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AS FAR AS OWNERS GO, SHOW IN HAMBURG IS CAT'S MEOW

Cat shows, like the one going on this weekend at the Erie County Fairgrounds, in the Town of Hamburg, are different from dog shows in one key way.

They're utterly quiet. There's no barking, of course, but no roaring blow dryers, either.

"Once in a while, you hear a meow," said Eileen Lash, a breeder of Maine Coon cats from Fredonia and show manager for the Buffalo Cat Fanciers.

On cue, a cat across the room meowed indignantly.

This weekend's 56th annual CFA Allbreed Championship Cat Show is one of the nation's largest, and it drew 165 exhibitors and 317 felines from across the country and Canada.

"I always say it's a passion. I couldn't imagine my life without cats," said Madeleine Saunders, a Westport, Ont., breeder who showed two white Persians, Satin and C'est Moi.

The exhibitors often travel great distances with their beloved and thoroughly pampered cats to enter them in the top shows.

"I enjoy it. My husband has his hobbies and I have mine," said Carole Holliday, who came down the Thruway from Great Barrington, Mass., to show two Cornish Rexes, Yo-Yo and Squeak.

"He's a fanatic fisherman, so this is cheaper than a bass boat," she said.

The exhibitors take their cats and the competition seriously. At shows like this one, most of the presenters will be cat breeders, though the Hamburg show did have a category for household cats. Most exhibitors are women of a certain age, with a few men mixed in.

The cats at the show represented all 40 recognized breeds. Though it's hard to tell what a cat's really thinking, most didn't seem to mind being there among their peers.

The cats compete in categories such as kittens, household cats or the open level, initially within their own breeds and later across the show.

"It's almost an addiction. When you put something beautiful in the ring, and the judge appreciates it, it's such a wonderful feeling," said Connie Stewart, who brought a black Persian kitten named Magic and a brown patch tabby named Juliet with her from Los Angeles.

Stewart, one of the top exhibitors in the country, started showing cats after she divorced her husband, who was allergic to felines. To make the bedding for her first cage, she tore up her wedding dress.

Now, she elaborately decorates the cages, adding fringed and beaded fabric to the exterior and placing toy dragons and other lucky charms on the top and front.

Stewart's cats and other competitors met the judges at one of eight rings underneath two small spotlights. The judges studied eye and fur color, grooming, body shape and weight and personality, which they measured by playing with the cat with a long feather.

As animal lovers admired the show cats, vendors seeking some of their business lined the walls. They sold cat-shaped Purrses and toilet seat covers and hand-sewn signs that said, "Dogs drool, cats rule."

The cat show continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the fairgrounds Agri-Center, 5920 South Park Ave. Jarod Miller, a Town of Boston native and owner of Wild Encounters, will appear at 1 p.m.

Miller, who has been on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and other shows, will show a crocodile, armadillo, ring-tailed lemur and African crow.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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