Showing FAQ Part II:

What to Do at a Cat Show

Written by: Barbara French, Tarantara Cattery, Rochester, NY,

About this FAQ: This FAQ discusses what to do in a showhall, including what you should bring, how showing works, and various aspects of show etiquette. The first half of this FAQ, Deciding to Show, addresses how to enter shows.

Table of Contents

What do I need to bring to a show?

Checking in and setting up

Pre-judging routine

The show routine

Finals rings

How do I treat a judge?

A few miscellaneous tidbits

What do I need to bring to a show?

This list looks long, but read it carefully. There are good reasons why certain items are included.

The minimum you must bring:

You may want (all optional, but you may wish to consider these at some time):

For toting your stuff around:

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Checking in and setting up

Go to the entry clerk and tell the person your name. Double-check your entry for errors. If you find errors, find the master clerk and inform him or her. You should receive a copy of the show catalog and an indication of where you are benched, meaning the cage where your cat will stay when it is not being judged. This will be home sweet home for several hours. Rows are usually designated by numbers or letters.

Your cat will have an assigned entry number, and your cage will be indicated by this number. This number is also used throughout the show to designate where to put your cat in judging rings. Exhibitors with multiple cats often write their numbers of the backs of their hands.

Make sure you arrive at the show hall within the advertised check-in times. If you arrive after check-in, you will be marked absent. If this happens, you may still be able to check in. Go to every ring and tell each ring clerk (the person sitting at the table, not the judge standing at the table) that your cat (give them your entry number) has arrived.

Go to your cage. Set up the cage- -- curtains, litter, food, beds, etc. -- and place your cat inside. If the show is providing litter, you will need to find where it is being stored. You may wish to stay with your cat while the cat gets accustomed to things, but afterward you may wish to look around a bit. Set out your catalog and pen; you'll need them later.

Use the time before judging starts to look around, make sure you know where all the rings are, and introduce yourself to neighbors. Don't be shy about telling them you're a new exhibitor. You may find a snob or two, but mostly you will find helpful people willing to lend plenty of aid and advice to the new kid.

Become familiar with the catalog. The catalog lists all cats entered in the show. There are a variety of forms in the back as well for recording information. If this is your first show, chances are you won't need the forms much, but it's good practice to learn. Mostly these forms are useful for people who have cats or kittens running for regional or national points, or for people with premiers or champions running for grand points. The point system can be complicated. It's best to have an exhibitor explain it to you. If this is your first show, chances are you don't have to worry about that yet.

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Pre-judging routine

Before judging starts, one of the clerks will announce any changes to the catalog, such as absent cats, changes in status, or errors. Many of these may have to do with titles, although this will depend upon the association. A person may have had a Champion become a Grand Champion between entering the show and the show itself, or the title may have been recorded wrong by the entry clerk and it wasn't caught before the catalog went to print. There is usually a form to record these changes in one place.

The clerk may also announce judging changes or schedule changes. It's important to listen to any announcements before and during the show.

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The show routine

Different categories of cats will be judged at different times. The show schedule is usually printed at the back of the catalog, or sometimes on a separate sheet, so you will know which ring you're supposed to be in next. Ask for help from a friendly exhibitor for translation if you don't understand it.

Wait until your number is called to a ring. Be aware of what ring you'll be "up" in next and listen for that ring's announcements. If it is not the association's policy to announce rings, make sure you're aware of the schedule and check progress frequently.

Be aware that show halls vary considerably in sound quality and acoustics. Shows in places like armories or arenas are notoriously bad for horrible echoes. It can also be hard to hear announcements in a crowded show hall, where the PA system is competing with the noise made by spectators. It's good to keep an eye on a ring, as well as an ear turned for the announcements.

Cats often spend a certain portion of show time napping. Some do nothing but nap at a show. Make sure your cat is awake and alert before going to a ring. You may wish to wake your cat five or ten minutes before so the cat has shed the "sleepies" by ring time, particularly if your cat is a little tempermental upon waking (as many people are before their first cup of coffee!). Some cats do fall asleep in the show ring; Persians are particularly notorious for this. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but your cat may not be at its best if the judge has to wake it up!

The clerk may announce a grooming call on longhaired cats. This is an advance warning to people showing longhaired cats, and is announced when longhaired judging is about to start in a particular ring. This is not a call to bring the cat up, but a warning that the number will soon be called. This is much appreciated by those showing longhair cats, who need more advance grooming. There are almost never grooming calls for shorthaired cats, so be alert, particularly if you're showing an Abyssinian or Balinese, as in many associations, cats are called to the ring in alphabetical order by breed.

When your number is called, get your cat out of the cage, do a touch-up grooming and carry the cat to the ring. You may wish to carry your cat in such a way that the grooming job isn't destroyed. Watch how other exhibitors carry their cats to rings for hints.

Some exhibitors use powder on their cats when they do their pre-judging grooming. A longhair exhibitor may use powder to add lift and volume to a cat's coat, while shorthair exhibitors may use it to smooth a silky coat. Use cornstarch-based powder, not talcum powder. Powder helps reduce excess coat oil that may cause a coat to separate and lose body. Some use colored powder, not to hide flaws, but because most commercial powder is white, and this can dull a dark coat. Imagine using white powder on a black cat! However, it is crucial to brush out every speck of powder. All of it . Never go halfway on this point. Powder may not be used to hide color flaws. A judge who gets powder on her hands from handling a cat or sees powder on the judging stand will often disqualify the offending cat.

Move quietly into the ring and place your cat in its designated cage. This will be marked by the cat's number. You may pet your cat briefly or do a very quick touch-up groom before closing the cage and moving back into the spectators. You will see brush-wielding exhibitors doing a last fluff on a Persian, or an exhibitor give a sleek Siamese a quick buff with a chamois. You may also want to stand where your cat will see you, but don't call out to your cat during the ring.

You may notice that some exhibitors are more prompt than others with bringing in their cats. Some may wait until just before the cat is being judged to bring the cat to the ring. People have mixed feelings about this. Some few exhibitors may do it to grandstand, or make an 'entrance'. However, some may have good reason for doing this. Some cats do not like the judging cages and are less stressed if they spend less time in the cage. This requires careful monitoring, however -- you don't want to hold up a ring or have your cat marked absent! Try your cat in a ring and see how it deals with the judging cage. Many cats do very well and have no difficulty. In general, promptness is good, but be aware some adjustment may be necessary, depending on the cat. Some just may need a few shows to become accustomed to the cage, particularly if they are not caged at home.

Sometimes an intact female will go into heat at a show. This happens sometimes, and you will need to make a judgment call about how you want to handle this. Loud-voiced breeds, such as Orientals, can drown out an entire roomful of cats and spectators when calling! Some exhibitors "pull" the cat (meaning that they do not continue to exhibit the cat at the show), as a calling female can make the intact males aggressive and difficult to handle -- and can make you unpopular with your fellow exhibitors! If you decide to go ahead with her, you may wish to bring her to the ring at the very last minute to avoid problems. Of course, this does not apply to HHPs or alters.

Don't talk about your cat with spectators in such a way that the judge may overhear. It's best to be quiet during the judging. More information about dealing with judges follows.

When the judging is over and the clerk indicates that the cat may leave, go to the cage, gather any ribbons, remove your cat and leave promptly. The clerk usually indicates this by turning the cat's number face down on top of the cage.

Many clubs are replacing cloth ribbons with permanent ribbons, which are plastic and clip to the cage with a hook. Do not take these. If you wish to have a ribbon, pick up a cloth copy of that permanent ribbon from the ring clerk. This is because many exhibitors don't bother to take the cloth ribbons, or throw them out, which wastes ribbons. Since clubs must pay for ribbons, many now use permanent markers as a cost-saving issue. This doesn't mean you cannot get one if you want one. Just take one from the judge's table.

Your cat needs positive reinforcement. Never punish a cat for behaving badly in the ring or if it does not place as high as you would expect. In fact, an extra hug and treats may be in order! You need to make the show fun for your cat, and punishing the cat will only make him or her hate showing. Unfortunately, some poor exhibitors may show anger to their cats if they do not win, or if the cat behaves badly in a ring. Showing is not for every cat. Not every cat has the basic temperament, and even a great cat can have an off day. Many exhibitors make it a habit of giving the cat a small food treat after each ring.

Most shows have a rule that you cannot leave the show hall until a certain time. If you have to leave earlier than the designated time, talk to the show manager to obtain permission to leave. Generally, unless you or one of your cats is sick, plan to remain until the end of the official show hours.

In a two-day show, you may leave your things at the hall overnight, but make sure to take anything valuable or anything you want for that night with you. And you must take your cat -- cats may not be left in the show hall. If you'd be heartbroken if a particular item was stolen, take it with you.

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Finals rings

Each cat is examined by each judge at a show at least once. This is the regular ring when all cats are judged. The judge chooses the best of each category -- Kitten, Premier, Champion, and HHP -- to create the finals ring. In most shows, these are the judge's top ten kittens, cats in championship, cats in premiership, or HHPs. There may be more or less, depending on the exact nature of the scoring and the number of cats in a particular category.

One thing that may surprise some spectators (and new exhibitors) is that a cat made Best Cat by one judge might not even be used by another. That's why cat shows have multiple judges: because judges don't always agree. Given this, there is an amazing amount of agreement among individual judges; you will tend to see a very similar group of cats in each category's finals ring for a given show.

In some associations such as CFA, the assigned numbers of those cats called to the finals ring will be announced over the PA system. In other associations, such as TICA, these numbers are not announced. To find out if you made it to a finals ring, you must go to the ring to look at the numbers on the cages. Don't take your cat with you. You will have plenty of time to fetch the cat later, and do a little touch-up on the grooming. It's always best to keep an eye on a ring, as well as an ear.

If your cat is lucky enough to make a finals ring, the routine up to placing the cat in the cage is much the same. However, you will not be allowed to retrieve your cat until the ring is over. When the ring is finished, you may gather your cat and rosette(s), and you may thank the judge for finalling your cat. You may also ask the judge to sign your rosette, although this is not necessary. This is OK, because this is the last time that judge will examine your cat at this show.

Occasionally, you may find yourself in the position of being called to a finals ring at the same time your cat is supposed to be judged in another ring. What you do next depends on what order things happen. If your cat was called to a regular judging ring first, you go to that ring and then bring the cat to the final when finished there. Tell the ring clerk in the finals ring that your cat is being judged in another ring and you will bring it the second it becomes available. You might discreetly ask the ring clerk in the regular judging ring to release your cat quickly because it is needed elsewhere, but this is not always possible. Usually the ring clerks are aware of conflicts and try to avoid them, but sometimes conflicts happen, particularly late in the day.

If your cat is in a final or was called to the final first, take your cat to the final, and go to the ring clerk in the regular ring and explain that your cat is in a ring elsewhere and will be there the second that cat becomes available. Go to the finals ring clerk and ask that your cat be released from the finals once its rosette has been hung. Many clerks will accommodate this request in the interests of keeping the show on schedule.

One point to make here: if you are taking a cat directly from a finals ring to another judging ring, do NOT take the rosette with you! This is extremely rude and unsportsmanlike. Leave the rosette at the first ring, give it to another person to return to your cage, or take it to your cage before you go to the regular ring. The judge is probably already aware of what is holding up your cat, but it is not good to wave the issue right under his or her nose. While this will not affect the outcome of most judging -- judges make up their own minds -- it is the perception of the other exhibitors you should worry about.

If you don't make any finals rings, don't worry. Few people final at their first show, for a variety of reasons. The first show cat most people own doesn't tend to be an excellent example of the breed; it takes a careful eye and a rare opportunity to step out with a truly great show cat your first time out. It takes a while to learn how to groom a new cat, particularly if it's an unfamiliar breed. Both you and your cat need to become accustomed to showing. Talk to people with your breed or related breeds and ask them to assess your cat and grooming job.

Also, very young kittens (4 months) and Opens (cats in champion and premier classes) rarely final, particularly in CFA, where the judges know the title status of the cats they are judging. Champions and Premiers may make Best Champion or Best Premier (meaning they are judged against other cats with the title Premier or Champion), but they rarely make Top 10 finals, particularly if it's in CFA and late in the show season. Opens are often young cats who have not achieved their full potential. If you do final as an Open, Premier, or Champion, take this as a good sign of your cat's future show success.

Give your cat and yourself time to adjust and learn the ropes. There's more fun to cat shows than winning ribbons.

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How do I treat a judge?

With respect, of course! However, there are some guidelines to follow when dealing with judges.

The reason these customs are in place is so the judge will not appear unprofessional and you will not look like you are trying to curry unearned favor. The vast majority of judges are ethical and always strive to maintain objectivity, but appearance of objectivity is almost as important as practice. By not respecting the judge's need to appear objective, you are not doing that judge any favors.

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A few miscellaneous tidbits

There are a few situations you need to be aware of to deal with a show hall.

Cat out: Sometimes a cat will escape owner or cage and get loose in the hall. If you hear someone yell "Cat out!" or "Cat loose!" the most helpful thing you can do is to close any doors near you. This helps prevent the cat from escaping outside the room. Do not pick up the cat yourself. If you see it, alert the owner. The cat is probably scared and it's best to let Mom or Dad grab the cat.

Right-of-way: Any exhibitor carrying a cat has right-of-way. If you see someone coming with a cat, get out of the way as quickly as possible. If you are carrying a cat to or from a show ring, you also have right-of-way, but expect to say a bright, cheerful, and loud "Excuse me, cat coming through!" often!

Friendly, amiable sociability is the key to enjoying a show. This is a room full of people as crazy about cats as you are! Don't limit yourself to talking to people in "your" breed. Use this as an opportunity to learn as much as you can about other breeds.

Don't touch other people's cats without permission. Ask questions.

Enjoy the spectators; make it fun for them, too!

Some people in the cat fancy are more political than others, and you're best off to avoid repeating gossip and politics. As in all things, politeness and courtesy always win friends.

One last piece of advice: Enjoy yourself. Don't take showing too seriously, whether you're a seasoned campaigner or a bright green novice. Even the best cat has an off day, and not every judge will love your cat. Your cat deserves love and pampering whether it never wins a ribbon all day or makes Best Cat in every ring. Your cat doesn't know the difference, and will love you no matter how it places. Doesn't it deserve the same courtesy in return?

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