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Published: Sunday, 1/14/2001

It's a cat fight at the Rec Center

With his short, heavy body, big eyes, and broad round head with ears on the side, Shiloh the Persian is considered a real hunk in the cat world.

“He's ranked 25th in the nation. He's running for a national win,” explained his owner, Charlotte Baum, who brought Shiloh from their La Jolla, Calif., home to the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee this weekend.

No question, Shiloh is a striking cat. Yesterday, as Ms. Baum brushed his soft-as-cashmere white fur, he was a picture of pampered indolence.

To the uninitiated, Shiloh's pushed-in nose and pronounced chin might appear misshapen, but in the world of pedigreed cats they're about as close to perfection as a Persian's nose and chin can be, Ms. Baum said.

That world continues on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today as Mid-Michigan Cat Fanciers, Inc., finishes its annual show at the recreation center. Almost 400 felines - from Norwegian forest cats to Japanese bobtails - are competing in the two-day series of beauty contests, which attracted 3,200 people last year, according to show manager Brenda Shaffer.

The competition includes household cats, the purebreds' proletarian cousins, which in the dog world would be called mutts.

Competitive cat fanciers have their own subculture, with their own jargon. In their lingo, orange is red and gray is blue. In competition, the cats are judged on their “confirmation,” or how closely their appearance matches a set of ideal standards established by the Cat Fanciers Association, the international group that bills itself as the largest registry of pedigreed cats.

Tom Pillars, a cat lover from Farmington Hills, Mich., traveled south to show off Winston, the Maine coon cat that is his pride and joy. “Winston even gets into the bath tub with me,” he said. “I've had him since August and we've definitely bonded.” Winston took a first and a second in best-of-breed competitions.

The coon cat, a popular breed, was much in evidence. They're supposedly descended from working cats in Maine that farmers kept as mousers.

They're described as large, growing to 25 pounds, and even-tempered. Susan Lee, who breeds them in Okemos, Mich., said they're the second most popular purebred after Persians. Mrs. Lee had one for sale for $400.

What's considered beautiful on one cat breed can be downright ugly on a cat of another breed. For instance, a Persian's short, heavy build is just the opposite of the long, fine-boned body an attractive Siamese is supposed to have.

The working lives of professional cat-show judges such as Leta and Don Williams revolve around such distinctions. They spend as much time on the road as they do in their home in Ocala, Fla. Last year they judged at shows in Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Mexico, and across the United States. Mr. Williams is president of the Cat Fanciers Association.

When judging, Mrs. Williams takes the opportunity to entertain. “Persians are not Rhodes scholars,” she said to loud yucks as she pointed out a cat's characteristics in one competition.

“I can look through some Persians' ears and see the audience. But they are beautiful. It's a dumb blonde kind of thing.”



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