Cat Fanciers Unite in Santa Monica

The auditorium was packed with cats, lots and lots of cats — Japanese bobtails, Abyssinians, Scottish Folds, mere Siamese — all pampered, all soothed, all content. They slept in cages cooled by miniature fans and stretched inside hermetically sealed plastic tents, emerging to be fluffed and spritzed and cooed at and combed by the hands of the creatures who fancy them, their keepers. Says one, whose pet lolled in a cage trimmed with lace, “You put up the lace curtains so your cat never has to see its neighbor. It’s for personal space.”

Yes, too many creatures jammed into too small a space. No one likes that, especially not the women tending to their pets at the Cat Fancier’s Association Cat Show in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. “Touch Not the Cat,” reads one sign outside a cage. “Please No Petting,” says another. And this, “My Life Is Better Than Yours.” (Oh, dear. In writing? It shouts: I can’t afford a security detail.)

Julie Benzer feeds her cat puréed veal. It’s delicate, she explains. It soothes the tummy. Benzer chauffered her cats from Arizona to Santa Monica for the show. “I get to spend the whole weekend with other crazy cat people,” she says. “You realize you’re not the only one.”

Karen Dauphin is a third-generation Siamese lover. As an infant, she had one in her crib, and she has worshiped the breed ever since. To be competitive at cat shows, Siamese need a runway-model’s body — skinny, toned, with not an ounce of fat. It is this aesthetic perfection that the friendly Dauphin reveres most. Her cat, Balanchine, has the elongated visage of a pharaoh and legs for days. “Like a steel pipe covered in fur,” says his owner. To touch soft hair over a hard, muscular body is, to her, to touch the divine. Balanchine, the Siamese was feeling hissy, however, and refused to be judged. Dauphin stroked his chin. She murmured encouragements.

If a cat is your only companion, he is worth a little sweet talk, to say nothing of $300 living room–size scratching posts shaped like jungle trees. At the show, cameras are ubiquitous, and discouraged. Cats do not like having their photos taken, says one woman. “The flash bothers their eyes. They get scared and upset at the bright light.” At one point actress Nicole Kidman — lanky, ascetic as a hairless sphynx — swings by for a brief, whisper-inducing look and to take her child for a spin around the floor. No photos, please, says her bodyguard. This is her private time.

Think she’s a diva?


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