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TODAY staff and wire
updated 10/20/2008 9:25:23 AM ET 2008-10-20T13:25:23

The votes are in: The people want Barack Obama, a Bombay cat, to lead them in a purr-fect presidency.

The winner beat Renegade the Republicat, a British Shorthair, by 65 percent in the "vote for your favorite DemoCat or RepubliCat" competition at the Cat Fanciers' Association-Iams Championship at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

Barack wasn't the only feline clawing for the attention this weekend.

America's top cat is Russian — a Russian Blue, that is. Named Runner, the 18-month-old feline was the first of his breed to nab Best in Show at the championship.

Image:1.5 years old Russian Blue cat named Blade Runner
Chip East  /  Reuters file
Cat show judge Darrell Newkirk and Cat Fanciers Association president Pam DelaBar look at Blade Runner, a Russian Blue cat, who was presented as winner of Best in Show, at the CFA-Iams Cat Championship.

With a shiny, velvety gray coat and green eyes, Runner competed against hundreds of felines for the prestigious title.

The 12-pounder won 400 pounds of cat food — and a national appearance Monday morning on “Live with Regis and Kelly.”

The sixth annual event, which featured 41 breeds among the several hundred competing animals, attracted thousands of visitors.

“It draws more attention to cats than any other event,” said Pam DelaBar, the President and CEO of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, who has judged cat shows on every continent but Antarctica. “No matter where you go, when cat fanciers get together, they have a common thread of passion for cats.”

DelaBar was quick to point out that these just aren’t crazy cat people.

“This is a broad spectrum of society,” she said. “The woman working with cat agility is a teacher. I’m a retired Army officer. There’s a lawyer over there.”

More than just a show
The event also offers guests a chance to adopt a kitten of their own brought from 16 shelter and rescue organizations that are part of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals.

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The weekend is key to reaching their goal of adoptions, said Jane Hoffman, the president of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, noting that last year the show facilitated more than 200 adoptions and introduced prospective pet owners to rescue organizations. Several of the organizations tried out a new personality matching system that screens the cats — as well as their potential owners — to see who will be a good fit.

“It’s like eHarmony for cats,” Hoffman said. “We want to avoid people returning cats to the shelter.”

The show also promotes cat training, which makes daily tasks, like brushing teeth and trimming toenails easier for owners, said Karen Thomas, a head trainer with Iams. During the press preview, she showed how Hobie, an eight-year-old American shorthair could jump up and clap his hands. The show featured cats that could perform big tricks, like play basketball or walk on a tightrope.

Getting ready for the big weekend required a lot of preparation. Raven, a stocky three and half-year-old Persian got primped for three hours before coming to the preview. Bathing his thick black coat is an ordeal that requires four different shampoos and lots of rinsing, said his owner Claire Collins. Collins then uses a large pet dryer — so big it sounds like a vacuum — to make sure Raven’s long hair stays perfectly straight. Raven then snuggles up on her lap as she combs his coat out.

But Collins says all the work is worth it to be able to participate in the show.

“There’s that thrill of competition,” said Collins, who lives in Cranford, N.J., and brings her 10-year old daughter Kristen with her to shows. “There’s nothing better than spending a day with my cat.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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