RALEIGH — Captain Fantastic stretched out for a nap, watching lazily through slitted eyes as fellow felines were hurried through crowded aisles to the judges’ tables.
The 18-month-old from Augusta, Ga., was the cat’s meow last year. He was named a regional winner, took 14th place overall in the Southeastern kitten regionals and was chosen as the Best American Shorthair Kitten of the Year by The International Cat Association.
In his spare time, Captain Fantastic lives with self-described “dog people” Haze and Rebecca Casey, three Ragdolls and a Persian cat. Besides his good looks and winning personality, Haze Casey said, Captain Fantastic is a whiz at playing fetch.
“He’ll bring his mouse when he wants to play fetch, and put it at your feet. You throw it, and he brings it back,” he said.
The 17th annual championship and household pet show – titled Meowing in the New Year – started Friday and ends Sunday in the Holshouser Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. Sponsored by the First in Flight Cat Club, it’s one of several dozen TICA holds around the world each year. The group recognizes 55 pedigreed cat breeds, but it also judges household and rescue pets.
Winning cats need three qualities: good condition, personality and beauty, which Honey Gilmore, a First in Flight club member from Birmingham, Ala., said is always in the eye of the beholder. Cats and kittens are judged separately based on their breed, whether they are pedigree or mixed breed and whether they’ve been sterilized.
“You have a lot of people that want to show a pedigree cat, but they don’t want to deal with the hormones and all of the issues. That is one of the things that makes cats different from dogs (being shown),” Gilmore said. “It also makes you a little more rescue friendly.”
When a cat’s number is called, the owner scoops it up, giving a scruffy one a last brush or squirt of saline drops to “brighten” its eyes, before heading to the designated ring.
The judges will pick up each one, turning a cat to examine its legs and stretching it out to see the shape of the torso. Most cats are calm; they’ve been through this before and usually head straight for the toys or a nearby scratching post.
A few frightened by the noise and people cried out or wiggled to get free, but were quickly soothed by the judges’ practiced hands.
The top three highest-scoring cats and kittens in each of five categories will compete Sunday for the Best of the Best award and the Best of the Best Shorthairs. Two special awards also will be given: the Blue Yonder Award for the top-scoring blue-hued cat and the Tina Chase Memorial Award to the show’s fourth-best spayed or neutered cat.
The winners earn points based on how many other cats they defeat. At the end of each year, TICA adds up the points to find the best cats around the world in each breed and overall.
The real action, however, is out in the crowds, where old friends reunite, and rows of cats and kittens wait to be petted, Gilmore said. Most cats are comfortable with people, but ask first, she advised.
“You don’t know,” she said. “That cat could be mean as hell.”