A cat show is a rare opportunity to see dozens of beautifully groomed cats, not only of the more common breeds, but also some of the rarest in the world. If you love cats, you'll find spending a couple of hours at a cat show to be interesting, educational and just plain delightful.
You can find out about upcoming cat shows in the calendar section of magazines such as Cat Fancy, or visit www.fanciers.com, the best cat site on the Web, and click on "Cat Shows, Cat Clubs and Registries."
Bring your natural curiosity and your love of cats, and you can have a wonderful time. Here are a few tips to make the visit more comfortable and productive.
-- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. 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. Carry a backpack or big purse and 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.
-- Be aware of the demands on exhibitors. Most exhibitors don't mind answering questions and talking about cats to the general public, but not in those tense moments before their animals will be judged. 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 judging. 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 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. If an exhibitor does invite you to pet a cat, you'll likely be asked to wash your hands before and after, which is a small price to pay for the experience of caressing a cat in perfect 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), 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.
-- Bring money. Nearly every show has people on hand to sell cat-related merchandise. You often find not only free cat-food samples, 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!
Many cat shows also provide booth space for local feline rescue groups, and these deserve your support. If you're spending big bucks on cat toys or cat-themed goods for yourself, be a sport and drop a couple of dollars in the kitty to help out those animals who aren't as lucky as yours or the gorgeous show cats you've been enjoying.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Quaker (or monk) parakeet is a nifty bird of relatively small size who makes a very popular pet in those places where they're legal. (Hawaii and California are among the handful of states that don't allow Quakers, out of concern that the prolific breeders will displace native species and damage the habitat if enough pets get loose.) Stanley's QuakerVille Web site (www.quakerville.com) offers plenty of mostly useful information on choosing and caring for these birds. Especially interesting are the pictures of feral Quakers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that flying pets by air has become a very pricey proposition -- when airlines allow it at all. The newspaper reports the changes are partly a result of a relatively new federal law intended to make flying safer for animals. But it's mostly because airlines are struggling financially in the post-Sept. 11 world, and to keep human fares competitive, they've increased prices for other services.
How bad is it? The Journal notes that in some cases, the cost to put an animal in the cargo hold can be double the price of a seat for the pet's owner in the cabin above. And even people with pets small enough to fly as carry-on baggage can be hit for up to $80 each way for bringing them.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have two cats and a dog. The dog has a nasty habit: She eats out of the litter box. We have punished her, but if we're not looking she'll make a beeline for the box. How can we get her to stop? -- D.M., via e-mail
A: I get a version of your question at least half-dozen times a week, and I myself live with a dog who happily recycles almost any disgusting thing he can find -- but considers litter-box cruising to be the most delicious of all activities. So at least you're not alone in dealing with this revolting problem.
Dogs are drawn to the undigested protein that remains in feline feces. Faced with constant supply and ready access, no dog will be able to resist for long, which is why efforts to train your pet haven't been successful. The better plan would be to restrict access, which can be accomplished in many ways.
-- Buy a covered litter box. You can find litter boxes with lids at almost any pet-supply store, and this might fix the problem. Some cats like them. Some don't, however. If yours don't, you may develop a second problem -- your cats will stop using the litter box.
-- Change the litter box location. With this, too, you have to be careful not to upset your cats. But it doesn't hurt to experiment with such things as moving the litter box to a location out of the dog's reach.
-- Provide barriers. One way is to rig the door so it stays open wide enough for the cat, but not for the dog. Another possibility is to cut a cat-sized hole through the door to the litter box room.
Of course, the solution will depend on your cats and your dog. Toy dogs won't be deterred by cat-sized openings, and big dogs may not find covered boxes much of a challenge to open. Experiment until you find what works, and this unsettling problem will become a thing of the past.
Q: My dog is always scratching. She does not have fleas or anything else that I can see. She has also been biting herself trying to scratch the itches. She has bitten the hair off in places. Is there something other than fleas that can cause this itching? -- D.L., via e-mail
A: Just because you can't see fleas doesn't mean your dog doesn't have them. It takes only a few fleas to cause misery, and most often, by the time people start noticing fleas, the animal has a severe infestation.
Here's an easy way to figure out if fleas are the problem: Put your pet on a white or very light-colored sheet and run your fingers through her fur, going against the grain. Then look at the sheet. If you see what looks like flecks of pepper on the sheet, then your pet has fleas. Those little dots are flea excrement, which is made up of dried blood. (If you're really curious, add a drop of water to one of the flecks and it will turn red.)
If fleas are present, talk to your veterinarian about Frontline or Advantage. These products have a wide margin of safety for healthy pets and are very effective against fleas. You can also keep flea levels down in your home by washing pet bedding regularly and vacuuming areas where pets hang out.
If you're sure fleas aren't the problem, get your pet to your veterinarian to find out what's making her so miserable. You may need a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.
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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