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'Barack Obama' hopes to be top cat

At this weekend's CFA Cat Championship, feline finalists from Renegade the Republicat to Barack Obama the Bombay cat will vie for judges' votes.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Barack Obama and John McCain aren’t the only candidates getting a lot of attention.

So are those vying for the purr-fect president.

Renegade the Republicat, a British Shorthair, and Barack Obama, a Bombay cat (and a Democat), will be battling it out for votes in one of the many competitions that are part of the CFA-IAMS Cat Championship this weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The sixth annual event, running Saturday and Sunday is expected to attract more than 80,000 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.”

But one thing at the end of that spectrum at a press preview was a group of partially-dressed women getting body painted. They sat still while artists painted elaborate cat scenes on them, like cats in a jungle or watching koi in a pond. Later the painted women nuzzled kittens who will be back at the main show hoping to find homes. The event 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.

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 will be trying 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.”

One show cat who has already done his part to chip in to help find homes for animals is Dandy Lion, a red lynx point Birman, with creamy white fur and blue eyes. His owner Jane Stiner said that Dandy Lion does a lot of photo shoots because of his ability to sit very still, and was perfect for an adverting campaign that Animal Care and Control of New York ran to raise of awareness of their programs. Dandy Lion’s shot shows him looking straight into the camera with a sign that says, “I didn’t do anything — victim of divorce.”

Dandy Lion is competing in the Premiership category — which are cats that have been spayed or neutered. Unlike dog shows that only allow unaltered animals, cat shows have a category for those who have been fixed.

More than just a showThe 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. She showed how Hobie, an eight-year-old American shorthair could jump up and clap his hands. But the big tricks will be on display this weekend, with a cat that can play basketball, as well as one that has been trained to walk a tightrope, she said.

Getting ready for the big weekend has 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.”