Ancient City Cat Club Hosts 6th Annual Cat Show in St. Augustine
For the Ancient City Cat Club’s sixth annual cat show last weekend, the Solomon Calhoun Community Center looked like some kind of cat campground.
Rows upon rows of steel cages claimed as home bases were set up to accommodate, train, calm and prepare each cat competitor awaiting their turn in the judging rounds.
But these were no ordinary waiting areas. No, they were more like VIP lounges or cat condos set up to look like a Caribbean jungle (cat hammock included) or a lair fit for the Queen of Sheba.
Owners and handlers fed their furry charges hand-snacked snacks like Saltine crackers (each cut down to exactly 1/4 inch) or bite-sized steamed carrots .
Other cats and kittens were getting last minute blowouts from hair dryers plugged into any outlets that could be found in the gym area.
For their future owners, this was just normal for any cat show on the road.
Saint Augustine Pirate Cats
For years, Michael and Carol Rothfeld have hosted the show, historically billed as the “Celebrate the Pirate Cats of St. Augustine” contest.
Although none of the feline competitors are actually dressed as swordsmen, each year’s show includes visits from a number of local pirate re-enactment groups who pose for photos with the cats as well as guests.
The playful name, Carol Rothfeld said, comes not only from St. Augustine’s corsair origins, but also from the fact that, as she put it, “every pirate ship had a cat – not only for good luck but also for get rid of rodents”.
The Rothfelds, who now live in the Silver Creek assisted living facility, are former New Yorkers who for decades helped organize some of the biggest international cat competitions at venues like Madison Square Garden.
“So we know how to put on a good show,” Carol said in a phone interview with The Record last week, just two days before the two-day event kicked off on Saturday.
Thanks to word of mouth and numerous social media connections in the cat show community, the annual St. Augustine event (outside of 2021, when it was canceled due to COVID-19) is attracting usually around 200 cats and their owners, plus judges and spectators.
It is run under the auspices of the International Cat Association and follows that organization’s grading standards.
There are six judgings each day during the two days of the show in areas such as purebred standards, beauty, ease of movement and temperament. Competitors and expert judges come from all over the world and the nation.
Kittens 4-8 months old are judged separately from those 9 months and older, as are modified animals (neutered or neutered), those certified as pedigree and domestic cats (not purebred).
A cat show in town:Ancient City Cat Club show in St. Augustine this weekend
So that means big furry like Persians compete with other breeds just like lean, lanky Sphinxes compete with their own species.
As the rounds progress, the judges award ribbons to different breeds, as well as the best in the division and finally, the best in the show.
It doesn’t look much like an American Kennel Club event, the canine equivalent of such competitions.
“People who have never been to a cat show have no idea how it works,” Carol Rothfeld said. “There are no trainers with leashes leading the animals around a ring. Rather, it is the judges who take each cat out of its show cage, place them on the podium and judge each according to the standards of this breed.”
A feline ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’
As a judge pulls a purebred long-haired Ragdoll out of its cage onto the stage, another judge begins testing the feline’s hand-eye coordination by waving a glittery wand in front of her.
The cat reacted well, tugging on a claw stand and fully extending its body as the judges took notes.
Another judge gently pulls the Ragdoll’s head to check its mouth and teeth.
It’s the feline equivalent of “Toddlers & Tiaras.”
Coming from places as far away as California, Tennessee and Canada – with travel and accommodation not included – why are so many people drawn into this world?
Steven Lawson was a regular on the cat show circuit before becoming a judge.
Lawson, of Sarasota, said: “First you get interested in a cat breed. And then you get interested in shows, then you get your first prize and you’re hooked.”
The most memorable cat he ever judged was ‘Toll Booth Harry’ who was rescued after being thrown out of a moving van near a motorway toll booth, to become one of the entrances most decorated in the category of domestic cats when his new owners began showing him.
“He just had that personality, you know?” Lawson said.
Bringing home a top ribbon not only means bragging rights, but increased market value for owners looking to breed kittens from highly rewarded progenitors.
The Rothfelds themselves started that way.
Although they no longer breed purebred cats, the couple still maintain two of their favorite American cats at their new home in Silver Creek.
Their male cat, a former four-time weathered big winner, is called Catch a Rising Star, or just Carson for short. The female, named Charisma, is part of Carol’s cattery (a specialist breeding group) called Carocats.
Lawson said people who have never been to a cat show might be surprised at how much goes on there. With a nearly 60-page book on judging standards, he said, it’s almost like a science.
But more than that, Carol Rothfeld said, it’s also a lot of fun.
“Kids love it, adults love it, and we love it because it’s such a part of our lives,” she said.