Agility - A First Experience

BY KATHY DURDICK
Ristokat Himalayans & Persians

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The First Non-ICAT Agility Trial in CFA

On the weekend of Feb 5-6, 2005, Oregon Cats Inc. held their annual show in Portland, OR.  As a club known as an innovator for many things in the past such as the first club to hold a 2 day show, this show was no exception. 

The first ever non-ICAT agility event was held at the show!   They had an excellent entry with 45 cats – both pedigreed and household pets - ranging in age from kittens up to an Exotic who was almost nine years old!  

A number of breeds were represented, including Birmans, Persians, Maine Coons, Abyssinians, Somalis and Japanese Bobtails, just to name a few.

The Course

The course was set up in the back of the showhall, with plastic fencing all around the perimeter, and rubber mats as the flooring.  The obstacles included a set of stairs, several tunnels, 2 hoops, several small jumps, and a set of weave poles.  The course was run with varying degrees of success – a couple of entries managed to get around the course in only 2 or 3 minutes…  others took up to 15 minutes….  Or just gave up. 

A good view of the course including jumps, tunnel (background), weave poles and hoop (foreground)

Practice Time

Each entry was allowed as much practice time as they wanted, plus cats who were entered in the regular show, but not the agility, were also allowed to practice if they wanted to.  When they were ready, each competitor could then let the scorers know when they were ready to do a timed run, although only cats officially entered in the agility were allowed to be scored for awards.   Scoring was based not only on the time it took to go around the course, but also on how many obstacles were completed and if they were taken in the correct order.  

An Abyssinian considers the stairs...

The Audience

The event proved to be a HUGE spectator draw, with the show having a great gate both days.  Many spectators said they came simply because the agility had been advertised… and there was a lot of great advertisement done prior to the show, including articles in both major local newspapers about the agility event.  The newspapers seemed excited to write about it, as it was something new….  They seemed to really enjoy watching the event, even when it was just practice runs being done, and even if the cats really weren’t co-operating. 


An Ocicat starts up the steps
while the enthusiastic audience watches...

My Personal Experience:

I entered the agility competition with 2 cats that I thought, personality-wise, would be well suited to the experience. My first entry was a blue tabby Persian neuter, GC Ristokat’s Against All Odds, aka Murphy.   Murphy is almost 5 years old, and was shown a lot as a kitten and adult, and then periodically has been “dusted off” and brought to shows every once in awhile just for fun.  


A Somali nips through the tunnel

He always enjoys the shows and attention, and is quite comfortable in a showhall, even when it’s been a year since his last show.   

When I put him down in the agility area, he promptly headed for the edge of the enclosure, where there was a small gap between the rubber flooring and the edge of the fencing. He wanted to walk directly on the concrete floor. 

He wandered along the edge of the enclosure, looking at the people...  however, he had absolutely NO interest in toys, even the one that he usually goes totally nuts for! 

I finally picked him up, to put him into the area where the actual obstacles were. He was quite entertaining for the crowd at that time, as he proceeded to “limp” around the enclosure! 

The rubber flooring evidently really bothered him and felt too strange – even though he has such tremendously hairy feet, it’s hard to believe he could even feel it!  

So much for “contestant #1”….  ;-)

My second entry was a tortie lynx point Himalayan, CH Inthewind Grins&Giggles of Ristokat, aka Giggles. 

Giggles is just 8 months old, and was also entered in the regular show as an open, for winner’s ribbons.  I decided to enter her because she’s never met a toy she didn’t like, and is also very “blonde”.  

The experience with her was slightly better. The rubber matting didn’t bother her in the least, but she was much more interested in just “cruising around” and checking everything out, than in actually tackling the obstacles.  I could occasionally get her interested in a toy, but it was only a brief interest, then she was off on her own agenda again.

E ven though we weren’t exactly “stars” in the agility ring, it was still a fun experience, and well worth the effort. 

My Final Thoughts:

The following are simply my own personal comments, observations, and suggestions and have nothing to do with any sort of “official” CFA agility committee, etc.

  1. The whole concept of agility is a bit confusing to our cats.  For those cats who have been shown a lot, being on the floor is just “wrong” in their world.   We spend lots of time training them to stay on their grooming space or table, etc – then suddenly, have them on the floor!   I know one exhibitor commented that after doing agility on the first day of the show, the second day, every time she opened the cage door, her cat tried to jump onto the ground!  ;-) 
  2. Obviously, as the first ever show of its kind, this was a learning experience.  One of the changes that I think needs to be made is to the obstacles themselves.  Most were far too narrow – esp the jumps – and cats are too smart.  When you take a teaser over the top of the jump, in hopes of luring the cat to follow…  most cats simply walked around the side of the jump, instead!   ;-)   A wider jump would help a lot, I think.   Same issue with the stairway – it was quite narrow, and I don’t imagine particularly inviting to most cats to go up.
  3. For most cats, having to deal with all these new things at once (the crowd, being on the floor, obstacles, etc) was quite overwhelming.  I think it would be helpful to take a page from the dog agility people, and have training sessions outside of the shows…   A friend of mine who competes in dog agility suggested that perhaps some dog facilities would be willing to rent out their equipment and training areas for us to use, since they don’t train/practice every single night.   Although the equipment wouldn’t be exactly the same, it would be similar, and would at least get our cats used to the whole idea of agility, without the distractions of a crowded showhall, etc.

However

A huge “bravo” to OCI for being willing to take the plunge, and try something new!  I think it was a great hit with the spectators and exhibitors alike, and I hope we’ll see a lot more of it in future shows.    Back to the drawing board for me, though, to find a cat to compete with!  <g>

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