You don't need to know the difference between a grand champion and a triple champion, or a Maine coon or Norwegian forest, to enjoy a day at a cat show. Bring your natural curiosity and your love of cats, and you can have a wonderful time.
Here are a few tips to make a trip to a cat show easier and more useful:
-- Wear comfortable, casual clothes that have a little flexibility. Show halls are notorious for being too hot or too cold, no matter the outside temperature. Wear something light and carry a sweater, and you're covered either way. Comfortable shoes are important; you're going to be on your feet a lot. Carry a backpack or big purse as well as a notepad and pen. You're sure to run across freebies or buy toys to take home to your cat, and you may meet a breeder you want to talk to after the show. A pad for taking notes and a place to put business cards is a must if you're doing research on adopting a kitten.
-- Be aware of the demands on exhibitors. Most of the cat fanciers love answering questions and talking about cats to the general public, but not in those tense moments before they're going to the show ring. Your first question to any exhibitor should be: "Is this a good time to ask a couple of questions about your cats?" They'll let you know, and if it's not, they can tell you when will be. Never bother an exhibitor who has a cat in her arms. She's almost certainly headed to or coming from the judging ring. And step aside: Cat-show etiquette -- and common sense -- demands that a person carrying a cat has the right-of-way.
-- Be respectful of the health and safety of the cats. Don't ask to pet a cat because you almost certainly won't be allowed to. Breeders are very concerned -- and rightly so -- about the spread of disease. The only people who touch any cats at a show are the people who brought them and the judges, who are careful to sanitize their hands and the judging platform between each cat they handle. On occasion, an exhibitor you're talking to may ask if you'd like to touch her cat. She's likely to ask you to clean your hands before and after, which is a small price to pay for the privilege of petting a cat in silky-soft show condition.
-- Watch at least one class being judged. Unlike dog-show judges, who never share their thoughts with the spectators (or even the competitors, really), cat-show judges consider education an important part of their job. They discuss the good and not-so-good points of each animal as they judge, and many are not only articulate and knowledgeable but witty as well. After the judging is over, most are happy to answer a question or two.
-- Don't forget the vendors. Nearly every show has people on hand to sell cat-related merchandise. You find not only free cat-food samples from major manufacturers, but also hand-crafted toys, scratching posts and cat trees direct from the people who make them. Some of the merchandise is more for cat lovers than for the cats themselves: clothing, jewelry, artwork, books. Neat stuff!
Best of all, a cat show is a special opportunity to see dozens of beautifully groomed cats, not only of the more common breeds, but also of some of the rarest in the world. You can find out about upcoming cat shows in the calendar section of magazines such as Cat Fancy, or visit the best cat site on the Web (www.fanciers.com) and click on Cat Shows, Cat Clubs and Registries.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Delta Society, an organization that supports and promotes such activities as therapy using animals and the use of service dogs by people with disabilities, has pulled together an excellent collection of resources related to pet loss and bereavement. The Web site (www.deltasociety.org/dsn700.htm) offers a bibliography of helpful books, information on bereavement hot lines and support groups around the country, and links to other related sites. The page is just-the-facts-ma'am basic, but it's well organized and easy to navigate. This is one site you should bookmark for the future because you never know when you, or someone you know, will need assistance.
Ask any child what to feed a pet bird and the answer will surely be: seeds! Yes, but what does any child know? Seeds are a horrid diet for any pet parrot, from the smallest budgie or lovebird to the largest macaw. High in fat and low in other essential nutrients, seeds can be a contributing factor in cutting a bird's lifespan by half, on average. And yet you can still find seed mixes in pet-supply stores, and you can still buy birds who've eaten seeds all their lives, a situation that makes conversion to a healthier diet more difficult.
What should birds eat? Combine one of the new commercial pellet diets with an ever-changing buffet of fresh vegetables, fruits, and such healthy people foods as pasta, rice and even bits of egg or poultry. Variety is the key. As for seeds, they're good for treats and for training, but only in limited amounts. If you have any questions on nutrition and your bird, talk to a veterinarian who specializes in avian care.
Q: I truly want a West Highland white terrier. I can provide everything that he would need, except a fence. I am constantly being told that I can't own one without a fence. Should I set my heart on another dog? -- U.F., via e-mail
A: You've found yourself dealing with a catch-22 -- you know you want to buy a pup from a reputable breeder, but reputable breeders won't sell to anyone who doesn't meet their requirements, which in many cases include having a fenced yard. Reputable breeders care about what happens to their dogs, and they have to play the odds. People who don't have fenced yards are generally not as good a long-term prospect as dog-owners as are people who have the whole suburban setup.
The key word here is "generally." There are dog owners of all description who couldn't be better at caring for their pets but who don't match the picture of the "ideal" home. You need to find a reputable breeder who'll give you a chance to show you're one of the exceptions, willing to walk your dog two or more times daily, whatever the weather.
Whatever you do, don't take the shortcut of getting a puppy from someone who'll sell to anyone, no questions asked. Like many purebreds, Westies are bedeviled by congenital health problems, and your best chance at avoiding them is to buy from a reputable breeder.
Find someone who considers health and temperament a top priority, and then discuss your situation with that breeder. If you are sincerely interested in and are able to provide for a dog, you should be able to find a reputable breeder who'll take a chance on you.
Q: My husband and I are considering buying a bigger house, but when I think about moving my 12-year-old Miss Kitty, I feel horrible. Would it be cruel to move her this late in life? -- C.M., via e-mail
A: Because cats are so territorial, they have a reputation of being more attached to a house than to the people in it. But anyone who has ever loved a cat knows the bond between cats and their people is a strong one. Don't leave your cat behind.
A week before you start packing, settle your cat into a small room -- a spare bathroom is ideal -- with food, water, toys, a sleeping area and a litter box. You want her kept out of the craziness, and you certainly want to eliminate the possibility of her getting spooked and taking off. Visit her frequently, for play and petting.
When you arrive at the new house, work this technique in reverse, starting her out in a small, enclosed area. As she seems to relax, let her explore more of the house, but don't force her. If she wants to stay under the bed for a week, let her.
I'd recommend converting her to an indoor cat at this point. You'll never get a better chance at a smooth conversion than after a move. If you insist on letting her out, though, do it slowly. Keep her in for a couple of weeks, then go out with her for short periods. When she seems to have her bearings, she can start coming and going as she pleases. Remember, though, you always put your cat at risk when you let her roam free.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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