CAT SHOW "PAW"LITICS
By Lindsay Adams
Over the years, Iíve heard people toss around the subject of show politics in our chat rooms. Iíve seen countless stories alluding to judges favoring certain cats, as well as references to certain cliques in the show world. Pretty juicy stuff, if you ask me.
I should state for the record that I have never shown a cat in my life. Iím disclosing this little morsel about myself to establish that Iím unbiased when it comes to anything cat-show related. I donít have a bone to pick with any judge or breeder, nor do I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to cat shows. Basically, I am a nosy cat lover who sniffed out something new to write about.
So I put together a questionnaire and solicited feedback from the members of Persian-Cats.com. I asked you to share your experiences and opinions around cat show politics. Everything I received was anonymous. Seriously. I have no idea who said what. What I do know is that there was a huge response! I have included numerous quotes from the questionnaires but removed any potentially identifying information. So without further ado, Iíd like to share my findings.
When did you get into showing?
What a range of answers here. There were people who started showing as recently as this year, as well as people who have been doing it since the 1960s. The average length of time respondents have been showing cats is 8.18 years.
Did you have a mentor or contacts who helped ingratiate you into the show scene? How do you think this impacted you?
60% of respondents had a mentor, friend, or other supporter who helped show him/her the ropes. The majority of those who were helped expressed great appreciation, and some said they wouldnít have gone forward without the support.
40% of respondents did not have mentors or contacts. One person described it as being "disastrous". Another said, "We just jumped right in and eventually made friends."
What is your overall impression of the fairness in showing?
Thereís no easy answer to this question. Respondents were all over the board. Here is a cross-section of their answers:
"Generally it is fair, but personalities come into judging occasionally."
"I think all in all it is fair but biased depending on the knowledge of each judge."
"Relationships with people definitely play a role, but not as big of a role as most new people seem to think."
"I think the larger catteries will win every time, whether their cats are as good as yours or not."
"It really depends on the show, the judges, and the specific club that you are showing in. I no longer attend shows where I know ahead of time are biased."
Do you feel that wins are determined solely on the basis of the cats or do relationships with the people also play a role?
The results of this question were crystal clear: 96% of respondents felt that relationships, personalities, and/or reputation play a role, although to varying degrees.
Many people said that the judges usually base their decisions on the owner rather than the cat, as evidenced by these statements:
"The cat shown by an 'unknown' [breeder] will more than likely not accomplish what the same cat (or even a lesser feline) would accomplish if with a known breeder."
"The top-ranked catteries can walk into the show hall with a pet-quality cat and make finals."
Some said that judges are aware of which cats are being campaigned, particularly at the larger shows. In such cases, the judges may lean toward those cats, making it harder for other cats to final. However, most respondents were more in the middle, sharing that in their experiences they have witnessed both scenarios where cats and relationships play a role 50/50.
Of the 4% who felt that wins are determined based on the cat, the consensus was that a truly superior cat would win no matter what.
Do you feel that there are cliques within the show world? If so, what advantages or disadvantages are there to being a part of one?
Interestingly, 100% of respondents believed that cliques exist in the show world to some degree. This makes sense, considering that cliques exist in just about every other microcosm of society, such as school yards and big corporations.
While the word "clique" seems to have some negative connotations, the results of this survey revealed that many exhibitors do see the value in them. Several people felt that cliques are a natural part of showing, as you network among breeders. Such groups can provide ways to improve your program, enhance the gene pool, and share grooming techniques. Another advantage mentioned by one person is "all the help and comfort you get". Itís no surprise to hear that an intimate group can be a major source of support.
There was also this insightful comment:
"There is a large benefit in working in a group, but when it goes too far it can really ruin the atmosphere at the shows and in the fancy."
Itís a shame that what starts out as a beneficial relationship can sometimes turn into a nightmare. A major disadvantage of cliques seems to be fair-weather friends. It was explained that sometimes after a newbie gets ramped up to compete, the mentor turns on him/her. In addition, there may be general squabbling among clique members to the point of jealousy, backstabbing, and cattiness (pardon the pun). The following statements illustrate the downsides:
"If you are part of one clique, then the members of another one will not sell you a cat. Some cat people can be mean."
"I think the overuse of a judging roster within a region can begin to have the appearance of Ďcliquenessí."
About half of the respondents volunteered that they purposely avoid being part of one specific circle of folks. They simply prefer to go their own way.
If possible, please share an example of show politics that you have observed first hand.
Here is a list of examples:
"I have seen exhibitors rush up at the last minute with a cat when they want the judge to be sure and see them."
"When you see a certain exhibitor going by the judges rings all day long. And all the hugging and kissing up. Front-row exhibitors with that little cough that they suddenly get when the judge gets out their cat."
"I have seen people come up to judges before a show starts and talk to them about a cat they have at the show. They'll talk about how this cat just needs a few more points to grand, and how worried they are that the cat won't grand before it blows condition or cycles."
"A breeder giving a judge a [expensive gift] in front of everyone."
There were countless other stories about favoritism, nepotism, flirting, lying, and wining and dining the judges. I felt like I was reading the script of a new soap opera about cats: Days of Our Nine Lives!
While some of the findings in this survey might seem a little disconcerting, I think cat shows are just like everything else in life - you take the good with the bad. Here are some of the final thoughts and feelings that the respondents included:
"Even with all the politics, I still would not give up on showing."
"It is an expensive hobby, and it is a rare breeder that continues to be a long time breeder these days."
"You have to pay your dues, and that's where relationships and politics come into play."
"I'm just stubborn and I enjoy showing despite its warts."
"This is a competitive event. Subjectivity is always going to be an issue. We could all use a lot more education where ethics are concerned!"
"Go your own way, do the best you can do, and be happy with that."
Thanks to everyone who participated! This survey was eye-opening for me as a non-exhibitor. I really appreciated the candid responses I received and I look forward to conducting other in-depth studies of the cat fancy in the future.