GONZALES — Bobbie Ruble and her 5-month-old kitten have been busy this winter.
Saturday’s 40th annual Baton Rouge Cat Show at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, sponsored by the Greater Baton Rouge Cat Club, was the fourth show she and her kitten had attended in just six weeks.
She spent Saturday afternoon sitting in a metal folding chair and reading her iPad after a 10-hour drive from her Orlando, Fla., home to Gonzales so her platinum solid Tonkinese, named I’ve Got The World On A String, could get accustomed to traveling on the cat show circuit.
“I think she’s something special,” Ruble said.
Ruble knows special when she sees it.
The retiree has entered cats into competitions off and on since 1967. She switched from showing Siamese cats to Tonkinese in the late 1980s because Tonkinese reminded her of how Siamese cats used to be.
“I would drape my Siamese over my shoulder like a show piece and every once in a while her head would pop up and people would stop and look,” Ruble said. “This is a cat I can do the same thing with.”
By 3 p.m., Ruble’s kitten had competed in three rounds of judging, with three more rounds on the docket, and was catching the attention of onlookers and feline admirers strolling around six rows of tables full of cages, pet carriers and cats.
Presenters read, worked crossword puzzles and even knitted to pass the time, while most of the cats were not at all fazed by the attention they were getting.
Larry Johnson, president of the Greater Baton Rouge Cat Club, said most of the older cats were immune to the show’s atmosphere and didn’t mind being moved from area to area and cage to cage while spectators and competitors milled around admiring them.
“We get everything from kids walking around, telling their parents they love ‘kitty cats’ to retirees who have been around cats their whole lives,” Johnson said.
At 2 p.m., Johnson received word the 400th visitor had just entered the cat show floor, a new attendance record for the event. He attributed the greater turnout to a media blitz featuring television appearances, newspaper articles and two billboards . The show opened at 11 a.m. and would continue until 6 p.m.
Johnson, a photographer who specializes in cat and animal portraits, said he was thrilled by the large turnout because the money raised at this year’s show would fund next year’s show, keeping the nonprofit cat club sponsor of the annual shows in the black.
More than 90 presenters entered about 130 cats for Saturday’s judging, which focused on four categories: kittens, housecats, adults and adults that have been spayed or neutered. The cat competition is further divided into divisions for shorthair and longhair cats.
Stepping away from the tent that doubled as his photography studio for the day, Johnson stopped to watch John Hiemstra judge longhair cats.
Hiemstra looked over a few caged cats before removing an exotic shorthair, a version of the Persian cat.
Judges look for how closely a cat resembles the standards for its breed — what experts with the Cat Fanciers Association determine to be that breed’s appearance. Cats are judged on a 100-point scale on the standards set by the association.
After checking the exotic’s coat texture, Hiemstra placed the cat back in its cage and then dragged a large feather across the tops of two cages, enticing the cats inside to try and grab for it. Johnson said Hiemstra was using the feather to check the cats’ eyes and ear movement.
Karen Godwin, of Baton Rouge, has been a judge for two years following her career as an award-winning breeder of five national champions from 2003 to 2006 and in 2008.
“If I’ve done so well in the competition, I must know something about what a good-looking cat looks like,” Godwin said.
She said the best advice she’d received on cat-judging came from Vaughn Barber, the former club president, who once told her, “If you judge the cats, you will never go wrong.”
As a breeder, Godwin said, she knew a lot about a few select breeds. As a judge, she is expected to know a lot about more than 40 different breeds.
She said each of one of Saturday’s seven judges could pick a different overall champion because each “has a different eye or appreciation for beauty.”
As Godwin prepared to judge the finals, Elena Keegan; her daughter, Ava Keegan, 9; and Ava’s friend, Abby Barlow, 9, admired a variety of cats and breeds on display.
Elena Keegan said they attended the show because Ava was adopting a cat April 15 to pair with their domestic shorthair named Brando.
When asked what type of cat she would take home if she could choose one, Ava Keegan’s eyes lit up.
“All of them,” she said, laughing.