showed Bugger (his registered name is Hendrickson - both are fishing flies). Bugger was my first breeding male and I wanted him to get as far as he could, therefore he was shown in both TICA (The International Cat Association) and CFA (Cat Fanciers Association). Back then, the last TICA show of the season in the northeast region was held in Massachusetts....Boxborough I believe. Bugger had earned up to the title of Quadruple Grand Champion. Once a cat has reached the Quad level, if it is placed at the top of all the cat breeds as Best by the judge in their final, it qualifies for the title of Supreme Grand Champion. Like many cats, Bugger had been finaled Best Cat before, but not since he'd become a Quad. The order of events is important. Quad, then Best Cat final. No Best Cat after the Quad means you stay as a Quad. For those of you who wonder, we are competing for titles and rosettes, not money.
At almost one year of age back then, Bugger's ears had already begun to spread apart so I felt pessimistic about him getting his necessary Best Cat. The other males still had their ears up. In the Maine Coon world, we want to keep the ear set almost straight up, not held out to the sides of their big studly heads like wings. Ears going south is mostly a male cat issue as the females don't get big heads. As the head grows, the ears have to go somewhere. Look around you; the same is true with humans too (except for the ear part). Males have proportionately larger heads in many species. What males do with that extra space is another discussion.
Because I had attended almost every TICA show in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions that year, I had naturally followed the cats we competed against and became close to their owners. This would be the final time I'd see most of these cats again as most whole cats (with all their reproductive parts) would be staying home to breed now, their offspring vying to start their show careers as kittens in the fall.
I watched the scene as if I were watching a movie, stepping back and observing with a smile. The jealousies that had split people apart throughout the year were momentarily forgotten. The laughter, people bringing out their new kittens they intended to show for critiquing and praise. Admiration of the magnificent competition, negotiations of planned breedings, talk of scores and final placement, regionally and internationally. My friend Lew showing off his new kitten Bailey, going on and on about how big he was for his age, excited to start showing him as soon as he was old enough. The last show is one of many excuses for a party in the show hall. Alcohol, Jello-shooters and great food are abundant.
Two emotional events tied that weekend together for me as the most memorable. First, we learned that beloved judge, Louise Van de Water, had lung cancer. Living in Canada with a socialized system of medicine, it would be months before she could see the specialists she needed. As word spread to the other shows being held that weekend, exhibitors at shows all over the US collected money in order to pay for Louise to see the best American oncologists. I seem to remember the figure of $6000 contributed toward the cause, just in one day. We all came together where Louise sat at a judging ring while she was told how much we all cared about her, of the generosity and good will of her fellow cat fanciers. The emotions and the tears ran freely as we all held onto the hope that we could make a difference and save Louise.
The other emotional event occurred at the ring of judge Cheryl Hogan. Cheryl had chosen Bugger as Best of Breed for her Maine Coon ring. After she'd judged the other breeds, she called her top 10 to the final. I remember she wanted to wait for a certain Ragdoll in her final, but it was being judged in another ring. The judge usually starts their final with the 10th Best Cat, says something nice about why she liked that cat, then counts down to the Best Cat. The process takes about 15 minutes. Cheryl had gotten up to her third best and Bugger was still unnumbered. Fellow exhibitor Susan was sitting next to me. We looked at each other, my eyes wide as I realized what was becoming a real possibility. I probably said something like, "Holy sh..!" As the judge waited to see if the absent Ragdoll was available to come to her ring, Susan got up and alerted Maine Coon alley, where most of us were benched, "Bugger's about to Supreme!" she told them. I was unaware she'd done this, but wondered why it suddenly got so crowded around me. My friend Lynn came through the others and put her arms around me in a bear hug as I sat facing the judge, waiting to see if her choice was the Ragdoll or the Maine Coon. The Ragdoll never showed (in TICA, a cat's presence isn't required at a final if it is being judged in another ring, but the judges like to see all the cats present). The judge looked at us and said "Well, I guess I'll just have to go with my heart. The Ragdoll is second and the Maine Coon is my Best Cat." Lynn announced, "New Supreme!" as I couldn't speak. Bugger was the first cat I'd ever Supremed in TICA. A couple of months later, he became a Grand Champion in just one show in CFA, an even bigger accomplishment.
After the pictures, thanking the judge and getting her autograph on his rosette, the hugs and cheers, I put Bugger back in his cage where I was benched. As I sipped the plastic cup of champagne someone handed me, I looked at my handsome boy. Was he jaded by all the attention? No, he humped his favorite blue fleece blanket then promptly laid down and fell asleep.