For Kitsap 4-H competitive cat-showers, practice makes purrr-fect

Seabeck 15-year-old Paula Tasso plays with her 8-year-old cat, Smore, which she shows in county and state competitions as a Cat Nip 4-H club member. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Seabeck 15-year-old Paula Tasso plays with her 8-year-old cat, Smore, which she shows in county and state competitions as a Cat Nip 4-H club member.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

When 15-year-old Michael Weidenheimer started competitively showing his cat in cat competitions throughout the state, it was an exercise in pride.

He met a friend who was showing her cat at the Puyallup State Fair and thought he could do better.

“I started talking about how my cat was better than hers and I wanted to prove it to her,” he said.

When the two entered their cats in a Jefferson County cat show, his friend scored 97 points out of 100 – on his first try, Weidenheimer scored 96.

“I actually did pretty much prove that my cat was equal to her cat,” he said.

Since then, the 10th grader at Kingston High School, now entering his third year in the Bremerton-based Cat Nip 4-H club, has shown his 15-year-old cat Hari in competitions throughout the state. Most recently, Hari was named the champion senior female cat and the reserve grand champion senior cat at the Puyallup Fair in September.

Though his initial interest in showing cats stemmed from a desire to prove a point, Weidenheimer’s interest in cats has grown and he describes his cat as his friend.

“Sometimes I’ll be in a sort of bad mood and she’ll sense it and she’ll just walk over,” he said, adding that his cat gives him a “head-butt” as a sign of affection.

For 15-year-old Seabeck resident Paula Tasso, her hobby of showing cats is an extension of her affection for the pets.

She reads cat-centric adventure novels, draws cats and has shown her two cats, 7-year-old Spirit and 8-year-old Smore, for more than two years.

“I’m really close to my cats,” Tasso said.

When showing at county and state fairs, 4-H members can enter their cats in two different contests. Fitting and showing requires the 4-H members to demonstrate their knowledge and handling of their cat to judges. Type, the second category, is where judges determine how well a cat conforms to its breed profile – for example, Tasso enters her cats as adult shorthair cats. In the type contests, the felines are also scored on their friendliness and interactions with strangers and other cats.

There are several ways to prepare for the contests, Tasso said, including studying cat books for the knowledge-based competitions and taking cats to the park to socialize them.

Weidenheimer said 4-H members can only do so much to train the cats – often their personalities will determine how well they perform.

“The cat pretty much shows up and does its thing,” he said. “You’re just there to help the cat. Whatever happens, happens.”

As Tasso knows, unexpected challenges can arise at the fair. One year at the Kitsap County Fair, her cat Smore ran away and was running loose on the fairgrounds for a whole day before she found him later that night near the trailer where she was camping. Most recently, she decided to retire her cat Spirit, who has grown unsociable and started hissing at people who tried to pet him.

“Spirit is tired of it,” she said. “He doesn’t want to be at the fair, so I’m going to let him stay at home.”

For 13-year-old Brownsville resident Emily Symington, showing cats is a lifelong passion – she has been active in Cat Nip 4-H since kindergarten. The Ridgetop Junior High eighth grader shows two cats, 3-year-old Sunshine and 1-year-old Flame. The hobby is also a way of preparing her for a career as a veterinarian, she said.

In this year’s Kitsap County Fair, her two cats collected one grand champion prize and three reserve champion ribbons.

Whereas other animals shown at fairs by 4-H or Future Farmers of America members, such as horses, cows and pigs, often serve a practical farm-oriented purpose, household pets such as cats are easier to show and their maintenance and transport are less costly, Symington said.

She also said her cats’ behavior has improved as a result of the socialization at the contests.

“They used to be fighting and messing around,” Symington said. “Since the fair they’ve become calmer.”

The experience provides personal development for the 4-H members themselves, Tasso said. Exhibiting her cats has helped her become more outgoing and confident. Weidenheimer said showing his cats helps him confront his stage fright.

But it doesn’t hurt that his prizes give him and his cat bragging rights.

“She’s showing all those younger cats who’s the boss.”

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