Club Cuddly: The day the cat people came to town
The Grateful Dead had deadheads and bars have barflies-and just as every circle or organization has a devoted contingency worthy of the namesake, the Cat Fanciers Association's diehards are often referred to as “cat people.” The circuit winds its way across the globe, from Davenport, Iowa to Kobe-Shi, Japan.
This past weekend, more than 300 cats of 50 breeds descended on Del Mar, where the CFA staged its Southwest Regional Qualifying Show. All CFA-registered cats entered in the regionals qualify for a berth in the 2002 CFA International Cat Show, taking place in Houston, Texas the weekend before Thanksgiving. But if this gives the impression that Del Mar's event featured mostly homegrown talent, it would be overlooking a fundamental aspect of officially sanctioned competition: the cat people themselves.
Ask around and you'll likely discover that CFA is not about demographics, it's about victory-may the best cat win is not only a credo, but also a way of life. While the most dedicated of the set may enjoy nothing more than to cuddle with their favorite feline friends, when it comes to competition, these enthusiasts are not afraid to draw their claws.
“Cliff,” a retired Navy sea captain who now volunteers his time at local shows, is quick to draw a distinction between those who come to participate and those who come to compete. For the latter, Cliff explains, “It has to do with judges. You may see a judge one week in California, the next week in Florida. It's important to score well. Cat people will track certain judges in hopes that at least four out of eight give favorable marks.” Perhaps this means judges see the same cats and develop favorites.
“A lot of brown nosing goes on; judges have their preferences. Many cat people register for multiple shows the same weekend. Then, when judges are announced-which is generally the weekend before an event-they decide which to attend. Often by this point it's too late to cancel hotel and flight arrangements. Some people spend $25,000 to $40,000 campaigning for the title of National Grand Champion-I've even heard of $100,000,” he said. A breeder, competitor and, in this case, Southwest Regionals announcer, Cliff speaks fervently, his tone a cross between critical and bemused. But when on the topic of cat people's motivations, he is unmistakably put-off.
“There's a lot of ego involved in jockeying for accolades, a lot of pride.”
A self-proclaimed veteran of CFA competition, he speaks of his cats with the same ebullience that characterizes his bellowing announcements. Cliff and company have bred more than 20 pedigreed felines currently recognized as Grand Champion competitors-no amateur feat when one considers that it frequently takes years for a cat to attain the 200-point requisite for Grand Champion status. Most contestants hedge their bets on a particular breed and Cliff is no exception. His specialty is the Devon Rex, a genus known for its elfin features and almost shaggy mop of loose curls. While purebreds vie for the most highly coveted titles, there also exists a category known as “Household Pets,” which allows cats of impure stock to compete on a qualifier level. But make no mistake: competition is fierce across the board, and traveling cages are adorned with rosettes won by cats of all sizes, shapes and colors.
Of course, not all globetrotting enthusiasts choose to enter their prized pets in competition. “Denise,” the mother of several grown children, is exemplary of a different perspective. “It can be very stressful on the cats,” she says. “It's a long road [to the Grand Champion's circle] and there are no guarantees. By the end of a season, a cat might not even place for one of many reasons. Cats get worn out and aren't always in top form when it counts; sometimes championship titles are a factor of dumb luck more than anything.”
Denise's pride is a well-preened Tonkinese, of whom she performs a splendid impersonation: “Oh, I'm just a big laid-back boy,” she says, rolling her eyes, “The world could go by and nothing would ever bother me.”
Perhaps these words summed up the overall vibe at the fairgrounds this weekend: doting owners powdering the corners of their cats' eyes with q-tips, beautiful Persians being spoon-fed Gerber turkey-and-gravy baby food. Del Mar may only have been two days in the lives of these precious felines and their masters, but everyone appeared lost in the cuddly world of CFA showmanship, as though all that mattered was contained within the compound walls. Next weekend, like fans of a successful touring rock act, the cat people storm Arizona.
Baghdad Café: Iraqi expatriates call loudly for end to Hussein's reign
Just a short walk from where hundreds of protesters demonstrated against President Bush's impending war against Saddam Hussein five days prior, a smaller gathering last Friday made much noise of their desire to rid Iraq of Hussein once and for all. This group was equally energetic and perhaps more deeply convicted than Bush's antagonists. After all, they know intimately the severe trauma of living under Hussein's brutal, 23-year reign.
Outside the Federal Building downtown, women cloaked in hajab (the scarves Muslim females wear) and small children held signs with slogans like, “Saddam committed genocide crime!” and “Saddam = terror and threat to peace” while men took turns hollering into a bullhorn, leading the crowd in spirited chants:
“Peace, peace in Iraq / Down, down with Saddam!” “Iraq yes, Saddam no / he's a criminal, he must go!” “Saddam and Hitler are the same / the only difference is the name!”
Amid the din, Firend al Rasheed, a 35-year-old computer systems analyst, distributed flyers that explained what the group wants and detailed Hussein's transgressions.
“This demonstration is a demonstration of peace,” al Rasheed told CityBeat, straining to be heard over the bullhorn. “It's also a plea for all peace-loving people to help establish a peaceful, democratic government in Iraq. We appeal to the international community to help Iraqi people establish a government that [would] have a better record of human rights, a government that can respect all segments of the Iraqi population, that will not have tyranny and not terrorize its own nation and neighboring countries.”
You got the feeling al Rasheed had spoken these words before.
This was the sort of event that makes anti-war activists cringe when they see it-friends and relatives of the very residents of Baghdad whom activists are thinking of when they call on the United States to cease its talk of violent “regime change.”
For these Iraqi demonstrators, regime change, violent or otherwise, is the only acceptable outcome. They don't want innocent people to die in the process, but if that's what it takes, al Rasheed said, so be it.
“American people are familiar with Iraqi suffering for the past 12 years,” he said. “What would you rather have, 12 years of suffering and maybe another 30 years of suffering under Saddam and Saddam's son, or just short-term pain for long-term gain. Just bite the bullet and get rid of it-even if there's collateral damage.”
Al Rasheed father, a professor of European literature at Baghdad University, was threatened with execution for speaking out in favor of democracy. His dad had studied in Germany and returned to Iraq after the Ba'athists took control of the country in the 1960s. While fighting against Iran to the east and also with the separatist Kurds in Northern Iraq, the Ba'athists maintained a repressive regime. Al Rasheed's father didn't stick around for Hussein's ascension to the presidency in 1979-he escaped from the country through Northern Iraq in 1976 and fled to Germany.
“My father was not part of any party,” al Rasheed said. “He was just a regular university professor who was preaching democracy and freedom-simple as that.”
The family reunited later in Germany. From there they moved to Saudi Arabia, where al Rasheed's father secured a teaching job. Al Rasheed himself immigrated to Canada to attend college and then to the United States, where he has lived for the past 13 years.
Now he's one of a reported 40,000 or more Iraqis living in San Diego County and one of about 75 who showed up to demonstrate in favor of a united international effort to oust Hussein from power. “We want to make it explicit to the international community what the Iraqi people are going through, the difficulty [under which] Iraqis live. I mean, think about it-it's common sense—what would you rather have a current Iraq with Saddam Hussein in power or a democratic, free Iraq?”
What if the rest of the world doesn't fall in line behind the United States?
“It's not for me to say how it's going to happen, or how it should happen,” he said. “Whatever it takes to get Saddam out of power.” Al Rasheed said he'd like to see a war against Hussein similar to the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Does he believe defeating Hussein militarily would seamlessly lead to democracy in Iraq?
“Look, no matter what kind of government it will be,” he said, “it will never be as brutal as Saddam. It's sort of a cliché. Everyone knows Saddam's record is despicable in terms of human rights.”
Underscoring that point, al Rasheed smiled and said demonstrations like the one Friday in San Diego could never happen in Baghdad. “It's not just these people,” he said. “Their relatives, kids, women-everyone would be probably swimming in a pool of poison.”
He was asked if there was a touch of exaggeration in there somewhere.
Al Rasheed smiled and shook his head. “I find it so strange that people don't understand the tyranny of Saddam.”